PANDEMIC IN THE PANHANDLE: AN EVALUATION OF COMMUNICATION USED DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC BY COLLEGES & UNIVERSITIES
Situational crisis communication theory, developed by Coombs (2007), was used to evaluate and code communication used by higher educational institutions in the Texas Panhandle during December 2019 through December 2020. This time period was determined relevant because the COVID-19 pandemic closed institutions down, and impacted fall 2020 enrollment (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022). Communication posted by the institutions across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and COVID-19 webpages was collected and coded. Communication was coded with a rubric that evaluated calls-to-action, crisis response types, and institutional responses. Calls-to-action were related to public health, admissions, enrollment, information relevant to the institutions. Crisis response types were deny, diminish, and rebuild based upon research by Liu et al. (2018). Institutional responses were guidance (connected to calls-to-action), informative, and neutral. The amount of communication institutions published was weighted against enrollment and admissions data. One finding is institutions of a larger size had more defined communication patterns than smaller institutions. The institutions in the study did not experience a secondary crisis that would warrant deny or diminish response. More beneficial communication an institution used could have a possible impact in retaining stakeholders. Ultimately institutions in the Panhandle may have used communication that would allow them to retain stakeholders during the crisis.