As we move toward a new semester, a lot is still unknown for what higher education will look and feel like, this year and for years to come. Since institutions are navigating uncharted waters, we reached out to New York Times best-selling author and higher education strategist, Jeff Selingo, for expertise on what the future looks like on campus and online in “Facing Today’s New Norm in Higher Ed: Perspectives from Strategist Jeff Selingo.”
Nadine Nelson, marketing campaign manager, Nelnet Campus Commerce
Jeff Selingo, author and higher education strategist, Georgia Tech, Arizona State University
What pivots will institutions make moving forward so learning is more accessible for remote students?
Jeff: Higher education is normally bound to traditions, but what we’ve seen this spring is amazing because we’ve upended the way we’ve always done business. Some of these pivots I believe will stick, like a ton of institutions have gone test optional, because the ACT and SAT haven’t been able to conduct tests. Some of the pivots will return to normal, but I think some schools will discover after they are able to fill a class with students they feel can succeed, that they won’t need to go back to normal.
We saw a lot of institutions do virtual tours and other virtual events this spring, and I think that opened up new possibilities for students who couldn’t get to campus. There’s been a lot of discussions about equity in admissions, and I think we’re going to see institutions rethinking their marketing strategy, in terms of what really needs to be done in person, in terms of travel, but also what can be done virtually.
After seeing the agility in higher education to move to remote learning, do you think that willingness to change quickly will be a common trend in the future?
Jeff: I’m split on this. When you ask college leaders about the relationship between faculty and administration, even on the best days, it’s not great. But this spring, you’d find that they were all in it together pivoting to online courses. Once this starts up again, I think there might unfortunately be some conflict because there will be staff and administration members that have to be on campus to do their jobs, but some faculty won’t have to be there to teach. So I think we’ll see that things may get a little more tribal, in terms of faculty, staff, or administration wanting to slow something down and get a larger buy in from campus. That’s more on the negative side.
On the positive side, I see some institutions looking back at how they were able to work together so effectively to make this quick pivot, and I think we’re going to see some new processes as a result. They might’ve realized that they don’t need to have all the same old procedures in place like they used to.
How will institutions navigate the varying wants and needs of faculty to be in person or remote?
Jeff: It’s going to be hard to navigate. The policies right now are all over the map. Some institutions are giving faculty a choice between in person and online, while others are going through procedures based on accommodations, meaning you have to ask for an accommodation to teach online instead of coming back in person.
I think the biggest problem institutions will have, is there’s pressure from students to come back, and if they come back but most of the faculty don’t, I think that creates an interesting dynamic. You’ll have students who are there on campus, but still taking classes online. Some students might not feel that it’s a big deal, but many others want to see their faculty members, and if they’re not there in class, it’s going to be a completely different experience.
How will digital transformation look on campuses moving forward?
Jeff: Most institutions think about digital transformation like hybrid education, with online classes on top of in-person ones. To me, when I think about digital transformation it’s everything, it’s a 360 degree view. It involves collecting data, connecting it across campus, and thinking of the student journey at an institution.
Most institutions have put digital pieces in place, like online classes and using the cloud, but for the most part they haven’t put it all together. They haven’t thought about the underlying infrastructure that’s still built for in-person instruction for 18-22 year olds who live on campus full time. Until we think about transforming that, then to me we haven’t really achieved that desired digital transformation of the college campus.
What areas are institutions looking to you for expertise?
Jeff: I’ve been looking a lot into how education is viewed as a product and how that can be changed so it’s shorter, faster, and cheaper. Another area is looking into product pricing, and how institutions will develop their pricing models, not just this fall, but in the years to come for families that may be struggling.
We’re also looking into enrollment and thinking about the different personas of learners that we have. Obviously we have the traditional 18-22 year old, but also new personas of learners like returning adults, and figuring out what they need out of higher education.
To hear the live Q&A portion and full remarks from our guests, view the full webinar.