Digital Squared

The 2030 University

November 21, 2022 Tom Andriola Season 1 Episode 2
The 2030 University
Digital Squared
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Digital Squared
The 2030 University
Nov 21, 2022 Season 1 Episode 2
Tom Andriola

In this episode, Tom talks to New York Times bestselling author, Jeff Selingo. Jeff has written about higher education for more than two decades and his latest book, Who Gets In & Why: A Year Inside College Admissions, was named among the 100 Notable Books of the year by the New York Times. 

Together they discuss how education is evolving in the wake of the pandemic, what it means to create lifelong relationships with students, and why investing in continued education for higher ed employees is essential to a university's livelihood.

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Tom talks to New York Times bestselling author, Jeff Selingo. Jeff has written about higher education for more than two decades and his latest book, Who Gets In & Why: A Year Inside College Admissions, was named among the 100 Notable Books of the year by the New York Times. 

Together they discuss how education is evolving in the wake of the pandemic, what it means to create lifelong relationships with students, and why investing in continued education for higher ed employees is essential to a university's livelihood.

Intro 0:34
My guest today is Jeff Selingo. Jeff has written about higher education for more than two decades and is a New York Times bestselling author whose latest book, Who Gets In & Why: A Year Inside College Admissions, was named among the 100 Notable Books of the year by the New York Times. He’s a regular contributor to The Atlantic, and is a special advisor for innovation and professor of practice at Arizona State University. He also writes a bi-weekly newsletter on all things higher ed called Next, and co-hosts the podcast, FutureU.

During the podcast we cover Jeff’s take on how education is evolving in the wake of the pandemic, what it means to create lifelong relationships with students, and why investing in continued education for higher ed employees is essential to a university's livelihood.

Tom Andriola 1:22
Jeff, welcome. And thank you for joining us.

Jeff Selingo 1:25
It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Tom Andriola 1:27
Jeff, I've been a huge fan of your work over the years. When I came into higher education in 2013. I'd like to ask you, let's talk about the post pandemic University. Where are we now? What do you see for the future?

Jeff Selingo 1:39
Well, I think that there are certain things that are going to stick from the pandemic. I think the pandemic really upended people's habits: how we work, how we shop, how we learn, where we live, and how we access things in our lives. So when our habits are upended in that way, I think there's obviously going to be lingering impacts on higher education in some ways, good.The pandemic really gave higher education the permission to think differently. You know, most institutions went online in some form, and in very big ways. Most institutions rethought their academic calendar. Residential institutions thought about how students live on campus and whether they actually need to be there all the time. So let's just take those three elements. For one. First, I think online education is here to stay and in a much bigger way than ever before. And we're not talking about fully online, but it's clear to me that online is now going to be a piece of every undergraduate’s career in some way, that allows them, whether it's a hybrid class where some of the classes are online, some of the classes in person, or whether they're taking fully online classes, even as their residential students are face to face on a campus. The second thing is the academic calendar really taught us that we don't necessarily have to begin the semester in September and end in May, where summers are incredibly underutilized. Particularly in places where there's so much demand for higher education. So it allowed us to rethink the calendar where students can be served all the time, where education is always on, and kind of rethink that time based calendar that has really served higher education for a long time. And then third is this idea of residency, we know that the residential undergraduate experience is pretty incredible. But it's quite expensive, and it can't be really accessed by everybody. And but yet, we can give students kind of a short term residential experience and give them experiential learning outside the classroom. So I can imagine a future, for example, where students might live on campus for a couple of weeks of a semester, and then go off and do work or do a co-op or do undergraduate research. So I think in just those three realms, we are already thinking differently about higher education post pandemic.

Tom Andriola 3:54
Jeff, that's fantastic. You know, I'm one of those unique people that had a private sector career before I came into the public sector and higher education. And I've been talking with my leadership about this idea that I've seen in economic downturns, I call it, accelerating out of the curve. We're all kind of, were forced to slow down during the pandemic period, but you know, successful organizations usually get a jump coming out of these periods, and change their positioning and change their relevancy in the marketplace. If I can use that term. Can you share with us some of what you see in terms of who's getting it right? And who, by 2030, do you think is, what does the 2030 successful university institution look like for you?

Jeff Selingo 4:36
Well, I don't think anyone's getting it exactly right now, because I think that we're still, we're moving through a period right now where we kind of have one foot still in the, kind of getting out of the pandemic, and one foot in the future. But one thing I think is going to be different in the next 20 years, maybe even the next 10 years, is that we are going to be talking about a different set of institutions than we're focused on now. That doesn't mean, the most elite colleges and universities in this country, public and private, are going anywhere, or that they're going to become essentially weaker in the next 10 or 20 years. But I think that we're going to start to talk about a second set of institutions that are doing certain things that are incredibly important for our economy and for our society. So among them, for example, they're serving greater numbers of students at scale. For the most part, most of the elite universities we talked about are tiny and small, and they're not necessarily expanding their undergraduate or graduate student body. So I think we're going to be talking about a second set of institutions that are actually serving the public good, by growing to some sort of scale to serve those students. Second, I think we are going to be talking about hybrid institutions. Again, I think those elites are going to be focused mostly on face to face education. But the second set of institutions is largely going to be partially online, partially face to face and a mixture of the two. Third, I think we're going to be talking about the second set of institutions, as infusing workplace-ready skills and competencies for students that could come through shorter degree and credential programs. So we're not necessarily going to be talking about just the legacy degrees we talked about now, whether that's the bachelor's degree, associate's degree or the master's degree, but other types of credentials that give people real workplace skills that get them jobs. But the other thing I think we're going to be talking about in terms of that work infused piece of the curriculum, is that I think everyone's going to be leaving college with not only a traditional degree, but some sort of workplace credential that actually helps them get a job immediately. And that can be an industry recognized certificate, such as a Microsoft or Google or an AWS certificate that goes along with their degree, or I could imagine, every history degree getting data visualization, as workplace skill. So that's the third piece, I think of the second set of institutions that we're going to be talking about 10 years from now.

Tom Andriola 7:12
Yeah, and I really liked that idea. It resonates with some of what we've been talking about, right that, you know, the days of just a student walking out with a piece of paper saying they passed a set of academic courses may have worked for the last century. And the challenge is that today there is this need for competencies, right, the top eight competencies that workforces are looking for, especially early in the career, you pointed out. Specific skills lead to jobs, organizations like Salesforce that build entire economies around a skill that's very learnable, regardless of what you what your major is. And so I think, you know, a lot of our analytics is really driven around this idea of there's an academic and a practicum component that our students should walk out with, in addition to that piece of paper that they said they passed all the academic courses that they were supposed to. I find myself, and I'd like to switch topics a little bit here, to talk a little bit about the people and talent in our industry, or higher ed industry. I find myself talking a lot about talent right now in terms of kind of where we are, the challenge we have in attracting retaining it, and I've been using this quote from Henry Ford, he said, “the banks can take our money, they could burn down our factories, but with our people, we could rebuild Ford.” He once said, and I noticed that you give this talk on building a culture of continual learning, hiring and building an adaptive workforce, but as I was reading up about you, it seems like you focus them on corporate clients. Do you bring that message to higher education leaders? And if yes, I'm curious what kind of reaction you get, because we're not known as being the most nimble and agile industry.

Jeff Selingo 8:39
(laughs) No. And the other thing that I find fascinating about higher education is you're in the education business, but you, not you personally, but higher education overall, does a poor job of educating its own workforce. So many other industries spend so much time, effort and money on continual education for their workforce and upskilling and rescaling and throughout life. But we see this now through the great resignation we're seeing throughout all of society, but particularly in higher ed, I hear so many higher ed leaders complain to me, “oh, we can't find good people. We can't hire good people.” And I asked them, well, how much have you spent in terms of continuing professional development of your own workforce? We sell the services to other industries, but we don't do it ourselves. The other thing I don't think we do a very good job of is we don't talk about higher education as a career to our own undergraduates. Think about it, we have a captured potential workforce as undergraduates, and we talk to them, our career centers, everybody else talks to them about jobs in every industry, except our own industry that we work in. And I think things are starting to change. I think we're starting to see college leaders, especially those that I think are really at the forefront, really starting to invest in their talent, because they know it's important. But at the undergraduate level, what I'm seeing is, because of this workforce shortage over the last couple of years, there's a number of entities now that are really investing in helping their own workers get skills, their own students get the skills. So in IT, I think this is a really big example: A number of IT shops in higher ed are hiring their own undergraduates, essentially as apprentices, because they can't find staff to fill their IT staff. And I increasingly think, by the way, this should be a requirement for every vendor who works on campus. If you are a software provider, If you provide food services, if you provide housing services, whatever you provide to a college or university, I think as part of the contract, every college and university should say you have to help train and educate our own students in these jobs. So if you want to open a coffee shop on our campus, teach them how to become a manager. If you want us to buy your software for our ERP system, then train them on these massive ERP systems that kind of cut across higher education and go outside of higher education. If you're an expert in Salesforce or Workday or anything else, you're going to be able to get a job elsewhere. Well, make those requirements as part of that contract. So that we're starting to educate our young people, not only for jobs potentially in higher ed, but at least giving them real skills outside of the workforce.

Tom Andriola 11:26
Yeah, absolutely. Now you're speaking my language, I think this is one of the things coming from the outside in. I was really shocked at the point that you just made about how an organization that is committed to educating does not practice it on itself. And so I did some things when I was in my office of the president role where we started an academy to build leadership amongst IT professionals. So that we had CIO-ready candidates. We actually have done some great things here about leveling up. So I've been sharing with people that the research that I've gotten is that when we lose, let's say, a high-end technical person, the cost of replacement is about two and a half X what we were paying that person. And so we have strategy where we call leveling up, where instead of going back out to the market, for level three, or level four, we asked the existing staff to all level up one, and we hire in a level one, in many cases, going after a graduate from one of our schools. Where we've now even started building pipelines from our community college that are much more focused on really skill building per job placement. Building a pipeline for those students to get trained there, and then their first work assignment, which might be an internship, or it might be their first professional position, is with us. So we're building pipelines so that we can build a critical mass of technical skills, and expecting that they're going to leave us in a few years. The idea that higher education, and you're coming here to work for the next 40 years, that didn't that didn't appeal to me when I was 22, and I don't think it appeals to a 22 year old today. What they want is, they want challenge, they want meaning in their work. And we have to, we have to meet them where they're at. So it's nice to get some validation that we're, that we're thinking the right way. I was intrigued by the organization you have called Academic intelligence, and this concept of, idea of, storytelling. Can you tell our audience a little bit about what that is, and how you describe providing, you call it “providing institutions with bulky insights and actionable intelligence.” Tell us about those ideas. I think it's fascinating.

Jeff Selingo 13:26
Yeah. So what I have done, I mean, essentially now what's happened in my own industry, so I have worked in an industry that was disrupted well before higher education, which is journalism. I wanted to be a journalist since I was in seventh grade. And clearly, partway through my time at the Chronicle, in the early 2000s, journalism was under incredible attack from the outside and, maybe attacks not the right word, but it was being disrupted, much like higher ed is now. And we had Facebook, and we had Craigslist, and all these things just start chipping away at traditional journalism. And the thing now about journalism that you see very often is that people don't trust journalism institutions as much as they trust individual journalists. And so what I did when I left the Chronicle seven years ago is, I started to really think I built up a trust among my followers, and how can I serve them in different ways? And so that's what I've done really in my work under this umbrella of academic intelligence. I produce a regular newsletter every other week called Next. I co-host a podcast with Michael Horn called Future you. I produce these white papers that are underwritten by large companies, but that are editorially independent, that really kind of push new ideas into the higher education marketplace. I host what I call virtual office hours, where I bring in guests to talk about kind of the new themes in higher ed. So in many ways, I have created a journalistic outfit under my own brand, but that is as an individual creator, which is happening, by the way, in every other industry, not just in, in higher ed. And so that's really the focus here is really around ideas. Is to go out there, do the research, which I do, to find some of the new players, the new innovations in and around higher ed and spread those ideas through these different channels. Whether that's the webinars, whether that's podcasts, these office hours, things like that.

Tom Andriola 15:33
And do you find that in this model, I think is very interesting, you responded to the disruption by trying to figure out where the puck was going to be, what the marketplace wanted and carved out a niche for yourself. Do you find that you have a different relationship with your readers and listeners than you did when you were in traditional journalism, let's say, before the transformation?

Jeff Selingo 15:53
Oh, yeah, I mean, there's definitely much more of a personal relationship you have with your followers and readers. It's really a function, I think, today, of the media. You know, it used to be you had a byline in the newspaper, and that was it. And sometimes people would try to, you know, they wouldn't even put your phone number in the newspaper. And then there was a time where they would put your phone number and your email address, and the people felt like they could reach you. Now you have social media, you have podcasts, you have all these other ways of people interacting with you. LinkedIn, things like that. So it's a much different relationship. It's a much closer relationship with folks. And I try my best, I can't get back to everybody, but it's nice to know that you're not just writing, like you used to be, when I started, I was a journalist, you would write an article, it would go in the newspaper, it would be put on a printing press, it would be delivered to somebody's home the next day, and you had no idea, did they read it? To have any impact on it. Now, you kind of see the impact it has almost in real time, much different than it was 20-30 years ago.

Tom Andriola 16:57
That type of relationship capital that you're talking about with your listeners, do you think that universities understand that they have that opportunity with the prospective students that are looking at them? And students who get there, and the students who ultimately leave them, and they put this term on them called alumni?

Jeff Selingo 17:15
No, I mean, we really do think very old school in higher ed, about the entire lifecycle of the student. From the moment we try to recruit them, to the moment that they're undergraduates where we don't, I think, focus enough on the student experience, to alumni, where we focus on kind of the social aspects of alumni, which, by the way, Facebook, LinkedIn, other things do much better than alumni groups, and not necessarily on their professional development. I always think that Alumni Affairs could be remade into this idea where the thing that alumni need the most is helping their careers, is help in their professional lives, and alumni affairs, I think can play a critical role in combination with educational or academic affairs at a university. But even as you said, going back to the top of that funnel, where you're recruiting students, and they want to have this personal relationship with colleges and universities, and I think college and universities just haven't figured out how to do that at scale yet.

Tom Andriola 18:13
Yeah, I always imagine this world where we talk about this concept of a lifelong relationship with the students that they graduate from our institution. I always envisioned this world that we were trying to work our way towards where, they stay in contact with me, but not to try to sell me to the next program, but to add value into my life. I always talk about as you go through your career, what gets valued, is what you know and who you know. What you know is the next continuous learning opportunity that you need. And the university is well positioned to maybe have that or to point you to a place where you can best get that. And then who you know, is connections. And if I was a director of finance, and I really wanted to be a CFO, my alumni organization should know that, they should have a profile of me that said that that's my career aspiration, they should be introducing me to CFOs that live in my region. So I could go get a cup of coffee and do an informational interview and find out what it’s like to be a CFO, and what are the things I need to do from here to ultimately get to that job one day. That's a value added relationship for lifelong with your institution. But I agree, we're not there yet. We’ve got to really transform our thinking. But can you comment on your work with the Arizona State University? I know that you have a working relationship with them, you advise them, I'd love if you could talk about it, talk a little bit about that, and how that started and how that's evolved.

Jeff Selingo 19:33
So I got started with Michael Crow, who was the president of ASU back when I was about to leave the Chronicle. And I had an idea, at that time I had just published my first book in 2013, called College (Un)bound. And I was being asked by colleges and universities to come and speak to their senior leadership teams about innovation. And to be honest with you, it was a little tiring just jumping on planes all the time to go and talk. And so I developed this curriculum around the book around innovation and just started talking to different presidents and ended up talking to Michael Crow. And we talked about how to develop a kind of a program around innovation for innovative or rising leaders in higher ed. And so from that we developed this thing called the Academy for Innovative Higher Education Leadership. At the time, President Crowe was trying to develop different partnerships with Jack DeGioia, who's the president of Georgetown University, and he said to me, why don't you pitch this to Jack and see what he thinks of it? And I did, because I'm here in Washington, DC, and so we ended up partnering with Georgetown University on this academy, which started now in 2014, called The Georgetown University, Arizona State University Academy for Innovative Higher Education Leadership. We've had more than 200 people come through the academy, they're mostly mid-career people in higher ed around innovation and mindset. Many have gone on to become presidents and chancellors. In fact, we have two chancellor's within the University of California system that came through the program. We have the provost at Arizona State University, we have a number of presidents elsewhere. And we also have people who stayed at there institution and just pushed forward new projects, as well. So it's been a great experience. I've had many other projects follow that at Arizona State, but that's really how the whole thing started.

Tom Andriola 21:24
And I'm curious, what are the key mindset shifts that you try to help the members that go through the program with, because lot about leadership growth, and being ready for the next challenge is letting go of some of what you learned that made you successful to this point, and really putting a different set of ideas and paradigms in your head. What are the big shifts in that program?

Jeff Selingo 21:47
I think one of the big shifts that we try to get them to understand is how important EQ is over IQ in higher education. We tend to have picked our leaders and chosen our leaders in higher ed because they were leaders within their discipline, not necessarily because they have the EQ, you know, those soft skills to get people to follow them. And that's really, at the end of the day, when you're a leader in higher ed, Vice President, President, whatever it might be, you're trying to persuade people to follow you. You don't have a lot of levers in higher ed, you can't provide them big stock bonuses and big bonuses in any way. You don't have a lot of levers around compensation, period. You know, so you have to figure out other ways of persuading them to follow you. And I think those leaders that have this vision, that have this EQ, and we see it all over higher ed, in terms of, including Michael Crow at ASU, I think those are the institutions that are moving further and faster, because they have those leaders.

Tom Andriola 22:52
Excellent. Excellent. All right, what's next for Jeff, what exciting thing are we going to read about here about next from you?

Jeff Selingo 23:00
Well, I think it's time to write another book, I'm told. (laughs) So there will be some news on that, hopefully, in the new year. I'm working on some ideas now, and we'll hopefully move them towards some sort of idea, to actual publication at some point, probably not in 2023, but after that. I'm continuing to really think about what the post pandemic university really looks like, I think most institutions right now are still suffering from enrollment declines, And they're trying to figure out how to re-enroll students, how to engage students they already have, and how to get back students who may have dropped out during the pandemic and before the pandemic. So I'm really interested in trying to profile institutions that are doing interesting things on that front.

Tom Andriola 23:44
Yeah, and I'd be curious to kind of get your perspective on something we've been talking about, we have an initiative called Data Driven Student Success. But we're really moving beyond just thinking about helping students graduate on time and closing achievement gaps from different, diverse groups, and really getting into the heart of some of the structural barriers that higher education has created that are holding students back. The answer to graduation rates shouldn't be, well just change majors and you'll be fine. Our economic prosperity of the future really requires that we build really strong workforces of tomorrow, and the sciences, and the technologies, and the engineering. And a lot of our system is built around driving people out, weeding people out, when they worked so hard, and they had such a high bar to get into an institution like ours. And, if you don't know UC Irvine, we're not only in the AAU, but we're also a minority serving institution designated and Hispanic serving designated. Which makes us kind of unique in terms of research excellence, and very, very diverse student population. But what we're looking at now through our data program is how do we really think about removing the structural barriers that help our students succeed at an organization where we already have very accomplished students who've gotten in the first place? And we think that that's kind of the future combining with some of the things you mentioned earlier, which is, it's not just about what happens in the classroom, it's about the competencies, skills and workforce readiness that accompany what they do here. I wonder, where does that fit into what you think universities need to be able to deliver on in terms of the promise of higher education to our society?

Jeff Selingo 25:21
Well, I think that higher education has to really think much more broadly than the swath of students that we have long thought of as kind of, quote unquote, college ready, which is a term that I kind of hate. Because everybody needs to be college ready in some way. I mean, higher education clearly is needed, however you define college education, is needed throughout life now, education beyond high school is incredibly important. But does everybody need a four year degree immediately? Does everybody need a master's degree, period? Right. So we have to think of these different education structures. So that higher education is the umbrella, but it's not the one size fits all for everybody. And that we are enabling more people to get access to it, whether that is short term certificates that eventually stack up for a degree, whether that is a degree, a two year degree that eventually transfers into a four year degree, and does a much better job than we do that now, or whether it's some sort of form of lifelong learning where we're welcoming students back and we're giving them continuing certificates, that eventually, maybe, stack up to a masters, for example. We can't think of it as this one size fits all pathway through higher education.

Tom Andriola 26:35
Excellent. All right, we're gonna leave it there. Jeff, thank you so much for joining us today. It's been a pleasure. Please keep us informed about all the wonderful things that you do, for us and for this industry. Thank you.

Jeff Selingo 26:43
Thank you, Tom. It was great to talk with you.