A few weeks before Apple’s first iPhone went on sale to the public in 2007, Walt Mossberg, the personal-technology columnist for The Wall Street Journalpulled out the device as he addressed a group of college leaders who had gathered at an event put on by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
I was an assistant managing editor of The Chronicle at the time and recall sitting in the audience at a table with several college presidents. Mossberg predicted in his talk that cellphones would become “mobile computers,” pushing the personal computer from its perch at the top of the tech world. We didn’t know it yet, but what Mossberg envisioned that day was the rise of the digital campus.
The president sitting next to me scoffed at Mossberg's suggestion. During a break, I asked the president about Mossberg’s forecast. All I remember from the conversation is the president complaining about the rising cost of technology on his campus.
The decade that followed saw even bigger investments in technology, but mostly laid on top of the existing structures of campuses and their cultures—and often without any sort of digital strategy. If only I could remember who sat next to me during that Mossberg talk in 2007—I’d like to check in with him today.
The pandemic, as we keep hearing over and over again, has accelerated changes that were going to come anyway to higher ed. This week, the College Board announced that its signature product, the SAT, was going all-digital in a last-ditch effort to remain relevant in a higher education ecosystem that is shifting in ways we still don’t quite understand.
☕️Good morning, and thanks for reading Next. In this issue we’ll explore the SAT’s move to the digital world and look at another mainstay of the analog campus: the college dorm.
🔜Today at 2 p.m. ET is the Next Office Hour. Our topic: should colleges take a greater responsibility for diversifying the professions given Black and Hispanic students are disproportionately concentrated in majors with lower earnings?
This discussion is based on a new paper that will be released later this week, co-authored by Matt Sigelman, president of the Burning Glass Institute, and Chris Howard, president of Robert Morris University. They’ll join me for the office hour along with Yvette Burton, a behavioral scientist and workforce strategist, and Branden Grimmett, associate provost at Loyola Marymount University.
The third major overhaul of the SAT within the past 20 years will be the one that does away with pencils.
✏️Are youtired of all the references to No. 2 pencils yet? It seems the ubiquitous yellow writing instrument has made its way into every news story about the College Board’s announcement this week that the SAT is going fully digital.
As an aside before we get to the news: My favorite No. 2 pencil remains Eberhard-Faber, which was made near my hometown in Northeastern Pennsylvania when I was a kid—so I think it was required that every local school purchase them.
What’s happening: The new SAT will not only be all-digital starting in the spring of 2024, but it will be shorter—shrinking from three hours to two.
The curtailed testing time is the result of its adaptive nature. Each section of the test (reading and writing and math) are broken into two modules. How students answer questions in the first module will impact what questions they get in the second.
Students will take the SAT on a laptop or tablet, but will still take the test in school during the week or at a testing site on a weekend.
Neither the knowledge the test measures nor its current 1600 scoring scale will change.
Calculators will be allowed on all math questions in the digital version.
“We’re not simply putting the current SAT on a digital platform—we’re taking full advantage of what delivering an assessment digitally makes possible,” said Priscilla Rodriguez, vice president of college readiness assessments for the College Board, who joined me on a panel with ABC News Now on Wednesday.
How it works: The “section-level" adaptive model that the new SAT will use is easier to design and deploy for the College Board. It will also have less of an impact on test takers compared with an “item-level” adaptive model, an expert in designing high-stakes assessment told me.
In an item-level adaptive test, every next question might be different based on the test taker’s previous response.
In this new SAT model, “the test engine really only makes one ‘decision’ about which subform they get per section,” said the expert who requested not to be identified because he doesn’t speak on behalf of his employer (which isn’t the College Board or its competitor, the ACT).
While the 1600 scoring scale will be the same, I asked if the current SAT scores will be comparable to those in the new test come 2024. “They should be,” the expert said. “We might see scores go up because the biggest difference in the test is time and the fatigue effects of the current test mean those scores might be a little lower.”
What’s next: The College Board said new digital practice materials will be added to its official free partnership with the Khan Academy by this fall (when full-length practice tests will also be available).
“Any new test comes with the challenge of finding adequate preparation materials that truly reflect the upcoming test,” Akil Bello, senior director of advocacy and advancement at FairTest, told me. “So for many students the challenge will be finding good representative practice materials.”
One beneficiary of the transition to all-digital might be the ACT, as high school students try that test out for a few years while the kinks are worked out in the new SAT.
Bottom line: The biggest threat to the SAT has been the hundreds of selective colleges that have suspended or eliminated testing requirements during the pandemic.
The all-digital SAT isn't likely to stem the tide of colleges remaining test-optional. But a shorter test might persuade some students to take the SAT who otherwise would have skipped it for the test-optional colleges on their list.
The College Board was clear that the new SAT isn't envisioned as an at-home test. They tried that with the AP tests during the first spring of the pandemic and it was a disaster.
But it doesn't mean the all-digital SAT will never be an at-home test. You need to crawl into the digital age before you run into it and the College Board started to crawl this week.
The Washington Post coverage with context about the string of changes these past two decades in the test.
A blog post from an expert in admissions that gives a helpful overview of what we know—and what we don't know—about the changes.
The Evolution of the Residential Campus
An architectural rendering of a $50 million housing project under construction at Augustana University.
Even before the pandemic, undergraduates who lived on college campuses were increasingly taking some of their classes online. Now, with colleges weighing more flexible options in how they deliver instructions to students, some are wondering what that might mean for a mainstay of campus: the dorm.
Covid-19 and health considerations will certainly influence the design of campus residence halls in the future. Expect to see an emphasis on improved air quality, touchless technology, and more self-contained living spaces.
Why it matters: College dorms are more than just places to sleep and socialize. Studies find first-year students and those who are academically at-risk perform better when they live on campus.
Proximity to classes, the library, professors, and support services connect students to campus, and foster the personal relationships key to student success.
Post-pandemic, an engaging student experience will be key to luring students back on campus, and a vibrant residential community is often top-of-the-list when students consider which college to attend.
Colleges have a financial incentive, too, for having students live on campus. Auxiliary services, which include housing, account for anywhere between 10% and 25% of a private institution’s revenue. The “profit” that some institutions get from housing then subsidizes the academic side of the house.
What’s in a name: We might all call them “dorms,” yet you’ll rarely see that word mentioned in official college marketing materials or uttered by campus leaders. Those who work in higher ed prefer the term “residence hall.”
But the higher ed media still likes the traditional term. The Chronicle of Higher Education’s style book, for instance, says “dorm” or “dormitory” is acceptable on first reference.
The big picture: The design of residence halls usually follows what the generation of students in college want in their living arrangements. Right now, that’s Gen Z, those born between the mid-1990s and 2009. Among Gen Z’s needs, according to Paul Wuennenberg of KWK Architects, who has been designing campus dining and residences for more than thirty years:
Alone together. Gen Zers desire both quiet study space and privacy, but they don’t want to completely remove themselves from social situations. Modern living arrangements include flexible-use living and study spaces, says Wuennenberg, who led the design of a $50 million housing complex at Augustana University in South Dakota.
Value. Wuennenberg finds this generation to be cost conscious and savvy customers. They appreciate amenities like private bedrooms and bathrooms, but they look for value in amenities. As a result, campus planners are shifting towards a mix of different types of units in their housing designs to meet a range of student price points and demands. Case in point: the basic, least expensive, but one of the newest dorms at Georgia State has turned out to be the most popular.
The digital dorm. Students expect the bandwidth to support all of their streaming services, whether academics or Netflix.
–From security to bathrooms and mail rooms, dorms they are a-changin’:
Today’s students are security-conscious, Wuennenberg says. They want secure and controlled access to campus residences, security cameras, and campus lighting and landscaping crafted with personal safety in mind.
Over the years, dorms have gone from communal bathrooms to private bathrooms. Now, they often are a combination of both, sometimes in the same bathroom. Modern designs balance decentralized bathrooms that fewer students use, promoting privacy and hygiene. Gender neutral bathroom options are also important to Gen Z.
At the same time, completely private bathrooms can mask student health problems, so dorm bathrooms of the future will be accessible for staff to clean and monitor, without the need to enter student bedrooms.
With the rise of Amazon Prime, the mail room is making a comeback. Mailrooms are increasingly being automated, with lockers that allow students to pick up their packages at any time of the day or night.
–Health and wellness go beyond the campus recreation centers and into the dorms:
New residence halls often incorporate smaller fitness spaces.
Even staircases are built with student health in mind. Centrally located, wide, with lots of daylight, they encourage students to take the stairs, instead of an elevator.
Biophilic design is also common, and incorporates daylight and other features from nature, which is tied to wellness.
Bottom line: Wuennenberg finds every school he works with unique in its culture and its students, which requires nuanced and personalized residential design. He points to his firm’s work with Dakota State University and their master residential plan. Gaming capabilities were a top priority. The university happens to have one of the top cybersecurity programs in the country, so gaming isn’t just an amenity, in some ways, it’s an extension of the classroom.
On the latest epsiode of the Future U. podcast, Micahel and I welcome Ed Smith-Lewis from the United Negro College Fund, and Karen Stout, from Achieving the Dream to talk about different ways we should measure the value of a college degree beyond the simple economic measures we often use today.
As was expected, the U.S. Supreme Court announced this week it will hear two cases (against Harvard and UNC) determining the future of affirmative action in admissions. It will be the third time this century the court will weigh in on the subject of race-conscious admissions. Also on trial: the idea of holistic admissions--that colleges have autonomy to craft a class the way they see fit.
The NCAA announced a new policy Wednesday in which eligibility requirements for transgender athletes will be determined by each sport's national governing body. The change, the NCAA notes, brings policies for transgender student athletes into line with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee.