It’s been two years since the relaunch of this newsletter as Next. Thank you for subscribing and reading.
The new year is, of course, a time for predictions and resolutions.
Making any predictions in a pandemic world seems like a futile exercise. As for resolutions, most of us have probably given up on them by now. One of my resolutions is to be more consistent on the Peloton this year. What has helped recently is Peloton’s introduction of Sessions. It allows those of us who can rarely join live classes to be part of a community of other riders who get on the bike for a recorded class— and all start the “session” at the same time.
The idea behind Sessions is that cohorts make the big seem small and support us in performing our best. It’s an approach that has been tried in higher ed with varying success over the years as we’ll examine in today’s edition of Next.
But first two announcements…
The first “Next Office Hour” of the new year will be Thursday, January 27at 2 p.m. ET. Join me for a conversation about how colleges can build more equitable pathways to careers.
This discussion is based on a new paper that will be released later this month, 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, behavioral scientist and workforce strategist, and Branden Grimmett, associate provost at Loyola Marymount University.
The New “Buyers and Sellers” list is now live. Thanks for your feedback on how we visualized the data for this year’s edition. You can take a look at the list or download it at jeffselingo.com/buyersandsellers.
The Student Experience, Post-Pandemic
Can more cohort-based experiences help students find a sense of belonging and purpose?
Relationships are central to the higher education experience. Any of us who went to college can easily recall a professor, a classmate, a coach, or an advisor who made an impression on our lives a lot more than we can remember anything we learned in Econ 101.
“Personal relationships are really fundamental to college success,” Dan Chambliss, co-author of How College Works, told Next.
For the book, Chambliss and his co-author, Christopher Takacs, followed nearly 100 students at Hamilton College—where Chambliss recently retired as a sociology professor—to find out which events in their undergraduate career mattered. The book’s central finding: it’s the people, not the programs, that make the difference.
“What colleges can most effectively do is set up structures that make it very easy for students to get those relationships,” Chambliss said.
Why it matters: Providing an engaging student experience will be critical for colleges to attract and keep students after the pandemic.
What’s true in business is also true in higher ed: it’s much easier—and often cheaper—to retain an existing student than it is to acquire a new one.
Colleges sell students on the experience. But during the pandemic it has been difficult for campuses to differentiate their brand from another college’s when many students are at home or in their dorm room learning online or campus life is severely curtailed.
Enriching the student experience is even more important coming out of the pandemic given three pressures bearing down on higher ed: fewer high-school graduates in the pipeline, shifting demographics overall, and students and parents questioning the value on their investment in a degree.
Background: The structures colleges historically created in the name of student engagement— assigning mentors, freshman seminars, and living-and-learning communities—are sometimes forced, and thus don’t work, Chambliss said.
“Assigning students a mentor works about as well as assigning you a boyfriend,” he said. “That’s not how it works.”
Similar issues exist with freshman seminars, which are small classes designed to help students meet classmates and get to know a professor. The problem, Chambliss said, is that there aren’t enough professors who can teach top-notch intro classes “and students tend not to make friends in classes.”
Yes, but:Cohorts still matter to college success. Small groups with overlapping interests make a big campus feel smaller for students.
—One of the best example of cohorts that work in college are athletic teams.
Studies have found that college athletes in Division III, the largest of the NCAA divisions, perform better academically when they are in-season than when they’re not.
“It’s because they’ve got a structure, they’ve got clear expectations, they’ve got people, mainly coaches who are keeping an eye on things, making sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to do,” Chambliss said
—Colleges have tried to replicate the athletic team model elsewhere with mixed success.
The University of Dayton, for instance, offers cohorts of 30-40 students a 12-credit certificate in applied creativity through a program that is designed to enable what is called “self-authorship,” or the capacity to define one’s beliefs, identity, and social relations.
“We’re getting so many students who come back and say, ‘I wasn’t totally sure what I was getting into when I was in this program. I just knew that every week I felt really seen and a sense of belonging in class,’” said Brian LaDuca, executive director of Dayton’s Institute of Applied Creativity for Transformation.
Dennison University has made mentorship a central part of its undergraduate experience, in part through “advising circles,” which are one-credit classes that help in the transition to college and introduce students to a professor early on.
Pomona College has developed a series of “Academic Cohorts” in different disciplines for first-generation and low-income students, which the college credits to higher persistence rates for underrepresented minority students in STEM.
The bottom line: Faculty are critical to students finding a sense of belonging and purpose in college.
But at many institutions the first faculty members that students come in contact with are often part-time, contingent instructors “in charge of large introductory courses that are extremely challenging to teach,” writes the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Beth McMurtrie in an article this week about why faculty often ignore the research on how to improve their teaching.
Improving the student experience after the pandemic means rethinking the faculty model and incentives for research and service at many universities—a third-rail in the world of academic politics that most college presidents (already beset with a list of challenges) don’t want to touch.
It also means reconceiving spaces on campus where students gather or can more easily meet faculty and advisors. “Literally, just go around the campus and see the places that really work,” Chambliss said, “and build on that or expand it, or at least be sure nobody kills them off.”
After a year of remote and hybrid learning, colleges and universities must find ways to keep students engaged and connected. Read about the latest trends in enrollment, retention, and transfer rates and how to help students access support services as well as foster an environment of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Read the report now.
Higher Ed Trend-Spotting, 2022
So I won’t make predictions for the year ahead, but I did recently poll my LinkedIn followers on the trends they’re watching in 2022. Since LinkedIn limits how many items you can have in a poll, also read the comments to the post.
In addition to these three issues, here’s what else I’m watching:
Institutional transformation: The pandemic gave colleges space to experiment with everything from online learning to remote work to new academic calendars. The big story of the year is what from the pandemic will stick for the long run and how will institutional leaders use this moment to push for further changes to the financial model of higher education.
Federal aid: The $70 billion provided by the federal government to higher education in Covid reliefpackages will run out in 2022, putting pressure onuniversities to cut costs or develop new revenuestreams quickly. The result: a fiscal cliff for institutions that were already living on the edge pre-Covid. Will more campuses merge or close?
Presidents: The early days of 2022 have already seen some presidents step down at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania (effective immediately) and the University of Florida (at the end of the year). Given the political divide in this midterm election year, fatigue over leading campuses through a pandemic, and the end of Covid aid, expect a wave of presidential departures this year.
Admissions testing: Stanford and Harvard led the way at the end of 2021 by extending their test-optional policies in admissions. What I’ll be watching for in 2022 is how many institutions return to a testing requirement, and if test-optional policies at selective colleges reduces the number of students taking the ACT/SAT overall (which in the past it hasn’t).
Research: Will Covid-19 produce a surge in funding for biomedical research? The last huge increase in the budget of the National Institutes of Health was two decades ago when Congress doubled the budget of the agency over five years in the hopes that it would lead to new treatments for some of the most serious diseases.
David Leonhardt in his morning email newsletter looks at the cost of Covid to American schoolchildren. He writes: “For the past two years, large parts of American society have decided harming children was an unavoidable side effect of Covid-19…but the approach has been less defensible for the past year and a half.”
What’s happening in K-12—behavior, mental health, academics—will show up on college campuses for years to come. Will that change what students look for in terms of safety and well-being when searching for a college? That’s one of the issues addressed in this white paper from Vector Solutions.
In the final weeks of 2021, the University of Southern California, LSU, and the University of Miami among others showered tens of millions of dollars and lots of perks on new football coaches (24/7 access to a private jet for the USC coach and his family). As Kevin Carey writes “the amount of money sloshing around college sports right now makes corruption unavoidable. Every president, dean, and director who pretends otherwise is living on borrowed time.”