COVID-19 has caused many disruptions in our education system—one being the switch to distanced learning or hybrid learning approaches for K-12 and higher education in the present day. But how will the pandemic alter the future of higher education?

The idea of traveling to a certain city or state for residential education on a specific campus has given way to the reality of many college students participating in remote learning. Some colleges are also no long requiring standardized tests (think ACT / SAT)  to apply.

Christy talks with New York Times bestselling author and higher education journalist, Jeffrey Selingo, about his new book “Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions” about how these changes to higher ed could influence how students think about college going forward.


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Christy McDonald We’ve been talking a lot about higher education, college and universities, and a covid19 world, not just the remote learning, but how that changes the value of the education as well and how the pandemic really is a disruptor. I was reading a recent column that talked about the future of college admissions. And as a parent of high school junior, that’s definitely on my radar. And it mentioned a new book out this month called Who Gets In and Why a Year Inside College Admissions. And the author is journalist Jeffrey Salinger, who joins me now. Jeffrey, it’s good to see you. It’s great to be here thank you. You know, you’ve been writing about higher ed for over 20 years. And before we get into what you found in the book, while you embedded in three schools and took a look at the admissions processes there, I’d like to get a big picture from your perspective of how covid has really changed college and maybe perhaps altered the future of higher ed?

Jeff Selingo Well, I think one big way it’s changed is that now many students are off campus at home, living off campus, taking classes remotely. And one of the things that colleges have always sold is the idea of residential education in a specific location. But when you’re online, you kind of lose both of those things. You not only lose the residential piece living and eating and socializing with your friends, but you’re also losing the idea that you’re going to college, most often in a specific location, whether it’s a city or rural area or a specific state. And colleges have sold both of those things as kind of the ideal of American higher education. And they’ve lost that in in the pandemic. In terms of admissions, probably the biggest change right now is more than 400 colleges and universities have gone test optional over the summer, largely because it’s practically impossible right now for especially for high school seniors to take the S-A-T. or A-C-T. And as a result, colleges and universities had no choice but to go test optional, meaning they don’t require now test results as part of the application for students.

Christy McDonald If the students can’t have that on campus college experience right now because of covid and not knowing how long this might go. Does this change now where students are going to want to go, especially since we’re looking at how much college costs these days?

Jeff Selingo I think you’re going to start to see some shifts in student choices. I think for one number one, I think students are going to stay closer to home, particularly if the pandemic continues, because I think parents don’t want them far off if they’re going to have to be stuck coming home at the last at the last minute or on a dime. The second thing I think is you’re going to see many more students considering public colleges or local community colleges of these to get their start. Community colleges really offer a low cost option, particularly if you’re gonna be online. You might as well be online close to home anyway and many of those courses could transfer. Public colleges I think are also going to become more popular for their lower costs.

Christy McDonald Are you going to start to see colleges and universities have to offer more in a different way? Is it going to be more technology? Is it going to be a different things to try to differentiate themselves from from all of the other universities and colleges that are are aiming for the attention of students?

Jeff Selingo I think you’re going to see two things. First of all, I think online education in some form or fashion is here to stay. We’re going to see a lot more hybrid education, meaning even when the pandemic is over, I think elements of what we’ve been through over the last couple of months with online education is going to be here to stay. I think students and parents are going to be looking for colleges that provided them a job after graduation. And what are the activities during college that help prepare them for a job? Internships, project based learning, other types of Hands-On co-op programs and things like that that get students into the workplace out of the classroom? I think parents and students are going to be looking, especially in this economy, for those colleges that help prepare them for the workforce afterwards.

Christy McDonald Are we going to see the loss? Are we going to see colleges shut down? Are we going to see certain that just won’t be able to survive this?

Jeff Selingo Yeah, yeah. We’re already seeing some colleges shut down. I think we will see an increase. I think we’re going to see some colleges merge. But I, colleges are pretty resilient places over time. Many of them have lasted centuries and much longer than many Fortune 500 companies. They tend to be resilient.

Christy McDonald So this brings us now down the road to admissions. And what you have just recently written about, what do colleges and universities have to do now to try to recruit, to try to get eyeballs on their school?

Jeff Selingo You know, it’s very hard right now because most of the recruiting in higher education is person to person. They have open houses on weekends and they do the college tour where you’re actually, you know, eating in the dining hall, seeing the dorm rooms. They have admissions officers fanned out across the country visiting high schools. None of that is happening right now. In some ways, though, I think this is actually a better time to search for colleges because you’re not limited by geography. You’re not limited by an itinerary of how many colleges you get to go see in a day? There are now a ton of virtual programs. There’s a lot of students who have recorded these great videos on YouTube showing a day in the life of their colleges. So you get a real feel from real students what it’s like. You have admissions officers now who can’t travel, and so they’re in their offices doing Zoom meetings, having calls with students. So in many ways, if you’re a student looking at colleges, you can have a much broader perspective now on what might be a good fit for you.