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Tomorrow is July 1 — the unofficial date by when many campuses plan to announce their reopening strategies for the fall semester.

Think about the last few months in higher ed.

First, there were decisions in March to close campuses for a few weeks. That was followed by the pivot to fully online classes for the spring semester. A few weeks later, summer classes were canceled or moved online. Now, we’re talking about the fall semester. Few seem to be talking about the thing that will be here before they know it — the spring 2021 semester.

No one knows what’s happening with this virus. An executive at a Fortune 100 company told me yesterday it’s planning for a disrupted in-person workplace for the next two years!

So, why is higher ed planning in increments of months, just to have to “replan” a few weeks later?

As colleges have begun to announce their fall plans in recent days and weeks, three big fault lines are emerging…

1. Face-to-Face vs. Online/Hybrid

Students want to be back on campus, but maybe not so much in physical classroomsThat was the takeaway one dean at a major research university had from the survey his institution conducted of current students. “On a good day, in a normal year, a third of students are skipping class anyway,” he told me.

  • The trappings of campus life are the most important thing to traditional students who might only have four years to experience it. Sure, online classes might be duct-taped together by faculty members, but at least they can be delivered digitally. The social experiences, not so much.
  • But how much campus life will be different for students if they’re on campus this fall likely hasn’t come into full view for them as of yet.
  • They should read this: Research from Gensler, the world’s largest architectural firm, based on some 400 conversations with campus officials and students shows the scale of what needs to be done to make campuses safe.
  • “A university might be the most complex organization to reopen, on par with a city,“ David Broz, a principal at Gensler, told Axios recently. “It has housing, it has food, it has retail, it has large assembly spaces and sports. And it’s a 24/7 environment.”

The time, effort, and energy colleges are putting into reopening plans isn’t keeping pace with the spread of virus, however.

  • Younger people are making up a growing percentage of new coronavirus cases in cities and states where the virus is now surging.

Rather than plan and then replan as the pandemic evolves, perhaps colleges should be putting more effort into improving their online and hybrid course offerings for the fall. That was the finding of a recent, very unscientific poll I conducted among my LinkedIn followers.

What’s next: Everyone seems is hot on hybrid education. But right now, hybrid to most colleges and universities is about online classes folded on top of the campus experience.

  • The real impact of hybrid education — and perhaps where it can really bend the cost curve in higher ed going forward — is when we consider the full college experience. That requires us to rethink the faculty structure, the curriculum, and the physical infrastructure in order to create a truly hybrid community that straddles both the digital and physical worlds.

? Announcement: To help faculty everywhere get ready, Arizona State University is hosting the REMOTE Summit on July 13–14. It’s a virtual conference where you can learn about techniques and tools for digital learning in any discipline.

  • I’ve been part of the planning of this event: Trust me, this is NOT a gathering of keynotes. This is a forum by faculty for faculty. I’m also impressed with the early plans to try to replicate the social networking that is part of any face-to-face gathering in higher ed. Faculty can register for free here.

2. Faculty vs. Staff

If you talk to rank-and-file faculty members or follow their social media feeds, it’s becoming clear that an increasing number of them are ambivalent or outright opposed to returning to teach in physical classrooms this fall.

  • Institutional policies on who makes the decision on whether a professor returns to the classroom are all over the map. Some schools are allowing faculty to choose between in-person or online instruction — no questions asked. Others are requiring official documentation for an accommodation to teach remotely.
  • The relationship between the faculty and the administration on most campuses can probably be described as tense even on the best of days. Relations seemed to improve in March when both sides joined together to quickly move instruction online in the face of the pandemic.
  • Now the usual faculty-administrator dynamic is returning as campuses furlough non-tenured teaching staff, implement pay cuts, and pause retirement contributions.

Behind the scenes: Campuses are also facing student protests — even in a virtual world — about the makeup of the faculty and the curriculum in the context of national protests over racial justice. Add to that the financial stress that many colleges are under right now, and this fall is likely to be a tinderbox on the faculty-administrator front.

Between the lines: Faculty on most campuses enjoy a wide degree of flexibility about when they teach, and before the pandemic, when they had to show up to campus.

  • Staff members who make the campuses run don’t have much choice but to come to work. They’re on the front lines as colleges feel the pressure from students and parents to re-open physical facilities this fall.
  • Look for this fall to just widen the divide between faculty and staff on campuses.

One more thing: Last night, my Twitter feed blew up when I posted this news from Florida State. This seems like backdoor way of reducing staff and punishing working parents. Also unclear how the university is going to police this.


3. Money vs. Health

Yesterday, Williams College announced it was cutting its price by 15% for families “in recognition of the extraordinary circumstances and of this academic year and the uncertainty we face in the year ahead.”

  • Williams, with an endowment of $2.89 billion endowment, can afford to slice its price tag. Most institutions can’t.
  • “Other colleges will have students ask, ‘If Williams did it, why can’t you,’ and the honest answer is that many of these colleges just can’t afford to,” Robert Kelchen, an associate professor of higher education at Seton Hall, told Inside Higher Ed.

The race to get students back to campus in some form, even for a few weeks, is about one thing: money. If this fall is entirely online, more than 90% of students think they shouldn’t pay the on-campus price, according to a College Pulse survey out this week.

“We’re just going to have to tell students that the experience they so value on campus only survives — the institution only survives — if they pay full tuition,” a president at private college told me this week.

? Book Update

Thanks to everyone who pre-ordered my forthcoming book with the goodies offered in a previous newsletter. Yes, the deal is still valid, so please share.

One of the goodies is a signed and numbered bookplate.

  • In an age of virtual events, bookplates become even more important because it’s unlikely I’ll get to sign many books in person.
  • I’m pleased to unveil the bookplate here for the first time. It’s special to me for another reason: the pen-and-ink drawing is by my dad.
  • My father is retired high-school music teacher who still performs as a professional musician (well, at least when there were events to perform at). But he’s always had a talent for art, so I’m glad that he agreed to take on this job.

Your version will be signed

Finally, Kirkus came out with its review of Who Gets In and Why. It’s a starred review. I haven’t been this thrilled to get a ⭐️ since elementary school! Kirkus awards stars to only a small percentage of the books it reviews and a star drives buying decisions by bookstores and libraries.


Calculating the ROI of Higher Ed

Martin Van Der Werf from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce joined the podcast to discuss the center’s attempts to rank colleges and universities on the return on investment of their degrees.

The Smart Way to Improve Online Learning

Improving online learning in higher ed and K-12 is necessary not only to get through this crisis, but also to educate learners in new economy. Taking a page from the creation of the land grants and interstates, how about a network of digital universities?

The End of a Crazy Year

When Michael Horn and I began season three of the podcast last August, few could have imagined the disruptions to higher ed and the country by the time this season comes to a close. In the last episode before the regular summer hiatus, we look back and discuss what’s next.

As always, thanks for subscribing. Cheers — Jeff

To get in touch, find me on TwitterFacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn.

Jeff has written about higher education for more than two decades and is a New York Times bestselling author of three books. His latest, Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions, was published in September...