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Welcome to the latest issue of Next, where today we’re focused onthe hybrid university of the future and what those student-faculty ratios advertised by colleges really mean.

But first, three events and the launch of a new webinar series…


First, for parents: Please join me and New York Times columnist and author Ron Lieber on February 8 at 8 p.m. ET in a conversation with USA Today’s Alia Wong about paying for college (more on Ron’s new book below). Sign up for free here.

Meanwhile, for college enrollment and marketing professionals:

  • The future of student search. A look at what’s next for recruitment on February 11 at 2 p.m. ET. I’ll be leading a conversation with enrollment leaders including Florida International University’s Jody Glassman, George Washington University’s Jay Goff and Cazenovia College’s Kristen Bowers. Sign up for free here.
  • Marketing post-pandemic. How do universities think about their position in the market after the COVID-19? Join me on February 9 at 1 p.m. ET for a conversation with Michigan State’s Todd Carter and BVK’s Tamalyn Powell. Sign up for free here.

And now for news about that webinar series…

For families of 9th, 10th, and 11th graders. I’m teaming up with Road2College for a three-part series on launching the college search. The paid series kicks off next month.More details here(including a discount code).

Hybrid Classes to the Hybrid Campus

COVID-19 prompted a swift pivot to remote learning across higher ed, exposing challenges in the technological infrastructure and financial sustainability that had been festering at many institutions for years

What’s happening: Emergency remote education inspired a burst of innovation on most campuses and set the groundwork for what’s next.

  • Professors reimagined courses that have been untouched for years.
  • Academic leaders revised calendars to offer more flexibility for students.
  • Campus officials modified a range of services — from academic advising to career counseling — to offer them remotely.
  • And campuses, like much of the corporate world, moved to a remote work environment using a variety of tools to support the administration of the institution.

Why it matters: Like in many sectors of the economy, there’s no going back to the old normal in higher ed when the pandemic is over. The question for higher ed is how to reimagine residential education in a tech-enabled world.

  • It’s clear that hybrid instruction that mixes together in-person and online is here to stay.
  • But what we learned during the pandemic also enables us to think about hybrid delivery beyond the classroom to the entire campus.

A new paper, The Hybrid Campus, released this week by Deloitte’s Center for Higher Education Excellence and Strada Education Network makes the case for this blended residential experience. The paper is the result of a series of virtual conversations I participated in this past summer with college and university leaders from two- and four-year institutions.

Background: Think of the hybrid campus as similar to the retail model that sits somewhere between the physical and digital worlds, with little distinction between the two.

  • When we shop at Home Depot, we don’t differentiate initially between buying online or driving to the store. We’re simply looking to buy a tool and choose the most convenient option at that moment. And Home Depot doesn’t tell customers they can buy nails online only, but must go to a physical store to purchase a hammer. Yet most colleges separate online and face-to-face courses and don’t allow students to mix and match.
  • What’s critical here for institutional leaders is not the technology necessarily but the changes to campus culture and operating models that go well beyond the acquisition and deployment of new tools.

How it works: The paper lays out three big shifts that need to happen for universities to become hybrid campuses.

  • A rethinking of the academic portfolio to identify academic programs and courses that can be delivered in a hybrid format as well as a new academic calendar that provides students more flexibility than the traditional semester schedule.
  • Redefining the student experience for lifetime learning that adds e-advising, virtual communities, and online wellbeing and career services that complement the in-person campus.
  • A reshaping of campus work, the workforce, and workplace that challenges the orthodoxy that all staff must be on campus to effectively support the needs of the campus community.

Go deeper: Download full report.

The University of Texas at Austin, which enrolls 40,000 undergraduates

Is Smaller Always Better?

When it comes to higher ed in the U.S., too often we think the smaller the undergraduate enrollment, the higher the quality of the school.

Indeed, if you combine the undergraduate enrollment of the top 18 universities in the U.S. News & World Report rankings you would barely reach the undergraduate enrollment at the 3 most-prominent universities in Canada, the University of Toronto, McGill University and the University of British Columbia.

A reminder from James Murphy on Twitter…

Ron Lieber, the New York Times columnist, in his new book out this week, The Price You Pay for College, focuses an entire chapter on a college’s size and when it matters.

  • Class size is one of 15 factors that makes up the overall score in the U.S. News rankings. “Schools get the most credit for the fraction of classes with fewer than twenty students,” Lieber writes.
  • Why 20 students? “No reason at all,” he adds.
  • Lieber cites studies that show a link between smaller class size and student satisfaction, but even as he points out many “can’t claim that one thing causes the other.”

Behind the numbers: Most colleges tout their average class size or express the number in a student-faculty ratio. But that number isn’t meaningful because it doesn’t measure the time student spend in class, a concept I hadn’t thought about much before until I read this chapter.

  • At the University of Michigan, “84 percent of courses have under fifty students and 57 percent have fewer than twenty students. Not bad for a big state school, right?”
  • But, Lieber continues, “if you measure by time spent in class, only 19 percent of any given students’ time is spent in classes with fewer than 20 people, while he or she spends nearly 30 percent of the time in classes with one hundred or more peers.”

Bottom line: Lieber urges prospective students and their parents “to march into every admissions office” and ask for class-size data based on actual time spent in the classroom rather than averages.

But even then: This chapter caught my attention in part because it mentions Arizona State University, where I’m a special advisor and professor of practice. ASU is sometimes criticized as being “too big.”

  • But as Lieber points out, using an Intro to Biology course as an example, ASU has improved outcomes by redesigning courses and using technology to make them more intimate. “Ask for specific examples of classes like this at schools that you’re considering,” Lieber writes.
  • Lieber also encourages prospective students to sit in on courses at colleges they’re considering, especially large courses if that’s something they haven’t experienced before.

If you follow Lieber’s writing in The New York Times, you know he writes often about paying for college. So, I asked him what surprised him in writing the book. Here’s what he told me:

The number of brilliant people, successful in their chosen pursuits, running organizations that you probably have heard of, who show up in my inbox each spring having no idea what has just hit them and their high school senior. Nobody explains this stuff, or does it well, or does it loud enough and early enough.

His take reminded me of a text a friend send recently after his daughter was accepted to her first-choice college and then the financial reality hit: “Ugh. Not sure I thought this through,” he wrote.

I wish I had Lieber’s book to recommend to him last year. But perhaps it can help you.

So, I’m giving away five copies of the book. Head over to LinkedIn to see how to win one.


Preparing For Jobs That Don’t Yet Exist
In the latest episode of the Future U podcast, Michael Horn and I talk with Michelle Weise about her new book, Long Life Learning: Preparing for Jobs that Don’t Even Exist Yet and why creating a new learning ecosystem for what’s ahead is so critical for all of us. (

The Rich Get Richer, Part I
The latest data from the Common App shows that the wealthiest, most selective institutions, already inundated with applications, are getting more than ever before this year. (

The Rich Get Richer, Part II
Big online players are attracting more undergrads and grad students as other institutions try to improve the “online-student experience,” The Chronicle‘s Goldie Blumenstyk writes in her latest newsletter. (

Until next time, Cheers — Jeff

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...