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No Mercy No Malice

Post Corona: Higher Ed, Part Deux

May 29, 2020

6-min read

Our nation’s superpower is optimism. We invest in crazy ideas and believe anybody can be anything. We fund more start-ups, buy more lottery tickets, and reinvent ourselves more often than any nation. The belief that our best days are ahead of us results in an appetite for risk. We inherited this from people willing to leave everything behind, get on a ship, and build a new life in a strange land. Things would be better — they were optimists.

A sense of resolve, confidence, and optimism has led us out of every crisis in the 20th century. Wars end, and countries rally around a sense of rebuilding and a unified vision. Economic crises can be beaten back by consumer confidence: “Honey, let’s book a cruise and finance a Hyundai.”

America is an upward cycle, pulling the future forward. Optimism is our DNA, our superpower, our national identity.

With Covid-19, optimism is also our Achilles heel, and it may have disastrous results. People feel it’s time to get back to our regular lives. However, and I can prove this, Covid-19 doesn’t care about our emotions. We’ve entered into a consensual hallucination with the markets and our leaders that getting back to regular life is something we can make happen on our terms.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the bold, declarative statements from university presidents and chancellors that their campuses will be reopening in the fall. Brown University president Christina Paxson says reopening campuses in the fall should be “a national priority.” “Colleges and universities must be able to safely handle the possibility of infection on campus while maintaining the continuity of their core academic functions.”

At my home campus, NYU, Provost Katherine Fleming wrote last week: “We’re planning to reconvene in person, with great care, in the fall (subject to government health directives).”

Bold, optimistic statements, American even. They are also performative and reflect a consensual hallucination between university leadership and their finance departments. The hallucination is a function of a disturbing reality: A $50,000 “experience” tuition is a comorbidity during Covid-19. Universities with cost structures dependent on foreign students and luxury brand margins face sudden fiscal crises if a chunk of their students don’t show up in the fall.

The math here is simple, and similar to any product where the consumer is constantly weighing her options and deciding where to spend her money. The value proposition of college is:

C = Certification (the lane you are put in post graduation based on the brand/school you attended, i.e., a caste system)
E = Education (learning and stuff)
Ex = Experience (fall leaves, football games, getting your heart broken, throwing up)

Schools charging $50,000/year or more (Brown, NYU) have value propositions that have been rendered untenable overnight. The elimination of the university experience is similar to SeaWorld without killer whales. Yeah, we get it … free Willy, but I’m not paying $450 to see otters and penguins. Also, we’re not paying $54,000 for Zoom classes.

It’s no accident the universities that have declared they are “open for business” in the fall have much higher average tuition than those that haven’t said anything or announced they will be online only. The numbers and threat are staggering. NYU has 26,000 students. That means we are expecting approximately $400 million in tuition payments to roll in over the next several weeks. So, what would you say? “We’re not sure what fall looks like … it’s a good year to think about doing something else”? Leadership at high-tuition universities are sounding eerily familiar to a CEO during a disastrous earnings call who, in the face of a stark reality, attempts to paint an optimistic vision of the firm’s future to keep the stock from crashing.

The killer whales (cash cows) of high-tuition prestige universities are international students. We claim we let them in for diversity. This is bullshit. International students are the least diverse cohort on earth. They are all rich kids who pay full tuition, get jobs at multinational corporations, and often return to the family business. At NYU, they constitute 27% of our student body and likely half our cash flow, as they are ineligible for financial aid. We have a pandemic coupled with an administration committed to the demonization of foreigners, including severely limiting the prospects of highly skilled grad students. This means the whales may just not show up this fall, leaving us with otters and penguins — an enormous fiscal hole.

As in any sector, Covid-19 has yielded some unlikely winners. For example, the Cal State system, who many would argue is the real jewel of California, has announced they will be online only. This allows them to focus on the tech and training to deliver a better online experience. Cal State, which will graduate 40,000 more students than the entire Ivy League this year, is not rendered flaccid by Covid-19, as the experience was never a big part of the equation. Most students commute to school, and the denominator is much lower ($6,000 in-state tuition). So, their value ratio, in a time of corona, suddenly leapfrogs expensive liberal arts, campus-based universities.

On September 1, I’m scheduled to teach 170 students in a windowless room. After 12 sessions of 3 hours in the sealed room with 170 people, 50 of them will then disperse back to their 20+ native countries for the holidays. If the producers of Contagion decide on a sequel, I have an idea for their opening scene.

So, thoughtful, talented people — university administrators — are hard at work figuring out campus configurations and protocols to make campus safe. Ok, and what about off-campus? Unless the NYU provost can convince Mayor de Blasio to reinstate prohibition, there will be a lack of distancing in SoHo this fall.

An x-factor to all of this is a vaccine. Yet the probability we discover and distribute a vaccine in the next 13 weeks is low to none. In sum, the notion of universities opening pre-vaccine is a reflection of our optimism. The problem? Covid-19 is indifferent to our emotions.

Regardless of enrollments in the fall, with endowments of $4 billion or more, Brown and NYU will be fine. Likely better than fine, as a culling of the university herd would increase their number of applicants and return them to the salad days, only better. However, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of universities with a sodium pentathol cocktail of big tuition and small endowments that will begin their death march this fall.

Universities should be doing what every other organization whose business model has been threatened by Covid-19 is doing: cutting costs. This week, I spoke to the chair of the advisory board of an all-girls high school. Next week I’m scheduled to speak with the chancellor of the university that receives more applications than likely any school in the world. In both conversations we’ll discuss innovation, tech, and how we are all “in this together.” Usually, when I broach the subject of cost cutting, it’s as if I belched. The conversation continues as if they didn’t hear anything.

This is where the opportunity lies. Through severely overdue cost reductions and deploying small and big tech, we can dramatically lower the cost per student of a college education. The corporatization of campuses, bloated administrations, tenure, a lack of accountability, and a god complex that we, academics, are noble when in fact we’ve been preying on the hopes and dreams of middle class families and indebting them … all need to be attacked, aggressively.

The prize is enormous — a dramatic increase in the number of seats at good schools. Fifty percent online courses is tantamount to a doubling of the physical campus and returning admission rates back to what they were in the eighties, a time when the unremarkable sons of single immigrant mothers from lower middle class households were given remarkable opportunities.

In sum, elite universities will be fine. Yale has an endowment of $2 million per student. Tier 2 and 3 schools with high tuitions are the next department stores — not long for this world. And tier 1 public universities have a generational opportunity to achieve greatness in the agency of the unremarkable, again.

Regarding Mss. Paxson and Fleming’s bold statements on a return to campus in the fall? I hope you’re right — I miss campus a great deal. However, I miss college as a public good more.

Life is so rich, 

P.S. The July Strategy Sprint is filling up and will sell out. Also, catch episode 4 of my Vice TV show on or via clips on Twitter and LinkedIn if you’re outside the US (#nomercynomaliceonVICE). And on the pod this week, I spoke to Bloomberg tech journalist Sarah Frier about Instagram and how it’s ruining our lives.


  1. Matt says:

    I’m a systems and network administrator for a large state university. I *constantly* find ways the university could save thousands if not millions, and I am constantly ignored. A favorite of mine is air conditioning abuse and incompetence. A huge number of spaces on campus are kept below 60 deg F, 24*365, occupied or not, and I can easily imagine six (or even seven)-figure savings from fixing this. Campus-wide, an estimated half-million has been spent on network equipment that’s completely redundant and wouldn’t even be needed–but it’s in place between two network groups, both under the same supervisor, apparently are not on speaking terms. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

  2. MarkD says:

    And tax overfunded endowments. They are hiding money which could be used elsewhere. Reduce overhead which is out of control since the last crisis (regulations by you know who).

  3. MarkD says:

    Covid-19 is very simply mind control, a power grab by the Global elites. Don’t fall for the rhetoric, it’s not a Pandemic, period. Be cautious if you are high risk, otherwise, just go on living.

    • Bob says:

      Obese people are at high risk, which means that 40% of the US adult population is at high risk.

  4. Michael says:

    Think of the schools who draw a significant number of students via marketing their “fan lifestyle”. Think of Penn State football or North Carolina basketball. Without the opportunity to sit in the stands on an October Saturday or Tuesday in January, how many will reorient their thinking to prioritize education over extracurriculars? In addition, these type of universities use athletic success to drive alumni giving, so COVID will hit two of their major funding streams. I’d also add that many of these campuses are overbuilt. Maintaining bricks and mortar is expensive. They have to think how they can turn all that unused square footage into cash flow. I have no suggestions for them One thing for sure, it’s going to be a b!tch all around.

  5. Leigh Ferst says:

    If you do any more work on college strategy, please advocate for professors. As you know many of them have the status of restaurant workers, in low paid temporary jobs with very limited benefits. Many colleges have abundant staff members with better employment status than the professors. But it’s dedicated teachers like you who shape our kids’ lives, not the college bureaucrats. Frankly I think it’s a disgrace and it goes on at Ivy League schools like Browns as much as anywhere else.

  6. Kathleen Ryder says:

    Per your argument that 2nd & 3rd tier private colleges are endangered, please address the following aspects of non-Ivy education: 1. Most students pay much less than the published tuition and fees at 2nd & 3rd tier private colleges. My child attends an accredited middle tier college for less than the cost of our state’s land grant universities. With an average class size of 12, this student is probably getting a better education than if they were in an auditorium with 170 other students. 2. Small college are nimble. They’re often rural. They’ve been shrinking, so many small colleges can offer single rooms. Small colleges might be positioned to more safely educate during a pandemic than land grant universities or even the top tier, larger private institutions.

  7. Jeff says:

    Do you think kids are safer from contracting Covid if they attend school in the fall or they do something else. Anecdotes suggest kids are out and around regardless; not safer and not growing.

    • gina says:

      Yes the kids are out. In our experience my son and 15+ of his friends caught Covid from a gathering 2 weeks ago (we have no control over 19year olds, sorry haters!) for them and for a vast majority of people under 20, it was a mild illness with 18 hours of fever and a slight cough. With a reality like that, you are going to have a hard time convincing them this is a real pandemic to shut the economy and lose jobs over! protect the professors and staff (boy in the bubble anyone?) let the kids run the course. Have alternatives if you dont feel safe, but let the healthy ones get on with it!

  8. Tom Gaffney says:

    You write good

  9. Jacob says:

    The unfortunate reality is that NYU is not even trying. I am a NYU alum and I received an email saying there are free classes for alum. I tried to register for one of those classes and the link was broken. I emailed NYU asking to be registered for one of those classes and the response I received was – “Due to overwhelming response, we are unable to accommodate your request at this time!” My questions is – Why is there are a limit on number of online attendees? I thought the basic premise of online classes is that they are supposed to be scalable to any number of people…And then there is NYU 🙁

    • Nick DeMello says:

      Even the MOOC (massive open online class) model isn’t scalable to any number of folks. And most online classes (synchronous or asynchronous) are facilitated by faculty, topping out at 15-45 people per class.

  10. JLW says:

    Some of this very spot on, but at the elite colleges but these solutions will creat even more of an elite ‘have and have nots’. Elite colleges will continue to bribe away the top professors for their legacy and mostly wealthy students, leaving our middle and lower income students in a product that is inferior in many ways (interaction, connections and education)

  11. Froeschle Richard says:

    The simple tuition formula is spot on. My question concerns solving the equation for all institutions so students know where the true value proposition lies. Is the lions share of tuition justified by the “experience”? Are we actually measuring the “education” part of the equation? I’d love to hear you elaborate on your formula and what it means to students making college choices.

  12. Krazny says:

    I love the comments from the flat-earthers, university profs, and others who have abandoned all pretense of thinking critically, rationally, and scientifically. I’ve taken a number of virtual classes that were coupled with online student discussion groups and practical exercises. On the whole they provided more direct, applicable value than most I’ve taken in a college classroom. Let’s face it, a college degree may have value, and a degree from an elite university certainly has greater value than one from a state institution. However the value should be derived not from a diploma, but from the education one receives to get that diploma. Unfortunately, if that were the case, professors would be hired for their teaching ability, and not for the research they’ve published. And what professors taught would have a positive and demonstrable impact on long-term student success in their careers and personal lives. Unfortunately, most universities, their administrations, professors, and their publications are as out of touch with the real word of work as politicians are with their constituents. The internal value proposition of most universities is self-perpetuation, and the never ending quest for endowments, championship sports teams, self-aggrandizement, and publication of twaddle masquerading as research. I can imagine university presidents, administration officials, and most tenured professors saying, “This institution would be a great place to work if we didn’t have any students.” Imagine instead if we had universities whose primary focus was teaching life and work skills, and on student placement and post-graduation career success.

    • Kathleen says:

      I’m glad you had a good distance learning experience. Many people do not have the ability to learn effectively through a screen.

  13. Samuel says:

    Your knowledge of academia is unquestionable. Your credentials as an epidemiologist is suspect at best. Perpetuating the unfounded idea that your students are in danger of catching Covid-19 is insignificant at best (unless they are over 60 with an underlying condition). Yes, their parents should keep socially distanced from them upon their return home but otherwise they should return to class. Alice Cooper is loving this. Your students won’t get it but I’m sure you do, old guy:)

  14. Lucian says:

    Great post!

  15. Joe deSimone says:

    Thanks Scott- Very sobering Two questions; 1. what constitutes a small endowment? and 2. Aren’t demographics of college eligible people trending downwards as well? (i.e not as many students)

  16. isabella says:

    this is not optimism, this is arrogance (and greed)

  17. Scoop says:

    I think your comments on US optimism are delusional. The US is a bitterly divided country, packed with hate, conflict, ego and self-centered greed. Every day it becomes more obvious that a growing number of its citizens are anything but optimistic about their future. Based on the evidence, who can blame them.

  18. Joe says:

    Well, yes, good points. Yet, the average salary for a full professor at NYU is $220,000 according to the AAUP.. And, being in the marketing department, you probably make more than that. Are you giving part of your salary back to the middle class students? How about your speaking fees?

  19. Kris says:

    Interesting post, but some lazy comments on international students being “rich kids” and the “least diverse” (well, unless you are pointing a finger at the huge number of sons and daughters of China’s nouveau riche class?) A huge proportion of internationals students take loans in their home countries and are then take jobs in the US to pay them off; the data admissions receives for I-20’s is not verified data, and as long as the cash comes in, no one cares whether it’s from daddy’s trust fund or a high ticket government loan. Furthermore, it’s not true that internationals receive nothing from financial aid offices – they get money and on campus jobs. Perhaps NYU is just a bloodsucker? On the diversity front, isn’t the fact that “internationals” come in different genders, colors, languages, and world views make them inherently diverse? At the end of the day, the pool from which top universities can choose international students is way bigger than the US student population, and thus the level of competition is far higher.

  20. Mike Lane says:

    Once again we are at the mercy of Nature who does not care who you are or how much you earn. Also it can be seen that managing a crisis with optimism rather than reality is a recipe for disaster with deadly consequences.

  21. Aaron says:

    Great post Scott. Two other quick points: A) With declining enrollmentts and changing demographics, schools with high financial stress may have to cut costs by either merging or change curriculums that generate more revenue at or below their cost; B) I wouldn’t be a buyer of muni bonds for small public universities with declining enrollments. Thanks for sharing your insights, greatly appreciated.

  22. sunil rao Palepu says:

    Outstanding comments

  23. Randy says:

    I don’t agree with a lot of your analysis, but this article is spot on in my opinion. One added point, I believe that expensive private schools exist for one reason. Wealthy people need to deposit their less-than-motivated offspring somewhere, and will pay a lot for it. It is a way to detour around the hard working offspring of Asian immigrants who are rationed at places like Harvard, and mess up the curve at Berkeley or UCLA. Maybe that dining club will help get contacts and carry them into a first job on Wall St or even a decent law school. Worse comes to worse, they will have a good pool to fish in and can marrying money… UCLA? Really hard to get into. Big privates or Ivys? A lot easier with money, parental fame, or legacy. Unless your parents are from the other side of the Pacific.

    • Dylan Elliot says:

      Who wants to go to Law school anymore? Unless you’re going into a family business, becoming a lawyer is miserable and will continue to be due to oversupply. The new grad school, and probably should be the new undergraduate school, is coding school. In one year, for far less money, you get real world skills and every profession will require tech skills. Undergraduate and graduate universities and colleges are functionally obsolete, having priced themselves out of an adequate return on investment. Some will remain a sandbox for the wealthy class kids, but that’s about it.

  24. Pete says:

    Jesus. You’re a professor at NYU, eh? I am today that much more pleased with my son’s decision to turn them down and attend UCLA. A lot of the things you bring up with regard to our system of higher education are valid, but framing this conversation in the context of COVID is one of the more asinine things I’ve read during this “pandemic.” And that’s saying a lot. Out of the gate, everyone knew that COVID isn’t lethal for younger folks. There was never any reason to shut down any schools.

    • David says:

      Except for the fact young people can pass on the virus to older people who are more vulnerable. Not everyone on campus is 18. Get a clue Pete and you probably should keep your thoughts to yourself if you are that dumb.

    • Peter Glikshtern says:

      @David Older, susceptible folks should obviously be taking precautions. That doesn’t necessarily mean you shut down schools… and/or the rest of the world for that matter. I love how your first impulse is to tell your interlocutor to just keep their thoughts to themselves, David. And immediately hop to name calling. Super duper enlightened of you.

    • Robert Ganjon says:

      @David Greater than 75% of the Covid deaths in the US were of people 65 years old and older. That’s a fact that shouldn’t be ignored in any analysis/discussion of its impacts on young people. For Scott to ignore this data puts his whole analysis/post in question. This pandemic has had almost no mortal impact on people under 35 years old, and literally zero impact on people under 25. For these populations it has been no more deadly than the seasonal flu. What’s more, isn’t going away to college the better way to quarantine young people? Is it really worse than keeping these students at home with their parents, who are likely more vulnerable? And for what it’s worth, in my experience, smart people don’t call other people dumb.

    • John Logic says:

      “pandemic”. Because it’s not?

    • Johnny Cage says:

      You guys are idiots. Pete, Peter, Robert, you need to stop the circlejerk. As a first-order thinkers, OF COURSE there are no DEATHS among the young and strong. Now try second-order thinking. Here are two easy ones. How is the death rate impacted for those aged 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, and 75-84 who will inevitably interact with those students? What are the list of health complications to populations who contract covid but do not die?

    • David says:

      @Pete framing the conversation in the context of COVID is asinine? I disagree completely. What happened here is an example of self-organized criticality. This system of private colleges which could not afford to pay their staff + excessive admin costs continued to raise tuition, making the value / cost ratio fall consistently. Now, when 1. The value of a college education is already shrinking at an alarming rate and 2. The experience part of the education gets wiped out, you reach a bifurcation where college student enrollment falls SIGNIFICANTLY.

    • Aaron says:

      @Johnny Cage Closing the schools does not remove those young people from society. They can still infect others. It just puts them back in homes with their parents and grandparents. When I was in school, with the exception of faculty, I spent my time almost exclusively with people my own age.

  25. Mark says:

    Even before Covid, this runaway freight train for excessive education was bound to fly off the tracks. I hope you are correct, with the disappearance of international + out of state student enrollment for many of the universities it will dramatically affect revenues causing cost cutting and hopefully a restructuring of the entire system. My prayers may have been answered for my son and daughter-in-law – that they may no longer have to rob a bank in the future just to have our grandson attend a respected university.

  26. Brian says:

    Perfectly enunciated! How will performance arts institutions fare in the maelstrom that is the pandemic?

  27. john patrick foley says:

    I am picturing your 120 seat auditorium. I am also thinking about the 3-4 month backlog of orders for clear acrylic/plexiglass from the manufacturers. Phone booth like shields are appearing between the checkout worker and customers in homedepot stores, I am trying to picture a pod like auditorium…. The question in my mind is neither this fall, nor the culling of universities and colleges, It is two years from now with a workable vaccine, is the damage to consumer (in this case student) confidence so long lasting that the changed environment causes the quality and value of the college experience to be permanently diminished from fear of others?

  28. KEVIN DILLON says:

    love your comments, always insightful, schools need to open, where is our American backbone, those who fought in all of our wars would be embarrassed, ps , love when your a guest on Smerconish

  29. Deidre Williams says:

    You’re amazing. A breath of fresh air.

  30. phylo says:

    All this is predicated on the assumption that a college education yields greater financial stability “success” in life. While promoted by a political demographic with supportive non-scientific academics, it must be noted that association does not imply causation, nor per se can it. Maybe COVID will be the object lesson needed to push the USA towards a German-like system – Residential university training is probably optimal for only a relatively small percentage of students. On-line and/or technical training is probably optimal for the majority of students. And let’s stop torturing those who don’t have the intellectual or internal drive to do more than marginally-skilled or unskilled tasks with the idea that “education” will lift them up to a higher standard of living. High school – however accomplished – should be sufficient for a large percentage of the workforce.

    • Peter Glikshtern says:

      Dead on! Take classes if you want. Just learn a useful trade though, and go get a job.

    • Randy says:

      The most ‘marginally skilled’ in America are likely among the most ‘educated’. That is a key issue; education for education’s sake was a pursuit for the very wealthy in the past, and we probably should return to that. For the future of America, we need more technicians and skilled workers than Greek Feminist Lit PhDs. Fine if you have a Trust Fund, not fine if you end up making lattes and servicing a $200K student loan.

  31. Lynda Napolitano says:

    Great article but I have to ask. Do you get any push back from NYU when you so openly criticize your employer? Please explain. I worked in a male dominated field and would have been terrified to speak out the way you do.

  32. Jane Orson says:

    On this subject, Scott, you’re missing the mark. Amusing and punchy writing as always, but your take on university life is misguided. Not only are they not going fully online anytime soon — elite or otherwise — it is also worthy to look at how Covid is behaving in countries that are run with more discipline than US. The note about the spirit of optimism is cute, but from the looks of it, pretty much every other country that has either never really locked down or is now sensibly reopening, beats America in *actual* optimism. Actions speak louder than words, or some vague spirit of a notion — the actions of Korea, Estonia, Germany, Taiwan, Iceland, Singapore, NZ and so on are far more symptomatic of optimism, courage, discipline than the United States that’s a tinderbox at best. Try again.

    • Ben says:

      Yup, the US never really locked down. We did not have contact tracing or sufficient testing or culturally enforced social distancing either. You really have to have some subset if that to control contagion.

  33. Conor Lynch says:

    Couldn’t agree more with the points raised in this article. As a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, I was disappointed to see that the University would be opening in the Fall. With $55k in tuition fees, Notre Dame would see a sizeable decrease in their income, but with a $13bn endowment, I’d imagine they won’t disappear anytime soon. It’s unfortunate that the very Universities which should be using their enormous wealth to ensure safety are instead so afraid of their income taking a hit that they are willing to risk the safety of students. Although I’m sure, they are viewing reopening as less of a risk and more of a “service” to the students (and big donor parents)

  34. Mike says:

    Scott, excellent article. I agree with you and I raise the stakes. As those colleges and universities fail, inevitably, their will be a subsequent collapse of the local economy with devastating results.

  35. Thomas says:

    All good, one thing popped out while reading – US has this great ability to recover from crisises, but also this country in many ways created those in the first place…

  36. Ed says:

    Dodo Vs Chameleons epic battles await. Couldn’t agree more.with your thoughts. Welcome to the posti-ndustrial age. Covid19 or no covid19 the entire way we are taught must move from what is still mostly an 18th century way of operating and delivering value. I was always surprised that Clay Christianson one of the Job To Be Done advocates never applied this customer centric approach to teaching. A fat pay check and fame does wonders to feeding the procrastination monkeys of our souls Cambridge university is going fully online, I pray it’s not going to be a digitalisation of an 18th century process and more a digital university focused on delivering value to their customers. I’m also a teacher of sorts, my mission is to help entrepreneurs think differently, to swim upstream and then as their coach help them together with their leadership team build a better business. I too know that everything must change in order to evolve and better serve my clients today and tomorrow.. Let’s form a league of doers, doers that want to disrupt that which mudt be disrupted, case in point any human who wants to evolve. When the dust settles we will ask do we pity the Dodo or rejoice with the chameleons

  37. Kaj Niemi says:

    Slight nitpick but C + E + EX should be in parenthesis for C and E to be affected by the cost of tuition. It cannot be that C and E are constants in the value prop and only EX would be affected by price, I think. 😉

  38. David Scacco says:

    SG – I’m a big fan of your work. But, what’s your thoughts about Purdue president Mitch Daniels op-ed in the WaPo last week? Daniels states that “failing to reopen Purdue in the fall would be an unacceptable breach of responsibility” to the students, who as Daniels notes are not affected by this virus: “Among covid-19 deaths, 99.9 percent have occurred outside the 15-to-24 age group; the survival rate in the 20-to-29 age bracket is 99.99 percent.” Also worth noting Purdue tuition is low – less than $10K. LKM what yo think & keep up the great work.

    • Jane Orson says:

      Excellent point. While this newsletter was caught up in its usually irreverent spiel, it made no mention of actual risks to that audience, especially if there are mechanisms to make sure this crowd doesn’t get exposed to otherwise vulnerable populations. This was a pretty weak article by Prof Galloway.

    • Ben says:

      Mortality is not the only cost of this infection: three weeks of pneumonia can permanently scar your lungs, and we really still don’t know what the long term consequences of infection are. But what about the risk to the teaching cohort, to the support staff? In early-mid March, suffered a two week spell of alarmingly restricted breathing about a week after noticing a kid in the front of the class who could not control their spasmodic coughing. Should the students teach themselves?

    • Joseph Rockne says:

      I believe Purdue backtracked a bit and will now be offering students an option of attending on-line only in the fall.

    • Neil says:

      @Ben — Not to mention the risk to student’s families. In my college days, I knew a number of foreign students who could not afford afford to travel back and forth and had to stay near that campus for YEARS. If you can’t visit relatives or friends this changes the college experience.

  39. John Azevedo says:

    Good job Scott; kind of brilliant assessment of colleges as businesses. Your Ex/Experience note was funny and reminded me of Father Guido Sarducci who said that all we remember of college is about 5 minutes of info so he was starting a 5 minute university. ” All you need to know from our business school is Supply and Demand.” My guess is that tuition will be very affordable 🙂

    • Jane Orson says:

      The business of colleges can be analyzed without conflating the issue with Covid and reopening. On the latter theme, Prof Galloway exhibits the same myopia that much of US seems to be. Universities can absolutely reopen soon. Countries with stellar outcomes in terms of both fatalities and critical care needs should be observed, if only America can overcome its fascination with itself.

  40. RJB says:

    Blunt. Real. Thought provoking. Honest. I’m new. I just joined.

  41. Njonjo Ndehi says:

    Grab the popcorn. It’s gonna be an interesting movie this fall.

    • joseph rockne says:

      We have a soon to be freshman. Can tell you that being a star in the movie is awful.

  42. Shrey Pradhan says:

    Thank you for the excellent insight into what is a very prevalent issue of today! The value ratio equation you provided us in the article piqued my interest. How do you suppose we can implement numeric values into factors such as C, E, EX (If that even is possible)? As I am currently a student paying tuition and wondering what my overall cost and benefits are of going through higher education during these troubling times, I wanted to obtain an aforementioned value ratio for myself.

  43. bob heaney says:

    insightful analysis…thank you !

  44. David Burke says:

    Spot on Scott. Uni’s dont care about the students, tuition is KING. Hopefully it isnt a shit show in November.

  45. Gena Cox says:

    I like your work. But I almost didn’t read this article because of this line in the first paragraph. “ We inherited this from people willing to leave everything behind, get on a ship, and build a new life in a strange land. Things would be better — they were optimists.“ My ancestors surely got on a ship; but I doubt they were optimistic about it. My ancestors were African-born slaves.

    • Poop Mcdooperson says:

      Thanks for this insightful comment, if you hadn’t shared I wouldn’t have known that everything is about you.

    • Oren says:

      Gena, the author was very clear when writing “we inherited this from people WILLING to leave…”, so it is clear that those accused of optimism are those who came willingly and not the slaves that were brought in forcefully (which, I would agree, had not much reason to be optimistic). So with that clarified, are you still annoyed by this statement or feel discriminated against in any way?

    • Akira says:

      @Poop Mcdooperson oh pack it in. A good point from @Gena Cox. Still supports the premise SG is making – I.e whether people have made great sacrifices themselves fuelled by relentless optimism and hope for a better future – or demanded those sacrifices of others by enslaving them to the cause – in both cases: it won’t help now: COVID doesn’t care.

    • Gena says:

      @Oren I was just exploring the premise of “optimism” as a universal American driver cos it was a distracting premise of this (otherwise great) article for me. I don’t feel oppressed by it! Just a call-out for inclusive language. Thanks for asking tho’. Dialog like this is a nice thing.

    • Gena says:

      @Poop Mcdooperson Why, thank you!

  46. David says:


  47. Konstantina Broome says:

    Thank you for such comprehensive presentation of an old and painful issue. We may see a real clean-up alas the “big whales” will still float.

  48. Ed Sadowski says:

    Shouldn’t it be (C + E + EX) / Tuition?

  49. Beth says:

    This is brilliant.

  50. MICHAEL M THOMAS says:

    I think there are several types of optimism. The prevalent form today is what I call “back to the wall optimism,” as in anything has to be better than (Plymouth)(Juarez) etc etc. This is different from the “Go West” pioneer positivity we fancy as being American.

  51. John TS says:

    How about the numerous lawsuits looking for tuition refunds?

  52. Prof. M says:

    Scott, in theory moving education online is a fantastic idea. Eliminate the boundaries of a physical campus, reduce costs, etc. However, we need to inspect a few things. Online education today is AWFUL… it’s asynchronous which creates educated hermits, shallow since it doesn’t benefit from discussion/discourse, and it consists of an approach of graduation at the cost of quality and self-fulfillment. I teach graduate school online and live to JUCO students and these are my impressions: 1. The current model of online teaching through discussion boards, weekly announcements, videos, and weekly assignments is shallow and it provides no depth of knowledge for students. Most students are trudging along trying to get whatever grade they can get so they can get certified (see diploma mills) and teachers don’t have an opportunity to engage. We are what the school calls “instructors” not professors… I deeply about my students and I record videos every week with long lectures, I schedule 1:1 calls with them… I pass along videos I enjoyed that can enrich their experience – Maureen’s videos are a favorite – but what I am always told by students is that I am absolutely ALONE in this. No other teach goes beyond canned feedback from a feedback bank (to be more efficient with their time) and the number of views on lectures and stuff is small – meaning students just want to keep moving and not really learn anything. I am also considered a “hard” grader on my feedback forms… but that’s because I don’t use feedback banks and take the time to reaaaaally grade a paper… well according to them, I am rare. 2. Tuition/Pay – I don’t generate as much revenue for the school as you, but I still generate $50K of revenue for a 10-week course where I get paid $2.5K for my time. I don’t teach for a living… the dirty secret is that I would do it pro bono because it is so much fun for me… but if it were my only source of income, I don’t see how teachers generating 50K for an university couldn’t get paid at least 5K per class. You also don’t get your fair share of income even though you are an authority and get compensated through your businesses and your personal brand… I need to work on that… 3. Tenure – This is my biggest pet peeve with colleges and universities regards tenure. My wife’s tenured MBA teacher was compensated with over $275K in salary for teaching two classes per week. The rest of the time he is doing “research” – this is the biggest crock of bleep I have ever seen in my life. If you want to teach, become a teacher and go teach multiple classes… if you want to research, become a researcher and earn a living off of the returns the research produces. I don’t see how these two things are interconnected in education. Every single PhD candidate is desperate to get tenure and never teach again. That’s the gig for most PhDs. As a matter of fact, the ones who taught me in graduate mostly had no business being teachers. They had poor communication skills, were not up-to-date with current trends and had little to no practical knowledge of the subjects they were teaching. My best teachers were part-time executives that really cared about their class and did it for fun. This isn’t the case for other degree, but for business, if you aren’t actually working a job and seeing what’s out there – I wouldn’t want to have you teach my kids. Becoming a tenured professor is one of the rarest, most difficult things to achieve if you are talented but don’t have an extensive network and the cushiest for those who get there. 4. The banalization of a PhD degree – Being a PhD should be a very challenging process because you are advancing an area of study and expanding its boundaries, but if you are trying to become a business PhD now, 7-11 has a degree for you. So few schools handing out PhD degrees are AACSB accredited that degree holders are not as valued as they were in the past. As a matter of fact, connecting the ability to teach in college with a PhD is a mistake in my opinion and one of the main reasons why people are so desperately investing 100K to become a PhD. This is like investing in a franchise where the math is: Crappy PhD + Network = Cushy tenured gig IMHO, it’s time to truly evaluate a teacher’s experience by hiring the best and brightest business minds. Evaluating who has teaching ability – not all will – and continue training them to connect with students. Finally, abolishing tenure and disconnecting it from research. One more thing, we need to try and mimic the same experience we provide online with the offline experience. I would abolish asynchronous learning for degree-seeking students *(if you aren’t degree seeking – you should be able to watch your content any time), force students to have real conferencing access (webcam, live microphone) and that we explore virtual hangouts, happy hours, etc. with the students. Well… enough ranting – see you in class Prof. Galloway

    • Matthew says:

      Too long ^

    • Jimmy says:

      Seriously, this reply was longer than prof G’s actual post.

    • Diana says:

      I enjoyed the content even if it was lengthy. All great points that resonated with me. I do live virtual and in-person business software training. I also teach skiing and rock climbing. I have certifications but they’re mostly meaningless except to get in the door. To teach well is a skill, and simply being tenured or a PhD candidate does not make one skilled.

    • Curious says:

      There are important points in this reply, thanks.

    • Bruce says:

      Prof M – Well said. Years ago I went to UC Berkeley and saw some of what you mention. This mixing of teaching and research, then dumping more of the teaching nowadays on lowly paid temp professors is sad to see. I hate the overpaid administration that just seems to get bloated more and more. You sound like a beacon of light in the darkness. Thanks very much for the post.

  53. Kristina J Hodgdon says:

    I just went to sign up for a Python class at Udemy. Their classes used to be $11.99/$14.99 but are now about $100 more for many courses. I guess this is expected now, right?I already take online MS and BS classes at Capella and Rasmussen, but like to take shorter self-paced courses that I’m interested in. I imagine the cost of most online education offerings will increase? I am worried about further continuation of discrimination and inequity of marginalized groups, particularly people of color (of which I am not). While I cannot claim to feel what they feel, I am partially paralyzed, so I have a small inkling of discrimination. I care that some people are not being afforded the same opportunities as others and will be pushed down even further.

  54. JGS says:

    Scott, thanks for sharing your mordant wit with us, your plebeian subscribers. Your opinions about overpriced costs of most colleges in the US have been shared by the president of Haifa-based Technion, whose president was asked by the NYT some years ago why were they joining Cornell at setting up a campus in Roosevelt island. His reply was; ..”in Israel you get our first-class education at our university for $6,000 per year, but in the US that same education costs $52,000”…and I may add that here there are more applicants than seats. I hope and wish that the overpricing that you point out is arbitraged out of the system, but if history is any guide that will not be easy because the devil is in the details, among them, any new school/method/system needs accreditation which is controlled by the existing colleges/incumbents that will not go without a fight. Stay safe

  55. Judith McGarry says:

    Such a thoughtful, proof-filled post. Thank you. But you really lost authority/cred by referring to the “all girls” college. WTF? Women, Scott: women…

  56. Raj says:

    Excellent analysis and overview of where higher education is headed. The question is: is this a road bump for Fall 20 or a change in the way education is delivered continuing on to 2021 and beyond?

  57. Eleni Samara says:

    Using female pronouns for general reference is great – but then you come up with “an all girls college”? Really?

  58. Abi Adisa says:

    Funny and insightful piece. Figure out the killer whale in your business and you’ll be smiling to the bank for a long time…

  59. Kat Sosnick says:

    America’s optimism is also what gives the world an imagination. In stark contrast to a country like German where comfort and pragmatism prevails and optimism is viewed as a clumsy concept. It is clear that the latter mindset leads to better outcomes in a pandemic. The former though has led to the most significant break-thrus and innovations in history.

    • Will C. says:

      Well, it’s GermanY, for a start, Kat. And it’s a bit more nuanced than your comment suggests. They have plenty of imagination in Germany (I’m a Brit, by the way, so no dog in this fight) and the Germans actually, um, you know, manufacture a lot of stuff and export it so they have a positive current account balance (presuming you are American, you may need to go and look up what that is…) and have valuable technical apprentice programs instead of colleges that purvey many absolutely *useless* majors (fashion design or culinary arts, anyone?) that students earn here – at exorbitant cost to themselves. Also, the workers have seats on boards, so they aren’t just thrown to the wolves when economic times are hard. America’s optimism is great but it’s not the unalloyed benefit some believe it to be…

  60. benjy says:

    Great stuff. You just can’t allow yourself to go a single post without obligatory administration bashing—it’s ok (per the prof) to take rich foreigners’ full tuition dollars who are average and non-diverse (where it counts) and returning home in short order but it’s no good/very bad to have a look at creating a more surgical policy, say, to throttle student visas for those with ties to the People’s Liberation Army? I ascribed superpower to you in discernment across far too many topics—you know academia, some business stuff and have a heart and are willing to speak honestly. But you drink from the slop trough of left-hood with unlimited abandon and share the common inability to have original and critical thoughts and judgments. Alas

  61. Piet Beukman says:

    Scott you make a lot of sense. Many programs in commere etc can be full online. But how will we handle courses in engineering, science, medicine & dentistry for example that have labs needing on-campus facilities and presence?

  62. Juliet DeMasi says:

    1. All women’s college. 2. I hope that public universities rise to the occasion. 3. I’m really sorry our son’s gap year was 2019-2020. We’re going to pay a fortune for ??? this year.

  63. Carsten says:

    To say every org during Covid should cut cost is only half the story. Cutting cost works during a recession that is driven by shrinking demand, or driven by oversupply, or debt increase … but the Covid recession is creating a situation where companies find they don’t have a way to communciate/engage/sell their products because their business or channels have been shut down. So focusing only on cutting cost will result in those companies cutting themselves to death. While companies have to manage their cost they have to push for ways to engage, service, sell to new and existing customers. So that second part of your point is really important for this recession/depression whatever we call it. We will have another year or two of limited access to clients and prospects I would assume so focusing on cost only will be death.

    • Jim says:

      #thenewnormal……organizations will have to take a step back and respond in very different ways; first to simply survive and support their communities. This will then give them the opportunity, still in the short term to take-on the new world!

  64. Alexander Zwissler says:

    “.. returning admission rates back to what they were in the eighties, a time when the unremarkable sons of single immigrant mothers from lower middle class households were given remarkable opportunities.” Me, but it was the 70’s, so even better!!!

  65. Peter Picard says:

    An “all-girls college,” really?

    • Peter says:

      Peter- nice fake account and thanks for your “correction” – the PC police have been notified.

    • Mike says:

      The quote was “an all girls high school”. IIRC, high school ages average 15-18, so girls would be ok in my book. Of course, if the prof was advising the board of an institution helping incarcerated female felons get high school diplomas then “all women’s high school” might be apropos.

    • Michelle Gabriel says:

      @Mike I attended what I think was, for the longest time, the only remaining public all girls high school in the US – Philadelphia High School for Girls. Now there are all girls charter schools. So it appears to me for high school, “all girls” has been an official term.

  66. Charles Wyman says:

    One of the best lines I’ve read on the pandemic: “The elimination of the university experience is similar to SeaWorld without killer whales. Yeah, we get it … free Willy, but I’m not paying $450 to see otters and penguins.” I’m same vintage as you. Ivy League tuition room & board for my first year at was $3,500 vs $50,000+ today. Inflation in higher education is unsustainable and has created a real cancer in the economy in the form of student debt. This is a meteorite headed right at the schools. The California solution, in my opinion, is the only one that works in the short term. That and cutting cash expenses to the bone. No way the physical economy gets crushed (SME = 50% of employment) and the universities continue business as usual.

  67. Andy Thorson says:

    Step One: eliminate all non-academic deaneries except Dean of Students in every US university. This will force a refocusing of effort on excellent undergraduate education and hopefully stem the tide of the dumbing down of the curriculum to a unidimensional, very low, common denominator. The academy is America’s greatest asset. It is also our most imperiled one.

  68. Dave Simkins says:

    Right on. Money talks as always. Most universities need you to attend in person to pay the bills. Government administration employees get to stay home indefinitely because no one is really depending on them to do anything to pay the bills. Blue State Politicians mostly interested in pleasing public employees and unions to get elected so they don’t have to work. Red states mostly concerned with business to get elected so they push opening. Nothing too surprising in any of this.

  69. Sanjay Chaturvedi says:

    During this unprecedented health pandemic, the government should bail out colleges rather than subject students to a potential health risk.

  70. Randal Whisenant says:

    The dynamics you describe above only throw the reality of “brand name” schools and the cost to attend them into stark relief; nothing is different, it’s only more obvious. The line of kids to get a Yale degree over Zoom may be shorter than usual, but it still stretches around the world…even at full price, with the future benefit of being welcomed into the business/legal/academic world for life. Until the benefit of having a branded college on your resume is outweighed by the cost of attending, the math works. Just like LVMH keeps creating value by stamping a logo and paint on plain leather, brand-value schools will continue to turn out a newly-branded supply of finished product (crafted from pretty basic raw materials) that the world demands and for which it stands ready to overpay.