Dissecting Scott Galloway’s interview with NYMag

NYU business professor Scott Galloway makes a controversial statement in his New York Magazine interview: Because of coronavirus, the college experience in the U.S. as we know it will soon be on its death bed. As Galloway sees it, the “product” that is higher education has been exposed as “dramatically less compelling” and either can’t or shouldn’t be allowed to return to normal.

He states:

It will be like department stores in 2018. Everyone will recognize they’re going out of business, but it will take longer than people think. There will be a lot of zombie universities. Alumni will step in to help. They’ll cut costs to figure out how to stay alive, but they’ll effectively be the walking dead. I don’t think you’re going to see massive shutdowns, but there’s going to be a strain on tier-two colleges.

Galloway asserts that the future of higher education “will entail partnerships between the largest tech companies in the world and elite universities,” according to the article’s author James Walsh.

In this marriage of higher education and tech giants, Walsh writes, “these partnerships will allow universities to expand enrollment dramatically by offering hybrid online-offline degrees, the affordability and value of which will seismically alter the landscape of higher education.”

America’s elite institutions will become larger and more influential and lower-tiered colleges and universities will stare doom in the face, in this future of higher education.

A few thoughts on this MOOC-like future:

1. Students are expected to enter these mega-universities simply to become tools for capitalism. Galloway says nothing about college graduates being better citizens, becoming a volunteer soccer coach or bolstering democracy. Nope, it’s all about money, money, money.

2. Where does the writer, the sculptor, the historian, the journalist, the nurse and other students not in the business or STEM fields fit in this environment? Perhaps more importantly, how do some of those fields — which require intense face-to-face instruction — thrive? Or will those degrees be atrophied until they die in this education/technology arrangement?

3. There’s a significant presumption that traditional college-aged men and women will abandon the mythical undergraduate experience of friends, clubs, international study options,  and the other elements of college in favor of an almost exclusively online learning experience. Likewise, there’s a significant presumption that parents no longer want to send their sons and daughters out the door in order to allow them to grow up in a way they can’t while they remain under mom and dad’s roof.

4. Galloway’s vision would place even more pressure on America’s high school students to achieve near perfection inside and outside the classroom so that they can attract the elite institutions. I see a “super teenager” who can only be created if he/she comes from wealth and privilege. Of course, he/she had better not have any mental health needs, because in the Galloway universe, administrators are exempted from caring for their students’ mental health.

5. One of the reasons Harvard, Yale, Stanford and the few like them are elite institutions is because they admit so few students. If those universities are admitting thousands more high school graduates each year, then doesn’t their elite status disappear? Let’s not imagine a scenario in which an “elite” institution is deemed to be one because it has the “right” corporate partner.

6. Galloway understands the business world, so why does he dismiss the importance of the face-to-face interaction that comes with any kind of deal? Sizing up the individual instead becomes resizing the image on my computer screen? I doubt it. Related to this, can you imagine the reaction Prof. X will have when he/she learns detailed, meaningful responses to his/her 2,500 students are a required part of the job? Every semester, mind you. Unless the full-time instructors will be kicked to the curb in favor of adjunct faculty who will do as they are told under penalty of dismissal? (Does sound somewhat corporate-like, doesn’t it? It certainly would be “efficient.”)

7. Of course, parents and students are scrutinizing the college experience more closely because coronavirus has forced instruction online, and these concerns are valid. However, once something akin to normal returns — and I’m not going to hazard a guess as to when that might be — the traditional college experience will be the preferred option for an overwhelming number of students. (I accept that the frightening unemployment data resulting from the pandemic might delay or kill many students’ college dreams.)

8. The phrase “things will never be the same again” is often heard during dark times. Some aspects of the college experience might never be the same again once the coronavirus pandemic passes (or at least might take a while to return), but any suggestion that the “product” that is higher education is doomed is a stretch.

Will some institutions close in the next year or two? Yes. Will faculty and staff lose their jobs at institutions that remain open? Yes. Will fewer students enter our campus grounds until a guaranteed vaccine to fight coronavirus is available? Yes.

But count me among those not convinced that the future of higher education is Apple-Stanford University.

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