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Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity by Scott Galloway

Published in November 2020

Just one of the five chapters of Galloway's Post Corona is devoted to higher education. As that will be the chapter of most interest to Inside Higher Ed readers, this review will mostly focus on those pages.

This does not mean that the other four chapters should be skipped, as Galloway's thoughts on the post-pandemic world are consistently provocative, informative and entertaining.

The question for us is if what we should make of Galloway's pronouncements, recommendations and predictions about higher education?

First, the good news. Too few books about the future include chapters on higher education. Our ecosystem (Galloway insists we are a business) is usually absent from discussions in which other industries (media, transportation, retail, etc.) figure prominently. This is too bad, as we can better think of new ideas about the future of higher education if we understand our industry through nonacademic lenses.

The other good news about Post Corona when it comes to higher education is that Galloway is a terrific writer. Post Corona was clearly written quickly (to Galloway's credit with relevancy), but the book reads even faster. The energy that Galloway brings to discussing the future of colleges and universities is as infectious as a new COVID strain. (Sorry).

Galloway is having fun thinking and writing about where higher education is going, which makes the book (and the higher ed chapter) a pleasure to read. (And a quick plug for the audiobook version, which Galloway narrates, adding to the effect of getting inside the author's head.)

Now the complaints. (None of which should stop you from reading the book and finding a way to discuss the higher education chapter on your campus.)

Galloway teaches a brand strategy course every year at NYU's Stern School of Business. I bet the course is terrific, given Galloway's energy and ideas and rich and varied business background.

Like every other professor, Galloway was forced to convert his course to remote in 2020. He bases much of his thinking and recommendations about the future of higher education on his teaching experience during the pandemic.

Galloway is not alone among academics in having a new experience with remote teaching during COVID and then taking this experience to claim universal expertise in the field of online learning. Our campuses are full like never before with "online learning" experts, professors who feel no hesitation in directing their institution's online education strategy based on what they learned moving their courses from residential to remote.

I've been a student of higher education, and online learning, for 20 years. Like every other discipline and human endeavor, I realize that the more I learn about higher education, the less I know for sure.

Expertise is mostly about asking the right questions. Galloway has too many answers. When it comes to the post-COVID future of higher education, Galloway would do well with more inquiry, less certainty. (That would be truly "gangster" -- Galloway's favorite term for anything really good.)

If Galloway had been less certain or maybe taken more time to do some more research before launching Post Corona, he may not have missed some massive trends and developments about the future of higher education.

First, Galloway entirely skips over the recent industrywide shifts in the organizational structures of most colleges and universities that set the context for higher ed's response to the pandemic. There is nothing in Post Corona about the growth of campus learning organizations such as centers for teaching and learning, academic computing units, or online learning divisions.

Galloway misses that the main story of institutional resilience during COVID was the capacities and expertise that nonfaculty educators (instructional designers, educational developers) brought to the task of collaborating with professors to pivot every course to remote learning.

Galloway is enamored or critical of learning technologies but fails to see that technologies are only tools. His post-COVID predictions are technology-centric, rather than organizational and educator-centric, and therefore not very helpful in developing a post-pandemic institutional strategy.

Second, Galloway thinks that the big change after COVID will be brand-name schools partnering with brand-name companies (Google, Microsoft, maybe Amazon, not Facebook -- the four) to offer credentials, learning and experiences. (The higher education bundle.)

Leaving aside that the role of community colleges and nonflagship public institutions (where the vast majority of our students attend) do not figure in this narrative, Galloway's company-centric predictions are wrong on their own terms.

The real story, which Galloway does not even mention, is the increasing importance of nonprofit (university) and for-profit partnerships. The work of colleges and universities with platforms such as Coursera and edX and online program management companies such as 2U and Noodle will accelerate dramatically in the years to come.

It is the platform providers and the OPM companies that will bring big tech companies into the equation (as partners and customers). Still, the real story (and it is a complicated and controversial story) is with education-specific for-profits working with colleges and universities.

Finally, I was surprised that Galloway did not talk about the transition of residential programs (particularly master's programs) to online -- and the trend toward low-cost online programs delivered at scale. Any serious book -- or chapter -- on the future of higher education needs to grapple with Georgia Tech and Boston University and Illinois and others' low-cost online master's degrees.

Nor does Galloway give any space to the growth of noncredit online programs and how these alternative certificates will challenge the established master's degree programs of regionally branded schools.

Would I recommend reading and discussing Post Corona on campus, with maybe a reading group around the higher education chapter? Again, yes.

Galloway gets enough right -- such as sharing data on the rising costs and the failure of higher education to maintain its role as an engine of opportunity creation -- that his call for nonincremental change is persuasive.

Post Corona may get the specifics of post-pandemic higher education wrong, but Galloway is entirely correct in that there will be no going back.

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