NYU’s Scott Galloway: Dozens of U.S. colleges soon will perish

NYU business professor Scott Galloway is at it again.

Less than two months after suggesting in a magazine story that coronavirus will cause dozens of U.S. colleges to close (an argument I dissected), he is again making the dire prediction that the immediate future for many U.S. higher institutions is bleak.

Galloway has taken a look at over 400 American colleges and universities, and he believes more than 20 percent of them are doomed. (Full disclosure: My employer is on that list.) Summarized briefly, he contends institutions with low value and high vulnerability might be toast because of the lingering coronavirus pandemic.

According to Galloway, because of that pandemic every U.S. college and university should

…immediately announce fall classes will be all online, no in-person classes. It will be devastating economically for the weakest. State governments desperate for cuts in the face of shrinking tax revenues will need help from the federal government: If we can give Kanye $5 million, we can help save Purdue. The Fed just expanded the “Main Street” lending program to nonprofits, including universities. Alumni who have parlayed their education into fortunes should step up and make sure the next generation can follow.

He adds that cutting costs and prices are a mandatory next step.

He also cites a New Yorker article to identify how creative solutions could allow for some students to live on campus even though the typical college experience will be missing. Those creative solutions also entail looking for ways to get students and faculty together — perhaps in parks — to discuss assignments and engage in deep conversations.

Obviously, Galloway scoffs at any effort higher education leaders across the country are making to provide college students what an overwhelming majority of them have always wanted — an enriching academic experience on the college campus. This experience includes learning from their professors inside a classroom, supplemented by enough extracurricular options to have some fun.

I accept — and anyone who knows me will attest that I’ve said this many times over the past four months — that the 2020-21 academic year will not be normal. I doubt we’ll get through the 9-month academic year without a deteriorating health situation that will require colleges and universities to shift to remote delivery of instruction, even if for only a couple of weeks. I’m not convinced athletics teams should play competitive sports this fall, and that ban could be extended to the spring if coronavirus and the flu season provide a double wallop to health conditions. I realize a host of those aforementioned extracurricular activities will be cancelled, if for no other reason than to keep students separated whenever possible.

However, the same grit Galloway addresses at the end of his report needs to be on display now. I’ve advocated that K-12 schools ought to begin the academic year online (and might have to operate that way trough June). But there are critical differences that support the idea of trying to hold in-person college classes this fall.

-While K-12 students and teachers are inside one building for roughly eight hours (with maybe one opportunity per day to go outside), college buildings are revolving doors of people entering and exiting. Therefore, the potential for falling prey to contaminated air is less.

-Closely related to this, college students are not in classes from roughly 8 a.m.-4 p.m. five days a week, as their K-12 colleagues are. (Yes, I know, some schools have half-day kindergarten.) The potential for them to contaminate classroom buildings is reduced.

-Colleges and universities, generally speaking, have better technological capabilities than their K-12 counterparts, and this technology advantage allows for creative teaching options such as half the students being in class and the other half being online.

-Next, college students come from all over the country and all over the world; heterogeneity defines our colleges. That means many of our students don’t have the technological capabilities that many of us take for granted. Because of that, the campus library and computer labs are communication lifelines that they might not otherwise have. These must stay open for as long as possible so that all students can meet their academic responsibilities.

-The diversity that is on display (to varying degrees) on our campuses reflects the real world; it’s incumbent upon campus leaders to at least attempt at offering this critical and intangible learning benefit to all students.

-For all the joking about college students being immature, they are far more likely to wear a mask (even if they don’t want to) and leave it on when told. I have serious doubts that 16-year-old Billy and 6-year-old Susie will always follow those orders.

Of course, reasonable accommodations for our vulnerable faculty, staff and students must be considered at any institution that has open doors this fall. We fail as ethical leaders if we place anyone in situations where their legitimate fears for their health overpower their ability to teach, work and learn. (Thankfully, that’s a decision I’m not tasked with making.)

Should every college and university deliver only online instruction this year? The answer might be yes; however, I admit that I’m not yet convinced of that answer. Of course the financial health of the college or university is one of the factors being considered in these conversations. But more importantly, until we know for certain that health conditions in our area will not allow for on ground teaching, we must seek ways to make such teaching possible.

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