Visiting Northeastern: When Technology Complements Human Interaction

Tuesday, April 5, 2022 - In its fifth season, Future U. took the show on the road and recorded on campus at Northeastern University. University President Joseph Aoun, a faculty member, an administrator, and a student weighed in on the future of higher ed, in a post-pandemic world, and how technology and the human touch go hand-in-hand.

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The New U papers by Jeff Selingo

Before a live audience, Jeff Selingo and Michael Horn spoke with members of the Northeastern University community about the themes they’re focusing on for the future of the university. Hear insights about distinguishing between the university and its physical campus, the future of online learning, and the importance of fostering human interaction.



Jeff Selingo:

Michael, when I was a reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education, traveling to a campus to report a story was always preferable to reporting it over the phone from DC. I'd always find sources I wouldn't have had otherwise by knocking on faculty office doors or talking to students in the dining hall. I got so much more context and color for what was really happening on the ground.

Michael Horn:

I can definitely see why that would be the case, Jeff, and that's why you and I are hitting the road, as well now, that things are beginning slowly to return to some sort of normal after two years of living through the pandemic. It's the Future U. Campus Tour and this week we have our first stop, Northeastern University in Boston.


This episode is part of the Future U. Campus Tour, which is made possible thanks to the exclusive support of

Michael Horn:

I'm Michael Horn.

Jeff Selingo:

And I'm Jeff Selingo.

The pandemic has seemed to spawn a lot of future trends: The great resignation, the next normal, learning loss. Here in Future U. we're particularly interested in what's next for higher ed, of course. In the past, when there were big shocks to the system, depressions and recessions, wars, social upheaval, the model of higher education was adapted, but usually at the edges.

Just like we discussed on a recent episode around credentials, the legacy models in higher education have endured, especially the residential four-year campus and the face-to-face two year model.

Michael Horn:

That's right, Jeff. And I think the question that everyone is asking as we come out of the pandemic, and especially as we approach a demographic cliff in the middle of this decade and alongside the huge needs for upskilling and re-skilling in the broader economy among learners of all ages, is how does higher ed respond? Or do they respond?

Jeff Selingo:

Michael, two years ago I wrote a series of papers called The New U, which we'll add to the show notes. And in there I talked about how colleges and universities don't differentiate at the core but tend to adapt the higher ed model on the margins, whether it's around their size, research agenda and the mix of graduate and academic programs they offer.

As one of my late friends at the University of Georgia, Doug Toma, used to say, "Colleges are eerily similar in vision." He'd go on to write that, "They not only portray their ambitions using similar rhetoric, but they also operationalize them through a rather generic set of approaches."

But we keep hearing about new models emerging from the pandemic. But we also know that colleges and universities are grappling with other issues, from financial sustainability to questions about their value, to student mental health and belonging.

So that's the purpose of this campus tour that we kick off this week, to travel to four campuses to interview some of the key stakeholders in the future of higher ed, from president, to students, to faculty.

Michael Horn:

And we should say upfront, Jeff, that the stops in this tour are by no means meant to be representative of the vast diversity of American higher ed education. But our schedule at the same time will take us to four different regions of the United States.

Jeff Selingo:

Nor can we talk to everyone or cover every issue in the hour that we spend hosting at campus town hall, and you're going to hear most of that town hall from Northeastern on this episode.

We also hope to make this idea more of a regular feature in the future. Normally we only acknowledge our sponsors at the top, Michael, but I want to give a shout out to, because without their financial support of this tour, it wouldn't have been possible.

Michael Horn:

So first up in this segment before our break is our conversation with Northeastern's President, Joseph Aoun, who has led the university since 2006. In this interview you'll hear President Aoun talk about the opportunities for higher ed around lifelong learning and partnerships. He mentions how, in the future, higher ed can't lean on its diversity of institution, which the sector often talks about, but rather needs those institutions to be distinctive.

And he's careful to distinguish between universities and the campus as institutions start to think about hybrid and online education because, after all, COVID-19 has taught higher ed it is no longer place bound or quite in the same way that it was anyway.

So here's Jeff with the opening question at our Northeastern Future U. town hall, which was recorded February 28th, 2022.

Jeff Selingo:

So I want to talk a little bit about the vast majority of higher education because they are struggling right now coming out of the pandemic. So we're going to talk a little bit about Northeastern in a minute, but I want to talk more broadly about higher education. If you were the czar of higher education coming out of the pandemic, what should those institutions do to survive and thrive in this decade ahead? Those institutions that may not have the means of a Northeastern or the student demand of a Northeastern or be in a dynamic city like Northeastern or have the research prowess of Northeastern. If you were the czar of higher education, what should the vast majority of higher education institutions do coming out of this pandemic?

President Joseph Aoun:

Yes. Higher education ... And this is a good opportunity for higher education to reflect and also to see what opportunities we have moving forward. So let me explain. We know that during COVID there were many lessons that we learned in higher education. First, that COVID-19 came. We were not prepared. Overnight we had to move into the online learning and by brute force. But, at the same time, people realized that it could be done. And, we, faculty, staff, students, learned how to live with it.

So now we are in this situation where online learning is not something that you question. At the same time, people started questioning the residential model at the beginning. People said, "Oh, that's the end of the residential model?" Well, we learned that this is not the case. Why? Because we saw that during COVID that the students wanted the human contact.

Let me give you an example: When some colleges and campuses closed, the students gathered and rented places around them, around these colleges, in order to interact with each other. The human factor is important. The human interaction is important.

And another lesson is obviously what happened with the Black Lives Matter and systemic racism and impacting many communities, including the Asian-American communities, the Hispanic communities, the Muslim communities, et cetera. So many universities, including ours, were caught flatfooted because we realized that this was important to us over the years, but we didn't make it part of a university imperative. So we had to integrate all that.

So now let's look at where we are today in higher education. You said that some places are hurting when this is a time for these places to look at themselves and say, "What are we doing? Are we attractive? Are we differentiated?" We talked over the years that higher education is diverse but not differentiated. So if you're not differentiated, how are you going to attract students to you? What is your value add? And this is an opportunity for universities and colleges to reflect on who they are and what they can do differently from others.

Second, this is an opportunity for them to go beyond what they have been doing. For instance, in the United States, we all know that the large majority of learners are lifelong learners like us. How many colleges and universities consider lifelong learning opportunities or lifelong learning as part of the core mission of the university?

Jeff Selingo:

Not many. Not many.

President Joseph Aoun:

Okay. So that's an opportunity. Why? You know, you wrote about it, you documented that. We are an aging population. The percentage of undergraduate students who are traditional 18 to 22 students, is shrinking. At the same time the percentage of lifelong learners is increasing.

So we have to look at our mission and say, our mission is not to educate the 18 to 22 only, but our mission is to educate people for life. This will open enormous opportunities to everybody, to colleges, to universities, that those that are hurting can benefit tremendously from that. So it's time to look at these opportunities.

Other opportunities are going to arise. Can you partner with other colleges? Can you merge with other colleges? Can you bring a consortium together to work with you on issues that are relevant for society? We did it during COVID-19. Universities worked together on providing solutions for COVID-19, whether it's drugs or whether it's vaccines or other aspects.

So that's how I would look at it.

Jeff Selingo:

So Northeastern obviously has been active in this partnering and other conversations with shared services with other universities. So let's use that as a way to shift into the Northeastern part of this conversation. And, specifically, I'm curious, during the darkest days of culture very early on, you set up a task force to think about strategic opportunities for Northeastern. So I'm curious as to the thinking behind setting that up.

And then, more specifically, what are some of those new and emerging opportunities that you see for the university right now?

President Joseph Aoun:

Looking at the future is always an imperative for us because if you don't do that you're going to fall behind, you're going to miss opportunities and you're not going to renew yourself as an institution. So this has been something that we value tremendously. Always think about what you do, always think about questioning it and always think about opportunities. And we did it, as you mentioned, during COVID-19. That was important to us because we knew at some point that COVID-19 will end, but the university will not end.

So, therefore, our teams started looking at what we can do, ranging from launching very robust B2B operations, business-to-business operations, where we can embed ourselves with the employers and provide them with upskilling, re-skilling and reinvention.

Two, the possibilities of partnerships, such as the one we announced with Mills, and we are very excited about that. Two, the opportunity to continue to build our global university system throughout the nation and the world.

Jeff Selingo:

So I wanted to talk about, thinking about the broader US economy coming out of the pandemic, President Aoun, and it's been really well established, of course, that automation and artificial intelligence was a trend before the pandemic. It may even become more of a trend coming out of the pandemic.

Moving forward what do you think that Northeastern and other universities need to do to maintain these long-term connections to students, to the human element? In other words, how do they add value? You talked, for example, about students wanting to be here on campus, even if they weren't in the classroom during COVID. You've talked a little bit about lifelong learning post-pandemic.

How are universities, given the rise of automation, artificial intelligence, which I know from your last book is a topic of great interest to you, how are colleges going to maintain that human connection? What do they have to do to maintain that human connection going forward, coming out of the pandemic?

President Joseph Aoun:

We already know that students at all levels, whether they are 18 to 22 or more mature lifelong learners, need the human connections. So, therefore, it is not the case that people are going to be satisfied with purely online learning. People need to be part of the community. You are learning not only from your professor, but you are learning from each other and you are creating with each other.

So from this perspective, what we learned during this COVID period is that there is a difference between a university and a campus, because we always assumed that, for instance, if I ask you, "What is Princeton?" You say, "Oh, Princeton is in New Jersey." When Princeton closed its campus at New Jersey, it doesn't mean that it closed itself. It kept functioning.

So this congruence between the university and the campus has been called into action. We have been liberated from there. Therefore, in order to maintain the contact with the students, you have to go where the learners are. And that's what we're doing with our building global university system, where we are in California, in Canada, in Seattle, in London.

So in order to maintain the contact with your learners, you're creating a lifelong interaction. You have to go to them, be humble, listen to what their needs are and then provide these needs wherever they are, whenever they're needed. So don't ask people to come to a campus. Let the university come to you.

Michael Horn:

Do you think this will also shift what is a signature program here and which is increasingly being signature programs and colleges and universities around the country, which is experiential learning, right? It's really what Northeastern is built on. How does that change coming out of the pandemic in your opinion?

President Joseph Aoun:

Once again, we globalized our co-ops over the years. So this served us well. Obviously, during COVID-19 we had to rethink it because we already had built experiential opportunities, even when in a virtual world.

So, for us, the experiential opportunities are key in order for students and learners to integrate the classroom experience with the world experience, and whether you do it virtually, whether you do it physically, those are different matters. Clearly, during COVID, we had to do it virtually. Now, it reverted back to a physical setting, but we learned that you need to do both.

So what is the impact? The impact is that when you are working with lifelong learners and they need a certificate, we want all these certificates to be experiential. And now even when they are on short term certificates for four months, therefore, we have opportunities to give them virtual and physical experiential opportunities. So integrate that. And that's what we have learned to do well.

Jeff Selingo:

An engaging conversation there with President Aoun. I, especially liked that line, "Looking at the future is always an imperative for Northeastern because without it institutions aren't going to renew themselves." And that's especially true right now because I think so many college leaders are heads down in their job. And when they look up and out, it's not clarifying, or perhaps it's more confusing.

Now, we had several questions for President Aoun from the audience that day, including this one from David Homa, who's Director of the Digital Initiative at Harvard Business School and is getting his doctorate at Northeastern.

Here it is.

David Homa:

My question's about general education for all students. How is it that schools like Northeastern should be preparing every student for a digital future when most degrees do not include any applied science activities in the actual applied mode? So obviously everything applies that they learn in general education, but how is it that they're supposed to get the experience if those aren't required for graduation degree requirements?

President Joseph Aoun:

Here, at Northeastern, we talk about a curriculum that is based on humanics, and this precisely going back to the idea that AI and robots and intelligence systems are displacing people and we don't want people to be displaced. So, therefore, the question is how to do it?

What we want is people to understand machines, the products of these machines and to focus on what machines cannot do, which is something that is the purview of humans. So humanics calls us to have three literacies, to focus on three literacies: Tech literacy, essentially understanding machines and how to interact with them; data literacy, understanding the product of these machines; and human literacy, focusing on what we, as humans do, that machines cannot duplicate in the foreseeable future, their ability to be innovative, creative, entrepreneurial. To understand how to work in teams, to look you in the eye and to understand your body language, "Is he with me or isn't he with me?" To be ethical, to be global, to be culturally agile, et cetera, et cetera. So all what we are saying is that the co-curriculum should include all these dimensions.

And, in addition, we are saying something more. It is not enough for you to learn about all these dimensions: Tech literacy, data literacy and human literacy. What you have to do is practice them in real world settings through experiential education, through co-ops. Why? Because all our students tell us that when they come back from their co-ops, that they see opportunities that they didn't see before in a classroom setting only. They understand, first of all, what they're good at, what others are good at, they understand gaps, they understand needs, they understand inequalities and racism in a different way. And they step in and they say, "We can play a role in making it happen."

But also, in so doing, we call the premise. We want to understand machines, but we want to focus on what we do that machines can not duplicate. So from this perspective, when you do the experiential education, you practice what learning specialists, and some are here today, taught us, is that you do fire transfer. And what is fire transfer? It's taking your knowledge from a domain and projecting it in a completely different domain.

Jeff Selingo:

That was it for our time with President Aoun. And after the short break we're going to be back with the rest of our Tour Stop at Northeastern, where we got to sit down with a provost, a professor, a student. And a tech executive.

We'll be right back.

Host: is the exclusive sponsor of the Future U Campus Tour. is proud to partner with institutions like yours to build a better future for all. We believe creating a technology enabled, personalized and continuous experience throughout the learner cycle is so critical to driving student and institution success from anywhere. Learn more at

Michael Horn:

Oh, welcome back to Future U and our first stop at the Future U campus Tour at Northeastern University.

Next up is our discussion that we had with Northeastern's Provost, David Madigan, as well, as Marilyn Minus, a Professor and Chair of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering; Breanna McClarey, a political science and criminal justice double major who is set to graduate in 2023; and Jason Belland, a Vice President at Salesforce.

And here's Jeff with the first question to that panel.

Jeff Selingo:

It was interesting, I wrote a paper last year called the New You, and in it, it concluded that the physical campus in a specific location was always the differentiator for most colleges. In fact, so Northeastern sold the experience in Boston. It's a little bit more difficult when students are spread out everywhere and you're not in Boston to differentiate Econ 101 among institutions.

So this seems to indicate a hybrid future for higher ed, but I think hybrid means different things to different people. So maybe, could you just describe what it means to you? What does hybrid mean to you? And then, basically, what might it look like more broadly at Northeastern or in higher education in the future? And then what do we need to get there?

So what does hybrid, what does it look like at Northeastern or at other campuses? And, most important, what do we need to do as a sector to get us there?

David Madigan:

Thank you. So I think, yes, we did learn just how important place is and being together, and whether it's here in Boston or it's at some other location, this desire that we all have to be together, like we are on this stage right now, is extremely powerful.

We also learned that a single modality education is inefficient, it's suboptimal. It's not just to have students and instructors and instructor and students in a room at the same time is one modality. And there is surely a role for that, a central role for that. But education, higher education, going forward is clearly going to weave together different modalities.

I think we talk about, and we talked a lot during the pandemic, about in person versus online as if this is a sharp dichotomy. And we all know what in person means, right? Instructor and students together in a classroom. I think when people use the term "Online," generally speaking, what they're meaning is different place and different time. So think Coursera, edX, 2U, et cetera and so you're in your own space looking at something that's recorded. It's not a synchronous experience.

They are two valid points in the spectrum of modality. I think education, higher education, perhaps all forms of education going forward will embrace both of these, but there's so much space in the middle in terms of, for example, a different place, same time. So we call that our version of flex that we used during the pandemic. I think in the future that will be much more widely used and also much more sophisticated. In many ways what we're doing at the moment is pretty primitive in terms of the experience. An instructor in one place, possibly with some students; some students in another place or other places with not really the full experience of being in the room.

I think technology is going to change that. So immersive experiences where students and instructors ... And I think the definition of instructor's going to change, as well. We will have seamless experiences at the same time but in different places. And I think that is going to be essentially important.

Michael Horn:

So, for you, in the classroom setting, Marilyn, I just want to turn there, let's imagine this hybrid world that's just been articulated, and one thing the pandemic clearly showed us is that teaching and learning, it's not a binary choice between in person or online.

So given that it's likely to be a mix of both with the spectrum that David just described, that obviously requires faculty, though, to make some changes, to rethink how they're teaching, what tools they use, how they use learning analytics and so forth.

So I'm curious, what are the pieces of the hybrid world, in your mind, that faculty have largely figured out? What do they still need to figure out, in your view? And where do universities need to really support them in figuring out? And what does that support need to look like?

Marilyn Minus:

Yeah, thanks for that question. I think something that the faculty have really figured out, we had to learn very quickly what students can learn from us in person and what students can learn on their own? Because we had to redesign the curriculum to really think about things that will just be delivered electronically through the technology and then come in and where do they need us to deliver that same material? So that was something we had to figure out very quickly at the beginning, but I think we largely understand that better. We understand the students better in a different context.

I think the technology is since still something we're trying to figure out. David mentioned it's a little bit primitive, but it's still something where a lot of people were not using technology to the full capabilities and had to really learn a lot of new things all at once. And so what happens there is you use the minimum and then you start to realize, "Wow, there's more functions. There's more things I can do." So I think faculty are still trying to figure out all of those functionalities because that's going to essentially factor into the way they design the curriculum and the way they design the material that can be delivered in different modalities.

I think that the university can continue to educate the faculty, educate students, educate us more on all the opportunities that we do have from a technology point of view. We got a lot of training, but a lot of that training was really about pivoting, getting ready, "We've got to do this. We don't have a choice." But now that we know we can do it, now the education needs to shift to what things we can do with technology. What new things we can do that we didn't know we could do before because now we're ready to receive that. I think we're out of the pivoting mode, get it done mode, and now we're into, okay, redesign, rethink our curriculum.

Michael Horn:

So Breanna, that's the view from a distinguished professor and a provost. I'm curious to go to you as a student and get your view on this and about how the future of higher ed as a hybrid model sounds to you in effect?

But you've told us that being in person was important to you. You liked, though, the flexibility to some degree of the hybrid. What I want to dig in is what that word flexibility means and what's desired about it specifically? Scratching that word a little bit deeper. And do you want flexibility within a course? Within your schedule that you can do some courses online, some in person? Maybe even being able to be flexible about when you're on campus over the course of the year?

Just, really, what does flexibility mean to you and what does it look like in the ideal?

Breanna McClarey:

Yeah, so I have taken hybrid classes fully in person and fully online classes during the pandemic. So I've got the entire scope. And, for me, flexibility is best seen as almost the hybrid model that we had at the beginning and middle of the pandemic. Obviously, that is at its primitive state so I'm sure that can grow from there.

I honestly don't know much about technology, so that's not the place for me to speak about, but I really like the flexibility that the university offered when we were able to select the exact classes that we were going to go to in person for the next week and that could change week by week. So I could choose my Wednesday class would be in person one week, the next week it would be online.

So that was a lot of flexibility that I didn't really expect us to have. I was expecting us to go fully online. So it was a nice surprise to be able to go in person for classes that I wanted to. I would say that I was the kid that was always there in person during the pandemic. I loved that in person instruction. That was something that I really, really valued, especially over the pandemic when most people are online. And I think professors being able to, again, utilize the technology more because there are still a lot of hiccups that come along with it and, thank God, Northeastern IT comes very quickly to classrooms when issues come up.

But I think it's having a more immersive experience will also be helpful because there were times when I was in the classroom and I was one of two students that came in person and the rest of the 20 other people were online. So obviously something is missing. We felt something was gone. So somehow making that more inclusive for the people who are online and in person, because both people want the same experience.

Jeff Selingo:

So Jason, I want to turn to you to get your view, both as a technologist and someone who partners with universities to solve their most pressing problems. We tend to think of technology in a very bifurcated way. It either replaces something or it compliments something, but it could do a little bit of both on college campuses.

And so where do you think that technology does this the best right now? Where do you think it compliments what campuses are already doing? How is technology, in your mind, creating time for faculty and staff to focus on other parts of the human experience? We keep hearing this, people want that human experience.

So technology enables us and frees us up in order to spend more time on that human experience. And where do you think there are opportunities to extend that even further? So where is it gives us the chance to compliment what we're doing to free that time up for the human experience?

Jason Belland:

I love that question, Jeff. And it reminds me, I had a great conversation with a leader at a very prestigious university who said, "Every employee here wakes up every morning and they love the mission. They love what we're doing. They're very excited to come to work every day, We're going to help students. We're going to change the world."

And then they get to campus and throughout the day they take this journey toward apathy because they can't find the data and they're searching around and it's frustrating as they're hitting roadblock after roadblock. And that's really where technology comes in. To clear the path for academic advisors. We talked about the seamless experience in the classroom. We need to make sure we have a seamless experience and a delightful anticipatory experience in and outside of the classroom.

So how do we take advisors, how do we take faculty and others, admissions officers, who are here to help students, to help connect students to opportunity and get the roadblocks out of the way? By empowering them with the data that they need. By the way, the data that the university is collecting every day, but bringing that together in a way that makes sense, that's easy to access so they can leverage that information and reach out to students.

I think this is one of the great things that we're seeing coming out of the pandemic. One of the, I think, silver linings, if you will, of the pandemic was universities got really clear, very quickly out of necessity about what are our values? What matters to us? And pivoted very quickly. That has led to some very real conversations about how do we engage students using technology in a way that ... To the audience question earlier, really leans into making sure every student feels that they belong and they have a place at the institution.

Michael Horn:

So I actually think that sets us up nicely to have a conversation beyond just the hybrid moment, because this seems like a broader sea change, potentially, a seismic moment more broadly for higher education.

And so I want to turn to you, David, we've talked a lot this spring in Future U, or winter and spring, spring season, about the value specifically of higher education. And the US system, as a whole, we know has lost a million students during the course of the pandemic and some of those would be students might enroll eventually. But it's fair to say that we don't really have a great picture still of where a lot of these individuals did instead of college.

And so meanwhile students and parents everywhere and on both sides of the political divide are constantly questioning the price of college tuition, whether it's worth it, they're calculating the return on investment. And yet, against that backdrop, a place like Northeastern and colleges like it are, at least judging by applications, more popular than they've ever been in many ways.

And so I'm curious, because your previous employer at Columbia, also very popular, but I'm curious, is that more a historical legacy of them being in the Ivy League? So that's the first question.

And then the second is, depending if yes or no, what's Northeastern doing so right and what lessons should institutions learn from it so that they can get this popularity and defy some of these broad trends we see in public opinion right now?

David Madigan:

I think, with regards to ... We've seen dramatic increases in applications here in the last couple of the years. And I think we've, generally, learned, it stems from several different places: One, is, the increasing value that people place on experiential learning and experiential education. And this has been accelerated by COVID. The value, I think, is even more apparent to people than it was pre-COVID. I think that's one reason.

I think another reason rather more down to earth is Northeastern succeeded very well during COVID. And, if you will, had its act together, we had our act together. And what we learned from students applying to us and so on is they really valued that. That was important in the pragmatic sense that students had confidence that if they came here we will be open and we are and we will be. So I think that was hugely important.

I think the global dimension to Northeastern is also hugely valuable in the marketplace. So we provide opportunities to students that are so much richer than many of our competitors can provide and becoming more so.

So I think, to me, they're the three dimensions that have us where we are right now.

Jeff Selingo:

Marilyn, I want to talk about something else that's been in the news a lot lately, and that is the great resignation. We've been hearing this in both higher ed, but we've also been hearing just faculty burnout. This has been a tough two years for faculty. But, at the same time, we've been talking a lot about innovation and how it has to continue coming out of the pandemic.

So what do you think colleges and universities need to do to really keep faculty engaged and extend this innovative mindset that has come during the pandemic?

Marilyn Minus:

That's a great question. One thing I think all faculty, if I can speak for all of my fellow faculty, have got into this business for, is we love students. We want to educate students. We love educating, and reminding faculty of that. Here's a new opportunity that we can transform what we do as educators. We can do something very different than what we've done before. We don't have to just prepare the notes and deliver it or give a test like when our professors had transparencies and all that. We have PowerPoint slides. Now we get to do something new and different.

And I think one thing that I know we did in our department in engineering, and others might have done similar, is we shared a lot of good news with each other. We shared a lot about the positive things we were doing, the times that the students would come and say, "Wow, that's really cool what you did with the Zoom meeting." Or, "This is really great that we can attend these office hours in this virtual setting." We shared those with each other and I think that kept people from feeling the burnout as much. We were working overtime very hard, but sharing that good news, you remember, "This is worth it. This is why I'm doing what we're doing." And so I think that's kept us encouraged.

But what's exciting now is how do we go forward? How do we utilize that? Through the canvas we've created sandboxes that allow faculty to share with one another, "I'm doing this in my class and here's how to actually implement it in the technology so we can transfer it easily." So someone who's not as good as the technology can adopt it very quickly.

And so these are some practices that we put in place to remind us that this is not just figure out what to do during the pandemic, but it's an opportunity to do something different.

Jeff Selingo:

Breanna, I wanted to ask you about the student experience during the pandemic, because we know, again, from the headlines in the news right now that students are really struggling to find a sense of belonging on campus. What do you think needs to change about the student experience in the future to really give students, if it's going to be this hybrid experience? If it's going to be this in person experience? If it's going to be this online experience?

Or if it's going to be a mix of all three, which it's likely going to be, what do colleges need to do to give students that sense of belonging and purpose so that higher education is more valuable to them?

Breanna McClarey:

Yeah, and I think having clubs and organizations meet in person is really, I think, the only way that's possible. You can take your classes online, as we've heard. Students don't really mind if their classes are fully online, but being on campus and meeting with clubs is, I think, the best way to keep them here on campus.

I'm in multiple different student organizations, and coming back in person was a huge, huge deal. I'm in an a capella group and it's a very small tight-knit community. And so that's one thing we really can't replicate over Zoom. So being able to do that at, in person was just so, so, so fun. I started a club over the pandemic and on Zoom and it was really difficult to retain members. It was really difficult to keep people coming back. We had new people come in every time and then they wouldn't come back the next time.

So I think retaining people and keeping a sense of community on campus with in person clubs and in person events is really the way to do this. And I know Northeastern has done a pretty good job. Even over the pandemic there were some small in-person events, and then as things started opening back up, there were events and events and events. And I know we just had a dining one with Mardi Gras and stuff like that.

So I think those are really ways that students like to be together and they like to have fun, because obviously we don't only come here for the academics, although that is the primary reason, we do come here for the social scene, and I give tours on campus and I always get asked without fail every single tour, "What's the social scene like? How do you maintain your friends?" Especially with co-ops and study abroad with people coming and going, and that is one question I get every single time. So, yeah,

Michael Horn:

Core purpose doesn't change that students like to have fun. So makes sense.

Jason, I want to turn to you, last question from us before we go to the audience. We've been largely talking about the traditional four year college experience to this point, but we also know, as President Aoun said, colleges and universities are increasingly looking to build relationships throughout people's lives and continue to educate them throughout their lives. And we know that starts the first moment of contact in high school, it goes through enrollment, it goes through the student experience itself and then out into graduation and as alumni.

So I'm curious, what does this lifelong relationship mean in the near future as we project forward? Does it look traditional from the traditional alumni relationship of the past, which was really built around social networking and advancement and opportunities and, of course, development for the university? And are colleges prepared to service that relationship given the handoffs from admissions, to the registrar, to alumni affairs, and so forth that are often missed as it is right now? I mean, universities have melt in their freshman class, they have retention issues and they do lose touch with students.

So where do you see this right now and what needs to occur?

Jason Belland:

So at Salesforce we just did a workforce survey that came back and said 76% of the global workforce is not prepared for the jobs of the future. They don't have the digital, the skills that they need. Think about what that means for Northeastern or any university alumni. How are you engaging those alumni to come back? Many of those alumni ... I can speak for myself. I'm not going to take two years off to get another degree, but I very much am investing in myself and I'm looking for more bite size credentials that I can stack over time that help me as my career is going to pivot four or five, six times over the course of my lifetime.

It comes back to the engage ... I think this is important, creating that seamless experience for students. It really comes back to, I think, what Breanna was just talking about and that's belonging. I think belonging really is the new competitive battleground, and we need to get proximate, get close with, prospects, students and alumni and figure out how do we create multi-channel personalized experiences that adapt over time as one's career changes? The university has a lifelong, almost subscription based, if you will, partnership with you that can sustain over the course of a lifetime.

And I think it's important for universities, like Northeastern is already doing, but others, to really think, we're running a B2C business to student, but we're also running a B2B business and we need to keep both of those running in order to make sure that we have this constant connection with the business community so we're providing value back and the business community's connected back in with the students.

Jeff Selingo:

A great panel, Michael, where we try to cover the waterfront of issues in a short amount of time. Future stops on this tour with panels of faculty and students and administrators. I think we want to take a deep dive on one question. So if our audience has ideas on what that question should be, please reach out and let us know.

We also had a few questions from the audience after this panel, too, including this one from JoJo Jacobson, who's the Assistant Director of Tutoring at Northeastern.

JoJo Jacobson:

I was just wondering, basically, for everybody up there, the opportunities you see for using technology to discuss issues of diversity specifically in access.

So in some of my experience throughout the pandemic, there were definitely students of color, female students who had dealt with stereotype threat and definitely dealt with microaggressions in the in person environment that were definitely changed when they were just a name on the screen or they could alter all sorts of things when interacting, sometimes asynchronously, sometimes just remotely.

So just thinking about the opportunities that technology provides to actually deal with diversity

Michael Horn:

Anybody? Well, Jason, go.

Jason Belland:

Well, I just had an anecdote. That's a fantastic question worth probably a full discussion. One thing, I had a conversation with somebody from a school in Upstate New York, a lot of international students, and she was telling me ... And the story always comes back to me. She was speaking to me about how they had created online communities, they'd done a lot of digital work to help connect students of many different backgrounds. And she was just talking about what an impact it made on those students feeling connected and they belonged to the institution because they were able to show up differently, if you will, in an online environment and think about what does their presence look like and how can they better connect with others in ways that are very different in person?

And so I think there's a real role for technology to play in terms of, in a sense democratizing some of the engagement that happens across campus.

Jeff Selingo:

Any other thoughts on that? We don't have to go to everybody, but any other thoughts? Yeah, go.

Marilyn Minus:

I could just say really quickly from a student access point of view, I think we became very aware that when you're off campus you don't have the same access. Some people have better, some people have least and you had to deal with that and we had to figure out how to make sure accessibility to education is the same.

But I think for tutoring and for students who wanted to ask questions, it got better because you could have a student now post a question and multiple students could benefit, whereas you can barely get them to raise their hand in a classroom, but now everybody's willing to chat. And that really allowed people to have things presented to them in a different way, recordings and other things allowed people to have access, when maybe I'm not a good note taker or I need somebody who could take notes. Now you could watch it over and over.

So I think it presented a great opportunity, but it also made us, being professors, very aware that not everybody had equal access and we had to really rethink that and we had to really appreciate the humans that our students are and get away from them just being crowd in front of you.

Michael Horn:

We can wrap up there. I'll ask you though, Jeff, for any closing thoughts or reflections you've had after two great conversations?

Jeff Selingo:

No, I thought these were two great panels. And there were couple of things that really struck me. First, President Aoun talking about differentiation versus diversity or the campus versus the university. And I think coming out of the pandemic it's going to be really critical for us to really think about those terms, particularly the campus versus the university, and that the university could be everywhere, where the campus is obviously physically here.

I've always said that unlike Home Depot or Walmart, when the market changes you can't just close down, unlike those places where they could close the store down and they could open up five more in Phoenix or California, wherever growth is, universities can't do that. They have their place.

And then I think the other thing that Jason said, and that everybody's been talking about here in terms of relationships. Michael, as you know, earlier today, Axios had this piece about airlines rethinking their relationship with passengers and really more loyalty. They want more loyalty coming out of the pandemic. They're coming up with subscription-based models now for pricing and I think we have to do the same thing in universities.

We have to really redefine the relationship, not only with incoming students and current students, but this lifelong relationship that we've been talking about, because I think it's really going to change the relationship between alumni and their alma mater, because it's not just going to be social anymore. It's not just going to be, "Hey, call you up to ask for money." They want that professional development opportunities.

How about you, Michael? Any final thoughts?

Michael Horn:

Well, hopefully this won't be controversial, but I'll say I'd way more have a lifelong relationship with my university than an airline. So I'll say that up front.

But just three thoughts are: One, human connectedness. We heard that over and over again. I love that belonging is the new battleground. I think that's a really important idea.

The second that I would just point to is the same thing that you picked up on, not just diversified, differentiated, and that's something that universities haven't leaned into nearly enough. And I agree COVID really showed how important that piece is.

And then the third one, just Marilyn thinking about how faculty were able to stay energized here despite increased work hours and a heck of a lot of stress, recognition for their efforts and helping each other was incredibly important.

There's a lot of research from universities showing that motivation comes from the opportunity to receive recognition from your colleagues and research is an incredibly important function of higher ed that doesn't get talked nearly enough. But recognition for the incredible work that faculties, students and others are doing, I think is an incredibly important piece of creating that community.

Jeff Selingo:

And, Michael, that does it for our first stop on the Future U Campus Tour. Thank you again for joining us. Thank you, especially to for the generous support of this tour. And thank you to Northeastern for being such a gracious host.

Thank you again and have a good day, everybody.

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