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The Future of Higher Education with Joe Sallustio

George Grombacher June 9, 2023

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The Future of Higher Education with Joe Sallustio

LifeBlood: We talked about the future of higher education, how universities are reacting to a changing landscape, how students views and desires have changed, and how AI fits in, with Joe Sallustio, higher education expert, speaker, podcaster, and author.     

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Joe Salllustio

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:02
Well blood flow. This is George G and the time is right welcome today’s guest struggle powerful Joe salute to Joe, are you ready to do this?

Joe Sallustio 0:08
I’m always ready, George. Thanks for having me.

george grombacher 0:10
excited to have you back on the show. As a matter of fact, let’s go. Joe is a higher education expert. He is the host of the ed up Experience podcast. He is a keynote speaker. He’s a best selling author of the book commencement beginning of a new era higher education. Joe excited to have you back on the show. refresh our memory. Tell us a little about your personal life’s more about your work and why you

Speaker 2 0:34
do what you do. All right, man. Well, I’m in currently in St. Charles, Missouri, looking out at the football field at Lindenwood University where I am the Senior Vice President of Lindenwood global and strategic enrollment operations. I’m blessed to be here. It’s been an amazing relocation is since the last time I talked to you from Southern California, to Missouri, a little bit of a cost of living difference. I am I’ve been in higher education for over 20 years, and both for profit and nonprofit types of institutions. And I’ve got a beautiful wife, an eight year old little girl named Gemma, a five year old champ named Julio, and life is good, my friend it is I’m glad to be on the earth right now.

george grombacher 1:18
Nice. Well, certainly congratulations on everything we talked last about right at the end of 2020. And obviously, the world was going through major changes. And now you’ve gone through major changes and the way that we’re thinking about things particularly certainly education has changed. So tell us a little bit about I guess I’m curious a little bit about the experience of writing the book. Why why you wrote it what? Tell us tell us a bit about it.

Joe Sallustio 1:48
Well, so the way this took place, and you’ll appreciate this as a fellow podcasters, we you do enough of these episodes. And we started to ask every guest the same ending question, which is what do you see for the future of higher education. And these are all folks we interview that are in and around higher ed. And we just got an incredible amount over us over a spectrum of different types of ideas. We thought What are we going to do with all these podcast episodes, and we had at that point, interviewed maybe 150 college and university presidents from all across the world, University of Florida, Rutgers, I mean, just everywhere. And so we took the first 125 college and university presidents and we took that question, what do you see for the future of higher education and it became the context for writing the book. So although I have a co author, her name is Kate Kolbert. And although the idea came from the co founder of the Edit Experience podcast, and my partner Alvin Frey tends to write the book. It’s really written by 125, college presidents with my co author and I guiding the conversation. So it’s a real hard look into what’s going on in and around higher ed, why do you care? Why does anybody care? Well, you’re either thinking about going back to school, you are in school, or you’re thinking about sending one of your kids to college? Or maybe not. And even if it’s a maybe not, you need to know what’s going on in education. So that’s how the book came to be anyway.

george grombacher 3:16
Well, that makes a ton of sense. And certainly the opportunity to speak with 125 presidents or leaders in higher education, that’s the perfect proving ground for it. So I assumed that there’s through lines or lines, like it’s going to be different, and it’s consistently going to be different.

Speaker 2 3:35
You know, we wrote it, rewrote it to be non academic. That was that was like the baseline foundational requirement that if you’re a person who may be picks this up, you don’t have anything to do with higher education other than a glancing interest, you pick up this book, and you go, Oh, wow, this is relevant to me. And it’s not written in a I don’t know what the what I would say a pompous, higher education, technical, scholarly sort of way. It’s opposite of scholarly, it’s written with big pull quotes. And it’s the, the, for the format of the podcast, George is very organic, much like this, what let’s just have a conversation. So I really like to make my guests comfortable. And when you do that, you know, they give you a lot more insight. And so the some of the insights I’ve got were real, real talk about equity and affordability and debt and all these items. So really, the book is written. And we say it’s a devil’s advocate and a love letter to higher education. Because what somebody a president says in chapter three gets absolutely dismantled in chapter five and vice versa, because it’s different people coming from different perspectives. So the main thread and thru line is we love the work, but we need to change higher education if we hope to survive because there’s a lot of institutions may Even in your area and others that are closing down well known institutions, sometimes with 100 Year 200 year history, and they close because they’re no longer they don’t have the financial sustainability to keep moving. I, I love all of that.

george grombacher 5:15
I think that making anything accessible is a really, really important thing and not easy to do. So kudos to you on doing that. And I love the idea of being devil’s advocate, as well as a love letter strikes me that there’s probably a lot of wonderful things going on that are going on in higher education. But from the outside looking in, it looks like there’s a lot of BS going on there to Joe. Well, that’s

Speaker 2 5:38
the you know what that is? What the general public perceives of higher ed is, when you think about higher education, I think one of the fallacies that we have, you think IVs, you think, you know, what are the first brands that popped in your head when you think higher education, you know, and it’s probably not your local community college, it’s probably the story you heard, or the movie you saw about Harvard, or Yale or somewhere else. But higher education, about 98% of it is non Ivy. There’s lots of institutions, small, private public, nonprofit, for profit that make up the other 98%. So part of what I think we’re trying to do with this book is to help re establish trust in higher education, which is lost, right? The general public goes, Is this degree worth it anymore? Why the heck do I need a degree when I can go get skills, and I can go to get a job. And if you can’t show me the skills to Job pathway, and I don’t see an ROI, and I’m a much more financially savvy consumer than I was 10 years ago. And so I want to know what the ROI is. What is it is a financial ROI? Is it a non financial ROI? So, you know, how do we get the public’s trust back and part of that is being vocal about the work that we do in higher ed, we do noble work, we change the lives of students, but we all we always say we always most of us don’t tell that story. We allow the public to tell the story of higher education, you see the news, varsity blues, and all the scandals that come out of higher ed. But every day, there’s amazing work that happens, why people keep going to college still

george grombacher 7:12
think that that’s really well said. And I think that, whether we’ve lost trust in other different societal organizations, you know, legacy media, whatever, we really question everything. We’re questioning how we police, our communities, and how we educate our kids and where we work and how we work and all these things. That seems like it happened pretty fast. But I also think that we can shift back pretty fast to

Speaker 2 7:39
Yeah, you know, one thing COVID did for us as a pivotal moment, much like other industries, was higher Ed was a change adverse industry. It’s been doing what it’s been doing for 200 years, you know, for for as far back as any of us can remember, even if you had parents that went to college and their parents. So it’s been doing what it’s always done, which are like the seven worst words in business, right? The way we’ve always done it, I don’t know how many words that is, you get the point that we have done it in a certain way. And now all of a sudden, COVID comes through like tidal wave and says, You can’t do it this way anymore, you got to go online, if you are on ground, and if you were residential, you can’t live on the campus anymore. And if you do come to campus, you can interact with anybody, and then all of a sudden, online learning explodes. And we say that there’s a big difference between learning online, with programs designed for online learning. And taking a program designed for a brick and mortar institution. And sticking in an online course is a big difference. And so students had varying a lot of variability of experience in there. So the lessons for us were in hired were what are other businesses do to remain relevant? You know, why can you, George move $75,000 between your bank accounts online, in a single click of a button, but you can’t enroll in an institution? And that same amount of time for your education? Why can you sign a mortgage for a house for a million dollar house, if you’re buying a house and how long it takes a real estate agent, like an hour to drop a document, and you could sign it and buy a million dollar house in no time. But in higher education, it takes a long time to do things. Why is that? So? How do we learn from retailers and from customer service facing industries and organizations to say this is what a consumer in education expects the same thing out of this institution as they do from Amazon?

george grombacher 9:38
That’s a tricky one. That’s a tricky one. And this is the way we’ve always done it or this is how I imagine that some of the names that I’m thinking of your traditional Ivy, your your Ivy League institutions, some of them are probably really going to struggle with this because they probably have boards whatever they just this is how we Do you think we are insert name of school and it’s going to come back around? And then there’s organizations, I assume, like the ones that you’ve been associated with and are that are really on the cutting edge of change and are easily and nimbly moving through things.

Speaker 2 10:15
You know, the Ivy’s don’t have to change and they won’t. They only have a billion dollars in the bank, or more than that 5 billion $6 billion. The what changed for the Ivy’s is when they go test optional. So if you got a high school kid, who’s always thought about going to yell, and their SATs score wasn’t that good would never apply normally. But during COVID, the schools go test optional. So then you apply to Yale anyway, so their applications went through the roof. And they got to say, the beautiful thing about higher education and beautiful and horrible thing is that what other industry do you know that celebrates the number of customers, you turn away? Right? It’s like I brought up Amazon, Amazon knows to come out and put out a press release that says, we had 20,000 potential customers, but we only sold 1000 of them. Congratulations to us. And that’s what higher ed is really good at so part of what’s changing the conversation is accessibility and affordability. You know, how do you include more than you exclude when it comes to students? And how do you value those institutions that community colleges and small privates that are going to really invest in you and your personalized learning where somewhere else, you’re not going to get that same level of attention? You know, so how do you serve every student rather than just the ones you want to serve? And that’s a big question, especially with, with, I see people our age, when you’re an adult, and you got kids, and you’re thinking about going to get another degree that the institution designed for the 18 year old high school student is not where you’re picking, you’re picking you’re an adult learner, a working learner. So what’s the institution doing to serve you? When you have one hour at night to do homework when your kids go to sleep? That’s the question for about 14 million Americans that have some college and no degree right now.

george grombacher 12:04
That is a big question right there. How many educate? How many institutions of higher learning currently exist in the United States? Is that noble?

Speaker 2 12:14
There’s about 4000, title for grant title for US financial aid, granting institutions in the US of all sizes, Publix, privates, private, for profit, nonprofits, so on. So there’s a lot, right. And that’s one of the reasons why some institutions are closing. Because there’s not there’s less students to go around, because the birth rates have declined. So there’s less 18 year olds, and a lot of institutions are recruiting those 18 year olds. So what we see is we see a lot of traditional institutions moving to online to try to serve those 40 million adult learners. Boy, is that a different model, you can’t just go, Hey, we’ve been serving the 18 year old with, with, you know, cafeterias and football fields. And now I’ve got to serve an adult learner, seven states away, who will never come to my campus. It’s a different stance that you have to take, and a different structure.

george grombacher 13:07
So when you’re thinking about serving those 40 million adult learners, what are the what are the key variables? I think about obviously, certification, some kind of a degree, think about networking and connections, affordability, what, what are some of those variables?

Speaker 2 13:26
Oh, the ultimate question. Cost, affordability, right? When you’re, when you’re a working learner, and you’re working to put food on the table for yourself or your family, the decision you make must fit within your budget. And it’s not the same decision you made during an 18. Whether your mom and dad were helping you go to college or not. So two completely different. You know, if I’m spending this much on my education, what camp Am I not sending my kids to? Or right? There’s trade offs. And that’s what a working learners are thinking about? What’s the trade off trade offs in time, which is an important one, when can I do my homework? And what am I giving up? And trade offs in dollars? I think relevancy of program, is this program going to give me skills so I can increase my earnings. And so program Relevancy is a big one. I think another one is accessibility. Can I learn when I want to? Are you going to force me to learn when you want me to? So there’s a difference between we say the asynchronous which means learning whenever you want versus the synchronous when you got to be in class at five o’clock, even in an online environment. A lot of students like to self paced your assignments due Sunday. You know, you want to do it Monday. That’s great. You want to do it on Sunday at 11pm. Great, that’s up to you and what kind of person you are. I think those are the main variables but I also think the working learner is more has a greater expectation of customer service, and they look at everything, like a deliverable. Have a customer service. And if you break that bond, the expected bond of customer service like anything, right, if you take a flight with United and it’s a horrible flight, you might go, I’m not flying united again. Same thing exists for a student. And now they can transfer really easy. Transfers are a lot easier. So if you don’t serve them, you can expect them to go bye bye. And that’s what institutions need to get good at is serving the students and creating the brand loyalty.

george grombacher 15:27
That makes a lot of sense.

Speaker 2 15:30
No one’s told me that all day, so I appreciate it. George. I made a lot of no send statements your day, but I’m ending the day on a positive note.

george grombacher 15:39
I think you’re doing a great job. You’re explaining things to sync Lee and in a way that I can take and actually make decisions off of so thank you.

Speaker 2 15:48
Yeah, thank you. Good questions. Higher Ed is a fun place to work. Man. There’s a and there’s it’s funny, there’s a lot of there’s practical individuals, there’s impractical individuals that you know, because you’re dealing with academic programs and operations all at the same time and building maintenance. Some of these institutions are literally small cities with police forces. And I mean, it’s pretty crazy. What you know, a higher ed institution is like, and you don’t have to read the news to know or you if you do read the news, you know, that sometimes they can be not so safe places, unfortunately, these days, somehow college campuses been a place where are we see violence? And that’s another thing that we have to contend with, which is an unfortunate, unfortunate thing.

george grombacher 16:38
Yeah, fascinating, the new set of challenges and opportunities that are facing the administration and students and parents and everything else that are aside from simply a learning environment, I’d be remiss not to ask you, your thoughts on artificial intelligence and new companies coming out with things like Chet GPT, and how that’s going to impact education.

Speaker 2 17:01
Oh, this is the ultimate conversation for us in higher ed right now, who wants to use AI? Who doesn’t? Can a student who’s using AI be? Can it get detected? Can it not get detected? How will I know if the students work is original, you know what we it is going to be a fun journey, I think for institutions and embrace it and try to create curriculum around it. So how can I use chat GPT or other AI programs to generate something that the student has to then critique the AI work as a part of an assignment, versus having them just submit an assignment that you don’t know, I don’t think the AI detection tools will keep up with how fast AI improves, I think it’s gonna be really, really hard for detection tools to keep up. But you know, if you say hey, go to chat GPT. Ask it to create a, a paper on the lifeblood podcast and why it’s important. And then you take that article, and in the margins, write your comments of why you agree, disagree, what’s right, what’s not, and submit that it. There’s critical learning that happens. So I think that’s the argument that’s happening is how we implement it. But boy, is it here to stay is Chad GPT. Like, I don’t know, 10 times today to generate work.

george grombacher 18:20
It’s fascinating, right? It’s like spy versus spy. It’s not the egg.

Speaker 2 18:26
It is. It’s you know what, but isn’t technology just gonna be here. So either you’re on board or you’re not. Or you’re gonna get in the flying car, or you’re gonna say, I’ll never get into flying car, you know what you’re gonna get in it, because eventually, same thing with electric cars, you know, using car example, eventually, we’ll be all electric. Someday, we’ll gas cars will be a relic. And it’s, you know, do you want to be a relic? Or do you want to be on the front end? Like Georgia? And I? That’s the question.

george grombacher 18:54
Yeah, I think that is the important question right there. The show everybody wants to be up here on the front end with the other smart people like That’s right. Like, like Joe and I.

Speaker 2 19:03
Right. So it says Chad GPT. Yes,

george grombacher 19:07
it’s exactly right. But Joe, thank you so much for coming back on. Where can people learn more about you? Where can they get their copy of commencement the beginning of a new era in higher education.

Joe Sallustio 19:18
So the books available on Amazon just look up commencement the beginning and it should pop right up. You can go also to commencement, the and that’s our direct website. Check it out. If you pick up a copy, let me know what you think. You can find me very easily on LinkedIn. Through my personal website, Joseph LinkedIn is probably the best way to get a hold of me. If you have comments, questions, I respond to everything. I love random conversations with people you never know where they can take you. And that’s, that’s where people can find me very accessible. And of course, check out linden wood, for your educational needs and we’ll be here to serve you.

george grombacher 19:56
Love it. If you enjoyed as much as I did Sure, Joe, you’re Association and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas pick up your copy of commencement the beginning of a new era in higher education on Amazon or go to commencement the Pick up a copy there. Find Joe on LinkedIn, or his website, which is Joe It’s JOELJOESALLU s t i And then check out Lindenwood University as well for your educational needs. Thanks. Good job. Thank you. And until next time, remember, do your part by doing your best

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