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The New University: How Higher Ed Institutions are Evolving During COVID

By September 25, 2020

The New U White Paper

Despite the tremendous amount of disruption in higher education this year, we’re seeing new business models emerge, increased speed and agility, and innovative ways to continuously connect like never before. Indeed, it seems a stronger, more agile, more strategic university model is rising above the COVID-19 crisis.

That’s the definition of the “new university” in newly released research and case studies from prominent higher education thought leader and reporter Jeff Selingo. In The New U, Selingo explores how institutions are differentiating themselves with new business models and why creating a technology-enabled, integrated, customized, and continuous experience throughout the learner lifecycle is so critical.

“The academy used to layer technology on top of historical functions and built those systems vertically, too,” says former CIO of Indiana University, Brad Wheeler, who’s quoted in the first chapter. “Now, we’re building them horizontally across campus, giving us a view of the entire constituent experience. It’s totally a different mindset.”

Top obstacles and solutions in The New U White Paper

Other universities featured in the report include Georgetown, the University of Maryland at College Park, and Denison University. Learn how they’re using data to personalize experiences, meet learners’ expectations, and have a strong foundation to endure future crises — whether it’s on campus or in a virtual classroom.

This type of focused innovation in education requires the courage and creativity to challenge some of the most entrenched “truths” we hold as institutions. The curriculum, spaces, tools, roles, and infrastructure all offer an immense opportunity for digital transformation to make a difference.

This innovation is not about the technology used, but the ways colleges are following the retail and service sectors in deploying that technology to make the student and alumni experience seamless. Think Amazon’s one-click, Netflix’s recommendations, or the Apple Watch’s health tracking all being used to modernize higher education.

The New U explores various facets of a connected college experience, including the following:

1. The Age of Continuous Connections in Higher Education

In this introductory chapter, Selingo shares the four simultaneous forces pressuring campus leaders to try something different. Among others, demographics are shifting and students are coming to higher education with more wide-ranging aspirations than ever before.

2. Harnessing Data to Develop an Integrated Marketing Strategy

Selingo and his co-writer, Terry Flannery, discuss how a growing number of higher education institutions are taking cues from other sectors of the economy in their approach to marketing. The chapter explores how some of the most advanced marketing operations in higher education — including those at Purdue, Southern New Hampshire, Western Michigan, and Baylor — use data-driven insights to help establish a foundation for institutional strategy.

3. The Key Role of Faculty in Designing the Student-Centered University

The increasing emphasis on “student success” has ushered in far-ranging campus innovations, all in the name of making universities more student-centered. While completion rates remain low, they are no longer in decline –– and have actually risen slightly in the last decade. It’s imperative that institutions continue to make student success a priority. Doing that will require a change in strategy.

4. Developing Differentiated Models for Uncertain Times

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the shortcomings of higher education’s standard model. It’s difficult to differentiate one institution’s brand from another’s when everyone is at home learning online. The pandemic has also wreaked havoc on institutional budgets, revealing the need for schools to have diversified revenue streams. In this chapter, Selingo shares how some institutions are diversifying their revenue models.

5. Recruiting and Engaging Gen Z

While colleges compete with each other by emphasizing their differences, there is often uniformity in how they recruit students. In the spring of 2020, admissions offices quickly pivoted most of their activities online. This chapter examines how some universities pivoted to recruit and engage Gen Z.

6. Engaging Lifelong Relationships

The old model of higher education, where students interacted with a college during a specific time in their lives, no longer applies in an age when institutions want to build deeper ties with alumni. Today, building affinity means forging a lifetime commitment to students throughout their learning journey.

We hope The New U sets your institution and learners on a path to greater success and learning. Happy reading!

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About the Author

Razan Roberts, senior director for strategic engagement and communications at

Razan Roberts, senior director for strategic engagement and communications at, has been a leader in education technology for the past 18 years. She engages with higher education executives to help solve their challenges with technology. Prior to joining Salesforce six years ago, Razan led educator and academic programs at Microsoft.