The Authority Podcast — Expert Insights and Fresh Ideas for Education Leaders

With so much debate over higher education in recent years, it’s time to redefine its value, take advantage of emerging technologies, and ultimately deliver a better experience to more learners. Today’s episode focuses on moving higher ed from scarcity to abundance. 

Our guest, Michael D. Smith, is J. Erik Jonsson Professor of Information Technology and Marketing at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College of Public Policy and Management. Smith is the author of The Abundant University: Remaking Higher Education for a Digital World, published by MIT Press. 

Michael and Ross talk about:
  • The problems with higher education in the US — along with the case for its continued importance
  • The ethical and economic imperatives to increase access
  • A new proposed model for the digital age
  • What about the professors? What happens to campus life? 
  • Do colleges and universities communicate a strong value proposition?
  • Blind spots in the higher ed community
Find The Abundant University here: 

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About today’s guest
Michael D. Smith is J. Erik Jonsson Professor of Information Technology and Marketing at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College of Public Policy and Management. Smith is the author of The Abundant University: Remaking Higher Education for a Digital World (MIT Press, 2023), and co-author of the book Streaming, Sharing, Stealing: Big Data and the Future of Entertainment (MIT Press, 2016).

About the host
Ross Romano is a co-founder of the Be Podcast Network and CEO of September Strategies, a coaching and consulting firm that helps organizations and high-performing leaders in the K-12 education industry communicate their vision and make strategic decisions that lead to long-term success. Connect on Twitter @RossBRomano or LinkedIn

Are you a professional looking for insights to reach the next level, find a fulfilling new career, or achieve peak performance? You may be a candidate for performance coaching. Schedule an introductory chat with Ross here

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Creators & Guests

Ross Romano
Co-founder of Be Podcast Network and CEO of September Strategies. Strategist, consultant, and performance coach.
Michael D. Smith
Professor at CMU, Co-Director Initiative for Digital Entertainment Analytics, Author Streaming, Sharing, Stealing: Big Data and the Future of Entertainment

What is The Authority Podcast — Expert Insights and Fresh Ideas for Education Leaders?

Are you looking for proven ideas to increase your influence, hire and develop an excellent staff, build a stronger culture, lead meaningful change, and form a strong foundation for teaching and learning success? This is the podcast for you.

On The Authority, leadership coach, storytelling strategist, and edtech advisor Ross Romano interviews the prominent education authors you already admire, up-and-coming voices, and experts from the worlds of business, personal development, and beyond — including Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Amazon bestsellers — to take a deep dive into their wealth of practical insights.

Whether you're a leader to seeks to refine your command of core educational strategies, learn new management techniques from those who have used them at some of the world's largest corporations, gain fresh perspectives on personal development or student success from practitioners across fields, or a little bit of everything, you'll find powerful content in this series.

Ross Romano: [00:00:00] Welcome in, everybody. You are listening to the Authority Podcast on the Be Podcast Network. Thanks for being with us here again today for a discussion about Pretty important topic today in education. So, as many of you may very well be aware, higher education in the U. S. has long been defined by scarcity. The fewer diplomas available, the more valuable they are, right? In fact, not only does it benefit schools standings in the U. S. News College rankings if they have low acceptance rate, but some universities have even been caught manipulating those rankings by reporting that they admitted fewer students than they actually did.

Thank you. In a system in which we claim to believe in equity and [00:01:00] social justice, why should this be the case? In a world with transformative technologies, why isn't access abundant? Well, our guest today is going to describe in a new way. Michael D. Smith is the J. Eric Johnson Professor of Information Technology and Marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.

Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College of Public Policy and Management. He co authored a 2016 book called Streaming, Sharing, Stealing, Big Data, and the Future of Entertainment. And his latest book, which we're talking about today, is The Abundant University, Remaking Higher Education for a Digital World.

It's published by MIT Press. Michael, welcome to The Authority.

Michael D. Smith: Ross, it's great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Ross Romano: So, to kind of get us up to speed here what are the problems with higher education in the U. S., specifically the problems that you are addressing in this book?

Michael D. Smith: Yeah, it's, the book started as a book about disruption and technological disruption. And honestly about halfway through it, I realized that's [00:02:00] not the most interesting problem. The most interesting problem is just the seemingly intractable social justice problem associated with who gets access to higher education.

So what we know from the data and I'm citing Raj Chetty and his colleagues work, is that if you're a kid born into a family in the top 1 percent of income, You've got a 1 in 4 chance of going to a highly selective top 80 college, 1 in 4. If you're a kid born in the bottom 20 percent of income, you've got a 1 in 300 chance of going to the same college.

I'm trained as an economist, so I believe in the efficient allocation of scarce resources. If we in higher education genuinely believe 77 times more likely than poor kids to be capable of an elite education, systems work fine. But if we don't believe that, and I don't know anyone who does... then this is a terrible way of allocating access to the scarce resource of selective higher education, and frankly, we've got to be [00:03:00] ashamed of ourselves.

Ross Romano: Yeah, and given that stark data, in a lot of ways, the university from which Someone earned a degree is more predictive of where they started their life than where they finished. Right? I mean, you could more likely make a conclusion about who their parents were and what kind of means they had when they were born versus necessarily what kind of a student they are or or what kind of objective ability they may have to be successful in a variety of fields.

Michael D. Smith: Right. This is the credential that the job market relies on, and yet what we, and we know it's a really valuable credential, right? We know that college degrees, and particularly from elite colleges, give you a leg up in the job market. But if those degrees are disproportionately accessible by the wealthy and they drive wealth later in life, we're just going to perpetuate this problem.

[00:04:00] You know, if only the wealthy have access to the degrees that allow you to gain wealth in the marketplace, that's a real problem. And we've got to be desperately looking for ways to solve it.

Ross Romano: And is there pressure from the job market in this regard? And we we've laid out here the ideas around equity and access and social justice and the perpetuation of inequity, right. As ethical imperatives to increase access and what it looks like for higher education, but are there also economic factors saying, look we need to do a better job here because.

Ultimately, are we really getting clarity or are we preparing the majority of our talent to, to contribute economically?

Michael D. Smith: Yeah. If you just think about this as a, as this economic efficiency problem, right? You think about the 77 times difference in access. If you believe that, that income is not predictive of your talent, then what that means is we're leaving out a whole bunch of [00:05:00] people. Who could contribute incredibly to our economy, right?

So I, I can make a perfectly reasonable social justice. I can also make a perfectly reasonable just economic efficiency argument behind this. How do we get there is the question. And what I'm trying to argue in the book is these are systemic problems, which means it's going to be very unlikely we're able to solve them from within the existing system.

What we talk a lot about is let's make this or that tweak to the system. I don't think that's going to solve the big problem.

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Ross Romano: As far as, and I think we'll continue to talk about this as we go, but right. One of the questions into figuring out what is the solution and how does the solution come to pass is determining who has both the influence and the incentive to to push the solution forward and. One of those very parties may be the one that is perpetuating the system.

Higher education itself. I mean, is the higher ed [00:06:00] system as it exists, the university system is it on the trajectory to putting itself out of business if it continues to operate the way it historically has without rethinking?

Michael D. Smith: It's a great question. One of the things I'm trying, I try to be really clear in about 12 places in the book is that elite higher education isn't going away. You know, Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Yale, Princeton, they're going to be just fine. But at some level, we ought to want to embrace this change, right?

We ought to want to change. The problem is none of our incentives are aligned with actually changing. One of the things I document in the book is the president of Georgia State University, who was very intentional about saying, let's get rid of legacy admissions. Let's reach out to poor kids and give them access to our degrees.

You know, all these things. to do exactly what society would want him to do. And he was incredibly successful on one level, in terms of increasing access. So I've forgotten the [00:07:00] exact stat, but I think he ended up with more Pell eligible students admitted to Georgia State than the entire Ivy League combined, right?

What's the problem? The problem is, in doing all those things that society would want him to do, he fell 33 places in the U. S. News and World Report rankings.

Ross Romano: Right.

Michael D. Smith: No, no college president has the right incentives to change the system. What you alluded to in the previous question I think is very interesting.

And that is, I think we're starting to see a lot of moves in the job market for employers saying, I want a more diverse workforce. You know, I've seen the value of increased diversity, including socioeconomic diversity. So I want more diversity in my workforce, and I've discovered I can't get it if I rely on elite college degrees, right?

If I want rich white kids. That's great. But if I want a socioeconomically diverse workforce, I'm not going to be able to get it from [00:08:00] relying on elite four year, four year colleges or even four year colleges in general, quite frankly. I'm going to have to grow it in house. And I think we're starting to see a lot of companies doing that.

Ross Romano: Yeah, I mean, and as long as there are certain lucrative professions and industries that are content to basically draw from the same handful of universities and whether it's under undergrad or MBA programs, or then, of course, there's still going to be demand. And means to go into those programs, but I've off, I've been looking, especially over the past several years as the conversation has become much broader across the populace about the value of higher education and really looking at.

You know, I, whatever the term for it is, I might call it like the middle class of four year universities or something like that. But I I was looking at the U. S. news rankings a couple of weeks [00:09:00] ago for the first time in many years, but I was just kind of interested in what they look like.

And You start at the top and it's okay. Tuition's 60, 60, 000 a year. You keep going down 60, 60, 60 you have a couple of state schools mixed in where it might not be, but you get pretty far down that list and that price tag is still quite high and it's no longer the same name brand of your Harvard's and MIT and Princeton that guarantees you're going to get looked at if you want to work.

In finance, or at a at a top New York law firm, or those type of places, you could be getting a wonderful education here, but realistically, are you able to monetize that education in the same way, right? When you're paying that much of a price tag, probably going into significant debt. And that's where the question is, [00:10:00] okay, How much longer can those universities continue to operate that way without being able to guarantee outcomes for their students?

In the same way that there has been innovation in say two year colleges, right? Community colleges that have looked at different ways of credentialing skills or different ways of creating career pathways and because they know that's how they're going to attract students, but there's some complacency at other levels where it's like, well 10 years from now, I don't know if you continue to do things the same way because there's not necessarily going to be the case for students to continue showing up.

Michael D. Smith: One of the key arguments in the preface to the book is I think our current system of higher education is financially unsustainable, and I think it's morally unsustainable. The problem is. When you talk to leaders across higher education and I've heard this [00:11:00] phrased in a couple different ways. In, in one case, it was a leader at a particular college and I made my argument and he said, you know what, Mike, I hear everything you're saying.

I agree with it, but I'm going to retire in five years. My job is just to keep the business running for the next five years. Nobody got fired for buying IBM. The other one was it a colleague that I also quote in the book and he said something to the effect of a professor has to have the incentive.

to adopt the technology. I'm a tenured old fart and I can ride out this disruption until retirement. Innovation adoption will occur one death at a time. You know, that makes perfect sense if we were running a for profit business in some sense, but we're not. We're running a 501c3, but non profit with a obligation to act in a way that benefits society.

Ross Romano: Yeah. And it's almost, and I'm wondering if there are certain blind spots that exist with respect to University's[00:12:00] knowledge of the audiences out there and specifically their understanding of the, the segments of the population that traditionally just have not been part of. of the pool, right?

You know, the people groups that have either traditionally not attended college, have not necessarily considered it something that they're looking toward or just haven't been enrolled, right, where that we keep creating new things that caters to the students that we already have and not necessarily thinking about, okay, well, who's not coming and why not?

And how do we create something for them? And clearly there's something out there, right? I don't. I'm not really an expert in all the ins and outs of everything that has transpired. For example, with the for profit universities, clearly they identified something about people out there who were interested in advancing their learning, [00:13:00] who needed a different option.

Now, some of them, of course, turned out to be predatory and they were doing things that weren't necessarily delivering results, but. They identified something out there. And isn't that the purpose of the system is to serve and say, okay, who are we not serving and why are we not serving them?

But I'm imagining because things have been the same for so long that there's some total blind spots of just not even knowing what they don't know, in a sense.

Michael D. Smith: Yeah, one of the One of the quotes I drop into the book came from the previous work I did on the entertainment industry, and it was a quote from the chief operating officer at 20th Century Fox in 2013 at an investors conference. And he was asked, are you at all worried about cord cutting? Are you at all worried about people canceling their cable subscription?

And he said, you know what? People will give up food and a roof over their head before they give up cable television. Right? And it's a [00:14:00] brilliant statement because I suspect he had a bunch of survey data that said that was exactly that people would get behind on their mortgage behind on their credit card payment before they would cancel their cable.

I mean, I think that was totally true, but it wasn't because they loved the product. It was because they had no other alternatives. I've heard people in higher education say very similar things every year applications go up, giving goes up. Why should I worry? I don't think it's because people love the product.

I think it's because they don't have other alternatives. if We could create other alternatives to get a decent job in in the professional workforce, would we lose students? Absolutely. Should we in higher education want to be proactive about doing that? I sure think so, but I know we're not.

That's my real sadness in writing this book.

Ross Romano: So we've made it this far and it's a good time, I think, to get to, so what does your proposed model look like? What what is some of the innovation in this digital [00:15:00] transformation that you want to put forth?

Michael D. Smith: One one thing right off the top is I think we've got to change the branding. So one of the, when I give this talk, a lot of people say, you know what, Clay Christensen and a whole bunch of other people in the early 2010s said higher education was dead because we had MOOCs.

Here we are 10 years later, that hasn't happened. So clearly we're invulnerable to change. I disagree. And I think the reason it hasn't happened yet is because MOOCs made access to the classroom abundant, MOOCs made access to the instructors abundant, but they didn't change access to the valuable credentials.

As long as you still get a positive ROI from going to an elite school like Carnegie Mellon, our business is going to be just fine, right? Could that change? Yeah, I think it could. And let me give you a weird analogy and then we'll come back to the practical, but the weird [00:16:00] analogy is I really, you're writing this book.

I really was scratching my head. You know, how do you reduce brand the value of a brand name? You know, these long enduring things that are really hard to change. And as I was scratching my head later that day, I found myself buying a scanner. From a manufacturer I'd never heard of before, solely because it had a 4.

9 star rating on Amazon and a bunch of positive reviews, and I was like, Oh crap, that's how you change brand name, you add in objective information about quality. You know, I'll stay in complete stranger's homes because they've got a decent Airbnb rating. Could we add in objective information about the quality of a student and their knowledge that is independent of the University they graduated from, I think we could.

And in fact, in the book I give several examples of what that might look like.

Ross Romano: There certainly is opportunity, right, from You would think, again, imagination is [00:17:00] in short supply, but from the industry side, right, from the companies who are just kind of going through the same process of, okay, we're hiring based on the name of the university, on, on a resume and and there's opportunities there for them to be more creative and finding, okay where's.

The actual ability and talent and skill. And that would put pressure on the system. And you know, I've seen even in, I don't know what the percentage, this has to be relatively small scale, but it is a trend just as there's opportunity for. innovation and change in the way and delivery of education with online learning the way that business can operate online and the way that in a lot of fields and as professor of marketing this is a big field for it where Okay, I graduated from whatever university, and so I'm not having [00:18:00] a lot of luck getting hired by whatever company I want to work for, but I believe that I'm just as good and just as effective at what I do as somebody who did.

So what do I do? start my own company, go out prove what I could do. And now I'm going to go contract with that company. They're going to pay me even more than they would otherwise, right? Due to their lack of imagination. But eventually now that's again, that's not the majority of.

People in the workforce right now, but it is a trend that can only increase due to the tools and resources available that's a challenge to the available labor pool and one way or another, something is going to break where companies either realize we no longer are really competing to be able to hire full time positions that we want because people are opting out of that.

That way of doing things or [00:19:00] we need to do a better way of creating those pipelines through the education system and into the workforce where there's more reliability.

Michael D. Smith: Well, and there's this really weird disconnect, right? You know, as my kids were applying to college, what I saw is that the way we sell college to parents and applicants is Great positive ROI, you're going to make a lot of money in the workforce. When you talk to faculty, what we believe is no, we're giving people broad a broad general education that's going to benefit them in society.

It really has nothing to do with gaining a practical practical job. So there's that weird disconnect between. And I'll use it intentionally, what the market is demanding and what we think we're providing. And the reason I say I'll use it intentionally is because there are a lot of people in higher education who get really angry when you say, let's talk about our customers.

Let's talk about what they're what our customer wants. No, these aren't customers. They're students. Maybe they're not totally customers, but if we ignore the component that they are [00:20:00] customers, we're going to miss signals the market is sending us and then some, and some really important ones, I think.

Ross Romano: Did you feel like? When you were, when your kids were applying to colleges and you were getting those materials and reading them and um of course you have a knowledge of the system, but looking at them as a parent from that point of view were they communicating to you the information you would really want and need to know as somebody who's going to be writing tuition checks and making those decisions?

Were they missing something?

Michael D. Smith: I mean, they're appealing with one eye to the kids and they're appealing with the other eye to the parents, right? So, lush, fabulous facilities and positive ROI on your investment. And I've got to believe that's intentional. There's some things though that are really cynical.

about the way we sell higher education. I'll give you one particular example again that I talked about in the book. We've one of our kids wasn't all that motivated in high school took [00:21:00] the practice SAT, got a particular score perfectly fine, but not off the charts and started to get Promotional materials from a whole bunch of colleges, including a whole bunch of the leap colleges.

And I'll mention one of them by name, the University of Chicago, heavily recruiting our son. My wife and I are sort of looking at this his practice SAT scores and his grades just. He's not going to get admitted to the University of Chicago, and Chicago should know that because it's in his college board data.

Why the heck is Chicago recruiting our son? And a couple of weeks later, the Wall Street Journal wrote an article that basically said elite colleges are recruiting, elite colleges are buying data from the college boards to recruit kids they know they're not going to admit because The rate the selectivity ratio is really important and the only way to make it smaller I can make it smaller by reducing the numerator, by reducing the number of kids I admit, or I can make it smaller by reducing the denominator, the number of kids who apply, and [00:22:00] that's much easier.

That's just at some level francenical, and again, I document in the book that it was incredibly successful for Chicago. They radically increased their U. S. News and World Report ranking by doing a bunch of things along that lines.

Ross Romano: Yeah, I mean, it might have been easier if they would have just made up fake data like some of the other universities, right?

Michael D. Smith: Yeah. That's the other way. Yeah. I mean, I guess at least they were at least they were using real data. But and I don't want to pick on Chicago too much, right? Everybody is following their incentives. We're all following our private incentives, even though we know we're churning out things that are bad for society.

We ought to be, we ought to take a hard look at ourselves and say, is there a better way of doing this?

Ross Romano: Right. And I mean, I would think one of the areas in particular, and you know, when we're thinking about the. quote unquote customer. I don't but people maybe who work in non profits or higher education, [00:23:00] I don't know if they, they think themselves above thinking about customers, right, or these business considerations, but the fact is somebody's paying a lot of money to, to access that product.

Right? And so, whether you want to think of it like that or not, somebody's a customer, they're a consumer, and realistically due to, especially the rapid increase in costs associated with the tuition increase as contrasted with inflation and all of that over the past generation, right?

That's, One you have families, parents who may not have attended the college themselves, or even if they did, they attended it in a very different circumstance. where the, maybe the application the applications weren't as abundant and competitive. So you, they applied to one school and they went there and they maybe took out a couple of loans, but it they paid [00:24:00] them back within a few years and they.

Went on about their lives, right? So they're, even if they, you're not a first generation student, you may not have a high level of knowledge about, okay, what's a, what's the right decision to make here and what's financially viable. But also that's even talking about the percentage of the population that is already interested and is already working under the assumption that going to college, is a, an objective good thing, right?

That this is how you put yourself in position to make a good living or to build a good life. Versus, again a high percentage of American families that's not their assumption. That's not their experience. And, Do colleges have any idea how to communicate to them honestly and truthfully, and then to [00:25:00] deliver on what they're delivering, but to say, look, here is why this is a positive thing and something you should pay attention to,

Michael D. Smith: Yeah. Let me sound a little bit cynical for a second and say, do we want to? And the reason I say that is one of the people I interviewed for the book was the chief operating officer at, let's just say, a major state university system. And she quit because she felt like her president and provost were asking her to do things that were unethical and one of those things was the state system, the number of out of state students the state system could admit was capped by the legislature, makes perfect sense but the number of out of state students Or the out of state students who were admitted paid three times the tuition of the in state students, and so they were an important source of revenue. And so what her president and provost were saying is, we want you to get people who can pay full price. So just recruit students out of state from wealthy zip codes. [00:26:00] Don't send our promotional material to poor zip codes because we've gotta, we've gotta maximize our revenue. That's, that, that ought to be the makes perfect sense if we're running a business, but ought to be a little bit troubling, I think if we're running a non profit,

Ross Romano: Yeah, right. Well, yeah we, you can't want to access the moral glory of running a nonprofit without being consistent in the mission of it. Right. And that's kind of a breakdown. So if you've, so you've made a proposal here, which. right now, today, right, is technologically feasible.

It can be done and increases access and opportunity. It's aligned with educational equity and social justice. It would increase the available talent for the workforce, right? All of these things. What's the pushback to it and how are you responding to that?

Michael D. Smith: The, I mean, the interesting pushback is particularly from the elites, and it's sort of thinly veiled in research but to [00:27:00] me it's really a strong defense of the status quo. You know, it's that the only way to properly educate young adults is in person on a green leafy campus where they rub elbows with faculty.

And I've got a, I've got a couple objections to that. One is everything we've already talked about, right? Are we happy with, are we satisfied with the social outcomes of that? The other is sometimes this objection is framed as. Online education won't work, and we know that because the online education we delivered during COVID was a complete disaster, and that's actually a direct quote from one of the talks I gave.

That's really interesting, because if your university didn't give if you know the product wasn't, it was inferior, and your university didn't give a tuition discount for that inferior product sure seems to me like you've got a problem and I know that 99. 9 percent of universities didn't give a tuition discount, but the other problem with it is it sort of assumes [00:28:00] that not sort of, it explicitly, implicitly, excuse me, assumes that the education we delivered during COVID represented the gold standard of what was possible with the medium, and nobody believes that.

Right? With more time, with better technology, with better training, could we have delivered a better educational experience? Absolutely. You know, I liken it to the entertainment industry, whose initial response to MP3 music was, no one's going to listen to that crap, except they used a different word.

You know, that the audio quality of MP3s is substantially lower than what you can get on CDs. And you're right, if you focus on that, just that one attribute, you're right, it's inferior. But then there are a whole bunch of other ways that MP3s are better. So the way I like to frame this is...

You know what? Online education is worse, except for the parts that are better. And I get that's a tautology, but it's a useful way of thinking about it. Here are the parts that are [00:29:00] worse. Here are the parts that are better. Might these parts that are better appeal to some segment of the market, even though they're fully aware of these parts that are worse?

I gotta believe the answer's yes, and Arizona State's enrollment and Southern New Hampshire University's enrollment would back me up on that.

Ross Romano: Yeah, as well as the supposition that because something is not as good now that it's always the way it will be. And what was the internet like 20 years ago? What's it like now? What's it going to be like 20 years from now? And how much of the, again how much of the supposed opportunity cost of transitioning to a different model is also largely restricted to the elites, right?

You know, campus life and community. Now, campus life and community and this is a benefit. And a wonderful thing [00:30:00] for any student that attends any college university, you make lifelong friends, and so on is that part justified in the cost, and is that where the ROI, now if you're going to, again, the elite of the elite, and you're rubbing shoulders with other elites.

And you're going to help each other out to continue to be elite for the rest of all time, then that's a different thing, but again, is it justified in the actual cost of it or not?

Michael D. Smith: Well, and here's the other thing that I would point out about what I'm talking about in the book is it doesn't have to be all or nothing. You know, one of the people I interviewed for the book is Professor R. Austin, who teaches organic chemistry online at the, at Arizona State University.

So you say, how the heck do you teach organic chemistry online? Are you kidding me? And basically what she says, her and her colleagues looked at the curriculum, and what they realized is that [00:31:00] 13 weeks of this curriculum work just fine online. And for the OCAM Labs, we'll bring you on campus for a one week intensive lab experience where you'll do two labs a day for a full week.

And when they survey the students, the residential students and the online students, what they discover is three things. Number one, they have equivalent knowledge of the material, including lab material. Number two that the online students walk out of that experience with a much stronger identity of scientists.

That there's something about doing a one week long two labs a day for an eight hour day experience that gives you a strong identity of science, scientists that you wouldn't have gotten if you did the same thing one, one lab at a time. And then number three is that they're able to include a whole bunch of people who wouldn't have been able to come to a residential a residential classroom either because they have jobs or or they don't have the money to afford the residential classroom, blah, blah, blah.

Those are three things we've got [00:32:00] to be pretty excited about. The other example I think of is I have the chief data officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center come to my class each year and last year to talk about how technology is changing medicine. And last year, what he said is we've looked at our data, particularly during COVID, and what we discovered is that.

Telehealth yields equivalent health outcomes to coming into the office for most types of doctor patient interactions. There's some things that I need you to come in the office for, but most things, telehealth works just fine. Wouldn't it be cool if we in higher education did the hard work of saying, what are the things that have to be done in person?

And what are the things that can be done perfectly well remotely and then designed a much lower cost, much more accessible, affordable system that use that learning.

Ross Romano: So that leads us back we've touched on this, but who or what is motivated and capable of leading this?

Michael D. Smith: I'm hoping to someday write a [00:33:00] case about this. I talk a little bit about it in the book, but I didn't go into it in detail. One thing that's really interesting to me is I think HarvardX and MITx had it. in terms of how do you respond to disruption? You create a separate product that appeals to the new industry while maintaining the value of your existing product.

So we've got Harvard and MIT classes online, but we still have the exclusive pricey. Who got in the way of that succeeding? I think you can make a pretty compelling argument that it was the faculty who didn't want to change. Who's led the charge online? Arizona State, Southern New Hampshire University, the people who didn't have the brand to protect.

have created pretty compelling, at least by the numbers, online offerings. And, again, one of the things that I document in the book is if you look over the past decade, a period where residential higher education raised their tuition by 40%, Southern New Hampshire University has kept their tuition exactly the same, 10, 000 a year.[00:34:00]

That's a pretty cool, that's a pretty cool value proposition, and if you buy the we're going to continue to raise our prices that value proposition is only going to get better.

Ross Romano: Right. Yeah. And it makes sense, right? I mean, that there's going to be a shift if things change around in what faculty jobs are available, how they're distributed what's required in that way. Right. Perhaps some of those universities that experimented with the program undermined their own success because they didn't really want to risk it, but um and by those innovators who are seeing the opportunity and innovating and increasing enrollment, increasing their influence, that could certainly be one way of creating pressure and You know, hopefully there will be some other leadership from other areas of the system.

Although, of course, there's things to figure out from pre K through 20 and beyond.

Michael D. Smith: Well, yeah, and we're not the only problem with the system, no doubt, but [00:35:00] I think we are active. Contributors to the problem, and we need to clean our own house. You kind of alluded to the last chapter, which is how do we clean our house? And the argument I try to make is what my colleague and I saw in the entertainment industry was the industry initially opposed technological change because they rightly saw it as a threat to the environment.

And at some point around the time, Netflix and Amazon started taking home all the awards at the big award shows, they realized that my mission is different than my model. My mission is creating great entertainment and getting it in front of an audience. And if technology can help me achieve my mission, I'm willing to do, I'm willing to go after it, even if it means changing my model.

Right? Parallel is obvious. I think technology does pose a threat to our model of education. What's our mission as educators? If our mission is helping rich kids get a leg up in the job market, we're doing great. You know, but that's not our mission. What's our mission? And once we define that, could technology help [00:36:00] us to achieve that mission?

The definition I adopt in the book is our mission should be, I think, to help as many students as possible discover their unique talents and develop those talents so they can use those talents to the benefit of society. I think technology can play a huge role in fulfilling that mission.

Ross Romano: And so as we close my You know, and this has come up in this session as well, and it perpetuates on line and in various corners as, again, the knowledge is no longer restricted to any gatekeepers, right? The university model was developed as it did because that was a different time in history, but now between the internet and YouTube and Wikipedia and MOOCs and online courses and all these, there's always ways to get access to information.

The credentials or diplomas are they're [00:37:00] basically a superficial marker without knowing what's behind them. Okay. Sure. There's only one way to get. a a Harvard diploma or a diploma from any particular school. But but is the education and is my preparedness any different there versus if I just accessed every other resource I can access freely?

I don't know. But you know, what is the case for, what is, what, basically what is the case for doing this and saying, You know what? Higher education, higher learning is still an important institution, and rather than letting it collapse in on itself it's important that we perpetuate this, or that we invest in, in transforming it and innovating and making sure it's sustainable because it is important and it is better than an online free for all.

Michael D. Smith: Yeah I would love for us to think 20 years ahead. And while I perceive many of my colleagues are trying to [00:38:00] protect the status quo, 20 years from now, will we be proud of ourselves telling our grandchildren that I was successful in protecting a status quo that gave rich kids 77 times more access than poor kids?

Am I going to be proud of that? Might be the might be one way of giving it that I know I know self preservation is natural. I know change is hard. I know all these things, but let's really look at what we're doing and take a cold hard look at ourselves and ask, are we going to be proud of that 20 years from now?

Ross Romano: Well, listeners, The Abundant University is published by MIT Press. You can find the link below to where you can learn more and purchase the book. Please do also subscribe to The Authority for more in depth author interviews like this one every week and visit bpodcast. network to learn about all of our shows.

Michael Smith, thank you so much for coming on The Authority.

Michael D. Smith: Ross, it was great to be here. Thanks for having me. [00:39:00]