So it’s official: I’m writing a book about the future of higher ed. The announcement was listed in Publishers Marketplace earlier this week. The working title is College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students. Given that a large part of the book will describe the coming disruptions to the […]

So it’s official: I’m writing a book about the future of higher ed. The announcement was listed in Publishers Marketplace earlier this week.

The working title is College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students.

Given that a large part of the book will describe the coming disruptions to the traditional higher-ed model, it only seems appropriate that I chose to go with a publisher that is causing disruption in the book industry: Amazon. I signed on with a new division of Amazon Publishing, based in New York, which has recruited several authors in the last few months and has been the talk of the legacy publishing world.

Amazon will produce the e-book and its partner, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, will publish the print book in the spring of 2013.  A big thanks to my agent, John Thornton, for helping get this project to this point. My editor at Amazon is Katie Salisbury, formerly of Harper.

The schedule is ambitious, but with higher ed’s future changing by the month, I didn’t want to wait too long. The primary audience for this book will be students and parents, but I expect it will be of great interest to people within higher ed as well.

As I finish up reporting on the book in the coming months, I’d like your help. I plan to use this blog to test ideas, and share excerpts for discussion. And I want your suggestions, particularly of institutions that are doing innovative things that are already showing results.

So if you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, be sure to click on the link to the right and encourage others who have an interest in this topic to do the same.

I look forward to what’s ahead.

11 Responses to “A Book In My Future”

  1. Dan Lundquist says:

    Hi Jeff
    we have a number of friends in common through the CHE, and I enjoy your writing.

    Wanted to share the following from my own “cloud gathering,” spurred by a survey I did of my Amherst classmates (be happy to share, NOT a rosy future presaged by their views)…..the writer is a dotcom finance guy in Palo Alto:

    “Pure and simple, higher education is a bubble that is now bursting. The aftermath of a bubble is always long, dreary and unpleasant, and it will be no different for higher education.

    “You might enjoy knowing that two fine men of Amherst long ago knew this would happen. One was the late economics professor James R. Nelson. I can remember a class of his I took as a sophomore, so that would have been in 1974. I remember as clear as yesterday him flatly asserting that any business that continuously let its costs and prices increase would someday cease. I asked him, ‘So you’re saying the American car manufacturers will some day collapse?’ His reply was ‘Yes and so will American higher education.’

    “Sometime in the ’80s, I attended an Amherst event in San Francisco where then-President Pouncey stated that private higher education in this country would be extinct within a generation, having been nationalized due to rising cost. Pouncey said that this was unavoidable and perhaps desirable. He never suspected that governments could also run out of money.”

  2. Dan Lundquist says:


    “Lower Your Overhead, Stupid!”

    Higher education is on high alert but taking very few proactive steps to address its deepening crisis. All of the warning signs are there. Outcries over price, uncertain funding (from all sources), and faltering demographics add to the din.

    There are fewer college bound students and fewer affluent families able or willing to pay (see stats below).
    Growing skepticism over the value of most private colleges’ education (relative to what families think they will have to pay), is driving record numbers of students to public institutions at the same time those schools budgets are being gutted, lowering the number of students the public sector can accommodate and leaving those who are enrolled with a diminished educational experience, albeit with the perception of affordability.

    Community colleges, proprietary institutions, and on-line programs seem to be in the best position if enrollment growth is any indicator – although class selection and parking availability plague many two-year colleges – and they all have a common attribute: low price and low operating expenses.

    In the most simple terms college leaders can look at income and expense. In the past much “planning” in higher education began by looking at mission, current business procedures, and then adding the occasional exciting new initiative… and then looking at known and anticipated revenues… and then raising student fees to cover the inevitable gap.

    A hot economy – families feeling flush, buoyed up with ready access to private and government credit – allowed that model to flourish. And colleges flourished with rich curricular growth and stunning expansion of facilities.
    Now the high overhead of maintaining that which grew out of a different, departed world is threatening legacy employee benefit programs, trimming back athletics, shuttering eco-friendly vegan dining halls. Even academic programs are disappearing (“we can’t call ourselves a college without a philosophy department… we won’t be a college if we keep it!”).

    As colleges are being challenged to assess whether they can afford their values, the planning paradigm of the past has to be flipped around and managed. Colleges have to forecast revenue first and then make expenses fit, and no matter how painful they have to do this intentionally and collaboratively, and begin doing it as soon as possible.

  3. Dan Lundquist says:


    Date: Saturday, February 25, 2012, 7:55 AM


    Thanks to all who replied to my informal survey re college price tag and cost (what families actually pay, after financial aid and discounts). Here’s a quick summary:

    The majority of us do not believe college is worth $60,000/year, and most stated we would only pay that 1) if our child is brilliant and ambitious, and 2) if the college was very high-prestige. In fact, since many of us already have their kids through college, an oft-repeated theme was “I’m glad it’s over!” and “we were lucky to go to Amherst when we did… I don’t know how families cope these days.”

    Many commented that high-cost amenities – attractive as they may be – have driven overhead (and therefore price) up dramatically and, in the view of this sample, created a luxury experience fewer are willing or able to pay for.

    No one, however, suggested bringing back the highway rest stop, hose-to-clean décor of Stearns and James.

    The question about “performance trumping prestige” stumped a few – I need Survey 101 training ☺ – but most replies suggested it was clear enough: if where you went to college ever mattered after graduation, those days are over. As one respondent said “I don’t hire college names, I hire producers.” While many will correctly point out that the nature of the applicant pools and the selection process at places like Amherst brings high-potential “raw material” in the front door, what I was trying to probe was peoples’ sense of the halo effect of prestige… and that seems to be dimming and, to the extent it is, its value-add is being blunted by price/cost increases.

    Since receiving your thoughts, I’ve reviewed several hundred financial aid forms, filled out by the parents of high school seniors applying to “A and B+” colleges right now. Comparing “wealth” (AGI and non-retirement assets) vs. “offer” (response to a free-form query about what they plan to spend on college next year) shows most willing to pay about half what formula suggests they can, especially among the most affluent.

    While the wealthiest high-prestige institutions seem indemnified – Amherst is probably as bullet-proof as any place – the implications for dozens of “B or B+” colleges – expensive but lacking sizzling “reputige” – are sobering.

    Just for fun, I’m attaching a PowerPoint I prepared for a “B+ college” to try and help them get a sense of their student supply-chain… and then took some assumptions about the impact of decreased wealth and/or decreased willingness to pay. Quibble over the numbers if you will, the non-nuanced implication is pretty clear: whether there really are exactly 996 students at the bottom of the funnel isn’t relevant; the point is, there aren’t 5,000.

    Also sharing an exchange, below, from a higher education trade journal last week.

    Thanks to all for your feedback… maybe we can have a session at our next reunion? or in a tent at Homecoming?



    danlundquist wrote:
    There are other reasons for colleges to pay attention to price/cost. Reviewing the difference between wealth and “offer,” the majority of no-need families are SAYING the will pay approx. HALF of what needs-analysis suggests they CAN pay at expensive ($50-60K/year) colleges…which is roughly what their parents actually paid for them at a similar college 30-40 years ago.

    jaysanderson wrote, in response to danlundquist:
    Your observations corroborate what we’re seeing in our once-prosperous private “B” liberal arts college. Enrollment is trending steadily downward. I suspect our prospects are uncertain, at best.

    danlundquist’s reply
    I desperately wish senior leadership would view admissions as more than a class-shaping, revenue source and heed the valuable “futurecasting” role these offices can provide.
    It has, alas, been my experience that any less-than-rosy news from an admissions dean is viewed as an excuse (as opposed to a reason) when seriously received and thoroughly considered at all.

  4. Jeff Selingo says:

    Dan — Thanks for the comments. I’ll be in touch. — Jeff

  5. Congratulations, Jeff! A very ambitious project, indeed. Because of my work with a liberal-arts college consortium, I am particularly interested in how (and whether) institutions are taking advantage of consortial approaches in order to contain cost. In some consortia, I think that opportunities for students (e.g., shared courses, study abroad, joint interdisciplinary programs) are being expanded at little to no cost to their home institutions through collaboration. The Mellon Foundation is funding many consortia across the country as part of its effort to build strength in this sector while focusing on cost containment. You might be interested to speak with Gene Tobin (former Hamilton president now running the liberal arts program at Mellon) and Phil Lewis (former provost and dean of arts and sciences at Cornell, now VP at Mellon) for their perspective.

  6. Congratulations Jeff. You definitely have your finger on the pulse of higher education and a keen sense about its future. I am eager to read/hear what you have to say. Thanks for addressing this important topic. We look forward to learning more at Summer Seminar 2012. Best wishes.

  7. […] meant to be scientific survey, but rather a collection of anecdotes and ideas for this blog and my book on the future of higher ed. The students were randomly chosen by me in some cases, and by faculty […]

  8. With the rise of MOOCs, will the target audience spill over to current high school students? Given CMU’s Open Learning Initiative and others, I can see online courses becoming defacto “badges” students will need to have for admissions to highly competitive colleges.

    Cue Shaggy saying “Zoinks!”

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