COVID’s impact on higher education

Good morning. 

NYU tech guru Scott Galloway wins the prize for getting the first book to market on the post-Corona economy. He quickly and correctly zeroed in on what makes this economic crisis so distinct from those of the past: it was an accelerant, not a retardant. “A virus one four-hundredth the width of a human hair grabbed a sphere weighing 13 billion trillion tons and set it spinning ten times faster.”

Galloway completed his manuscript in August, and while some of his predictions seem obvious—big tech is a big winner; work from home is here to stay; cash is king—others may prove premature. Like Andrew Cuomo, he might have been prudent to let the crisis play out before penning a book.

But I was taken by his chapter on higher education. The virus, he points out, “has been especially hard on industries whose customers consume the product sitting shoulder to shoulder, like sports, airlines, restaurants, events—and…universities.” In the case of higher ed, it is hitting a sector already overripe for disruption. College tuition has increased 1,400% in the last four decades, demographics is about to deliver a body blow to demand, online higher education is finally maturing, and the best companies—as I’ve said here before—are working hard to retool their hiring systems to focus more on skills, less on college credentials. A pandemic that shuts down campuses could—and probably should—create a perfect storm.

By the way, in a separate chapter, Galloway refers to the “founder-worship era” in the venture capital business. That was the topic of a brilliant piece by Charles Duhigg in last week’s New Yorker, focusing on the spectacular collapse of WeWork. The fundamental problem, says Duhigg, is not the emergence of a charismatic cult leader like Adam Neumann—it is the VC culture that enabled and encouraged Neumann to do his thing, with no constraints. This week’s must-read.

More news below. And an early warning: Fortune announces its Businessperson of the Year on Wednesday. Who should win? Send in your predictions. 

Alan Murray

A correction, courtesy of Heidrick & Struggles, which told us last week that only 3% of new CEOs appointed between March 11 and June 30 in the U.S. this year were women. In fact, they missed one. The number was actually 6%, compared to 12% in the five months before the pandemic.

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