The sooner high school seniors can reimagine how they think about college both academically and socially, the easier the transition will be come fall when they enter a hybrid world of virtual and in-person learning. 

That was the advice of Assumption College President Francesco Cesareo during a March 20 CFES Brilliant Pathways webinar titled “How Might Higher Education Change in the Post-Pandemic World?” The longtime college president talked with CFES Board Chair J. Bart Morrison, associate professor of management at Assumption, about the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on postsecondary institutions and how colleges are addressing it.

“As we look to the future of higher education, we have to imagine that regardless of what happens to residential living, there will be some form of remote learning taking place,” said Cesareo. “Students have to begin to think about how learning occurs in different modalities… to become independent learners guided by a faculty member in that learning process.”


Students who enter college with Essential Skills such as agility and perseverance will have an advantage, according to Cesareo, but only if they apply them to the new paradigm of virtual learning. “For students in CFES, I would say that you have an advantage in that environment because of the principals behind the Brilliant Pathways program,” he said. “You are used to thinking about how do I adopt through the principal of agility… look at the possibilities ahead as an opportunity to put into practice what you have been engaged in during the CFES program.”

Cesareo addressed the criticism that online learning is not as effective as traditional in-class learning, arguing that each learning modality has advantages. “Education can take on many forms,” he says. “My response is always that learning and teaching is taking place, but in a very different manner and approach… how much you embrace it makes a difference.”

Professors who initially struggled with a virtual format are studying the pedagogy of online learning and re-designing their courses to increase student engagement, said Cesareo. “What we were doing was remote learning, not necessarily online learning, and there’s a difference. Online learning is going to be very different from what students experienced the last seven weeks.”

Cesareo also talked about how colleges are working to ensure that the social and community-based aspects of college are preserved. He’s considering clustering students into “households,” so there’s less contact with those outside the family unit, but a strong community feel based on living, dining and taking courses together. Taking care of your mental health is the single most important thing a student can do, he said.

“The theme and thread I hear from you is the well-being of students, not only in respect to learning, socializing, dining and learning by doing through internships, but overall physical wealth and well-being,” said Morrison. “All of those adjustments you mentioned are being made in order accommodate the achievement of a greater health for the students.”