How Higher Education Has Changed Forever

NJ schools can never go back to the way things were before the pandemic. 

College student studying from home in his room
Local colleges and universities have had to rapidly adapt and evolve during the pandemic. Photo: Susan Tucker/Shutterstock

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, no sector was left unscathed. As Covid-19 evolved and the months turned into years, leaders from health care, small business, banking, nonprofits and academia continued to find ways to pivot and adapt. As a new school year begins, it is timely to talk to a leader in higher education to analyze the challenges colleges and universities have faced, the lessons learned and the idea of moving forward. 

Lamont O. Repollet, EdD, has led Kean University as its president since May 2020. Prior to becoming Kean’s president, he served 2 1/2 years as New Jersey’s commissioner of education under Governor Phil Murphy, overseeing the shift to remote education amid the pandemic and playing a key role in planning for the 2020–2021 school year. (Full disclosure: Kean University supports a series called Urban Matters that I anchor on public broadcasting.) 

“When it comes to higher ed, everyone believed a brick-and-mortar institution with synchronous learning was the most effective form of instruction,” says Repollet. “But over the past 2 1/2 years, we have realized how resilient the workforce is, and that we can actually leverage technology and innovation to operate in a virtual space and facilitate learning.” 

While Repollet believes that virtual learning is probably not optimal for all, especially considering some inequalities and inequities we have in education, he recognizes the importance of flexibility, partnerships and collaboration to help students prepare for the year ahead and succeed.

Says Repollet: “We are working diligently to prepare our campuses and our faculty to meet the unique needs of incoming students this fall. We know that with all the upheaval the pandemic created, students at all levels have suffered learning loss.” Repollet says that Kean is looking closely at its general-education courses and finding ways to address learning loss, recognizing that each student enters the classroom with different needs. He says it is all about taking a “student-centered approach” while creating flexibility for faculty. 

Yet, Repollet reminds us, we can’t stop with academics, adding, “Students need social-emotional support outside the classroom as well. All of our lives have been impacted by Covid-19, and some students have had their lives completely upended.” Since Kean serves a diverse student population, including a large percentage of first-generation students and adult learners, the university is developing an advising model to help ensure every student feels connected and supported. 

And while we all agree that New Jersey and the nation can never go back to the way things were pre-pandemic, Repollet says, “some wonderful opportunities abound, like leveraging connections students made all over the world via Zoom to create tangible experiential learning through internships and travel-learns.”

For colleges and universities, the pandemic brought transformation and innovation at a speed never seen before. It has changed higher education forever. This isn’t a question of whether it is simply good or bad, but rather, how all of us, particularly students and those who teach them, adapt and evolve. 

Steve Adubato, PhD, is the author of five books including his latest, Lessons in Leadership. He is also an Emmy® Award–winning anchor on Thirteen/WNET (PBS) and NJ PBS. Check out Steve has appeared on CNN, FOX5 in NY and NBC’s Today Show, and his “Lessons in Leadership” video podcast with co-host Mary Gamba airs Sundays at 10 am on News 12+. Steve also provides executive leadership coaching and seminars for a variety of corporations and organizations both regionally and nationally. For more information, visit

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