Conversations with higher education leaders about online learning, the future, and the pandemic’s lasting impact on higher education.

An interview with: Luke Schultheis, Helms College – Executive Vice President of Education, Fairleigh Dickinson University – Vice President for Enrollment, Planning & Effectiveness (formerly).

Luke Schultheis is a higher education thought leader advancing student success, institutional effectiveness and resourcing to support the academic enterprise. He has worked in higher education for 24 years, teaching hospitality management and has procured roles in enrollment and outreach services. When we interviewed Luke, he was leading enrollment at Fairleigh Dickinson, but he has since taken on a new role leading Helms College. This is from the perspective of Fairleigh Dickinson.

Dr. George Rohde interviewed Luke as we approached the Fall of 2022. Here are edited excerpts from that interview with a focus on the challenges presented to universities and its faculty amidst the switch to online learning accelerated by the pandemic.

George Rohde: How is Fairleigh Dickinson University leveraging the transition from in-person to online instruction?

Luke Schultheis: We really began offering online education about four years ago with a focus on graduate programs. Due to the pandemic, we began to offer more programs online with hybrid options for students as well. Regardless of the mode of instruction, our goal is always to prepare students for a career and to enter the workforce after graduation. This can be difficult to leverage for our faculty, who have to remain dedicated and engaged with their students in the online space. We have been putting a more focused effort into helping both faculty and students in this transition.

George Rohde: How has the transition to online learning affected enrollment?

Luke Schultheis: As mentioned, we are more experienced in online education at the graduate level than undergraduate. At both levels, however, we have increased our efforts in understanding their concerns when it comes to accessibility of education. What we’ve found is that students prefer a hybrid approach to learning.

In an effort to increase enrollment, we’ve been working to develop a more cohesive definition of hybrid learning to make the delivery as easy as possible for faculty. This has been challenging because there is no single, industry-wide definition of hybrid learning yet, so everyone has a different expectation. Our goal is to manage these expectations in a way that gives faculty a level of autonomy in their instruction, and students a high quality education.

George Rohde: Speaking of expectations, how have they changed, from the perspective of students, with the increase in online learning?

Luke Schultheis: They have changed in a few ways. Firstly, faculty expect to be provided with the tools they need to be able to offer a dynamic learning environment. They also expect to be trained so they can effectively operate these tools and take advantage of their benefits. On the student side, they expect to be able to reach out to their instructors and have access to them around the clock. It is a balancing act between catering to the needs of students and staff.

George Rohde: What about classes that traditionally required students to be in-person, such as labs? Do you think their presence in online learning is here to stay?

Luke Schultheis: I certainly hope so. There’s no question that students prefer this method of instruction, as we’ve seen with student-provided feedback. We know that hybrid and online learning gives students a convenience that they may not have had before. The challenge arises, however, with faculty’s ability to provide a high-quality education in an online environment. The tools we currently have in place have been working for us so far, but as online education becomes more of a standard, we hope to have newer solutions that will make it easier to do so.

George Rohde: Do you think people are going to want to revert back to the traditional, in-person mode of learning post-pandemic?

Luke Schultheis: I don’t think so. Too many people have experienced the benefits of remote work and learning to want to return to the traditional form of learning where students have to commute to campus 4-5 times a week for 4-6 years. I can’t see how that can continue to be sustained in this new climate of remote learning. There’s absolutely a place for this kind of instruction, but universities will continue to adapt to online learning to offer high quality education. This is why it is so important for us, and other universities as well, to invest in our faculty and to provide the necessary tools and technologies so that they can effectively deliver the curriculum that will prepare and educate students to enter the workforce.

George Rohde: Excellent insight, thank you for sharing your perspective and thoughts about this.