Jeffrey Young ’95
Courtesy Jeffrey Young

Jeffrey Young ’95 produces and co-hosts the podcast EdSurge for the educational news outlet of the same name. The podcast alternates every week between stories about K-12 and higher education, with an eye toward character-driven stories that discuss how education is changing. But you don’t have to be a student or parent to enjoy this podcast. The big questions and ideas presented in each episode touch on our larger culture. “Podcasts really do go well with the topic of education,” Young says, “in that you have plenty of people that love to talk and love to listen in the education world.”

Getting started in journalism

“I sort of backed into it. I was very excited doing a lot of work while I was at Princeton on the culture of technology and how it was impacting society. In the ’90s, there wwelas a lot of optimism and excitement around the internet and the web, which was still pretty new. I ended up getting a job covering technology at The Chronicle of Higher Education, where I got to talk to a lot of people on the frontier of thinking through technology and how it was changing. But I was more interested in writing culture pieces within the higher ed world, and over time, I got more and more interested in the academy itself, how higher ed is changing, and the world within higher ed.” 

Covering — and questioning — higher ed

“It’s such a huge mix of contradictions. It’s got this huge role in society, but it also has all these different challenges of how does it continue to do all the different things that it does — from teaching to research to being a large part of people’s communities around the country — while also living in a world where people are asking questions about money and how you run these things.


Three more podcasts to check out this month

1. Host MAYRA CEJA ’03’s investment-themed podcast Venture Unplugged talks blockchain with Blockstack founder MUNEEB ALI *17.

2. KATIE MACK *09, an astrophysicist at North Carolina State University, explains some of the research on the International Space Station on WUNC’s The State of Things.

3. Microsoft President BRAD SMITH ’81 discusses how government regulates tech on the Geek Wire Podcast.

“There is a rising skepticism by some about whether higher ed is worth it, and people are suggesting alternatives to higher education. There are questions about: How do we pay for high quality education and make it accessible to as many people as possible? Is it preparing people for the workforce? What is its role in shaping citizens? It does get back to some fundamental questions about whether education is primarily a public good or a private good, and what’s the social contract around education and how it should be provided.”

A+ educational experience

“I had the huge good fortune of taking John McPhee [’53]’s class — it was then called ‘The Literature of Fact.’ When he teaches the class, he devotes all of his time to that — he’s not writing his own projects at the time — and so he really got to know the students, and required us to come and meet with him and talk about our work. It was the most care pretty much anyone had [given to] something I’d written, and that kind of care basically made me pay attention in a way I hadn’t before. It seems clear that this is why just having great lectures recorded has not done that much to move the needle on revolutionizing education, because so much of it is about a relationship and being connected.” 

Common threads

“I see it as the way Planet Money — which I love — looks at business coverage through the lens of storytelling and big ideas, and makes it accessible even if you’re not a money person or in finance. I aspire to do the same thing within the realm of education: looking closely at this world but then coming out of it and saying, ‘these are some things that are going on that raise really interesting questions or conundrums that people might not be aware of.’ Education — just like economics — does impact all of us.”

Listener takeaways

“Education is changing, and there are so many ways in which that plays out at schools and colleges these days. I think people think of educational institutions as really staid and not changing much, yet there are a lot of forces right now that are really impacting education — sometimes in a negative light — that are posing huge challenges to the institutions that we rely on in this country to educate kids and grownups. That’s really the big theme we touch on every episode: how much things are changing, and how many challenges there are that are going on in colleges and schools.” 

The value of podcasting

“Podcasting is such a pleasure to do and listen to because you just feel like you have this chance to connect with somebody. Right now we’re so distracted as consumers of media, and yet with a podcast, you feel like you have someone’s ear. If they listen, people often listen to the whole thing, or at least most of it. Of course, people are distracted and doing the dishes or commuting while they’re listening, but I think it’s such a great medium to have longform storytelling and longform interviews.”

Interview conducted and condensed by Anna Mazarakis ’16