Chief Officers Explore Change, Communication, and Connection at Annual Institute

Seated participants listening to a plenary session
Held in Baltimore, Maryland, November 2–5, CIC’s 2019 Institute for Chief Academic Officers, with Chief Advancement and Public Relations Officers, attracted more than 550 participants.

CIC’s 47th Institute for Chief Academic Officers, this year with chief advancement and public relations officers, took place in Baltimore, Maryland, November 2–5, 2019. The Institute’s theme, “Change: Continuity, Connection, and Communication,” provided a framework for discussion of how to balance adaptation and continuity, ensure institutional success, and sustain robust learning communities. Sessions focused on topics at the critical intersection of academic programs, advancement, and public relations―such as developing strategies for fundraising and using best practices to communicate during crises. This year’s program was developed in cooperation with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).

The 2019 Institute was once again the largest annual conference of chief academic officers held by any higher education association in the United States. The event attracted 332 chief academic, advancement, and public relations officers, and a grand total of 554 people. Participants traveled from as far as Greece and Pakistan and from all across the continental United States, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.

The program featured plenary presentations by prominent higher education leaders on key aspects of the work of all three senior campus officers. In a keynote conversation on “Philanthropic Support for Higher Education,” Sue Cunningham, president and CEO of CASE, and Robert O. Carr, founder and chair of the nonprofit charity Give Something Back, explored the motivation for philanthropic support of higher education and the power of a transformative contribution to a signature cause. In a session on “Technology, Education, and Our Robot Future,” Illah R. Nourbakhsh, K&L Gates Professor of Ethics and Computational Technologies at Carnegie Mellon University and director of the Community Robotics, Education, and Technology Empowerment Lab, discussed how combining technology fluency with ethical reflection is the key to student success and personal fulfillment in the decades of tremendous technological change ahead. In “Perceptions and Challenges for Higher Education,” Scott Jaschik, editor and cofounder of Inside Higher Ed, argued that better communication with a concerted effort to address misinformed perceptions can help heal the rift between the public and private higher education. And Judith R. Shapiro, Barnard College president and professor of anthropology emerita and former president of the Teagle Foundation, discussed the alignment of campus leadership, university goals, liberal arts education, and fundraising—sharing her perspective on the emerging changes that face funders and colleges.

Through concurrent sessions, participants learned about techniques that have enabled college leaders to develop effective partnerships. Institute sessions also explored such topics as evolving legal issues in higher education, recruiting and retaining diverse faculty and staff members, advancement benchmarking, innovative approaches to fundraising, frontiers in science programming, and strategies to develop new graduate programs.

Participants particularly praised Institute sessions that highlighted new ways to collaborate with other chief officers. One participant noted that they found “structured ways to connect through conversations particularly helpful; for example, the hosted breakfast tables were a great way to connect with colleagues thinking about similar topics and to share ideas and best practices.”

Andy Chambers, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Missouri Baptist University (MO), reflected, “The 2019 Institute was outstanding in so many ways—including the conference sessions, networking opportunities, and a pre-conference workshop. During the Saturday Workshop for CAOs in Their Third or Fourth Year of Service, I had a lot of questions answered and realized a number of questions that I should be asking. Plus, I made new friends and met possible mentors. I couldn’t ask for a better workshop.”
 
During the Institute, CIC presented its two top academic and leadership awards for 2019. Leanne Neilson, provost and vice president for academic affairs of California Lutheran University, received the Chief Academic Officer Award, which honors a CAO who has served in an exemplary way to enhance the role and work of the private college CAO. Neilson was recognized for her dedicated service to California Lutheran as well as her dedication to helping other campus leaders better understand the challenges facing them. She has presented at the CAO Institute and the Workshops for Department and Division Chairs on a variety of topics; she served on the CIC CAO Task Force from 2016 to 2019 and was its chair during 2018–2019. Judith Shapiro, former president of the Teagle Foundation and Barnard College, received the Academic Leadership Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to American higher education. She was recognized for her distinguished service to those at all levels of higher education—from faculty member to provost to college president—and for her many contributions to the work of small and mid-sized nonprofit, independent colleges and universities.

Podcasts of the plenary sessions as well as slideshow presentations and handouts from many Institute sessions are available on the Institute website. The 2020 Institute for Chief Academic Officers and Academic Team Members will take place November 7–10, in San Diego, California.


Leanne Neilson speaks from podium
During the Institute, Leanne Neilson, provost and vice president for academic affairs of California Lutheran University, received CIC’s 2019 Chief Academic Officer Award.

Richard Ekman hands a framed award to Judith Shapiro
Judith Shapiro, former president of the Teagle Foundation and Barnard College, received the 2019 Academic Leadership Award. Pictured are Shapiro and CIC President Richard Ekman.

Two task members hold placques
CIC presented service awards to CIC Chief Academic Officers Task Force members Chad Berry, academic vice president and dean of the faculty, Berry College (GA); Cynthia K. Kosso, provost and dean of the faculty, Moravian College (PA); and Marc Roy, provost, Albion College (MI). Pictured are CAO Task Force Chair Glenn R. Sharfman, provost of Oglethorpe University (GA); Kosso; Roy; and Ekman.

Presenter speaks from podium to participants seated at roundtablesThe well-attended session “Three Approaches to Graduate Programs” featured Darin Fields, vice president for academic affairs at the University of Findlay (OH); Kelly Ball, assistant dean for graduate and extended programs at Agnes Scott College (GA); and Isabel Roche, interim president of Bennington College (VT).

Four participants seated at a roundtable discuss the table's topic: Learning a New Institutional Culture A luncheon and discussion session for women administrators enabled participants to share best practices, network, and hear from speaker Nancy E. Tate. Tate (not pictured) led the League of Women Voters of the United States from 2000 to 2015, and since 2015, she has served as the co-chair of the 2020 Women’s Vote Centennial Initiative.



Yes

Keynote Conversation Explores Philanthropic Support for Higher Education, Benefits for Students

Robert O. Carr and Sue Cunningham sit on chairs on stage Robert O. Carr and Sue Cunningham

How do donors decide which causes to support? How can colleges most effectively partner with donors to transform student lives? The Institute’s keynote conversation focused not only on philanthropic support for higher education, but also on how colleges can support students and change lives through partnerships with funders.

In their dialogue Sue Cunningham, president and CEO of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), and Robert O. Carr, the founder and chair of Give Something Back (Give Back), discussed the power of a transformative contribution to a signature cause. CASE supports over 3,600 schools, colleges, and universities worldwide in their alumni relations, communications, fundraising, and marketing functions to strengthen institutional advancement. Give Back is a nonprofit organization that provides scholarships, academic mentoring, and social guidance to students who have faced adversities such as foster care, homelessness, or the incarceration of a parent. Carr’s work has helped more than 1,500 students achieve a college education, among them students at a dozen CIC institutions who have received full scholarships.

Cunningham opened the discussion by asking Carr, “How did you come to be a philanthropist?”

“I had more money than I needed,” Carr replied, “and it came down to deciding what’s the most important thing to do.” Carr began his career as an entrepreneur and traveled a long road to success. He explained that he was always more interested in investing directly to help others than in seeing his name on a building. “I’ve always believed in the golden rule—in doing as much as I can for others in the most significant way possible.” He described asking himself how to use $20,000 to change the world; his answer was “to put a kid through college.” He researched how that could be possible and found, “you need Pell grant money, state grant money, and partnerships with universities that want to help these kids.” Carr himself was a first-generation college student who was inspired by receiving a merit scholarship. He became passionate about providing the same opportunity to determined, low-income students, with the hope that scholarship recipients will also give back to the community one day.

With $50 million, Carr found that “we were able to fund 1,500 students through four years of college and to provide the support that these kids need—to be mentored so they don’t drop through the cracks. I can’t think of a better way to spend my money based on my values. And that’s how most donors are—they will want to support the things they value most.” Carr added that although investing in research to solve cancer is critical, and many philanthropists wish to fund cancer research or patient care, Give Back might also play a role. “Our first graduate is a medical doctor. He received a PhD from Northwestern University, and he might be the guy that makes a medical breakthrough. If we can educate our young people and give them an equal chance, they can change the world.”

Give Back selects scholars early—as soon as ninth grade—so they benefit from college readiness programs, campus visits, financial aid workshops, and test preparation classes. Once accepted into the program, Give Back scholars can apply to any partner institution in the state they live in to receive a scholarship that covers tuition, fees, room, and board. The organization’s model to meet college costs includes a three-way partnership with state and federal government grant programs, private college grants, and the foundation’s scholarship support to cover a student’s remaining educational expenses for four years. Since its inception in 2003, Give Back has invested more than $50 million in scholarship and mentoring support across the country—having already prepaid for over 1,500 students to go to 29 colleges in seven states. To date, 100 percent of Give Back Scholars have graduated from high school, and 91 percent have graduated from college.

Cunningham remarked, “We’re privileged to be in a room full of people who get up every day to advance education because they are passionate and focused on the value it brings. And you work with both the administrators and staff at the educational institutions and the students who benefit at the institutions. What do you see the educational institutions you work with getting right? What are we doing well to support students and your scholars?”

“Partnering with our program is a huge help,” Carr said. “Housing is the key to the whole thing.” He explained, “With all the promise programs and Pell and state grants that are out there, most kids can get through the tuition and fees—but how and where will they live? Getting them out of any negative environment and into a positive academic environment is the ‘Holy Grail.’ It requires housing and food 365 days a year. Many of our colleges can do that now, and they can give our staff space to hold office hours to help the students.”

Shifting gears slightly, Cunningham said, “Everything I’ve heard and read about your program tells an incredibly powerful story about the world of higher education. At the same time, in many parts of world, including in this country, higher education is not always portrayed in the best light in the media or in politics. As you work with so many of our institutions, how do you think we could tell our story differently to engage better with the general public?”

“That’s a question that is near and dear to my heart,” Carr replied. “There needs to be more candor from everyone in the system. The fact is, despite its high cost today, higher education is good value if the students graduate.” He elaborated that he thinks college leaders should stop talking about access and start talking about graduation rates: “Because starting college, dropping out, and then having to pay off student loans by working minimum wage jobs is just wrong.” He emphasized that colleges and universities should be candid about what a scholarship means and how many years it will cover so that students and parents are clear about their total costs. “If you tell the truth in a transparent way, students will feel a lot better about coming to your campus and they will be able to plan better. We have a great product—let’s tell the truth about it and sell it based on the truth.”

Cunningham added that campuses are working hard to have as many students as possible attend college and that philanthropy plays a critical part. Carr advised that advancement officers will achieve greater success if they “Go to big corporations, be transparent, and lay the whole thing out.”

Panelists Highlight Trends in Philanthropy and Implications for Higher Education

Amy Holmes speaks from podiumCo-panelist Amy Holmes, director at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, discussing “Philanthropic Priorities and Approaches of Private Foundations.”

Several concurrent sessions at the Institute explored various aspects of fundraising—from establishing philanthropic priorities, to using advancement benchmarking, to increasing alumni engagement, to dealing with challenging gifts.

In a session on “Philanthropic Priorities and Approaches of Private Foundations” Anne Ollen, senior director the TIAA Institute, and Amy Holmes, leader of the New York Advisory Team of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, discussed the two organizations’ newly released report, Philanthropy in Higher Education: Priorities and Approaches of Private Foundations. Ollen began with some key statistics on philanthropic giving to higher education. While giving overall has increased significantly, public institutions now outperform privates in attracting donations, whereas 30 years ago, the opposite was true. Private institutions, however, are far more dependent on philanthropy for operational expenses than their public counterparts. Furthermore, organizational donors, who favor public institutions over private, have now surpassed alumni—who tend to favor private institutions—as the dominant donor type.

As endowments become a less reliable source of long-term stability, annual and multi-year support from donors will become even more important, Ollen said. These donors are becoming ever more stringent in their reporting and accountability requirements, and institutions need to be prepared to work with them effectively.

How has giving from private foundations evolved? What are the trends? These were the questions Holmes addressed, based on in-depth interviews with ten private foundations. The greatest priority for these organizations is student access and success, with pathways to careers an increasing interest. Holmes presented this trend as a “logical progression” from the admission pipeline to post-graduation opportunities. Other priorities include donor-driven giving: “Foundations have their own agendas and are looking for institutions that want to sign on to those agendas,” Holmes noted, echoing points made earlier by Robert Carr. There is an increased emphasis on scale and national reach, although place-based funders tend to prioritize local institutions. Also important to foundations are transfer pathways from two to four-year institutions and price and affordability, as well as the financial stability of institutions. “We see an increased interest in stronger business models,” said Holmes.

Overall trends also include support for low-income and first-generation students and increased giving to scholarships, financial aid, and support for providing career opportunities. Capital and endowment giving is down, while support for current operations is up.

Holmes went on to summarize the results of an online survey of foundations, 76 of which responded. Of these institutions, most give to post-secondary institutions. The higher percentages of dollars are flowing to public higher education, however, not to private colleges and universities. This is related to the emphasis on scale, Holmes pointed out.

The type of foundation matters a great deal when it comes to giving priorities. For example, while all types emphasize access and success, mid-sized foundations tend to give more for pedagogy and educational activities, while the larger foundations emphasize policy, advocacy, and systems reform.

The last portion of Holmes’ presentation was devoted to the benefits and drawbacks of giving directly to colleges and giving to associations, from the point of view of foundations. “They have access to the expertise of faculty if they give to individual institutions,” Holmes explained, while leadership transitions, complex internal bureaucracies, and lack of scale are drawbacks—“What works well at one college may not be replicable at others.”

On the one hand, giving to associations has the advantage of greater scale, opportunities for shared learning, the ability to test the value of an intervention, and the power of purpose-built cohorts of institutions. On the other hand, there are fewer opportunities for building close relationships with institutions, there may be a loss of focus in implementation of an initiative, there are varying levels of commitment across collaborative cohorts, and “one size fits all” may simply not work. “Be open to working through your associations in order to attract private foundation money that flows through cohorts,” Holmes concluded.

Session Provides Overview of Advancement Benchmarking Metrics

Two presenters seated at head table CASE’s David Bass, senior director of research, and Jenny Cooke Smith, senior strategic consultant, AMAtlas, listening to questions regarding advancement benchmarking.

In the session “Advancement Benchmarking,” CASE’s David Bass, senior director of research, and Jenny Cooke Smith, senior strategic consultant of AMAtlas, shared new data and outlined emerging trends from CASE’s annual Voluntary Support of Education (VSE) Survey, which collects data on fundraising at educational institutions in North America. The presenters began by noting the challenges for all colleges and universities in terms of the greater scrutiny from a skeptical public and the high level of competition for donor dollars. In this environment, advancement work is greatly enhanced by an analytical approach to understanding giving to higher education.

CASE has developed a “one-stop data shop” where members can access a range of survey information of different types from multiple sources: The interactive online database Data Miner brings together alumni engagement metrics, fundraising survey data, and other core metrics to provide institutions with a means of tracking and benchmarking their advancement outcomes.

In addition to outlining the overall direction of giving to higher education, Bass and Smith also provided detailed information on fundraising trends for CIC institutions. By looking at the 231 CIC institutions that consistently responded to the VSE Survey over the past decade, they were able to characterize philanthropic support since 2008. Over that time, alumni giving increased as a proportion of gifts received, making up about 45 percent of funds raised. But the percentage of alumni who are giving declined slightly, from 16.3 percent in 2009 down to 11.2 percent in 2018. Another surprising finding emerged from the data: Among top-performing CIC institutions, none consistently increased dollars received annually over the entire decade. Variability in annual philanthropic support remains the norm for independent higher education.

Donors with deep pockets are sought after by most colleges and universities, so it is unsurprising that major gift donors are an important part of fundraising strategy. On average, top-performing CIC institutions received nearly a third of their funds raised in 2018 from their three largest gifts. At the same time, this concentrated effort to gain large gifts may have side effects that require additional resources. Noting the rise of “helicopter donors,” who seem to hover overhead, Bass said that major donors increasingly expect “something akin to a business plan” in return for their large gifts. Relying on a few large donors may make institutions more vulnerable to a changing economy or variable donor expectations. By digging into the VSE data, institutions can do their own analysis, benchmark to CIC institutions, and come up with a compelling strategy that is right for their particular circumstances.

Trends in Millennial Giving and Online Alumni Engagement Explored

Three speakers seated at head table Panelists John N. McKeegan, vice president for institutional advancement at Linfield College (OR); Robiaun Charles, vice president for college advancement at Agnes Scott College (GA); and Liz Hertneck Stier, director of annual giving at Loyola University Maryland, exploring “Trends in Millennial Giving and Online Alumni Engagement.”

At a session focusing on current trends in millennial and online alumni giving, Kestrel Linder, co-founder and CEO of GiveCampus (a digital fundraising platform), reminded the audience that according to the Pew Research Center, millennials became the largest generation in the labor force in 2016. As this demographic’s purchasing power will expand dramatically over the next 50 years, he admitted frankly to the audience that, “This is where the money is, literally.” He went on to explain how this population has never known a world without computers and that technology has influenced their behaviors and expectations. He cautioned, “If we can’t meet those expectations, we’ll miss the mark with this generation.” The most important thing to remember about fundraising with this demographic he said, is meeting them where they expect us to: “Can you make it really easy for me to give you money?”

The session highlighted new strategies that two institutions, Agnes Scott College (GA) and Linfield College (OR), have used in recent fundraising activities. At both colleges, hiring recent graduates to work in the development office has been invaluable in keeping pace with generational trends and the types of technology to which new alumni are most responsive, including peer-to-peer texting and crowdfunding.  

John N. McKeegan, vice president for institutional advancement at Linfield College, and Robiaun Charles, vice president for college advancement at Agnes Scott College, both also emphasized the importance of short-term challenges and annual or semi-annual giving days. “If you are not having a giving day, you should,” McKeegan urged. He recommended timing giving days to align with significant campus events, such as football games or homecoming weekends. Friday evenings, when people are tired from the week and less engaged with social media, should be avoided. At Linfield, giving day is now a large campus event in and of itself, with bounce houses, gourmet s’more cookouts, and big-screen tracking of donation numbers so that current students will remember where they were on giving days after graduation.

Agnes Scott recently started a “Giving Tuesday” and began using a peer-to-peer texting tool in 2018. The first time this outreach was employed, the college quadrupled the dollars raised and doubled the number of donors. As Robiaun Charles noted about reaching millennial and Generation Z alumni: “The overarching guide for these generations is ‘always think mobile. Mobile. Mobile. Mobile.’ They are working from that phone or some other mobile device.” She went on to say that development officers need to provide many options for engagement and for giving. “This is not just about personalization. Try to shift to being hyper-personalized.” Using GiveCampus, for example, Agnes Scott successfully tapped into its culture of strong graduation class identity. Class chairs can now create personalized pages with short five- to ten-second videos; different classes are often pitted in competition with each other, amplifying giving. The 2018 “Giving Tuesday” also included a parent’s matching-donation challenge, swag contest winners, and professor “shoutout” donations among other incentives.

Panelists Recommend Ways to Strengthen Gift Evaluation and Acceptance Policies

James Watt speaks while standing holding a microphone
Co-panelist James Watt, vice president for advancement at Juniata College (PA), explaining when and how to say “no” in the session “Gifts That Become a Challenge.”

According to James Watt, vice president for advancement at Juniata College (PA), “Advancement professionals love to say yes.” But what should they do if a valued donor wants to give their institution an island? Or an animatronic dinosaur that doesn’t work? Or a 2,000 year old mummy? In their session on “Gifts That Become a Challenge,” Watt and Paul Heaton, senior director of member engagement at CASE, brought up these real examples of gifts received by colleges and universities to spark a lively discussion in which participants confidentially shared their own institutions’ struggles with gifts that went awry. For each story, Heaton and Watt stepped in to share their expert advice on negotiating or turning down challenging gifts and crafting strong gift agreements.

Both Watt and Heaton focused on the importance of negotiating with potential donors to ensure that gifts benefit the institution as much as they do the donor. They encouraged chief academic officers and advancement staff to look into any conditions that come with a gift: Could this gift conflict with the institution’s mission? Is the scope of this gift too narrowly defined? These questions should be part of a conversation with the donor, balancing the emotional and personal associations of a donor’s gift with hard guidelines to protect the institution. Watt recommended not only thinking about whether a gift makes sense for the institution in the present, but also envisioning how this gift would change the institution in the future.

A clear gift-acceptance process with detailed policies can help advancement staff members navigate such negotiations. Heaton suggested working with the chief financial officer and all executive staff to design such policies as, “It’s great to involve everyone in senior leadership in fundraising.” Watt shared Juniata College’s policies for receiving and recording gifts and pledges, calling this pamphlet a “living document” that should be regularly maintained by the advancement team. Watt and Heaton recommended specifying who has the authority to turn down a gift and adding language that articulates how the provost and president can change the direction of a gift in the future. They also suggested making provisions to allow the institution to rename buildings or professorships in the event that a donor engages in illegal or otherwise problematic conduct that might compromise the institution’s reputation.

So what should colleges and universities do if problems arise after a gift is accepted? At a time when the social media news cycle can spread outrage almost instantaneously, Heaton emphasized the value of being prepared. He called on colleges and universities to do tabletop exercises tailored to crises around major gifts—what would senior leadership do if a major donor ended up in the news for a terrible act? How would the advancement team deal with a donor who failed to fulfill his pledge? Heaton also recommended that advancement teams draw on the materials in the CASE Library, a hub for resources about the advancement field that includes case studies of such scenarios and sample gift policies to draw from.

Nourbakhsh Examines Ethical Dimensions of Technology

Illah Nourbakhsh speaks beside podium while gesturing with his hand and holding a slide advancer Illah R. Nourbakhsh

“We humans are not that special. We’re easy to hack.” Plenary speaker Illah R. Nourbakhsh, K&L Gates Professor of Ethics and Computational Technologies and director of the Community Robotics, Education, and Technology Empowerment Lab at Carnegie Mellon University, offered provocative examples of how artificial intelligence “hacks” the human mind, a topic he explores extensively in his forthcoming book, AI and Humanity (MIT Press 2020).

A critic of “techno-optimism,” Nourbaksh grounds his work in cross-cultural and interdisciplinary studies. His plenary address considered, among other topics, the economic implications of Chinese local government programs to reduce the number of human workers by replacing them with robots, the moral implications of human cruelty toward robots, and the psychological implications of retail advertisements with sensors that can read the emotions and reactions of nearby shoppers.

Nourboukhsh argued that education at all levels has an urgent responsibility to prepare students to engage the ethical considerations and challenges presented by artificial intelligence. In his view, nothing less than a fundamental redefinition of what it means to be human is underway, driven by the recognition that digital technology fueled by the sophisticated analysis of massive data sets can replicate many functions formerly believed to be distinctively human. “What does it mean,” he asked, “when we can create a better version of ourselves?” This is one of the key questions today’s students must be prepared to face in their future work environments and as citizens.

Unless educators help students develop the philosophical capabilities to engage questions of meaning, value, and human identity, Nourbakhsh warned Institute participants, humans may lose the ability to shape and develop “rather than simply consume” innovations in AI. Students preparing to face a world defined by artificial intelligence need much more than philosophy, however: they also need to understand the principles on which science and technology work and the ways in which human decisions are influenced. Essentially, today’s students need to be prepared to integrate the intellectual frameworks of the humanities, the sciences, and the social sciences.

Illustrating how students can acquire the interdisciplinary range of skills they need to shape the world and meet new challenges, Nourbakhsh gave the example of a curricular unit in which primary school students conducted experiments to analyze the impact of idling vehicles on particulates in the air near their classrooms. They then created models to project how various interventions might change air quality and developed arguments and communications plans to persuade their parents to change their driving and idling habits in the school parking lot. Ultimately, the students tracked the effectiveness of their attempts to produce behavior change, studied whether changed driver behavior had the projected impact, and improved the air quality around their school, all while learning about experimental design and air quality.

For Nourbakhsh, science, philosophy, and communication should be cultivated in all students, whatever careers they may intend to follow. Many participants noted, after the plenary address, that colleges and universities rooted in the liberal arts are uniquely well suited to develop curricula and pedagogies that unite these intertwined educational priorities. As one CAO put it, Nourbakhsh “was describing the humanities that can answer the question of what, exactly, it is to be human in an age of non-human intelligence.”

Panelists Detail Innovative Science Programming and Partnerships

Karen Hinkle speaks from podium with two speakers seated at head table
Karen L. Hinkle, associate provost for research and chief research officer at Norwich University (VT); Lance Bush, president and CEO of the Challenger Center; and Huw Read, director of the Center for Advanced Computing and Digital Forensics at Norwich University, highlighting innovative science programs that aim to inspire the next generation to pursue cutting-edge STEM disciplines.

Other Institute sessions explored science-related initiatives as well—whether concerning science programming and partnerships or fundraising activities to complete high-tech science buildings.

The concurrent session “Frontiers in Science Programming and Partnerships” provided a powerful description of a national outreach program led by the Challenger Center and aimed at kindergarten through high school students. The Challenger Center was begun by the surviving families of the Challenger space shuttle crew after the tragic accident in 1986. Lance Bush, president and CEO of the Challenger Center, explained that there are Challenger Learning Centers at locations around the country, set up in partnership with colleges, universities, and public schools.

Like plenary speaker Illah Nourbakhsh, Bush emphasized that interdisciplinary skills are essential to promising approaches in STEM education. Challenger Center students participate in scenarios that mimic mission control, laboratory, and spacecraft locations. Exercises require cooperation, communication, use of analytical and computational skills, focus on the task at hand, and teamwork. As a result, students and teachers report gains in interest in STEM careers and improvement in teamwork skills.

In the second part of the session, Huw Read, director of the Center for Advanced Computing and Digital Forensics at Norwich University (VT), discussed the opportunities available for college students in the Center for Cybersecurity and Forensics Education and Research (CyFER). CyFER supports collaborative, hands-on faculty-student research, including incubator projects. Students are full partners in the center. Student “center admins” take ownership of the incubator space and administer upgrades to computers and other equipment, problem-solve technical issues, and build skills while helping each other work on projects. Students who participate are sought after for post-graduation employment and enrollment in graduate programs.

Faculty members and administrators at Norwich also recognize the value of a cybersecurity program in the recruitment of students into STEM careers in general—and into programs at Norwich in particular. The GenCyber program for high school students involves coding and problem-solving around cybersecurity issues—such as those addressed by Nourbakhsh in his plenary discussion—and uses current students as mentors.

Together, these presentations echoed the themes of interdisciplinarity, active learning, technical knowledge, and interpersonal skills in crafting contemporary learning experiences in science and technology.

Higher Ed Journalist Considers Campus Communications in a Time of Change

Scott Jaschik speaks from podiumPlenary speaker Scott Jaschik and session chair Aimee Sapp, vice president and dean of academic affairs, William Woods University (MO)

Will a significant number of smaller private colleges fold in the near future, as predicted by some academics, journalists, and others? The answer to that question, posed by Inside Higher Ed co-founder Scott Jaschik during his plenary address at the Institute for Chief Academic Officers, is a qualified “no.” Closures will happen, but not nearly as many as some predict, he said.

Jaschik cited several reasons that smaller private colleges might close in the coming years: declining enrollments, rising discount rates, the denigration of the liberal arts, high costs and sticker prices compared to public universities, and the location of many small private colleges in rural areas.

He noted that Clayton M. Christensen, Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School of Harvard University, has long predicted that many private colleges will close in the near term, saying, “I disagreed with him in the past, and I still do, but he’s gaining.” Jaschik argued that Christensen overstates the number of closures and the financial challenges facing smaller private colleges. He told the audience, “Your challenges are real, but Christensen suggests that many more of you face extreme threats.” He added, “Christensen does not recognize the fact that when one college closes, another benefits…. If you look at recent closures, they are followed almost immediately by many colleges nearby saying ‘we’re open and we want your students.’”

Jaschik now believes that, based on his reporting and what he sees in higher education, perhaps 75 colleges may close in the next five to ten years. He emphasized that closures do not occur because the college offers a “bad education”—it is a myth that closures are a result of the colleges “doing something wrong, or that their mission doesn’t resonate with students.” On the other hand, Jaschik conceded, “Declining enrollments are hurting small colleges the most,” as colleges that have closed or that are on the brink of closure are those that “have the unfortunate combination of enrollment below 1,000 students and lack of a meaningful endowment.” Jaschik added, “If your college is in a situation with fewer students and a low endowment, it doesn’t mean you will fail, but the odds are against you.”

Another challenge for CIC member colleges and universities, said Jaschik, is the “denigration of the liberal arts.” Columnists, journalists, politicians, and others criticize liberal arts institutions for producing philosophy majors who work at Starbucks, for example. “It’s just not true…. The Bureau of Labor Statistics cites that in the food service industry, less than 1 percent are liberal arts graduates.” Nevertheless, “parents are terrified” to send their children to liberal arts colleges because they see these myths repeated over and over again.

High sticker prices are another major challenge. According to Jaschik, “Your costs aren’t the sticker price, but most students and parents don’t understand sticker price. You need to talk openly about the real price.” Jaschik maintained that public universities are beating small private institutions on price, enrollments, and range of offerings. “You need to acknowledge these challenges and develop a better strategy” to attract prospective students, he advised.
 
The final reason Jaschik cited was the rural location of many smaller colleges. He acknowledged, “Obviously your location can’t be changed without significant effort, but the reality today is that college students prefer urban and suburban areas.”

What can colleges do to prevent the possibility of closure, and to survive and thrive? Jaschik offered the following suggestions:

  • Be honest and transparent about finances and enrollment challenges. “In the absence of transparency, state legislatures will propose measures you won’t like.”
  • Defend the liberal arts. “Speak about the nourishment that liberal arts programs provide for students; talk about why it’s a good thing for students to have to read a serious novel.”
  • Consider a merger. “While a merger may seem to be a very unsatisfactory solution, it’s worth considering whether a merger is possible.”
  • Focus on a niche. “Institutions with a niche that sets them apart from many other colleges are more likely to survive.”

Jaschik also cautioned CAOs against competing with public universities by pointing out differences with privates. He warned, “Making comparisons to publics won’t win you friends. It’s true that you have statistics showing better graduation rates, for example, and it’s true that publics admit more students than they can afford and can’t educate all of them—but what are you getting by pointing out these differences?” Rather than drawing attention to the negatives of the public universities, he urged those present to simply talk about the advantages offered by privates.

Jaschik concluded, “I’ve given you a frank analysis of what I think you need to do…. But I truly believe in the missions of your institutions. You are opening the doors of opportunity for students and are changing the way we think. You are needed. I offer these comments not to tear you down but hopefully to lift you up.”

Panelists Share Crisis Communications Strategies and Lessons Learned

Regina Biddings-Muro speaks from podium while holding notes
Co-panelist Regina Biddings-Muro, vice president for university advancement at California Lutheran University, explaining how colleges can be proactive and plan for unexpected events during a session on crisis communication strategies.

Other Institute sessions also focused on public relations and communications issues. Panelists during a crisis communications session on November 3 emphasized that college campuses must be prepared to contend with a crisis at a moment’s notice, with constant communication as a critical component.

Officials at California Lutheran University (CLU) were forced to contend with three back-to-back crises in November 2018 that rocked the campus. A literal firestorm erupted when two fires (the Hill Fire and the Woolsey Fire) threatened campus and led to mass evacuations. Just a day earlier, 30 CLU students attended “College Night” at the nearby Borderline Bar and Grill where a mass shooting took the lives of 13 people, including a well-known and popular alumnus. And only days later, while still in the midst of dealing with those two tragedies, the campus was placed on lockdown due to a suspected bomb threat at an apartment complex across street from campus (there was no bomb). Communication became nearly impossible when the campus lost power as a result of the fires. “We had no internet, email, or website with which to communicate about these crises for a full 24 hours. No one slept for many days,” said CLU Provost Leanne Neilson.

A metaphorical firestorm erupted at Allegheny College (PA) when a violent phrase from a painting by a student of graffiti in a cityscape went viral. Someone took a photo of the offensive phrase and posted it on social media, which led to nearly a million related social media posts.

Susan Salton, vice president for college relations at Allegheny, said the phrase on the social media post was taken completely out of context—the student’s artwork was about documenting urban street scenes and was a call for an end to violence and to create a dialogue. Nor was the artwork intended for public display—it was a class project that, because it was so large, was taped to a wall outside the art class and thus visible to other members of the campus community. Nonetheless, the painting sparked a social media crisis that involved national and local media, the Blue Lives Matter organization, a national coalition against censorship, authorities on civil liberties, and many other groups that lambasted the college for allowing such artwork to be on public display.

Allegheny administrators issued a statement saying that violence against others is not the intent of the artist or university and acknowledging that the message is offensive, posted messages providing context for the artwork, and removed the student’s contact information from public access due to safety concerns. The student agreed to move the piece from public display and spoke eloquently with reporters, and the communications team monitored social media around the clock. “We had a series of policies in place and ways to respond to a crisis,” Salton said. “The key was constant and clear communications between senior administrators and others on campus as well as external stakeholders.”

California Lutheran’s lessons learned in managing crises were similar—“it’s all about communication.” When facing crises, Neilson said administrators must “communicate early and often; involve internal campus experts early; use strong messages to support students; encourage faculty members to offer flexibility with coursework; be visible and connect with students, the campus community, and campus ministries often; cater to the on-campus helpers; and tend to the crisis by working in shifts if possible so that the leadership can keep clear minds and strong bodies.”

During the week of the shooting, fires, bomb threat, and power outage, Cal Lutheran administrators had to determine what to do quickly. While internet and email systems were down, the RAVE Alert system allowed the campus to disseminate text messages with important information. The communications team also set up a cascade of messages to social media sites for alumni and parents and asked local news outlets to post updates and send out bulletins. Once systems were back online, “the mental and psychological support of students was front and center,” Neilson said. “The chapel became a comfort location for students and campus ministers to gather.” In addition, administrators convened faculty meetings to discuss students’ return to classes and provided scripts and handouts about where students could get help and sign up for counseling. Administrators urged faculty to be flexible and change exam or due dates if needed.

“We were together for days on end; we weren’t sure when we could stop being together for 16 hours every day…. The self-care piece is critical,” Neilson said. In addition, Regina Biddings-Muro, CLU’s vice president for university advancement, noted that tabletop exercises are critical to determine decision-making processes, decide who is involved in the message drafting and vetting process, and how to turn around complex messages quickly. She said, “Practice does make perfect. When we dealt with new fire warnings this fall, we knew what messages to put out and when, due to our experiences last year.”

The panelists concluded that every campus should have a crisis communications plan, a database of pre-written messages, a social media policy for emergencies, an established command center where the cabinet gathers immediately in an emergency, an alternative spot to gather if the campus can’t be reached, and a requirement that all members of the crisis response team reconfigure their phones—by adding exceptions to the phone’s “do not disturb” policy—so that calls from key people will always ring, even when the phone is set to “do not disturb.”

Shapiro Praises the Enduring Value of the Liberal Arts

Juith Shapiro speaks from podium
Judith R. Shapiro

In the final plenary session of the Institute, Judith R. Shapiro, Barnard College president and professor of anthropology emerita and former president of the Teagle Foundation, shared her perspective on the emerging changes that face colleges and funders alike. In her encouraging remarks, she focused on the values CIC member institutions should uphold in the shifting higher education climate and emphasized the continued relevance of the liberal arts.

Shapiro acknowledged at the outset that her career in higher education evolved at relatively privileged institutions: the University of Chicago, Bryn Mawr College, and Barnard College. As president of the Teagle Foundation, however, she became involved with a much wider range of colleges and universities, and she quickly realized how much CIC member institutions shared the foundation’s focus on teaching and learning in the liberal arts. Based on this experience, Shapiro highlighted the qualities she believed that CIC member institutions should preserve, even as they must adapt to changing conditions. Above all, she emphasized the importance and value of a strong liberal arts education, grounded in fact, logic, and, as she put it, “searching for the truth however we can, even when there are no easy answers.”
 
For Shapiro, the liberal arts play an integral role in fostering diversity in the college curriculum. She pointed to courses on civilization offered at the Yale-National University of Singapore (NUS) College, the first liberal arts college in Asia. Courses on Western civilization, at one time foundational for a liberal arts education, have come under fire in recent years for their Eurocentric lens and their lack of diverse viewpoints. However, faculty members at the Yale-NUS College have designed a rich course that integrates cultures from around the globe. While incorporating more diverse cultures and authorities into the curriculum is an important effort for revitalizing the liberal arts, Shapiro also noted that, “at the same time, it’s important not to ethnically typecast students and assume you know what they’ll be interested in.” She drew on American sociologist C. Wright Mills’s concept of the sociological imagination, which posits that a person’s personal experiences are the result of a larger social and historical process, to argue that the life experiences and heritages that students bring with them into the classroom “are a point of departure, not of terminus.” She underscored the value of experiences that teach students about the past while also expanding their identities, exemplified by Reacting to the Past, a popular series of interactive role-playing games in which college students learn about major historical moments through creative collaboration and competition.

Shapiro’s focus on the core values of a liberal arts education sparked a discussion during the question-and-answer session on the core curriculum and the ongoing debate about the core set of knowledges that students take out into the world when they graduate. Mark Roberts, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Reinhardt University (GA), asked whether ongoing efforts to pare down core curricula in the name of efficiency could impact the liberal arts values Shapiro had championed; and Glenn Sharfman, provost at Oglethorpe University (NE), asked her opinion of who should be teaching general education courses, as they are currently given at many institutions primarily to junior and adjunct faculty members. Shapiro highlighted the value of a strong and expansive core curriculum that addresses topics central to a student’s education, suggesting that it would be more inefficient to offer many courses that cater to students’ specific and changing interests.

Participants also asked Shapiro to expand on other experiences during her career. Regina Biddings-Muro, vice president for university advancement at California Lutheran University, asked about her role as a “glass ceiling breaker,” as Shapiro was the first female faculty member hired in the department of anthropology at the University of Chicago. Paul Heaton, senior director for member engagement at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, focused on Shapiro’s role as president of a major foundation, asking about the current trend in philanthropy away from large endowments and gifts. As a former faculty member, president, and leader in philanthropy, Shapiro shared a breadth of knowledge with the audience and integrated lessons learned from other Institute sessions.