Record-Breaking Presidents Institute Explores Healthy Institutions and Strong Leadership

Participants seated at roundtables
Participants engaging with presenters during a Presidents Institute session on “Change, Risk, and Relevance: New Lessons from Thriving Institutions.”

With the theme “Healthy Institutions, Strong Leaders,” CIC’s 2020 Presidents Institute examined how, in response to formidable challenges, campus leaders forge healthy institutions that change students’ lives. Through sessions, workshops, roundtables, meetings, and informal gatherings, participants engaged in candid discussions, learned from experts, and networked with colleagues who face similar challenges and opportunities. The Institute took place January 4–7, at the JW Marriott Marco Island hotel in Marco Island, Florida.

CIC’s premier and long-standing event is the largest annual meeting of college and university presidents in the country. With 2020 marking the 50th anniversary of the Presidents Institute, this year’s Institute hosted the largest number of participants ever—including 371 presidents, 178 spouses and partners, and a total of 887 participants. Participants came from as far as Bulgaria, Canada, Costa Rica, France, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates. And for the sixth consecutive year, CIC welcomed a sizable delegation of private university rectors and higher education leaders from Mexico.

Keynote speaker Nathan D. Grawe opened the Institute by exploring “Demographics, Demand, and Destiny: Implications for the Health of Independent Institutions.” Grawe is Ada M. Harrison Distinguished Teaching Professor of the Social Sciences at Carleton College and author of Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education (2018). Plenary speaker Mariët Westermann, vice chancellor and chief executive of New York University Abu Dhabi and a longtime champion of the humanities and the liberal arts, offered perspectives on “International Education in an Age of Closing Borders: Why and How.” Jonathan McBride, former managing director and global head of inclusion and diversity at investment management and financial planning giant BlackRock, addressed “The Future of Work: Preparing Graduates for Diverse, Purpose-Driven Workplaces” in a plenary session moderated by Katherine Bergeron, president of Connecticut College. During the closing plenary session on “Presidential Leadership for Healthy Institutions,” moderated by Marjorie Hass of Rhodes College (TN), panelists James M. Dennis of McKendree University (IL), Mary Dana Hinton of the College of Saint Benedict (MN), and Lawrence M. Schall of Oglethorpe University (GA) shared how they have guided their institutions along sustainable paths and responded to pressing challenges.

“Year in and year out, the Presidents Institute is the single best thing I do for professional development,” noted Gayle D. Beebe, president of Westmont College (CA) and an Institute presenter. “CIC always brings all-star speakers who address relevant topics in a captivating and compelling way. The Institute helps presidents look beyond the curve at what’s coming next without letting us take our hand off the wheel, and I’m grateful.”

Jane M. Wood, president of Bluffton University (OH) and an Institute session chair, remarked, “The Institute was informative, helpful, and supportive, and I am grateful for all that CIC does to help build and strengthen our leadership so that we can best continue the good work of our independent colleges into the future.”

Four awards were presented at this year’s banquet: two to educators whose work on behalf of independent higher education has been highly influential and two to philanthropists whose insightful giving has aided the independent sector significantly. CIC awarded a special honor, the Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award, to Eugene M. Tobin. A longtime senior program officer for higher education and scholarship in the humanities at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Tobin is a devoted champion of the arts and humanities in private colleges and has worked tirelessly to expand access to independent higher education. He has been a loyal supporter and energetic advocate for countless CIC member institutions and a wise advisor to many presidents. Peter T. Ewell received the 2020 Allen P. Splete Award for Outstanding Service. Ewell, president emeritus of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, has been a pioneer in the use of metrics to increase the effectiveness of colleges and universities and in the use of assessment to improve student learning. His work has led to measurable improvements in the quality of education and in assessment and accreditation practices, and he has worked closely with CIC in the development of the National Survey of Student Engagement, the Collegiate Learning Assessment Consortium, and the Degree Qualifications Profile Consortium. Timothy H. Ubben and Sharon Williams Ubben received the 2020 Award for Philanthropy (Individual). The Ubbens are visionary philanthropists whose generosity to their alma mater, DePauw University (IN), and gifts and commitments to the Posse Foundation have been transformative. Their largesse has significantly affected the lives of high school and college students, and their leadership has set an example for others. The Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities, Inc. received the 2020 Award for Philanthropy (Organization). The Raskob Foundation has distributed over $200 million in grants to Catholic organizations and programs throughout the world during its 75-year history. Notably, the foundation has awarded transformative grants to more than 20 Catholic colleges and universities that are members of CIC. Patrick W. McGrory, chair of the Raskob Foundation board of directors, accepted the award.

In conjunction with the Presidents Institute, CIC also offered again the New Presidents Program, for presidents in their first or second year, and a parallel program for spouses and partners of new presidents; the Presidents Governance Academy for experienced presidents; and the Presidential Spouses and Partners Program.

Videos, slides, and documents from many of the plenary presentations, concurrent sessions, and workshops are available on the Institute website.

Gene Tobin speaks from podium
During the 2020 Awards Banquet Program, CIC presented a special Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award to Eugene M. Tobin, retired senior program officer, Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Timothy Ubben speaks at podium with Sharon Williams Ubben standing beside him
Timothy H. Ubben and Sharon Williams Ubben received the 2020 Award for Philanthropy (Individual) for their visionary philanthropy and extraordinary commitment to improve access and opportunity for students with demonstrated financial need.

Patrick McGrory speaks from podium
The Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities, Inc. received the 2020 Award for Philanthropy (Organization) for its philanthropic support of Catholic independent colleges and universities and other educational institutions. Patrick W. McGrory, chair of the Raskob Foundation board of directors, accepted the award.

Peter Ewell holds award standing between MaryAnn Baenninger and Richard Ekman
Peter T. Ewell, president emeritus of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, received the 2020 Allen P. Splete Award for Outstanding Service. Pictured are MaryAnn Baenninger, chair of the CIC Board of Directors and president of Drew University (NJ); Ewell; and Richard Ekman, president of CIC.

Participant stands at microphone in audience to ask question
Through sessions, workshops, roundtables, meetings, and informal gatherings, participants engaged in candid discussions, learned from experts, and networked with colleagues who face similar opportunities and challenges.

Participants seated at roundtables
Held immediately before the 2020 Presidents Institute, 47 presidents participated in CIC’s New Presidents Program, and 29 presidential spouses and partners participated in a parallel program.

Group photo of U.S.-Mexico Higher Education Summits participants
During the 2020 Presidents Institute, participants of the 2017 and 2019 U.S.-Mexico Higher Education Summits reunited. The group discussed possibilities for expanding exchange partnerships between colleges and universities in the U.S. and Mexico.


Keynote Presentation Asks: Is Demography Destiny?

Nathan Grawe presents from podium Nathan D. Grawe of Carleton College discussing “Demographics, Demand, and Destiny."

Elfred Anthony Pinkard, president of Wilberforce University (OH), introduced keynote presenter Nathan D. Grawe, Ada M. Harrison Distinguished Teaching Professor of the Social Sciences at Carleton College, with a trenchant quotation from James Baldwin: “You cannot fix what you will not face.” Grawe’s address, titled “Demographics, Demand, and Destiny: Implications for the Health of Independent Institutions,” urged CIC member presidents to face the realities of demographic change in a spirit of “antifragility.”

Grawe, an economist and a leading authority on the implications of demographic change, characterized the data analyzed for his forthcoming book as “sobering and empowering”—sobering because it predicts significant challenges for higher education; and empowering because it allows presidents to make “informed and data-driven decisions.” “It would be prudent and intelligent,” suggested Grawe, for presidents to “take special notice,” because demographic data, unlike other economic indicators, establish clear trend lines. They reliably predict what the future will look like because, as Grawe quipped, “kids get older approximately one year at a time.”

In 2013, for example, there were fewer people in college than there had been in 2008, reversing a longstanding trend of increasing participation in higher education. Starting in 2022, Grawe’s projections show a marked decline in the Higher Education Demand Index—a measure of probability-of-enrollment weighted demand for spaces in colleges and universities. This drop will be more significant in the Northeast and Midwest and less so in the South and West, in part because of regional differences in fertility rates. For example, Grawe pointed out, in 2017 only two states—South Dakota and Utah—had fertility rates that were above replacement level, the level needed to sustain a population at its current size.

Declining total population numbers will affect the pool of students available for enrollment; so will the changing composition of that population. Grawe noted that 2020 is the year that among Americans under the age of 18 whites have become a minority. In 2027, whites will become a minority among Americans between 18 and 29.

Summarizing his research, Grawe emphasized that demographic change is real, that both the size and the composition of the population is changing rapidly, and that public and private institutions are in the same boat when it comes to demographic pressures. Higher education can expect the future to bring increased price competition, the urgent need to redefine recruiting strategies, and steadily declining overall enrollment and revenue. Institutions that meet these challenges successfully will do very well under changed circumstances.

Acknowledging that he may have confirmed any preconceptions that economics is indeed “the dismal science,” Grawe turned his attention to what colleges and universities can do to strengthen their institutions in the face of these realities. Specifically, he noted the importance of initiatives such as CIC’s Independent Pathways: Community College Transfer in the Liberal Arts as efforts to increase the number of students completing two-year degrees who go on to attend four-year institutions. International recruitment also will be an essential strategy, as will programs designed to meet the educational needs of adult learners. Retention initiatives will become even more essential to maintain enrollments in an era of increasing transfer recruitment. Grawe also pointed to institutions that have effectively downsized, consolidated departments or programs, increased collaboration with partner institutions, and reduced ongoing operating expenses.

Further, Grawe urged presidents to recognize the importance of program development to tie academic programs to specific careers and to connect curriculum to public priorities and community needs—not only to recruit students but also to build support for higher education among corporate and civic leaders.

Grawe closed by citing Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He encouraged presidents to think about their institutions as “antifragile;” that is, not simply unbreakable or resistant to shocks but as actively growing stronger, more resilient, and more robust by responding to shocks. If leaders can guide their institutions to respond to the inevitable forces of demographic change as welcome opportunities to become stronger and more effective, the future looks not dismal but promising.

Westermann Highlights Importance of International Education in an Age of Closing Borders

Westermann presents from podium while holding microphone Mariët Westermann of New York University Abu Dhabi emphasizing the importance of international education opportunities.

CIC colleges and universities have brought the world to their campuses and their campuses to the world through international education programs for decades. In recent years, however, international education has faced increased challenges. In her plenary address “International Education in an Age of Closing Borders: Why and How,” Mariët Westermann explored the importance of international education, obstacles to its growth, and three main strategies for internationalizing campuses. Westermann is vice chancellor and chief executive of New York University Abu Dhabi, a fully integrated liberal arts campus that is part of NYU’s Global Network University. Previously, she was the executive vice president for programs and research at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, where she launched initiatives to study and promote the value of the humanities and the liberal arts, encourage graduate education reform, renew preservation of cultural heritage around the world, and support scholars and artists at risk.

Referencing the academy’s centuries-old tradition of transmitting knowledge across borders as well as studies that show international learning experiences positively affect academic, educational, and professional outcomes, Westermann remarked, “As the academy is premised on finding and developing great talent wherever it can be found, we have a stake in protecting the international character of our campuses and curricula…. We owe our students the best possible preparation for life in a world where they do not isolate themselves.”

Westermann discussed the first pillar of international college education—drawing in international students and faculty members from abroad. After decades of growth, the influx of international students into the U.S. has stalled, rising only 0.05 percent in 2018–2019. The decline has occurred for a variety of reasons, including that recent immigration and visa policies have made academic mobility harder and that China, Australia, and Russia are attracting an increasingly larger percentage of international students. She noted that there is a need for U.S. campuses to host displaced and threatened scholars and that some colleges have joined consortia to assist in this effort.

The second pillar of international education—study abroad—“can be an important counterweight to nativist and nationalist trends, especially when sought after by young people who are oriented to the future,” Westermann stipulated. Citing the Institute of International Education’s recent Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, she said, “Despite challenges, students around the world are not shrinking back from education abroad. More American students are studying abroad every year…. [but] if you count all undergraduates including community college students, the picture is less rosy and participation has barely budged. It’s an equity issue.” She explained that although the proportion of underrepresented students studying abroad has increased modestly over the past ten years, “we still have a long way to go in terms of equity in study abroad…. and the greatest obstacle to increasing participation in study abroad is financial.”

Westermann noted that over half of U.S. study abroad students still select European countries (primarily the United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain) as their destinations. Students who wish to study in English or Spanish-speaking countries can study in numerous English-speaking countries in Asia and Africa as well as in over 20 countries where Spanish is the official language. She added, “I’m glad that the Mexican Federation of Private Higher Education Institutions (FIMPES) is here with us today—we have work to do with you.” (CIC and FIMPES, supported by Santander Universidades and Universia Mexico, have hosted two U.S.-Mexico Higher Education Summits to advance education exchanges between private colleges in the two countries. See “U.S.-Mexico Summit Panelists Discuss Importance of Binational Partnerships”.)

Westermann suggested that CIC colleges and universities consider participating in dedicated inter-college study abroad partnerships. She said that two recent trends make such partnerships more viable today than in the past: Due to increased student interest, there are more partners to choose from; and more countries have established liberal arts colleges following the American liberal arts tradition. “Although there are some challenges, American colleges may find these liberal arts institutions promising partners for robust and cost-effective exchanges…. Such an arrangement can increase the number of students you send abroad and internationalize your campus back home.”

The third pillar of international education involves internationalizing the curriculum and campus life on campus. Westermann said that institutions can help students “acquire global competencies on campus or in the local community by deploying the international capacities of their existing campus populations. A good place to start is to inventory who their faculty members and students really are and what experiences they bring to campus.” Westermann explained that when she, a native of the Netherlands, was an undergraduate student in the U.S. years ago, she and other international students and faculty members were rarely called upon as resources to help diversify campus learning. She may have been asked to “bring a Dutch dessert or to perform a clog dance” for an event, “but the idea that my language skills or general European experience could contribute to classroom learning or to the expertise of the small study abroad office wasn’t thought of.” She added, “Drawing on the international knowledge of faculty, staff, and community members can enhance assignments such as reading, watching films, and engaging with social media from around the world. This work can be more sustained than the traditional model that exposes international speakers to a large swath of the community.”

Westermann closed with a few thoughts on investing in leadership and administrative coordination. “To create an effective global learning environment, it’s critical for us as leaders to trust and even unleash the cosmopolitan creativity and inclinations of faculty…. With intentionality and with modest incentives of a course release or a student assistant, faculty leadership can open up curricula for meaningful international learning for all students not just for those who can travel.” She recommended that campuses deploy “two tried and true elements of liberal arts education to create more meaningful international education for all. First, make whatever your general education requirements are work for you.” As an example, she said that NYU Abu Dhabi’s core curriculum “is designed for maximum exposure to the wealth of the world’s ideas, social practices, and environments across all disciplines…. The focus is on big single-term topics that thrive on multiple perspectives and debate—such as water, energy, migration, war, nature, and culture.” Second, she said, global education should be more than just “laying out a smorgasbord of travel and language choices.” It should be about connecting students and faculty to communities through community-based learning. “It is critical to have an energetic, intellectually gregarious, can-do office to coordinate this work with leadership that is connected to and involves faculty. She noted that the NYU Abu Dhabi campus brings global education and community-based learning together into one office. “That may not work everywhere, but investing in local and international connectivity at the same time can help campuses do more with the resources they have.”

U.S.-Mexico Summit Panelists Discuss Importance of Binational Partnerships

Five presenters seated at head table
Donna M. Carrol, president of Dominican University (IL); Steven C. Bahls, president of Augustana College (IL); J. Bradley Creed, president of Campbell University (NC); José Antonio Esquivias Romero, rector of Universidad Panamericana Guadalajara (Mexico); and Rafael Hernández Cázares, vice president of Universidad Panamericana Guadalajara (Mexico), discussing how to develop effective binational partnerships.

Developing binational partnerships with other colleges and universities has numerous advantages. Institutions on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border have a relatively untapped opportunity to develop notable partnerships because of their proximity to one another, high quality of educational offerings, and rich cultural resources on campuses and in their surrounding communities. As a result, CIC has been working with its corresponding organization in Mexico—the Mexican Federation of Private Higher Education Institutions (FIMPES)—and with substantial support from Santander Universidades and Universia Mexico to help develop opportunities for binational partnerships for institutions in the U.S. and Mexico. As part of these efforts, CIC has hosted delegations of Mexican private university rectors at the six most recent Presidents Institutes and has convened with its cross-border partners two U.S.-Mexico Higher Education Summits.

During an informative Institute session on developing binational partnerships, presidents who participated in the 2017 and 2019 U.S.-Mexico Higher Education Summits (the first took place in Guadalajara and the second in Chicago) discussed reasons to partner with institutions on the other side of the U.S.-Mexico border, described partnerships that have been created, and exemplified best practices for developing such partnerships. Panelists included Steven C. Bahls, president of Augustana College (IL); Donna M. Carroll, president of Dominican University (IL); and José Antonio Esquivias Romero, rector of Universidad Panamericana Guadalajara (Mexico).

The panelists shared examples of partnerships established by these institutions and others that have participated in the Summits:
  • A three-week creative writing course in Mexico that is co-taught by a faculty member from the home (U.S.) institution and a faculty member at the host (Mexico) institution;
  • Opportunities for students and faculty members in social work in which faculty members collaborate on research, field work placements, and student oversight;
  • A January-term Spanish-language class with cultural heritage visits; and
  • Faculty development opportunities for faculty members from Mexico at a well-established program in the United States.
In addition, during the session Esquivias Romero, together with Universidad Panamericana Guadalajara’s vice president Rafael Hernández Cázares, announced that the university is seeking partners to collaborate on a two-week cross-border studies program in Mexico. The program would allow students from the U.S. to study U.S.-Mexico relations, international business and bilateral economic relations, marketing, and the Mexican financial system, as well as provide opportunities to experience the art, history, music, and gastronomy of Mexico.

As is generally true when institutions first begin partnerships, the U.S. and Mexican institutions that have been working together to develop faculty and student exchanges, shared courses, online learning experiences, and other opportunities have faced some challenges. The panelists and session moderator J. Bradley Creed, president of Campbell University (NC), shared some best practices for developing binational partnerships:
  • Institutions should ensure they have the capacity and mindset for internationalization—building binational partnerships requires a concrete plan as well as significant faculty and staff resources;
  • Presidents should encourage their faculty and staff members to develop a partnership with a colleague or institution on the other side of the U.S.-Mexico border—these arrangements are often more successful than those arranged by the presidents; and
  • Institutions in the United States should not expect a binational exchange arrangement to be a money-making proposition, but rather they should focus on the valuable experiences provided to their students, faculty, and staff members by hosting a student or faculty member from Mexico.
CIC will continue to work with FIMPES and Santander Universidades to help facilitate opportunities for one-to-one exchanges between institutions in the United States and Mexico. The three organizations also are exploring opportunities for an association-to-association exchange program. In addition to the session materials found on the Institute resources page, more information is available on the U.S.-Mexico Higher Education Initiative webpage.

McBride Urges Colleges to Foster Inclusive Leadership Skills

Bergeron and McBride sit on chairs on stage Katherine Bergeron of Connecticut College and Jonathan McBride formerly of BlackRock exploring "The Future of Work."

The most sought-after employees, managers, and leaders of the future will have a superior ability to learn, a “horizontal capability,” the ability to operate outside of silos, and a focus on lifelong learning, said Jonathan McBride during a Presidents Institute plenary session on “The Future of Work.” Until recently, McBride served as managing director and global head of inclusion and diversity at BlackRock, a global investment management corporation based in New York. He also served as director of the Office of Presidential Personnel in the White House under President Obama and in the c-suites of a number of successful corporations.

Bringing together insights from his positions in various organizations and industries, McBride and session moderator Katherine Bergeron, president of McBride’s alma mater Connecticut College and incoming chair of the CIC Board of Directors, explored what independent colleges can do to improve the career-readiness of graduates and to cultivate diverse and inclusive campus communities.

Bergeron asked McBride if his liberal arts education at Connecticut College prepared him to be “professionally nimble.” In response, McBride said that in college, he launched the first diversity office, developed a keen sense of responsibility for the environment, practiced being an entrepreneur, and learned to be “a tinkerer on the team of people” surrounding him. These have been threads throughout his life and career, he said. Having grown up as half black and half Syrian, adopted by a white family, and raised in the Midwest, he said he “developed a sense for exclusion” and “a bias toward being a participant rather than a bystander.”

While working in the White House, McBride said he realized his purpose was to seek out people with whom he wanted to work and to choose teams—so he focused on the human resources field and joined BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management firm. Responding to Bergeron’s question about organizational values, McBride said BlackRock started “from the inside out” and launched an intensive internal (and ongoing) process to focus on the company’s purpose “beyond providing financial returns for people.” The process included asking employees and managers to “articulate their passions and purpose and what motivates them…so the idea of purpose would have been activated for every employee.”

Bergeron asked about how college and university presidents might play a leadership role in preparing students for meaningful careers. McBride replied that employers “are in the business of retrofitting the people you send us…. The highest return people are those who operate above the silos, speak a dozen languages, think horizontally, and can put [diverse] people in a room and get them to do more than they thought they could—that sounds roughly like a liberal arts education.” So the question, he asked, is “why are businesses teaching them to be inclusive leaders?” He emphasized that colleges should be teaching inclusive leadership skills, and should perhaps start certifying inclusive competencies. “Colleges and universities have students during their formative years—you help students discern who they’ll be in life and develop the skills that aren’t just about work.” He said college leaders should focus more on teaching students how to be inclusive in the workforce. “You will have an edge on the competition if your students have a higher aptitude for inclusion.”  

McBride noted that many corporations now take a systems approach to behavioral change, much as colleges and universities have long done. “You will be able to help us understand how to think about the systems around students and continue to help them in their development of inclusive habits. Getting humans to overcome biases is hard work…. How do you get people to change the subconscious and conscious bias that is wired into them?” Fostering debate is key, he said.

In answer to Bergeron’s question about the most important and surprising qualities or skills he considers when judging talent, McBride said he searches for expert learners such as liberal arts graduates. Students and prospective employees, he recommended, “should fight the urge toward specialization and hard skills that lead to initial jobs” and should not “focus on near-term returns rather than long-term outcomes.” McBride continued, “most jobs are evolving so fast that employees who are not expert learners will fall behind.”

He predicts that the most important skill sought by human resources managers in the near future will be the ability to learn quickly. “Employees must want to learn and grow…. The best candidates are life-long and voracious learners—those who hear a truth and then read everything they can to become an expert on the topic.” The best managers, he said, are “those who see their job as to be a student of people—to ask questions and care about the answers.”

“Our challenge is to find the right combination of people with these skills,” McBride concluded. Bergeron emphasized that an education rooted in the liberal arts produces graduates who excel in these skills.

CIC Presidents Discuss Career Preparation and Career Outcomes in Liberal Arts Disciplines

Sentz presents from podium
Rob Sentz, chief innovation officer at Emsi, presenting data about the range of possibilities open to liberal arts graduates.

Students and parents alike want to ensure that a college education will result in a fulfilling career and a return on their investment, and many have been dissuaded from considering liberal arts majors by recent press coverage suggesting that these do not provide the best career options for graduates. But what does the evidence really demonstrate about the value of liberal arts degrees? What career paths do liberal arts graduates take, and what skills do their employers value the most? And how can career readiness be integrated into the curriculum? Two Presidents Institute sessions tackled issues of career readiness and labor market outcomes, offering strategies and data on liberal arts career pathways that CIC colleges and universities can use to prepare their students for the job market and promote the enduring value of a liberal arts education.

To best prepare students in liberal arts programs for future careers, colleges need to know more about their graduates’ job trajectories and the skills that employers value most. In a session on “Documenting and Promoting the Labor Market Outcomes of the Liberal Arts,” Rob Sentz, chief innovation officer at Emsi, presented data about the range of possibilities open to liberal arts graduates. Ann McEleney-Johnson, president of Mount Saint Mary’s University (CA), and Gary Brahm, president of Brandman University (CA), demonstrated how CIC institutions are drawing on graduates’ career outcomes to integrate marketable skills into degree programs.  

Sentz opened the session by sharing highlights of Emsi’s recent research reports on higher education and its labor market outcomes, Degrees at Work: Examining the Serendipitous Outcomes of Diverse Degrees and (with Strada Institute) Robot Ready: Human+ Skills for the Future of Work. Through an innovative social media analysis, researchers at Emsi have compiled more than 100 million professional profiles from job recruitment databases (in which candidates enter their degrees and graduating institutions, past jobs, and skills) and used this data to examine the “degree to work relationship.” They found good news for liberal arts-based institutions.

Based on 30 million profiles of graduates in the liberal arts who had held at least three jobs, Sentz shared several fascinating insights. First, their pathways are among the most diverse and least linear. Graduates’ first jobs range from education to sales, from marketing to management, and over 70 percent of graduates change career fields when they move to their second job. Second, a little over half of these graduates end up in jobs with a “major business function,” and demand for these jobs is increasing at the same rate as the demand for jobs in STEM and information technology. As Sentz put it, “for every engineer you hire, you’re hiring three managers, salespeople, and human resources personnel.” Third, Sentz showed that many of the most prized skills among employers, such as communication and problem solving, are at the heart of a liberal arts education.

These findings are valuable for CIC member institutions, which champion the value of the liberal arts while ensuring that their graduates are well-equipped for life after college. At Mount Saint Mary’s University, nearly half of students are the first in their families to go to college, and according to McEleney-Johnson, “faculty members are well aware that students come to Mount Saint Mary’s in search of a job.” Thus, the college balances its focus on the traditional liberal arts with responding to employer needs and preparing students to join the workforce. In the Mount Leads leadership program, for instance, students are trained to connect the skills they learn and to document when they learned them and how they applied them, creating a strong framework for future job searches.

At Brandman University, employability and professional development are an integral part of the curriculum. Over 90 percent of the student population are working adults, and many of the degrees offered are employer-funded. Brahm described how the university uses backward design and partnerships with employers to create their degree programs. But all majors also incorporate liberal arts content and skills, drawing on tools such as the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ LEAP Essential Learning Outcomes, Lumina Foundation’s Degree Qualifications Profile, and the New World of Work 21st Century Employability Skills.

At a session on “Creating Value: Improving Instruction and Student Outcomes with Career Guidance,” Jonathan Gyurko, president and co-founder of the Association of College and University Educators, stated that “lack of career readiness undermines the value of a liberal arts education.” Citing a recent study from Gallup and the Strada Education Network, Gyurko noted that only 28 percent of students in liberal arts disciplines felt confident that their knowledge and skills would help them in the job market. In response, CIC and ACUE launched the Consortium for Instructional Excellence and Career Guidance, generously funded by the Strada Education Network. Through the Consortium, over 500 faculty members at 26 CIC institutions earned ACUE’s Certificate in Effective College Instruction with a Concentration in Career Guidance and Readiness and integrated what they learned into their teaching. Gyurko spoke on the results of the Consortium alongside two presidents of participating institutions: James T. (Tim) Barry from Alderson Broaddus University (WV) and Lillian B. Schumacher from Tiffin University (OH).

Presenters highlighted the lessons learned from the Consortium at the 26 participating institutions. According to a post-course survey, 95 percent of all faculty participants found the experience relevant, and their confidence in embedding career guidance into courses and designing career-aligned assignments nearly doubled. Students also benefited from the redesigned courses, with over 80 percent reporting that their instructors helped them prepare to meet career goals and that they had learned career-related skills. The presidents at Alderson Broaddus and Tiffin both testified to the positive impact of the Consortium on their campuses. Barry said that the experience encouraged reflection on the processes of teaching and learning at Alderson Broaddus, sparking discussions about how faculty teach and how they learn. Students, too, were encouraged to reflect, considering not only their career goals, but also why they wanted to pursue them. Schumacher said that faculty members at Tiffin became very aware of their teaching practices and saw the positive effects of intentional instructional choices on their students’ performance.

These sessions at the Presidents Institute illustrated how CIC member institutions are maintaining their commitment to a liberal arts education while ensuring that they prepare graduates for relevant and worthwhile careers. The presentations were a testament to the continued value of the liberal arts and to their importance as preparation for meaningful employment.  

Presidents Detail Ways to Help Students Explore Their Vocations

Four presenters sit on stools
Kent L. Henning, president of Grand View University (IA), J. Timothy Cloyd, president of Drury University (MO), Susan Traverso, president of Thiel College (PA), and Jane M. Wood, president of Bluffton University (OH), exploring how to help students find their callings.

Some of the issues raised by Jonathan McBride also were explored in a concurrent session, “Helping Students Explore Their Vocations and Find Their Callings: The President’s Role.” In this session, three presidents who have longstanding experience with vocational discernment programs spoke about the importance of helping students find meaning and purpose as they prepare for their future careers. Kent L. Henning, president of Grand View University (IA), introduced the topic by showing a two-minute video produced for his institution’s “Vocation Week” last year. In the video and in his comments, Henning noted that his education gave him tools to take on a wide variety of jobs, but that he had never considered a college presidency until someone else nominated him for one. A liberal arts education, he observed, not only prepares students for particular careers but also gives them tools for discernment that they can use throughout their lives.

Panelist Susan Traverso, president of Thiel College (PA), noted that students will be better prepared to pursue their evolving career paths if college leaders recognize such preparation as an essential part of the larger institutional mission. Career readiness means not simply training for a particular job, but recognizing that learning is an important skill in itself.

In addition, J. Timothy Cloyd, president of Drury University (MO), noted the importance of conveying these matters to the institution’s board, where (for some members) the distinction between vocation and profession might be unclear. Cloyd uses his speeches, electronic media posts, and other modes of communication to convey the idea that everyone should think about their careers in vocational terms, and not just as “a job.” Drury helps students to think in these terms by exposing them to academic advisors, career advisors, and life coaches—all of whom can help students think about how a liberal arts education will support their future careers, even as those careers evolve in unexpected ways.

All three presidents—as well as session chair Jane M. Wood, president of Bluffton University (OH)—referred to CIC’s support for this work, particularly through its Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE). With generous support from Lilly Endowment Inc., CIC provides grants that allow NetVUE member institutions to offer professional development opportunities and to create innovative vocational discernment programming for students, all aimed at bridging the perceived gap between a liberal arts education and professional preparation.

Presidents Discuss Approaches to Leading Healthy Institutions

Four presenters sit on chairs on stage Marjorie Hass of Rhodes College (TN), Lawrence M. Schall of Oglethorpe University (GA), Mary Dana Hinton of the College of Saint Benedict (MN), and James M. Dennis of McKendree University (IL), sharing their approaches to leading healthy institutions. 

“How do presidents measure the health of their institutions? There are many metrics to measure institutional health, including business and financial as well as cultural and mission health,” stipulated Marjorie Hass, president of Rhodes College (TN), and moderator of the Presidents Institute closing plenary session on “Presidential Leadership for Healthy Institutions.” Hass engaged panelists James M. Dennis of McKendree University (IL), Mary Dana Hinton of the College of Saint Benedict (MN), and Lawrence M. Schall of Oglethorpe University (GA) in an open conversation about how they achieved healthy institutions and sustainable models amid unprecedented challenges.

Schall recounted that when he arrived at Oglethorpe 15 years ago, he found that the university was facing a structural deficit, rising discounts, and declining enrollment. He immediately worked with the board of directors to determine how to make payroll, so they “canceled searches, suspended pension benefits, and asked the faculty to tear up their contracts…. It was hard for morale.”

The second phase focused on “increasing enrollment, achieving a balanced budget, and tackling deferred maintenance projects.” The first guiding principle was that operating expenses had to equal tuition fees plus room and board. “That set us on a healthy path,” Schall noted. The administration was able to restore contracts and pension benefits, and in the past five years, Schall said, “we have tackled more ambitious goals, with a $110 million campaign, a retention rate of 85 percent, and much better metrics.”

Hinton explained that the College of Saint Benedict’s mission is to educate women and particularly marginalized women—the daughters of immigrants and farmers—who would otherwise be overlooked. “Our institutional health relies on fidelity to that original mission…. Our foundational question over the past five years has been ‘Who and how are we called to serve today?’” A balanced budget and endowment growth are certainly key measures of the college’s health, but more than that, Hinton emphasized, is a focus on a healthy organizational culture as well as “our own health, enabling and empowering us to do our jobs and enjoy our families.”

To do that, and to translate that mission for students today, Hinton listed the four points of alignment (Mission, Activity, Resources, and Will) that define Saint Ben’s institutional health: “Recognize that our mission commitment is to enable full access and absolute success for every woman who enrolls; work to ensure that our daily activity is targeted toward that mission commitment; ensure that all of our resources—human, financial, and other—are in support of that mission; and ensure that our communal will is enabling our institutional health.” Saint Ben is on a healthy path as it has worked to build up and support faculty and staff members; closed the retention rate for American students of color so that it is the same as that for all students (87 percent); and increased the endowment by 65 percent.

McKendree University initially faced similar challenges, noted Dennis. “When I arrived at McKendree, we had 800 students. We have since significantly increased enrollment…which now stands at 2,400 students.” Regarding institutional health, he said “most of us think of financial health, but it’s more than that—ethical, moral, and mental health” also are incredibly important indicators of institutional health. “My biggest challenge when I arrived on campus was convincing the faculty that they were better than they thought they were. There was a lack of self-confidence among faculty members…and the institution was filled with challenges.”  

To strengthen the university, Dennis said he “spent a lot of time affirming and convincing people that they were good at their jobs and trying to create an environment where faculty and staff members believed in themselves.” He saw a “great transition on campus because people actually started doing things that they hadn’t done before and had confidence.” As a result, the institution expanded, as did fundraising. “This year we’re closing on a $19 million calendar year—which is the largest in the history of the institution.” He added, “I believe institutional health stems from the mission statement, feeds down through the leadership, has to be inculcated within the senior administrative team, and permeates all the way down through the institution.”

In answer to Hass’s question about the role of the board in institutional health, Hinton replied that although she inherited a strong board and leadership team, she wanted to shift to a “governance as leadership” model that relies on three modes of leadership: fiduciary, strategic, and generative. With this model, she said “the board demands clean audits and a balanced budget, has a forward-thinking attitude with sights set on 15 years down the road, and has the ability to tackle tough questions with a focus more on framing the right questions than on generating a single answer.”

The best board chairs, stated Dennis, are those who “appreciate and understand what we’re trying to do as an institution, have a commitment to assisting and supporting us in that role, understand the importance of board activity as it relates to generating resources for the institution, and let the administration manage the institution on a daily basis.”

Regarding the role of communication in ensuring an institution’s health in periods of change, Dennis and Schall both emphasized the importance of communicating with external as well as internal communities. “You need allies—students, faculty, and/or trustees to buy into the change,” said Dennis. When Schall began communicating “a new, engaged vision to the external community—that Oglethorpe is an institution that cares about being a good citizen—this changed a lot of the metrics, changed how people perceive the institution, and had a massive result on our philanthropy.”

Echoing Dennis, Hinton remarked, “Part of being a change agent is helping the community believe they are capable of great things.” She added that effective leadership is the willingness to be in a relationship with every person in the community. “Our community will only thrive collectively…. It starts with a strategic plan that is a shared vision in which everyone can see themselves in your institutional vision, mission, and priorities.… If you do that well internally, people will spread the word for you externally.”

Hass asked panelists, “What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself in making your institution successful and healthy?” Dennis said the advice that has guided him is that, “when making decisions, solicit information from others, listen carefully, then do what you think is the right thing to do.” Also, ask the question: “For what issue do you want to die on your sword?”

Panelists Share Strategies for Leading Fundamental Change

Several other Presidents Institute sessions explored institutional health, strategies for change, working with the board on strategic priorities, and related topics.

A ballroom-capacity crowd and lively question-and-answer session demonstrated that how to lead and set the pace for fundamental institutional change is at the forefront of many presidents’ minds. Opening the session “Setting the Pace: Presidential Strategies for Leading Fundamental Change,” moderator Susan Resneck Pierce, president emerita of the University of Puget Sound (WA), summarized the concerns of many campus leaders today: declining enrollments, escalating tuition discounts, declining net tuition revenue, unsustainable debt, and extensive deferred maintenance. But as Daniel A. DiBiasio, president of Ohio Northern University, David Finegold, president of Chatham University (PA), and Mary B. Marcy, president of Dominican University of California, demonstrated these are not times to passively await the inevitable. Instead, institutions should capitalize on their particular strengths and opportunities as well as the long history of innovation and adaptation of CIC institutions.

Marcy advised that presidents first need to recognize and reduce “the tension between the need for fast change and conventional campus planning” and then focus on finding the right balance between speed and shared governance. “Dominican at 130,” she explained, “is a strategic plan for three years that consists of three big initiatives” with students at the center: enrollment management and program innovation, general education delivered through the Dominican Experience, and curriculum alignment (“the heavy lift”). The promise of delivering integrative coaching, community engagement, digital portfolios, and a signature work experience, such as a research project or a business plan, to each student “has been a game changer for us.” It has improved enrollment, lifted retention and four-year graduation rates, and strengthened the bottom line, supporting a goal of adding $800,000 to the operating budget and $2.8 million to total net assets. “For Dominican,” Marcy emphasized, “the cycle of innovation, implementation, assessment, further innovation, and alignment” will be the new normal.

In Ohio Northern’s case, DiBiasio shared frankly that expensive benefits programs, including full post-retirement health insurance coverage and extensive retirement bonuses, added to the common post-recession budget stressors of enrollment and net tuition declines and led to structural deficits. “We quickly realized,” he noted, “that our annual budget balancing efforts were ineffective because they were too tactical and not very strategic.” His answer was to “focus on permanent bottom-line improvements” with an emphasis on cost reductions since the “ongoing revenue initiatives were helping, but not fast enough.” Under the university’s Foundation for Our Future Project umbrella, DiBiasio sought proposals for strategically targeted expense reductions and investments in people, programs, and activities “where a reasonable ROI can be expected.” All proposals had to “sustain Ohio Northern’s quality, value, outcomes, and reputation.” A review of 257 programs (111 academic and 146 administrative) and 72 institutional case studies over an aggressive 15-month timeline resulted in more than 250 recommendations. The recommendations implemented netted an approximately $10 million reduction in expenses through the discontinuation of ten academic programs (impacting only 45 or 1.5 percent of students), the elimination of 51 positions (35 by attrition), and a modest increase in the student-faculty ratio (from 11 to 13:1). Key to the success of the process was a total commitment to evaluation and decision-making transparency, with all reports, evaluations, and decisions made available to employees on a password protected portal. As further takeaways, DiBiasio noted that the project team needs freedom and responsibility, alumni should be kept informed and engaged, trustees should be informed but not involved, and presidents need to expect that “morale will move up and down” during such a process. Finally, he noted that presidents are highly likely “to eat too much when stressed.”

Finegold placed current initiatives in the context of Chatham’s past three decades, in which multiple waves of strategic reinvention occurred—including changing from a college to a university and becoming coeducational. “What scares me,” he admitted, “is the dramatic decline in our customer base. Competition is increasing. Pressure on aid is intensely strong.” In addition to demographic and cost pressures as well as technological change, he argued that “we all have to consider climate change” as a major factor. To start generating innovative ideas, Finegold met separately with every faculty member. But to think big, he argued, “you really need somebody to constantly think about change while the core is continuing.” He also advocated for creating a “futures group within the board” to identify objectives, the range of options, and proposal evaluation criteria. Finally, he emphasized that everything needs to be on the table—from strategic alliances to mergers and acquisitions to creating affiliate networks. “

Session Provides Insights on Mergers, Acquisitions, and Teach-Outs

During a Presidents Institute session on “Strategies for Mergers, Acquisitions, and Teach-Outs,” those who have navigated the process shared insights from their experiences.

While “optimistic about the sector as a whole,” Kasia Lundy, managing director of the consulting firm EY-Parthenon, noted that financial viability is becoming an existential concern, especially for smaller institutions hard hit by regional enrollment declines. For example, among all private nonprofit institutions “40 percent saw expense growth increase by 5 percentage points or more above revenue growth from 2012 to 2017,” and “31 percent saw cumulative decreases in fall enrollment greater than 10 percent” during the same timeframe. To allow institutions to assess their situation, Lundy and her colleagues developed the Student Educational Resources (SER) metric that “captures in a single score the percentage of existing students that a given institution can teach all the way through graduation given existing resources.” Depending on the outcomes of such risk assessments, Lundy advised that institutions consider response strategies—ranging from incremental to highly transformative, from stand alone to transformative partnerships—and to do so actively and deliberately rather than reactively.

Co-panelists David R. Evans, interim president of the American University in Bulgaria and former president of Southern Vermont College, Timothy L. Hall, president of Mercy College (NY), and Michele D. Perkins, president of New England College (NH), walked participants through the processes by which their institutions arrived at transformative change in the form of closure, teach-out, and merger. Evans noted that when he arrived at Southern Vermont in 2015, the campus was already facing the familiar weaknesses of a small institution in that region of the country; but it was a significant and unusual incident that broke the campuses’ “financial back.” Absent resources to invest in consultants and with no promising merger partner available, the board rather quickly determined to close the campus. From then on, Evans’s focus shifted to orchestrating an orderly exit. Evans noted “what I am most proud of is that we took care of all our students” by placing them with former competitors where they could achieve their academic goals. He also made sure “that all faculty and staff got paid” before handing over the keys.

Hall explained that Mercy ended up in a teach-out situation after a financial crisis at the College of New Rochelle (resulting in a $20 million debt to the IRS, $10 million in undisclosed debt, and $50 million of known debt that eventually led to its bankruptcy). While initially considering a merger that looked promising from a program and location acquisition perspective, in the end that possibility represented too great a risk for Mercy to take on, Hall noted. Instead, the two institutions set up a transfer agreement in which College of New Rochelle students in good standing could seamlessly transfer to Mercy. Hall emphasized that while temporarily integrating large numbers of additional students and faculty members was challenging, the agreement combined with some program expansion gave Mercy access to a larger student stream for years to come.

Recalling the tale of how her institution acquired the New Hampshire Institute of Art, Perkins too emphasized that strategic partnership opportunities need to be carefully vetted and fit the institutional context. For example, operating a rural and an urban campus “works for us and the programs we want to offer, but that doesn’t mean it would be a good solution for everybody.” She warned participants not to underestimate the effort it takes to pull off even a promising opportunity. Getting from initial conversations in October 2017, to signing an MOU in May 2018, to the full merger filing in July 2019 “was incredibly labor intensive” she noted; “I think I worked on it every single day.” Among the recommendations she listed are to “get boards and the community involved as early as possible” but “keep negotiations confidential as long as possible;” understand the full financial picture including endowment rules, existing debt, and costs; name a senior point person and hire expert legal and consultant advice; and be candid with your negotiating partners and “recognize that your own position will evolve.” Perhaps most critical, “know when to walk away.” As Lundy concurred, “a merger isn’t necessarily always better than a closure; it needs to work for everybody.”

Presidents Recommend Ways to Focus Boards of Trustees on Strategic Priorities

There is no “one size fits all” approach to focusing boards of trustees on strategic priorities. In fact, presidents use a number of approaches to help their boards resist the tendency to function in routinized ways, such as reviewing reports, setting tuition, and approving budgets. Some of the strategies used to focus boards depend on the preference of the president and his or her leadership style, while others are a matter of institutional mission and history. During a dynamic and informative panel, Gayle D. Beebe, president of Westmont College (CA), Rock Jones, president of Ohio Wesleyan University, and Elizabeth J. Stroble, chancellor of Webster University (MO), discussed tactics they use to help their boards be savvy about demographic and economic trends; cognizant of institutional strengths and areas of vulnerability; and sensitive to market opportunities. Boards of trustees nurtured in those ways, the panelists agreed, can best help presidents make important strategic decisions about the future direction of their institutions.

Each president shared several successful approaches to guiding their boards to help effectively lead the institution in today’s higher education environment. Examples include:

  1. Seek board members who reflect the student body and institutional priorities.
    The board of trustees should be representative of the student body and the institution’s priorities. If an institution is diverse, it is important that boards are diverse in experience, age, gender, and ethnicity. If an institution has a student body that is mostly local, but also has international campuses, seek a couple board members who live locally but work or have worked for a multinational corporation. A board that reflects the institution will ultimately help lead to more effective discussions about institutional issues and priorities.

  2. Prioritize strategic over the routine.
    To engage board members in conversations that are critical to the institution’s success, presidents should prioritize strategic over routine agenda topics. This will encourage the board to think strategically from the onset. A board portal can be used for advance review of minutes, charters, and supplemental documents that support topics of both strategic and routine discussion. Posing “big picture” questions will help engage board members in open-ended conversations.

  3. Convene an annual board retreat focused on a single subject or issue.
    Provide the board with an opportunity to meet once a year in a retreat setting in order to focus on a long-term strategy, while also helping to build relationships between board members and between board members and faculty and staff leaders. The retreat should focuse on one key strategic issue that is of particular importance to the institution; retreat plenary and discussion sessions should center on aspects of this subject.

  4. Establish expectations for board members at the beginning of their terms.
    The board of trustees, working with the chair of the board and the president, should help define specific criteria and expectations for new board members. And the board chair should help communicate these expectations to new board members. This strategy helps ensure that board members know from the onset the role of the board in relation to the institution’s mission and goals as well as their specific purpose as it relates to their service on the board.

These clear strategies for focusing the board on issues of largest import to an institution should be adapted to line up well with a president’s leadership style as well as the needs of the institution.

Workshop Examines Effective Approaches to Tuition Resets

Casamento presents from podium
Laura Casamento, president of Utica College (NY), sharing a case study during the workshop “Tuition Pricing Considerations —Is a Reset Right for Your Institution?”

A workshop on tuition pricing considerations closely examined the economics behind tuition resets and successful approaches that two colleges have taken to introduce new pricing models. Lucie Lapovsky, principal of Lapovsky Consulting and former president of Mercy College (NY), Laura Casamento, president of Utica College (NY), and Sharon Latchaw Hirsh, president of Rosemont College (PA), led the two-hour workshop.

Lapovsky shared data from a recent Longmire and Company study that revealed that 32 percent of students and parents do not consider a private college on the basis of its published price alone. And 60 percent reported that they are unaware that most private colleges discount their sticker price. Lapovsky also referenced research by Sallie May that showed that 63 percent of students eliminate colleges and universities originally in consideration solely on the basis of the published tuition price. Moreover, 56 percent of families eliminate an institution without any research beyond its published price. These chilling statistics were underscored by comparing the income levels of students at public four-year institutions to those of students at private four-year institutions. With public institutions now attracting a larger share of higher income students, private colleges and universities are at risk among affluent students.

Additional data that Lapovsky shared painted a clear picture of trends in college choice related to price and pointed to rationales and approaches that support a price reset. Above all, said Lapovsky, “A price reset should work at the top of the [recruitment] funnel.” That is, it should increase and diversify an institution’s applicant pool.

Lapovsky suggested that participants consider a reset if their institutions are experiencing declining inquiry and applicant pools, declining enrollment, flat net tuition revenue, excess capacity, nearly universal institutional aid, a discount rate of more than 50 percent, and competition from lower-priced competitors. She further guided participants through potential risks and rewards and shared a worksheet they could follow with their campus teams to review the potential economic impact of a reset.

Examining another aspect of tuition resets—marketing—Casamento and Hirsh shared case studies of how their institutions marketed lower tuition to ensure that the decision had the greatest impact on enrollment strategy.

Utica College took two years to work through its reset strategy before announcing the change in 2015. Casamento worked closely with her board to review the factors that led to the decision and to ensure that Utica’s messaging was unified and focused. She reported that the perceptions of affordability among potential applicants improved significantly. Before the reset, as many as 77 percent saw tuition as too high; after the reset, that number dropped to 52 percent. Utica’s reset implementation phases included planning, awareness building, announcement publicity, post-announcement awareness, and a corresponding schedule of activities for each phase.

Rosemont College also took nearly two years to develop and launch its new tuition strategy. Marketing figured prominently in the roll-out and included extensive communications training for trustees. The college positioned the change as the right thing to do for the institution and for families and, as an early adopter of a reset strategy, established Rosemont as a leader in the higher education marketplace. Rosemont’s marketing campaign, which included broad media placement and interviews with national and regional press, used the theme, “Our Tuition Promise,” to communicate not only the campaign messages, but also to acknowledge Rosemont’s decision to stop playing the game of high sticker prices and deep discounts. According to Hirsh, “This decision was based first and foremost on a desire to be a leader in reforming a broken model.”

Like Utica, Rosemont experienced positive results: a 33 percent increase in the number of entering students, a 60 percent increase in the percentage of middle-income students, and a steady rise in GPAs among incoming students.

Session Considers Benchmarks for Institutional Health

The session “Benchmarks for Institutional Health” discussed the metrics presidents can rely on to understand what their institutions need to achieve to be strong and sustainable. Bobby L. Hall, president of Wayland Baptist University (TX), and Michael Williams, former senior executive at Ruffalo Noel Levitz (RNL), who developed the Key Indicators Tool (KIT) and Financial Indicators Tool (FIT) for CIC, engaged in a data-informed conversation about what data can—and cannot—indicate when it comes to an institution’s financial health. They also discussed what benchmarks are useful in monitoring an institution’s financial health.

Wayland Baptist University is a Christian institution with rural, agricultural roots that educates 4,700 traditional and nontraditional students using face-to-face, online, and hybrid modalities on 13 campuses and at 50 teaching sites in six states. From a historical perspective, Hall commented that Wayland has been “up and down, but never out.” He then explained the most common performance indicators (financial, admissions, enrollment, faculty, student outcomes, student engagement, academics, physical plant, satisfaction, research, and external ratings) used by institutions and boards based on a 2011 article by Dawn Terkla in the Association of Governing Boards’ Trusteeship magazine. Using these indicators as a jumping-off point, Hall discussed the standard financial indicators monitored at Wayland, such as net revenue per credit hour, net operating margin, overall change in net assets, cash and investments to operations, and financial ratios.

After this introduction, Williams used data from Wayland’s FIT report to point out where the institution was performing more robustly than similar institutions. (The FIT is an annual customized benchmarking report that provides an assessment of an institution’s financial performance over time, benchmarked against similar institutions; view more information about FIT.) He then asked Hall to expand upon Wayland’s strategies. They were best described as “entrepreneurial,” ranging from investigating wind farms, oil rights, mineral rights, and agricultural rights on property owned by Wayland to negotiating paid daytime building use by other entities, since Wayland’s classes are largely held at night. Hall also mentioned strategies of holding tuition discounting down as much as possible and reexamining budgets on a continuous basis to find cost savings (for example, making sure specialty software licenses are actually being used enough to warrant the expense).

The session illustrated that—with careful fiscal, organizational, and programmatic management—smaller, rural institutions with below-average resources can achieve sound financial operating outcomes. In short, a college doesn’t have to be wealthy to be healthy.

Presenters Focus on Mental Health Needs of College Students

Nancy Roy presents from podium with two presenters seated at head table
Nance Roy, chief clinical officer for the Jed Foundation, discusses mental health and related issues among college students while Troy D. Hammond, president of North Central College (IL), looks on.

Despite warnings of a mental health crisis on college campuses, the good news, according to panelists of a Presidents Institute session, is that there are proven strategies available for identifying and serving the needs of students with mental health issues.

Nance Roy, chief clinical officer for the Jed Foundation, laid out facts gleaned from the Healthy Minds Network annual Healthy Minds Study that examines mental health and related issues among college students:

  • Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students;
  • One third of first-year students screened positive for depression;
  • 62 percent of undergraduates surveyed reported overwhelming anxiety; and
  • 40 percent experienced depression that interfered with normal functioning.

Roy said there is a strong economic case for supporting student mental health. “If a large university, for example, expanded its efforts to reach 1,000 students who have untreated mental health problems, this would lead to a projected retention of students who would have left without graduating that could save approximately $1.2 million in tuition revenue.”

The Jed Foundation works with 300 colleges and universities across the country to help evaluate and strengthen their mental health, substance abuse, and suicide prevention programs, Roy said. The cost for its four-year program is $22,000, but the foundation has a scholarship fund so that institutions lacking financial resources are not turned away, and participants can access free resources on the foundation’s website.

Speaker Troy D. Hammond, president of North Central College (IL), said his campus has seen an increase in the severity of mental health issues and number of students seen for counseling over the past decade. “During 2018–2019, counseling staff serviced 15.4 percent of the student body.” As a result, the institution has greatly increased its investment in supporting counseling and mental health on campus, with the creation of the Dyson Wellness Center that uses a combined health/counseling model. “We proactively reach out to provide support for students and have established strategies for identifying need,” he said. Among those strategies, he recommends campuses use early-alert systems to allow faculty members to identify at-risk students and share that information with advisors and other student support staff on campus. In an ideal world, a college’s early-alert program prevents students from slipping through the cracks by allowing for timely intervention. Such intervention requires training faculty, staff, and student leaders on the system. In addition, Hammond recommends that colleges invite students to voluntarily share information in pre-matriculation surveys; ensure that information is shared with admissions and transferred to appropriate student support staff members for follow up; and offer educational outreach programming.

Hammond urged session participants to “meet industry standards for counselor/student ratios; use the training and skills of your staff to best serve students; and consider the role of ‘telehealth’ to serve more students.” Campuses also may be able to meet the mental health needs of students by leveraging non-clinical support—such as a behavioral intervention team (a cross-functional assessment group that will respond to students in apparent or potential distress)—and by fundraising for student wellness and other basic needs—such as food, shelter, transportation, and clothing.

To succeed, the college president must commit to working on these issues, emphasized Hammond. “We need to normalize the discussion of mental health and the needs of students. Additionally, we need to provide sufficient budget dollars to support mental health work…and perhaps name a task force to assess current campus needs, evaluate existing practices and services, and make recommendations for the future.”

Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) (TX) has committed to “attend to the health and wellness of every student,” said president Diane E. Melby. One of the challenges is to identify students at risk: “Only 5 to 10 percent of students with mental health concerns seek counseling services,” she said. Yet the campus has, over the last few years, seen significant numbers of cases of suicidal ideation, emergency detentions, and referrals for counseling services to address suicidal behavior, domestic violence, and substance abuse.

As a result, OLLU has instituted a proactive identification and response system, Melby noted. This includes an academic early-alert system, a student behavioral intervention team, and faculty and staff training to help identify and respond to mental health emergencies. In addition, OLLU Cares is a victim’s advocate program that provides resources and services to students, faculty members, and staff to help them begin the healing process from sexual assault, sexual harassment, and dating violence. The university also has instituted board, employee, and parent giving programs to establish an emergency fund to help needy students afford health services.

Spouses, Partners, and Presidents Explore Strategies for Personal and Financial Health

How can presidential couples adapt to new challenges, maintain healthy relationships, and thrive in uncertain times? How can presidential spouses and partners improve their financial wellness and provide a framework for thinking about life’s big decisions and transitions? Along with institutional health, Presidents Institute sessions also explored issues related to personal wellness and financial health.

Maintaining an Integrated Wellness Routine Is Key

Maintaining wellness during challenging times is not easy to do by definition, but two presidential couples, Cindy and John Gnadinger of Carroll University (WI), and Mark and Lisa McCoy of DePauw University (IN), shared their approaches during a joint presidents and spouses/partners concurrent session at the Presidents Institute.

Like many other independent colleges, Carroll and DePauw universities are located in small towns where the institution has an influential presence in terms of employment and civic standing. Exemplifying the degree to which they are under a microscope, President Cindy Gnadinger noted that, “from the windows in the residence hall behind the president’s house at Carroll University, a student can see what we are cooking on the grill on our back deck…. For couples living in college housing, physically getting away from campus together, preferably to a place connected to nature, is an essential element of any wellness plan.”   

Both couples discussed how campus decision-making responsibilities often infringe on aspects of their personal lives. Setting personal and family boundaries is an ongoing, dynamic process and one that requires dexterity and regular communication. President Mark McCoy explained how he and Lisa present a unified front to the campus but also alternate who makes family decisions to give each other a break from stressful situations. In terms of lessons for other presidential couples, McCoy said the key is to “have a common understanding of the community context and a decision-making strategy worked out ahead of time for the most stressful periods in the academic year.”

Another suggestion that emerged from the discussion was to integrate some wellness activities with time on campus. For example, Cindy Gnadinger noted that she and John walk the campus every weekday morning, as a source of fitness, an opportunity to spend time together before the hectic day begins, and to stay in touch with what is happening on campus. She joked that when she calls facilities staff to report issues with buildings, they know that she “has been walking the campus again.” To the extent possible, maintaining an integrated wellness routine is the best antidote for the challenges presidential couples face.

Personal Financial Health Feeds into Overall Health and Well-Being

“In case of pressure loss in the cabin, put on your oxygen mask first before helping others.” This instruction is given by flight attendants to airline passengers, but according to Christina R. Cutlip, senior managing director and head of client engagement and national advocacy at TIAA, it also applies to issues of personal financial health. During the session “Financial Health for Presidential Spouses and Partners,” Cutlip emphasized the importance of building an intentional personal financial plan—for an individual or a couple—as the foundation for future financial security and ability for charitable giving.

Jonathan R. Fishburn, director of wealth planning strategies at TIAA, laid out a plan for personal financial health when moving from the “accumulation” phase of life (working) to the “distribution” phase (retirement). Under the plan, individuals should:

  • Determine fixed and discretionary expenses in retirement;
  • Project their monthly income in retirement from all sources;
  • Determine when to begin receiving Social Security income;
  • Understand their qualified plan and IRA rules and payout options; and
  • Review their plans regularly with their financial advisors.

Fishburn underscored the importance of “working with a trusted financial professional and an attorney, as new laws and rule changes can be difficult to follow,” and to ask questions until the plan and the rationale behind the plan are clear. He presented multiple planning options for making charitable gifts and gifts to family members while preserving personal income for a lifetime.

For more information abut CIC’s Presidential Spouses and Partners Program, which runs concurrently with the program for presidents, visit the 2020 Presidents Institute website.