Workshops Give Perspective on Community Conversations

CIC’s third Talking about Private Colleges: Busting the Myths workshop took place at the University of Puget Sound (WA) on February 27, 2020. The participants—65 presidents, trustees, chief academic officers, faculty members, and other cabinet officers and senior administrative leaders—reviewed key data about the independent nonprofit sector in higher education (see list of participating institutions below). Putting their own campus data in national context, the participants also practiced addressing common questions about the cost, value, accessibility, and outcomes of private colleges and universities and rebutted myths too-frequently repeated in the media.

2 photos: 1. Three presenters speaking shile seated at head table; 2. Participants seated at roundtables
The Talking about Private Colleges workshops include panel discussions on “How Presidents Counter Misperceptions.” Panelists for the February 2020 workshop at the University of Puget Sound (WA) included (from left to right) presidents Wim Wiewel of Lewis & Clark College (OR), Kathleen M. Murray of Whitman College (WA), and Isiaah Crawford of the University of Puget Sound (WA). Sixty-five participants engaged in the interactive workshop.

Each Talking about Private Colleges workshop collects survey data from participants. CIC compiles the responses with data from other workshops to develop a national picture. Responses confirm that campus leaders are essential community ambassadors for their institutions and higher education. For example, when asked how often in the last six months they had discussed private colleges with friends, family members, neighbors, local business people, civic leaders, or others, 53 percent of respondents nationally said ten or more times, while another 23 percent said between six and ten times.

Unsurprisingly, the most frequently reported topics for these conversations are related to the cost of higher education and student debt. Perhaps more surprisingly, and contrary to what media reports might suggest, respondents described the tone of their conversations as largely positive. About 34 percent of respondents described the tone as more positive than negative, and 47 percent described it as a balance of positive and negative. Only 13 percent of respondents reported that their conversations are more negative than positive.

The need for these workshops is clearly demonstrated by responses to a question about who on the respondent’s campus is regarded as “very well prepared” to answer tough questions from the general public. Eighty-eight percent of respondents said that their presidents were “very well prepared,” and 66 percent said senior administrators were. However, only 25 percent saw trustees as very well prepared, and 11 percent saw faculty members that way.

The first two Talking about Private Colleges workshops took place last fall. Forty-four participants engaged in the inaugural workshop, held at Bay Path University (MA) on September 25, 2019. And 88 participants attended the November 19 workshop that was hosted by Wofford College (SC).

2 photos: 1. Two participants talking while seated at roundtable; 2. Nayef H. Samhat speaking from podium in front of projector screen
(From left to right) Rajarshi Aroskar, dean of the business school, and Yolanda Caldwell, director of the Women’s Leadership Institute, were members of the College of Saint Rose (NY) team that participated in the inaugural Talking about Private Colleges workshop at Bay Path University (MA) in September 2019. President Nayef H. Samhat, host of the November 2019 workshop at Wofford College (SC), welcomed participants to his campus.

Workshops scheduled for spring 2020 were postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has naturally raised new questions for higher education and fueled new (mis)perceptions. Before the series resumes, the workshops will be updated to address these new and pressing topics.

The next two Talking about Private Colleges workshops are scheduled to take place at York College of Pennsylvania on September 29, 2020, and William Jewell College (MO) on October 26. View more information about the workshop series, which is generously supported by the Henry Luce Foundation, EAB, SAGE Scholars, Inc., and Sodexo.

Participating Institutions at the University of Puget Sound Workshop

Heritage University (WA)
Independent Colleges of Washington (WA)
Lewis & Clark College (OR)
Linfield College (OR)
Oregon Alliance of Independent Colleges and Universities (OR)
Pacific Lutheran University (WA)
Saint Martin’s University (WA)
Seattle Pacific University (WA)
University of Puget Sound (WA)
Warner Pacific University (OR)
Whitman College (WA)