Presidents Consider New Issues in Virtual ‘Talking about Private Colleges…Now’ Workshop

Zoom screen with five video feeds and a shared screen word cloud
The March 24 workshop included presentations, live polling, and small group discussions. A pre-conference survey and live polling revealed changing priorities among community members with whom presidents interact.

​This spring, 25 presidents of CIC member institutions participated in a brand-new version of a continuing program, Talking about Private Colleges: Busting the Myths…NOW. The March 24 online workshop, co-hosted by Ohio Wesleyan University President Rock Jones, engaged presidents in a confidential, interactive discussion of how public perceptions and attitudes about higher education are changing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests, and other events of the last year.

Background materials established the context for the discussion. A summary of “Some Pandemic-Era Challenges to (Private) Higher Education” and a companion reading list illustrated emerging questions about higher education in both media coverage and public opinion research. Survey responses from the participants revealed that their own informal conversations with neighbors and community members have experienced similar shifts in the course of the last year. For instance, before the pandemic, presidents reported that their daily interactions with community members typically focused on the cost of college, the value of a liberal arts education, and student debt. Now, however, participants reported that the top issues discussed during the pandemic have been the cost of college, the financial viability of small private colleges, and the health and welfare of college students and employees. During the workshop, erosion of public trust emerged as an especially pressing issue right now, along with intensified concerns about the viability of the traditional business model for private colleges and universities. The session ended with a consideration of what new resources and programs might help CIC members “make the case” for their institutions and the sector as a whole as well as give helpful answers to the new questions raised by friends, neighbors, and other members of the public.

Rock Jones remarked after the event, “I appreciate CIC’s perseverance in carrying through with this conversation. Although I am sorry I was unable to literally welcome everyone to our physical campus, the conversation was fruitful and likely attracted some participants who would not have traveled for an in-person conversation.”

Confirming this view, one president praised the online format and the timing of the workshop, saying “I could never travel around the country to sit in all of your offices and talk about the things that matter most to us right now.” (Like this quotation, the workshop was candid and confidential.)

Another virtual Talking about Private Colleges…NOW workshop was offered on April 29, as the Independent was going to press. Co-hosted by Augsburg University (MN) President Paul Pribbenow, the workshop drew more than two dozen participants.

The pre-pandemic version of the Talking about Private Colleges workshops—full-day, in-person events designed for campus teams—will return on September 22 with a workshop co-hosted by York College of Pennsylvania. The final workshop in this multiyear series will be held on the campus of William Jewell College (MO) on October 21. Registration for both fall workshops will open in August. The workshops are offered free of charge to teams from CIC Institutional Members, thanks to generous support by the Henry Luce Foundation, EAB, Sage Scholars Inc., and Sodexo. View more information about the workshops or contact CIC Senior Vice President Jo Ellen Parker (

Talking about Private Colleges Upcoming Workshops

SEPTEMBER 22, 2021

York College of Pennsylvania (York, PA)

OCTOBER 21, 2021

William Jewell College (Liberty, MO)