Talking about Private Colleges: Busting the Myths

About the Workshops

Talking about private colleges . . . in 2021

Longstanding public concerns about the cost and value of higher education—and private colleges and universities in particular—have intensified as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, recent economic instability, and the movement for racial justice. Some of these concerns are grounded in myths and misperceptions, while many reflect the real hopes and anxieties of students and their families in uncertain times.

In response, independent colleges need to intensify their efforts to strengthen relations with the public and often their own faculty and staff members—even as they adapt business models to advance the unchanging goals of value and affordability, equity and inclusion, career preparation and personal exploration, and academic quality. How will private colleges present their proud tradition of superior outcomes for students into a post-pandemic future? And how will they leverage necessary changes to restore public confidence?

CIC’s Talking about Private Colleges; Busting the Myths workshop series will resume in March 2021 with four scheduled programs in different parts of the country. The workshops are offered free of charge to teams of representatives of CIC member colleges and institutions, thanks to the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation, EAB, Sage Scholars Inc., and Sodexo. Each workshop will bring together campus teams comprised of senior administrators, faculty members, and trustees to discuss two closely linked and essential questions: How do we build a future in which private colleges continue to outperform other forms of higher education on key measures of importance to the public? And how do we rebuild the trust of students, families, employers, civic and opinion leaders, and others who rely on the excellence of private colleges in their communities?

More information about the workshop series will be available in late fall 2020 and registration for all four locations will open early in 2021.

Dates and locations (subject to public health considerations):

  • Ohio Wesleyan University (Delaware, OH): Wednesday, March 24, 2021

  • Augsburg University (Minneapolis, MN): Friday, April 30, 2021

  • York College of Pennsylvania (York, PA): Tuesday, September 22, 2021

  • William Jewell College (Liberty, MO): Thursday, October 21, 2021

There is no charge for the workshops, which are supported by the Henry Luce Foundation, EAB, Sage Scholars Inc., and Sodexo.

Team Composition

​Participation is limited to CIC Institutional Members. Institutions are invited to send a team of 4–7 people, selected by the president, to any one of the workshops. Please register all members of the team at the same time.

The ideal team for this workshop might include:

  • The president;
  • At least one faculty member who is influential both on campus and in the local community; 
  • At least one member of the senior administration or staff who frequently interacts with the non-academic public; and (if possible)
  • At least one trustee who is an eager ambassador for the institution.

Every team should include people who are influencers, connectors, and effective communicators in the local community; these qualities are more important than specific campus roles.

Expectations of Team Members

​Before the workshop, team members will:

  • Respond to a pre-workshop survey that will be distributed approximately two weeks in advance of the workshop. Survey results will be used to help tailor the workshop to the needs of the participating institutions.
  • Familiarize themselves with the Charts and Data section of the CIC website.

During the workshop, team members will:

  • Engage in frank conversations about challenges and opportunities to “make the case” for their institution to members of the public.
  • Learn how to introduce persuasive data points into informal conversation.
  • Participate in role-playing exercises.

After the workshop, team members will:

  • Gather institution-specific data on topics covered in the workshop.
  • Share information and data with peers and colleagues on campus by conducting one or more of the “taking it home” activities introduced during the workshop.
  • Respond to a post-workshop survey.


Talking About workshops will include interactive presentations of persuasive “myth-busting” data and effective communication strategies, plus role-playing exercises, discussions with colleagues from other institutions, and an opportunity to consult with other members of the campus team.

  • Each workshop will open with a welcome and introduction from the host president and workshop facilitators.

  • Interactive and informative “lightning rounds” will address specific topics—including access, affordability, and student outcomes—and explore relevant research findings.

  • A presidents’ panel will feature examples of how campus leaders respond to challenging questions about private colleges.

  • Over lunch, participants will sit with colleagues in similar roles at other institutions for an informal exchange about private college myths and facts.

  • Role-playing exercises will allow participants to practice responding to specific questions with reference to key data points. Every participant will have a chance to ask and answer questions; then the group as a whole will critique and discuss a few sample conversations.

  • The program will conclude with a chance to “bring it home,” as institutional teams consider data and communication strategies that are specific to their own institutions in the context of the national data—and plan ways to share what they’ve learned with colleagues on campus and with members of their local communities.


​Each interactive workshop will be facilitated by a team of CIC staff members, including:

  • S. Georgia Nugent, Senior Fellow. Nugent is president of Illinois Wesleyan University, president emerita of Kenyon College, and former interim president of the College of Wooster. As Senior Fellow, she led CIC’s public information campaign, “Securing America’s Future.” Nugent is a classicist by training and currently serves as a trustee of the University of Richmond, St. Lawrence University, and the American University of Sharjah.

  • Jo Ellen Parker, Vice President for Communications. Parker is a former president of Sweet Briar College and of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. She previously served as president of the Great Lakes Colleges Association and executive director of NITLE, the National Institute of Technology and Liberal Education.

  • Richard Ekman, President. Ekman is a leading advocate for America’s smaller private colleges and universities. A historian by training, he served as secretary and senior program officer of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation before joining CIC. Previously he served as vice president of the Atlantic Philanthropies, director of the divisions of Education Programs and Research Programs of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and vice president and dean of Hiram College.

  • Harold V. Hartley III, Senior Vice President. Hartley oversees CIC’s research and data initiatives, including two annual benchmarking reports, as well as the annual Presidents Institute and the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education.

  • Philip M. Katz, Director of Projects. At CIC, Katz has administered projects related to community college transfer, online humanities instruction, diversity and civility, and the future of independent higher education. His previous experience includes positions at the New York Council for the Humanities, American Historical Association, and American Alliance of Museums.

Dates and Locations

​Each workshop will take place from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., allowing team members from campuses within a few hours’ drive to carpool to and from the event in a single day. While many institutions will choose to participate in the nearest workshop, campus teams are welcome to register for any workshop. Lunch will be provided. Teams are responsible for their own travel and overnight accommodations (if needed). Each workshop site includes links to recommended hotels.

Map of workshop locations  

To register for a workshop, or for more details about any of the workshop locations, please click on one of the links below.
  1. September 25, 2019: Bay Path University (Longmeadow, MA)

  2. November 19, 2019: Wofford College (Spartanburg, SC)

  3. February 27, 2020: University of Puget Sound (Tacoma, WA)

  4. POSTPONED: Ohio Wesleyan University (Delaware, OH)

  5. POSTPONED: Augsburg University (Minneapolis, MN)

  6. POSTPONED: York College of Pennsylvania (York, PA)

  7. POSTPONED: William Jewell College (Liberty, MO)

Contact Information

​For questions about program content or the composition of institutional teams, contact Jo Ellen Parker, vice president for communications, at or (202) 466-7230.

For questions about workshop logistics, contact Philip M. Katz, director of projects, at or (202) 466-7230.