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Talking about Private Colleges: Busting the Myths

About the Workshops

Talking about private colleges . . . Now

Online President-to-President Conversations in Spring and Fall 2021

More details about the Fall 2021 conversations will be available soon!

Spring 2021 Workshops Online: March 24 and April 29Longstanding 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 their 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 carry 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 hosted two virtual gatherings of member presidents in spring 2021 and will host two additional virtual gatherings of presidents in fall 2021. The specific topics will be announced soon, but the general themes are: 1) How can independent colleges rebuild the trust of students, families, employers, civic and opinion leaders, and others whose views of higher education have changed in recent years? 2) How should the leaders of independent colleges respond to challenges to academic freedom, which can arise from many directions in a sharply polarized social and political climate?

Talking about Private Colleges is offered free of charge to CIC member institutions, thanks to the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation, EAB, Sage Scholars Inc., and Sodexo.

​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.

​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.

About the Spring 2021 Virtual Workshops

​The two online Talking about Private Colleges… NOW workshops for presidents in spring 2021 were highly interactive, featuring a combination of live polling, plenary discussions, and facilitated breakout sessions with small groups of peers. The goals were to:

  • Promote candid president-to-president conversations about evolving grass-root attitudes toward higher education—especially independent higher education;

  • Stimulate creativity and confidence in responding to new questions and attitudes by sharing examples of effective (and challenging) community interactions with presidential peers; and

  • Inform future efforts to gather timely data, respond to public challenges, and re-energize campus constituents to help make the case for private colleges.

Discussion topics included:

  • Effective responses to new myths, public attitudes, and community concerns. Specific public concerns to be discussed will depend on the experience and interests of participants, which will be gathered through a pre-workshop survey. Possible topics include doubts about the efficacy of online learning, the health and safety of students in a residential setting, new concerns about equity on campus and in the community, and a sharpened focus on the cost and value of higher education.

  • The relevance and limits of traditional data-driven responses to popular myths and misconceptions about private colleges, and the constraints of fragmentary and inconclusive data collected since the start of the COVID pandemic.

  • Identifying aggregate data and other common resources to support effective community conversations about private colleges.

  • Cultivating “ambassadors,” both on and off campus, who can help shape public perceptions of private higher education now and in the future.

The fall 2021 workshops will have a similar format. Registration will be limited to 25 presidents to encourage candid and engaged conversations.

Talking About workshops 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. (Note: Virtual versions of the program will preserve most of these elements while making it easier and safer for campus teams to particpate.)

  • 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 has served as a trustee of the University of Richmond, St. Lawrence University, and the American University of Sharjah.

  • Jo Ellen Parker, Senior Vice President. 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 (NetVUE).

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

Spring 2021 meetings were virtual and limited to presidents of CIC member institutions. In-person workshops for campus teams will resume in fall 2021. Please return to this page for periodic updates.

Map of workshop locations  

Online workshops (presidents only)green dot

Upcoming workshops for campus teamsyellow dot

(More details coming soon)
  • September 22, 2021: York College of Pennsylvania (York, PA)
  • October 21, 2021: William Jewell College (Liberty, MO)

Past workshopsred dot




Contact Information

​For questions about this program, contact Jo Ellen Parker, senior vice president, at or Philip M. Katz, director of projects, at