dotEDU Episode 19: A College at the Crossroads of COVID-19 and DACA

Episode 19

​​​Aired April 20, 2020

COVID-19 has effected colleges and universities in myriad ways, and we’re just beginning to understand the changes for students and institutions coming down the road. Students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status have particular needs during this time. Carrie Besnette Hauser, president of Colorado Mountain College, talks with co-hosts Jon Fansmith and Lorelle Espinosa about how her institution has responded to the pandemic and how its unique, interest-free income share agreement for DACA students has adapted. ​

Episode Notes

Here are some of the links and references from this week’s show:


 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith: Hello, and welcome to dotEDU, the Higher Education' podcast from the American Council on Education. I'm your host, Jon Fansmith, Director of Government Relations here at ACE and I'm joined by my usual, not always, but usual co-host, Lorelle Espinosa, the Vice President for research here at ACE. Hey Lorelle.

Lorelle Espinosa: Hey Jon, how's it going at home over there?

Jon: Yeah, it's been an interesting experience. It continues to be an interesting experience. I am podcasting and lobbying and home schooling all--

Lorelle: And home schooling, yeah.

Jon: Yeah, it's been a great joy. Let me put it that way. And as people can probably tell, we are not violating social distancing. We're doing this podcast remotely via Zoom. We can look at each other, we can talk to each other, but the slight audio distortion is definitely not our producer. Malcolm's fault. That's the limitations of the technology. And thanks to everyone for bearing with us as we do this. I think, obviously there's been a lot of things happening, all really within the coronavirus impact umbrella in a lot of different areas. And Lorelle, I'm wondering... You and I haven't actually really talked since our last podcast before we went remote. But that's what? More than a month ago?

Lorelle: I know it's weird. Well, it's weird to not talk to a lot of colleagues but especially you, because we usually talk a lot. Yeah, we have both been heads down. I know you on policy work, me as part of the Learning and Engagement division at ACE, doing a lot of rapid response work around the practice and the institutional policy side on ACE Engage, which is, of course, our peer-to-peer learning platform. We've been doing so many webinars, so many discussion boards, really trying to respond to this moment, help institutions take the right steps, connecting presidents to one another and other senior leaders to one another. I can say a little bit about what we're doing on the research side, but maybe I'll stop there, but yeah, just a lot of heads down activity just like everyone else in our community. And I know that you've been working long hours advocating for our sector.

Jon: Yeah, it's been a very busy period, obviously. I think the thing of most significance that we've seen is the passage of the CARES Act which was the third supplemental funding bill Congress has passed the deal with coronavirus. The first two were very specific to the needs of federal agencies and healthcare personnel. This was the first sort of broad impact one. There's been a lot of attention on provisions for businesses and for individuals, but higher education had a significant component as well. We ultimately received about $14 billion in direct funding through the bill, half of which is for institutions to disperse directly to students as emergency grant aid and it's a new way in a lot of ways for the federal government to get aid out to students in schools. They're actually just pushing the money out to institutions directly, and then institutions divide their funds and share it with their students as the law dictates. Again, it's kind of unusual. I think most people think of federal processes as being rather slow and very disciplined and very organized and following very strict procedural and regulatory forms. This is very fast and we asked for something very fast. And they've heard--Congress heard from institutions, "We need help now." So this was really an attempt by policy makers to help institutions when they most immediately need the help, so we're very grateful for that. The one thing I'll say is $14 billion is certainly no insignificant sum of money, but "it's woefully inadequate," I think was our President Ted Michell's words to describe the total sum. We hear every day from institutions about what they're looking at in terms of lost revenue new expenses, declining enrollments, projections of what the financial impact will be, and we very conservatively estimated that for the next supplemental, schools will need at least $46.6 billion. And again, I said conservatively. We left out large categories in making that calculation of revenue for schools. So I think obviously there's still a lot to be done. We're still working at it, and thankfully, all of our members, hopefully some of the people listening to this podcast, are reaching out to their congressional delegations, letting them know what their needs are, what the impact will be if they don't get support, because that's really resonating with Congress.

Lorelle: Yeah, and it's important for us, like you said, to hear from our members and we are. We're actually in the process of doing a monthly survey. So we started the first one last week so... Gosh, the weeks are really blending together here, but those results will be out next week. And so these are monthly surveys that we'll be doing of college and university presidents, specifically on the COVID-19 crisis, implications, aftermath, whatever happens over the next 12 months. And we're gonna be asking questions just like the ones that you touched on in terms of, how they're doing financially, what they're anticipating. We know from some other survey data that's been released, including out of AAC&U, that presidents and senior leaders are considering layoffs, across the board cuts, changes to their academic programs. Really there hasn't been a lot of activity along those lines yet, but it's all on the table. And of course they're most concerned about enrollment, Summer and Fall enrollment. So we don't expect that to change, those concerns to change, but we'll be looking to ask other questions that hopefully we can use to design the right programs on ACE Engage and elsewhere and for you all to run with over in the government relations shop.

Jon: Yeah, I think that'll be really helpful. And I think, particularly talking about hearing from our members that is a very good place to pivot to our guest today who, not only is one of our members, but is a really impressive President of an institution. We're joined by Dr. Carrie Hauser of Colorado Mountain College. This podcast has been a long time in the making, I think. We had reached out to Carrie about doing a session at the Annual Meeting that I was working on, regarding student loans and paying for college because of some of the innovative work you're doing at Colorado Mountain College. But, obviously, our Annual Meeting didn't occur. So, we're going with the next best thing, right? You get to speak to Lorelle and I on a podcast. Anyway, I've rambled. Welcome, Carrie. Thank you for joining us.

Carrie: Thank you. There are always silver linings.

Jon: That's right. I don't know if this qualifies as quite a silver lining. Going to San Diego versus talking to us over Zoom. You know, I mean...

Carrie: I'm looking at a blizzard out my window, so you know...

Lorelle: A little different.

Jon: That's right. Well, thank you again for joining us. We were gonna have you on to talk about student debts and [unintelligible] and some innovative things you're doing to help your students afford higher education, but obviously events have overtaken us. The Annual Meeting was cancelled because of the fear of coronavirus, the impact to the pandemic. Maybe it makes more sense to start and talk a little bit about what you've seen on your campus and some of the things you're doing to respond.

Carrie: Sure, and maybe for context I'll offer a little bit of a description about Colorado Mountain College. We're a little bit of a unique animal in that we are an independent local district college and dual-mission/multi-mission. We do everything up to a bachelor's degree. We have a dozen campuses that serve the mountain resort communities of Colorado, that's what we're designed to do and that's why our communities fund us and pay for us. So they are our shareholders, both our residents and our businesses. We cover a big chunk of Colorado, 12,000 square miles, and really this resort tourism economy. About 20,000 total, really highly affluent communities, as you would know, Vail, Aspen, Steamboat, Breckonidge. So those are ones you're probably familiar with. But we also have extreme poverty, and it is really the working class that supports obviously these mountain resort communities, so we have a very skewed population and demographic in these mountain towns, and obviously very heavily tourism/resort economies. So when the ski resorts shut down, literally, on March 14th, by Governor's orders, everything shut down, everything ancillary to any of our sort of major employers, which are all resort-based companies. It was drastic and overnight. And so, we hunkered down and said, "Well what can we do as an institution?" We are baked into these mountain communities, our health depends on the health of these mountain communities clearly, fiscally and otherwise. So we put our heads together very, very quickly and said, "The best thing we can do is to do what we do well," and that is to educate and to recognize that, when Summit County for example, which is where Breckenridge and Dillon, we have two campuses there, Summit County went from 1.3 percent unemployment to literally 75 percent unemployment within about two weeks. I saw some data yesterday that were really striking. So we said, "We're gonna lean in, we're gonna figure out how to make a difference." And then enter the CARES Act as well. We would have done it either way, but our allocation which is just shy of $1.7 million, we said, "Well, that roughly is the equivalent of summer tuition for us."nd again, we're a local district college are very affordable for students that live in our mountain region and at the same time, we had all these ski resort employees and other folks that are here seasonally and otherwise, and who were suddenly out of work. So we essentially said, "We're gonna put all that and all of our internal savings," which as you can imagine, we're not traveling, we have hiring freezes, we're not doing all the things that institutions would normally do, we're not heating our buildings, a lot of our resident's hall students left. And so, there are savings internally as well when you have a budget year that ends on June 30. So, all in, we figured it's $2 million roughly or so that we're gonna put right back in, and so we've essentially announced that there's no cost for summer enrollment. Clearly, that is in an online virtual environment at least for now. We hope if we mid-summer can offer some of our bread and butter courses which are outdoor education, outdoor industry types of things, given where we are, we will certainly do that. We opened registration yesterday. It was a 10-fold, literally, our systems almost couldn't bear it. We did get out information to all of our ski resort partners, all of our businesses small and large across our mountain region. We've been working closely with local chambers and business incubators and all that, and we've got sort of a suite of things that we're trying to do as well, which I'm sure other institutions are doing as well, which is to help with business consulting, small and large businesses that are really wrecked by this. How can we lean in? A lot of these small business centers in these rural communities are completely overrun with calls for the PPP programs and all the things that have been offered. So that's also where we can lean in as other institutions are doing, we're offering all of our PPE in our facilities where they might be helpful. We had four hospitals tour one of our campuses, yesterday for a safe haven/spillover kind of capacity in our residence halls, which are mostly vacant right now. So that's what we've decided to do. We figure if our local communities can have something really productive to do while they're out of work, and it's at no cost. And as you know, if we can leverage other forms of financial aid and student aid, there are resources out there to help people pay for basic living expenses while they're a student. So that's essentially the strategy. It's, if anyone's interested in more information on that. So that's kind of our response. We're hoping that it works, and so far the indications are really positive.

Jon: Yeah, it's a remarkable, just the comprehensive nature of everything you've laid out is really kudos to you. We talk a lot to institutions and I know there's a lot of institutions that are struggling with how to address different aspects of this. And so the overall thoughtfulness of the way these proposals interact is really impressive.

Carrie: Well, and I have to give credit and kudos to an elected board of trustees. They represent these mountain communities, they're elected to serve a member of our board. And it was unanimous, very quick. We scheduled a special board meeting and we made a proposal and said, "Here's what we can do," And we recognize that, in the public sector institutions that are different, this is going to hit institutions differently at different times depending on the type of institution they are. And for us, there will be a lag. It will be based on property values at some point a year or two down the road, and clearly, we get a little bit of state funding, as well, and our state obviously is bracing just like every other one--higher education is really the only discretionary part of the Colorado state budget. So higher education will feel it, and we will feel it too. We figure this is our way of trying to sort of mitigate the blow and the healthier that our communities can be and get back to some sort of stabilization, we will certainly follow. So that was really the strategy and certainly trying to do the right thing.

Jon: On both of those points, the state funding and the enrollment, it's really interesting what you've done. I think we are very focused on the fears presidents have about enrollment, not just through summer where obviously a lot of schools won't be reopening their physical campuses in time for at least the first half of the summer, maybe hopefully the second of the summer, but a lot of indications we've seen, both in terms of publicly available surveys, but individual institutional tracking of who's withdrawn since they've moved to an online environment, who's applying for the fall, and there's a lot of fear that those numbers will down which to your second point state funding. I was just talking to somebody that I think state retail revenue is down 50 percent in the last month. And so, obviously not trying to be too apocalyptic. And the fact that presidents like you are addressing this so clearly is helpful, but I know there's other aspects of your work at Colorado Mountain College that are the original reasons we reached out to you and I think Lorelle was going to talk a little bit about that.

Lorelle: Well I appreciate you setting the context for us. I think in this case, certainly for the COVID-19 crisis context is so important to consider. Like you said, different institutions will go through this differently. Everything that you raised and Jon raised really goes back to the need for the type of stimulus support that he's a advocating for with his colleagues. But it is inspiring though, I have to say Carrie, to hear your story about your response and to read about it in some of the articles that I've seen, interviews that you've given, it really does signal the true value of higher education in these moments and the connection to the community and you've really articulated that so well so thank you. But, yes, let's transition a little bit because the first reason that we had reached out to you was really to talk about the role of your many campuses in the lives of Dreamers, undocumented students, and wanted to talk to you about what you're doing for that population specifically around income-share agreements, which you have a really novel new program. And I'm gonna have Jon talk to you about that first, or I'm sorry, a little bit later, but first, I would really love to talk with you about how you came to want to design a program that specifically serves Dreamers, if you could say a little bit more about the demographics. You talked a bit about the poverty in the area and the wealth, and perhaps can talk to us about some of the other forms of the demographics of your campus, including undocumented students and why it's so important to support them in your community.

Carrie: Sure, and again, contextually, we are in these mountain resort communities, a lot of the workforce backbone is our immigrant population. So, while we have some of the per capita wealthiest counties in the entire country, Pitkin County, which is where Aspen is and other places, there are folks that get on a bus 80 miles away every single day to drive in to support a hotel or clean rooms or whatever. We recognize that there's really sort of a disparity if you look at some of the demographics of our K- 12 school districts, some of them are 50, 60, 70 percent Latino youth in those school districts. Those are the local families, that's who lives in our mountain communities. We have lots of folks with second, third, and fourth homes, and we also have those, we like to say who either have three jobs or three homes. That's sort of the disparity in these mountain communities, and I don't say that with any... it's not meant to be cliche. And our board has really again made some really strong statements about we are an open access institution, our absolute pillars are equity and inclusivity. They, in 2018, voted unanimously in favor of a resolution to endorse immigration reform and support the students who have benefited from DACA. I was an early signer on the President's Alliance letter and continue to be very engaged in that regard. And we recognize that the one thing that our DACA students, our undocumented students, don't have access to, among other things, certainly is federal financial aid. So how could we think about a way to fill that that gap? So we actually learned about income share agreements at a conference. I had a colleague come back, went up to the speaker and said, "Hey has anybody ever thought about applying this tool to our Dreamers, to the DACA students?" And the response was, "We've just sort of been waiting for someone to ask." So our partner in this, our administrative partner in this is Vemo education and they were the presenter at this conference, so we came back and just again, sort of put our heads together and said, "How might this work? How can it work legally? How can work from a policy standpoint? How can we make it work just from a processing standpoint?" So we'll get into this a little bit later, but we essentially have administered this entirely as a philanthropic model entirely through our private foundation, and I can talk a little bit more about how that's worked. But I would say, as we focus grouped and we thought about how to put this together, our Dreamers were the most important voice, we brought them together and we presented this idea, and after the... this was a year or so ago, maybe two years ago when full frontal... such fear around their status and that still exists obviously today, but sort of after the initial reaction, the thing that I think that was most powerful for us in the model is that it's sort of pay it forward. The corpus and the donations that we've been able to get to create the pilot sit in our foundation, and the notion that an income share goes to a student and they pay back into that fund, which then supports the next student was the most profound thing for them. That's what they wanted to do. They wanted to be able to say, "If you're gonna help me, I'm gonna pay it back, and it's gonna help one of my fellow students down the line." So that was really important. So I'll pause there and maybe we can dig into it a little bit more.

Jon: This is such an interesting concept because it's really one that has gained a lot of attention at the national level, in the federal policy space, the idea of income share agreements, and there's a variety of approaches that have been used by institutions. I think it's still a relatively small number of institutions that have them, but they vary quite a bit in terms of the terms that are offered to students, how their... To use the word price, but the terms that are offered based on perhaps your course of study or other things. Can you talk a little bit about what sort of distinguishes Fund Suenos from some of those programs that listeners may be more familiar with?

Carrie: Sure, and Fund Suenos as you would know, translates to The Dream Fund. And again, that was a name that our students helped us develop. The difference for us again, I think the most important thing to underscore is that this is an entirely philanthropic model. So we approached a couple of donors who had interest in the Dreamer and DACA population, and said, "Help us pilot this." And we brought a group of students in and essentially they're still making their way through. We have a Lumina grant that's helping us evaluate so that we can sort of figure out the scaling opportunities and so forth. But what's different for us is there's no interest. We're administering this again, entirely through our foundation. It's a $30,000 minimum salary post-credential and we figured if... some of the onus is on us. A lot of the questions I get is, "What if DACA goes away? what if a student can't make $30,000 or more?" And that's on us. If we can't produce a certificate or help a student in a degree that's going to get them a job that earns $30,000 or more then that's on us. If they can't be a police officer or a nurse or a teacher or any of the other backbone jobs that are in our mountain communities... an EMT or whatever that might be, that's on us. And certainly we're very, very conscious of the decision that sits in the Supreme Court's hands. We're watching obviously that very carefully. And so the other question is, what if DACA goes away or what if work authorization goes away? And then certainly we would forgive this, but the notion for a couple of our early angel funders as I would describe them was, they said, "Wow, even if it works to some degree, my dollar actually will multiply. We're going support the first student and when the program is successful, those students are going to share their income back into this fund and that will support the next students." So that was, again, a big part of it as well and working with Vemo, they were very interested in this model, and we also, when the devil's in the details, it is a loss leader. It is not one that is based on an interest model or something that I think other institutions use as institutional aid for high cost programs perhaps, or for students that have a gap in their financial aid package or whatever that might be. In our case, it's to do the right thing. It's to make sure that every student has access to funding and resources to help them pursue their education. And this was the equalizer. This tool was an equalizer for our DACA students.

Jon: You mentioned this is... I think one of the things that's particularly unique at least at this phase is, you've seen with most of the other programs that have been out there and some of the proposals to launch new ISAs, that element of zero interest that you offer. Most of them have a component where there is interest attached, so that there is a return. In fact, some of that is done to lure capital investment from outside of the institution to provide those funds. Have you had a good response/receptivity from the philanthropic community as to this approach?

Carrie: We have. Again I mentioned there were two early angel of funders. They kicked in enough for us to have a pilot group of students, and then as this model has sort of caught some steam--we're often asked on a panel or show up in Washington DC--

Jon: Join a podcast.

Carrie: Yeah, join a podcast. And to describe what we're doing differently. It's why Lumina was interested in what we were doing too, because they follow this is policy conversation as well. Sort of fast forward, as we've gotten through some of this and as we've been able to evaluate a little bit more... We had an anonymous donor about, again weird time right now, but it was probably four months ago, I think a half a million dollar anonymous donor, that said, "We think this is the right model." And so, that [unintelligible], we've had a goal of a million dollar [unintelligible] so that it could be self-perpetuating. We're getting close, we're at the the $600-$700,000 range, which is nice. We've had another funder. I will call them, even just as early as this week, that's interested in this model for healthcare-related professions.

Jon: Interesting.

Carrie: That the ISA would be forgiven for those that stay in our rural mountain communities in a nursing capacity and other things and certainly that's really germaine right now, given the COVID-19 backdrop that we're all in. So we always launched this with the notion that if we could put it into the tool kit, and the plug and play, we would want to do that. We've also been very vocal where our congressional leaders have gotten really concerned that this is sort of the next predatory lending risk model and have tried to be at the table to say, it doesn't have to be this. It can be something that can be really worthwhile. It can be a model that can really work. It can particularly work for those who might not have access to other forms of aid.

Jon: And first of all, I just really like the design of the program, but I also like a lot of the thoughtfulness that you put into it, in terms of... I spend a lot of time on the federal policy side, and I think as you correctly noted there's a lot of concern obviously not just by some of the Colorado delegation, but by policy makers across the board about introducing a new financial product that may not have the same understanding among the public as existing forms and the possibilities for abuse. And there's always a concern, whenever something is introduced, that it will be there. And I think that particularly there have been some advocates for these programs who have portrayed them as needing additional changes to federal law to make them operational: changes to lending laws, changes to usery laws superseding state laws in those areas. And just having an example that shows that institutions doing it the right way don't necessarily need any policy changes to serve their students is a great counterpoint, I think, to some of those discussions or some of those proposals that are being put forward.

Carrie: Yeah, and I would say we've been certainly supportive of some bumpers around the use of ISAs. The fear that this is potentially putting the most at-risk students the most at risk. We can look back in history and seeing some of the default rates and so forth. So we're very understanding of the concern around it and we want to be at the table and say it can be really something that can be very powerful and that it can be something that students that don't have access to anything else--this is a model that could work.

Lorelle: I love that, the creativity that you're describing. I wonder if there are some leadership lessons that you have learned along the way of forming something like this with your elected board and with the surrounding community, just going more to the practice side, into your leadership there and how you have cultivated support. Any lessons you learned putting something like this in place with your cabinet? Any reflections there that our listeners can hear about/learn from?

Carrie: So I think I'm going into year seven and I think I mentioned earlier that I stand on the shoulders of Ted Michell. I was his student at UCLA. He was my dissertation chair. So from a standpoint of it all comes back around, right? I feel like I had really, really good mentorship that I rolled the dice and got the right guy and we've stayed really closely in touch and it's been really nice to sort of see the full circle and get really engaged in ACE. I think when I first started at Colorado Mountain College, I'd been on the front range in the Denver area for a long time. I'd been in the foundation world for a long time. I always sort of in the education space. And this notion of investment, returning to the return on the investment notion and Fund Suenos is that, the CMC response, which I described earlier in the podcast, is that. And I think one of the things that I did initially when I arrived in the mountain region and it's sort of full circle back to the demographics is I got on the road and we unveiled and tried to better describe to all of our business partners and mountain communities and philanthropists and anybody that we could who actually is the backbone of these mountain communities. We see the side of these incredibly beautiful mountain towns where the most affluent come to ski and be part of music festivals and all the things that we're very fortunate to be here and we're very fortunate that our funding model is based on this sort of mountain region. 55 years ago when we were created of course none of this existed here. These resort communities and these places didn't exist, so we've kind of written up with these mountain communities but to really go out and show the demographics. I mean, Eagle County Schools, Avon Elementary, which is literally in the shadows of Beaver Creek Ski Resort is almost probably 100 percent free and reduced lunch. That is probably a school that is 80 percent students of Hispanic background, and many of them are un-documented. So I want to go out and share that story. It's always about storytelling. It's always about getting your constituents and your stakeholders and others to recognize and to put you on the same playing field. And I think that's worked. And building an amazing team. You asked about a cabinet, I mean, I've got the best around. I mean, I truly would say the thing I'm the most proud of is the incredible team. We were able to activate this response to COVID-19 in about a week and to get it back out and to try to communicate it and not because it benefits us, that's not the interest. Our job is to make sure that our mountain communities are healthy and that includes our immigrant population, that includes everybody, and we were created as an institution as an open door, at the time, of course, it was ranching and mining and sort of all the things during that period. And now it's something different. And our open door has evolved over time. And now our open door is to make sure that anyone has an opportunity in our mountain communities. And we're really proud in the last five or six years that we've completely erased the achievement gap. Our Hispanic students are actually out-performing all other students at the college. And I will say, as it relates to COVID-19 and what keeps me up at night is losing those equity gains. I am most concerned when I sit on any board call or whatever is that the most at-risk students... we have the possibility that they will have to leave and they will never come back. And so everything that we can do that is incredibly intentional to make sure that those most at-risk marginalized populations stay with us and that we keep them with us, however that is, is really, really critical. So that was the response by our board when our team so we divided and conquered and said, "Go out and figure out the best ideas, let's bring it back and let's figure out what the college can do," this is what it resulted in. So I'm really, really proud of the team, both for what we're doing right now, and certainly in Suenos. It's a good example of what you do when your community support you and you have a team that's ready to go at any possible catastrophe like this. And again, right, the cliche that don't let a good crisis go to waste. We're doing everything we can to make that a possibility.

Jon: Well, we wanna get you back to your great team and the very important work you're doing. Thank you so much, Carrie, for taking the time to talk with us today. I'll let our listeners know that we will be including links to some of the information about the programs underway at Colorado Mountain College and some of the initiatives you're pursuing on the website for this podcast, which can be found at and there'll be links to other resources that Lorelle and I have mentioned, including ACE's work on helping institutions cope with coronavirus as well as updates on the legislative and policy decisions that are being made. So once again, Carrie, thank you so much for joining us.

Carrie: You're welcome, thanks for having us.

Jon: And thanks to everyone who listens to this podcast, we look forward to speaking with you again sometime soon. Be safe and be well.

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