Episode 27: dotEDU Turns One!


As colleges settle into their reopening plans and Congress takes a break from negotiating a relief bill, dotEDU hosts Jon Fansmith, Sarah Spreitzer, and Jon Turk look back on the first year of the podcast and talk about their favorite episodes. They also look ahead to what will happen in a post-COVID higher ed world.

dotEDU is taking a break until September! In the meantime, please go ahead and subscribe to a short podcast series from ACE focused exclusively on reopening college campuses also from the American Council on Education. You can find it at www.acenet.edu/conversations or search “American Council on Education” on your podcast app.

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. Today's a very special episode because today, dotEDU turns one year old. And so as part of this special episode, we have a special format where I'm joined by not one, but two of my co-hosts, Jon Turk, associate director for research here at ACE, and Sarah Spreitzer, director for government relations. Is that our title?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, director of government relations.

Jon Fansmith: Excellent. And I am Jon Fansmith, director of government relations, unaware of my own title here at ACE as well. Hi, guys. Sarah Spreitzer: Hey, Jon.

Jon Turk: Hello.

Jon Fansmith: Are you as excited as I am that this is our one year anniversary?

Sarah Spreitzer: I can't believe it's only been a year. Really feels like we packed a decade into the last year. What an exciting first season for the podcast.

Jon Fansmith: That's right. We can't complain about a lack of material, right?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah.

Jon Fansmith: It's certainly been an interesting one and we're going to talk a little bit about this later I know, but you look back over the episodes we've done, and this is our 27th episode. So it's been quite an eventful year, but you do see that progression from pre-COVID times to post-COVID times and the impact on what people are interested in and what we've been talking about. But we are heading into August. As we record this it's August 10th. For a lot of our listeners, things start to slow down in the August season, so we are taking a break and we will return in September, but before we head away for a few weeks, I just want to touch base and have a little brief conversation about what is still happening in the higher ed world. Obviously lots and lots and lots of things are happening. And I thought maybe the easiest way to do this is just ask each of you what you're working on right now. So Sarah, I will give you a pole position here. You can lead off. What are you working on?

Sarah Spreitzer: Well, similar to you, Jon, I'm waiting to find out if Congress is actually going to take an August recess and if they do, if they're going to be able to get a relief package out. I guess we're kind of in August recess, right? I mean, are we?

Jon Fansmith: They've gone home so it's basically recess.

Sarah Spreitzer: But they're still negotiating on some sort of COVID-19 relief package or at least leadership is negotiating on that. So we're waiting to see that. And then I think a lot of our campuses are figuring out how to reopen campuses or what online learning looks like. And so we're continuing to support our campuses in that sort of effort. Obviously, I was working a lot on international student issues earlier this month and that seems to have played out where international students are going to be allowed to come here to study as long as their campuses are on a hybrid model. And if they're online only, then they'll have to remain in their home countries. And what we're watching right now is as U.S. consulates reopen whether or not there will be the smooth processing of visas for students who will be coming here for programs that are either open fully or a hybrid program.

Jon Fansmith: And do you think there will be a smooth process, Sarah?

Sarah Spreitzer: I'm going to predict, no. I don't think any-

Jon Fansmith: That seems like the safe money proposition.

Sarah Spreitzer: I don't think any process this fall has been very smooth. I mean, at every level, right? For every single industry or business or every aspects of our lives. I mean, I think no one really knows what's going to happen.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. I mean, when you start the sentence by, when the consulates start to reopen that right there indicates not the normal situation.

Sarah Spreitzer: And I think that even if they start to reopen, there's a chance that we could see them start to close again, right? So I think China's been one of the places where they're starting to reopen, or they're starting to think about reopening, but obviously if they see another surge in infections they'll close again.

Jon Fansmith: All right. Well, and Jon, what have you been working on?

Jon Turk: Well, it's been an interesting time for us as well. I think on a larger kind of scale when your profession is social research and studying higher education institutions and then something like the pandemic comes around and upends all of that, it really requires us to think through the process of research and our research questions. Suddenly, the studies that we were planning on about online education have to look a little bit different now that the pandemic came in and most of our institutions transitioned to mostly online learning. Fielding surveys, reaching out and doing interviews and focus group research with presidents and other college administrators, all has to look a little bit different when institutions have transitioned to predominantly online or even temporarily closed because of the pandemic. So just from a standpoint of thinking through or the approach to research and research questions, we've had our hands full there. Really pivoting to making sure we're really focused on supporting institutions during the pandemic. 

One of the big research projects that we have been able to shift to and change gears towards was our Pulse Point survey series. So I've been at ACE for about six years and over that period of time, we've done periodic surveys of presidents on kind of hot topic or emerging issues in higher education. We've done some around admissions. We've done some around student mental health issues. Since April now, we've been serving presidents monthly to learn a little bit more about how their institutions are responding to the challenges, what are the kinds of leadership challenges and what kind of support ACE can help provide institutions during this time. And so just a couple of weeks, we wrapped up our fourth survey in that series, the July survey. It's been very, very interesting. We've been tracking over time what some of the kind of top of mind issues have been for presidents. Probably not surprising to anyone, fall enrollment has been routinely at the top of those issues, how to reopen safely in the fall. But you do see some shifts. I mean, very early on in our surveying back in April, the long-term financial viability of the institution was top of mind for presidents. They were really that concerned about how are we going to weather this? And luckily, and as different aid packages and other things have come out, that issue is still there, but it's not as prevalent as it was at least when things first started. We've been tracking how presidents are estimating or what they're estimating for their fall enrollment. Again, early on in the survey process, we had just about three quarters of all presidents expecting to see a decline in their fall enrollment this year relative to last year. But around June, we saw that pattern shift a little bit to folks still about half of which expecting their fall enrollment to decline, but not quite as dire as it was at the beginning to even just this last month in July, where again the public four-year and their private four-year institutions, about half of them are expecting a fall enrollment decline. That's kind of been stable now for the last couple of months. The community college presidents that actually shot back up to being even more pessimistic about their fall enrollment prospects than they were in April. So that was three quarters of presidents at community colleges expecting that enrollment decline. But we've really just been pulling a lot of really interesting intelligence from those surveys thinking and looking at how presidents are planning to work with their students and how they bring them back onto campus and how they do that safely, their thoughts and predictions around the shift from maybe in person instruction to more hybrid learning or exclusively online learning, and just really quite a few other topics, all of which is available on our website in the research area.

Jon Fansmith: I mean, I'll just say as somebody who works in the policy side and tries to explain to Congress what campuses are thinking, this has been a hugely useful exercise. We talked about declines in enrollment and the financial impact, we talked about reopening and the plans. And I think having that kind of data that you guys have been pulling together direct from college leaders really helps people understand what they're facing and sort of the enormity of the scope that they're facing. So just personally, it's been incredibly helpful to me and I think it's fascinating to see, especially the progression over time like you're talking.

Jon Turk: And it really does speak to what you were just saying, which is they're essentially, the surveys are snapshots in time. The context, the circumstances are ever evolving and so presidents are having to, I think back early to one of our surveys and one of our open-ended comments, we had a president say, "Well, essentially you need to develop five or six plans and just be ready at any moment to shelve the one you thought was going to happen because the content is going to change and you're going to need to be prepared for the next set of challenges."

Sarah Spreitzer: So I don't know if either of you guys went back and listened to some of the earlier podcasts, but I went back and listened to the ones that we did in the early part of COVID-19 on the ones that we did with like Terry Hartle and Carrie Hauser and it was so interesting because I think at the time we were all thinking, scrambling to figure out what was going to happen with the spring as campuses were shutting down. But thinking that we might be back to normal by the fall, right? That this was kind of a blip and talking about the fact that we might see a dip in enrollments and that there may be students that decide not to come back if part of it is online. But I don't think any of us realized how long this would go on for, or how much it would cause problems and kind of planning for that fall semester.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. And I think it's a really good point too, because part of it is obviously being ACE and the voice for higher education here in DC, a lot of what we've represented to the federal government in terms of what colleges, universities need reflects that information we're hearing from campuses. And as the mood has changed, as the focus has changed, what we've learned is campuses need and want to move forward has changed. When we talked about the first spending bill and Jon, you referenced it, it was keep schools afloat. They were getting hammered refunding money, they didn't know what was going to happen. It was a lifeline, an emergency lifeline. Now we've had a little bit of time to set in and look at the longer term trends and obviously that same period was kind of hope, well, let's weather the storm and then fall might be back to normal and maybe a few tweaks and people have to wear a mask or something. Now we're looking at enrollment declines where schools are reporting 20% or 40%, huge declines in some cases and cuts and state funding that are massive in scale. And so there's been a real emphasis on the fact that, look, this isn't just a moment in time we need to get past, this is something that's going to have a profound and lasting impact on campuses and if it's not going to be a profoundly negative one, we need a lot of support. And so I think Sarah, you talked about, we're all kind of waiting on Congress to do a supplemental spending bill, certainly where I've been spending all my time. Sadly, that process collapsed on Friday, where in the two sides are no longer talking so that's on hold at least and maybe permanently off the table.

Jon Turk: Great.

Sarah Spreitzer: So Jon, are you using this podcast to make that one last ditch effort to lobby any members of Congress who may be listening to our podcast, that we need the next relief package?

Jon Fansmith: I'm not sure how many more, or how much more desperately I can make that plea. It feels like I've been saying the same things for about four months now and sadly as I pointed out, the talks collapsed. So it's still a statement to my effectiveness anyway.

Sarah Spreitzer: Well, but the other thing I would say, the other thing that struck me going back to listen to our old podcasts was how much the work of our institutions of higher education has continued even with kind of everything being thrown up in the air. So like listening to Dr. Hauser talk about the work at the Colorado Mountain College, right? That was right around the same time campuses were shutting down, but she was talking about how they were going to pivot to support their community. And Jon and I talked to Lamar Hilton from Kent State a few weeks ago about reopening their campus and the activity that they're doing to support their students and their community. And so that was really impressive to go back and listen to those conversations and realize what our institutions are doing and their mission of education and research and serving the community. That's still very much ongoing.

Jon Fansmith: And I think that's actually a really interesting point too, Sarah, because we've talked about this. This is the one year anniversary, and we've talked a little bit about that pre-COVID/post-COVID what we've done. Looking back you identified two episodes and why they were special to you, just before we sort of wrap up for the summer, I thought it might be an interesting thing to ask, go around and just say what were the episodes you liked and why, and what affected you about that? And Sarah you've already started that process, so may be Jon, I'll kick it over to you and say looking back over the last year, what stood out to you? What was the highlight of the year for you on the podcast?

Jon Turk: So I have my episode in mind, but I think kind of what Sarah just said, kind of looking at it through the lens of what it means, given the current circumstances and the pandemic and it actually is going to add another kind of layer to some of what I'm about ready to share. 

But no, I mean, I don't think it's any surprise to anyone who knows me, that I'm going to pick the episode that we focused really on community colleges. So our interview with Karen Stout at Achieving the Dream. And I was thinking, I actually just re-listened to it again, even today, just in prep for this and there was a little exchange where we were joking, but we counted something like eight or nine different functions of the community college. She was giving experience our giving counts of her experience with Montgomery College and so talking about the traditional kind of community college education mission, but also dual enrollment and continuing education and community arts center, and just a variety of functions like that. And you kind of think about how that institution or how community colleges are in many cases rising to the continued support of their communities right now, opening and maintaining food pantries, serving as sites for testing within their communities, opening up resources and making available internet in the parking lot for students and for others in the community that need that kind of access. 

And so that was one of my favorite episodes just in general, because we really had a nice opportunity to talk about a sector of higher education that I love and that I had my start in as well listen someone who eventually became a community college president and now leaves one of the largest initiatives to strengthen community college success in the country, who began by struggling to get that first job as an academic advisor at that college. And like I said, I think the more and more, I just think about it in the given context right now of the pandemic and the students and the communities that community colleges traditionally serve, they're going to need it more now than any time I think in our recent history.

Jon Fansmith: And thank you, Jon. I mean, I co-hosted that with you and it was... certainly in my role as a podcast host that was a great one, not just because the content was so engaging, but really both you and Dr. Stout, the passion and interest and information you brought to that discussion. It's kind of easy to sit back and watch this great discussion unfold in front of you and I had, as I mentioned on that episode, a small personal connection to Montgomery College, but really what was just captivating for me was the level of just passion that you both brought to the subject. And I think your point about the seven or eight different things the community college does when we were talking about that in the pre-COVID context, it's greatly amplified now. So I would say that was certainly one of my favorite episodes. 

I think there were a couple others and it's really the same thing. I noticed that I was going back and listening to the things that struck me was I really liked a lot of ones that were pre-COVID and I don't know, that probably speaks to my own sense of mental and emotional wellbeing, I like revisiting those. But it was the common element, episode 15, where we talk with Joyce Smith of NACAC who is retiring and had 30 years of admissions expertise and had a certain, I think, candor and freedom to talk with this great experience and this great depth of knowledge at a time when admission certainly was a subject of a lot of controversy. And I thought she was such a refreshing voice not just the authority with which she spoke but that sort of openness to different feedback, different perspectives, just a wonderful person to talk to. And similarly, when we talked with John King, I mean, this is a person who has an incredible story. He tells it in a manner that just is riveting to deal with. And it was just a pleasure to spend some time talking to him and hearing about not just his views, but how he came to those views, which I think probably has been the best part of this podcast for me is meeting a lot of people. 

It's not a surprise to people who listen to this. I'm not an expert in a lot of the areas we cover week to week, but for me, that's been wonderful. I've been learning a lot about different subjects and you're learning it from people who come in and give you their background, give you their perspective, share information, help explain it to you in a way that you start to say like, uh, free speech we did with Lara Schwartz and Michelle Deutchman. And it's not a subject that I cover here at ACE, it's a subject I'm interested in a general governance sense, but to hear their stories and why they cared and how that applies in the college context, you're like, "This is just absolutely fascinating."

Jon Turk: I mean, it really is a pretty interesting and unique opportunity to be able to speak with such a diverse group of folks and stuff.

Jon Fansmith: Well, we have a whole another year coming up at least hopefully more, although I think that all depends on the evaluations of our performance so good job today, guys, at least maybe got ourselves a few more episodes.

Sarah Spreitzer: Well, I think Jon, for you, it's going to depend on whether or not the next relief package gets passed. So we'll keep our fingers crossed on that.

Jon Fansmith: I assume my employment at ACE is conditional on that. So they're certainly not going to keep me as the podcast host if I'm not allowed to, I was going to say not allowed in the building, but that's not really a condition of employment these days so...

Sarah Spreitzer: That's right.

Jon Fansmith: Well, anyway, we're going to wrap it up at this point. I always enjoy talking to the two of you both when it's recorded and certainly maybe more so when it's not being recorded, but thanks again for being here to celebrate our one year anniversary and that's going to be it for the final episode of this first season ofdotEDU. You can listen to-

Sarah Spreitzer: Yay.

Jon Fansmith: Yay. You can listen to all the episodes we talked about today at our website, www.acenet.edu/podcast and I'd encourage you as we often do please, don't hesitate to reach out and give us feedback about what you liked, maybe what you disliked about this podcast. All of that's very helpful to us. And similarly, we'd love suggestions about guests you'd like to hear from topics you'd like to cover or even topics you'd like us to cover more. Anything that you'd like us to touch on next season. To reach out and do that you can email us at podcast@acenet.edu. 

And finally, if you really can't live without hearing about what's going on in higher ed these next few weeks, please go ahead and subscribe to a short podcast series from ACE focused exclusively on reopening college campuses, obviously a hot button issue in August when other things might be more on the back burner. That podcast is hosted by my colleagues at ACE, Phillip Rogers and Sherri Hughes and they've been engaging in some really thought provoking and candid conversations with college presidents, chancellors, and other members of the higher education community about how to ensure campuses are safe and workable for students. You can find several episodes of that podcast already posted online and on your podcast app. Some of their guests include Timothy White who's the chancellor of the California State University system and also someone I think I've mentioned before had testified before Congress about reopening and was a really powerful voice for higher education during that hearing, as well as Randy Woodson, the North Carolina State University chancellor. That podcast is also available on our website. You just need to go to www.acenet.edu/conversations to listen to previous episodes and stay tuned for more throughout the next month. And you can also search for it on your podcast app by typing in American Council on Education. 

Finally, before we totally completely wrap up, I think I've said finally, four times now, the biggest reason this podcast happens, the biggest reason it sounds as good as it does, we have an amazing team behind us who make this happen every week, keep us prepped to make sure it sounds good. Those are producers Laurie Arnston, Audrey Hamilton, Malcolm Moore, and Carly O'Connell. And so I want to give them a huge, huge, huge, thank you for everything they do. Obviously they don't get as much shine as the rest of us do, but the reason this is as good as it is, is because of them. 

And then finally, finally, my fifth finally that's the sendoff on, thanks to you guys, Jon, Sarah, and wherever you are out there Lorelle for all of the work you did and contributed to making this a successful first year of dotEDU. So thanks everybody and we'll be back in September.

About the Podcast

​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page.

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