Episode 45: What COVID-19 Has Taught Higher Education Leaders


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired June 17, 2021

Since spring 2020, ACE has surveyed higher education leaders across the country about their experiences and most pressing concerns dealing with COVID-19 on campus. David Richardson, managing director of research for the TIAA Institute, and ACE’s Jon Turk review the year’s results and what they tell us about how to move forward in 2021 and beyond. 

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

Leaders Respond: COVID-19 on Campus

The Digital Divide Among College Students: Lessons Learned From the COVID-19 Emergency Transition
Midwestern Higher Education Compact

Supporting Mental Well-Being for Students of Color
Inside Higher Ed (June 17, 2021)

dotEDU Episode 33: Mental Health on Campus as 2020 Winds Down

Murray, Hirono, Pocan, Scott Introduce Bill to Double Pell Grant, Make College More Affordable


 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith: Hello, and welcome to dotEDU, the higher education policy podcast from the American Council on Education. This week, we're going to be joined later in our episode by two very special guests. Dave Richardson, who is the managing director of research at the TIAA Institute and ACE dotEDU alumni, Jonathan Turk who is with us for a little bit longer at ACE and then off to bigger and better things at St. Louis University. But before we get to them, I am joined, as always, as often, by my colleague, Mushtaq Gunja. And we are missing our colleague, Sarah Spreitzer this week. We were looking forward to having her back, but she wasn't able to join us. Mushtaq that just means more time for you and me to talk right?

Mushtaq Gunja: I think that's great. The worry of course is with Jon Turk, dotEDU alumnus coming back, I'm slightly worried about my spot as guest host. I think that he might be coming back to try to usurp this position. So I'm going to be on my best behavior. I will crack no jokes. I will be very serious all the way through this podcast. What do you think?

Jon Fansmith: Sarah is the smarter one, she simply chose not to show up. You and I could be evaluated against the former co-hosts. She eased out of that. So, as usual, Sarah has outsmarted us. But it's been sort of a quiet week in higher ed since we last recorded. Sort of unusual for a year and a half of what seems like near panic on a constant basis. It's been relatively quiet recently.

Mushtaq Gunja: I think this might just be a normal pace. And we are not used to it because the last 15 months have been so insane. But I guess there is something about sort of the week or two after graduations that those might be the couple of quiet weeks in the academic year. Though, I know that or I think I heard that there was some good news on the double Pell front up on the hill.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. And I think listeners now and certainly ACE members know that. We are very strongly pursuing a legislative fix to double the Pell Grant, restore the purchasing power of that grant. And along those lines, there was a bill introduced this week in the house in the Senate by Senators Mazie Hirono and Patty Murray and then in the house by Representatives Mark Pocan and Bobby Scott. And it really is a fantastic bill. It's something that ACE has endorsed. It would double the Pell Grant, it would do it over five years. We were hoping for something maybe in the shorter term. But beyond that, it does a lot of things. It makes Pell Grants eligible to Dreamers, which is something we've long sought. Not to go into federal budgeting, but it does a few things that essentially ensures that the program will be financially stable going forward and that the program will grow over time. And really the one sort of new and interesting wrinkle is it also provides for a bonus grant on top of the maximum award for students who are really low income have great need, they can actually receive something up and above the maximum award.So it's a very, very good bill. It addresses a lot of the problems the program currently has, particularly to low level of funding and something we would be very hopeful to see now. It's a partisan bill. It's only Democrats are on this endorsement. So that's possibility of passage. It's harder to see but we're going to work on it. And we're very hopeful about where it might go.

Mushtaq Gunja: Partisan for now. I mean, I was so excited to see the bill and I love the idea of trying to solve so many of these problems through the Pell Grant Program. I mean, the plumbing is there, as our president Ted Mitchell always says, and we know how to use it, the money can flow through and it goes for students who need it the most. And so it can be used for two years, four years, publics, privates. I mean, the Pell Grant Program is a magical thing. So I'm glad to see it's getting the attention that it deserves. And I have no doubt that Jon, with your incredible ability to persuade, you'll be able to make this less of a partisan bill. What do you think, Jon?

Jon Fansmith: I may not share your optimism, but I will certainly try. I promise you that. And speaking of trying, I understand you are returning to something you have done many times in the past and are currently teaching a course which is kind of an interesting thing.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah. So my spring course is done, my summer course began. I'm teaching first year crim this summer and I think it's for the... So I'm teaching it entirely online. I think this will be the last time that I teach entirely online. Georgetown Law is moving, as so many of our institutions are, to more of an in-person model in the fall, and I am grateful for that because-

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, how has the online instruction, law school, especially I have these movie versions of the calling, the Socratic method and calling on the person in a sort of confrontational educational style. I didn't go to law school. So it's entirely formed by friends, information and movies.

Mushtaq Gunja: Fansmith, you'd make an excellent attorney. Georgetown has a wonderful part-time program. So we'll talk about that offline. Jon there are portions of the online experience that have translated decently well. The Socratic method, it's actually one of them. I mean, being able to call on individual students, that's doable online. Students just need to unmute and stay on camera and the conversation is pretty good. And we've been able to use breakout rooms in good ways and show a lot of videos and that's really doable online with the share screen function on Zoom, all of that's pretty good. But man, there are definitely some things you miss. You can't read the room in quite the same way. I have a harder time with sort of facial expressions, my bad jokes get met with muted silence, which they do in person too. But it's worse even on Zoom.

Jon Fansmith: Seems more pointed online. Yeah.

Mushtaq Gunja: But Georgetown's doing, as I think so many of our institutions are doing, they are doing the hard work now of trying to figure out how exactly we're going to get back in person, what it will look like. So for the first time, I'm able to meet with my students on campus. This is my fourth class teaching since the pandemic hit and I hadn't been able to see any of my students since. So this is a good first step. But I normally have somewhere between 60 and 90 students in my classes. So what that will look like in terms of classroom space and whether masks will be necessary and all the rest I think are, not up for debate but I know that our institutions are working hard on them, both the Georgetown's specifically but all of our institutions. As we track vaccine requirements and mask requirements, I'm just really looking forward to all the hard work that we're going to see in the next month and happy to talk about it in this podcast.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, I think we actually have a good set of podcast guests to talk with us about just that. Obviously, a hopeful and optimistic time in higher ed is we're looking forward. And we'll get a little sense of not just what college presidents are thinking about the future, but how they weathered the pandemic and how they might have shifted their priorities for when they reopen in person. So that will be when we talk with our guests, Dave Richardson and Jon Turk right after this break.

And welcome back. As we mentioned earlier, we are joined by two very special guests. The first of those is Dave Richardson. He's the head of the TIAA Institute. And Dave, thank you for coming on today and taking the time and sharing your thoughts with us.

David Richardson: Thanks for having me.

Jon Fansmith: Well Jon, I'm actually a little bit hurt by your pending departure. So I don't know if I want to call you a special guest. But-

Jon Turk: Clearly not special enough to make Turk work. We're still trying to make it work. I had to throw it away and come back.

Jon Fansmith: You leave off the exclamation point at the end which is a critical component. As regular listeners may know or may recognize, former dotEDU podcast co-host, Jonathan Turk, who as I mentioned is leaving ACE to become... Or I guess is currently, you are already working in this role, right? As an assistant professor of higher education at St. Louis University?

Jon Turk: That is correct. I am starting it. I mentioned this to a couple of folks. When I actually did my interview, I had a couple people asked me about the dotEDU podcast and how I might think about leveraging the podcast medium as an instructional tool. So I don't want to say that dotEDU got me this new job, but it may have gotten me this new job.

Jon Fansmith: I'm very encouraged to hear that. I assumed they were asking you to explain your participation in the podcasts and how you could justify it. You two are two excellent guests to talk about basically where we are and where we're going in higher education. This is a conversation I think can go into a lot of different directions. But the reason we're coming to it right now is in part because of the partnership between TIAA Institute and ACE, and in particular the work you both have done on serving our member presidents over the last year, the things we've learned through the pandemic. I don't want to give too much, maybe I'll just throw it over to the two of you to talk a little bit about the project.

Jon Turk: No, that sounds good. So yeah, so we actually just concluded our final survey of college university presidents that was part of our original presidential pulse points survey series. And just to give a little bit of background, so in April 2020, which, I don't know about you, but it feels like it's been years. Yeah. But back in April 2020, we launched a new survey research initiative called the Presidential Pulse Point. And this was really intended to be a short survey, only about 5, 10 minutes to complete, that would go out to both ACE members and non-member presidents. So, college and universities across all sectors of higher ed. And we really have three main goals with the survey initiative. So the first, and this is particularly important in the early days of the pandemic, we wanted to better understand how presidents and their institutions were responding to the challenges that were emerging because of the pandemic. Now, our second goal was to really share important insights and to connect presidents with one another, from across the country to kind of form this network of support and information sharing to help them all guide practice during this difficult time. And then our third goal was really to collect key data on institutional challenges and needs to guide ACE's own efforts in both advocating. So what your team Jon has been working on and what my team does in professional learning to help provide that just-in-time research and professional development support to help institutions guide through this difficult time.

So again, beginning in April 2020 and through that summer, we were surveying presidents every month. And again, we were there to try to better understand how they were managing the transition to a predominantly online instruction, kind of what the immediate financial ramifications of the pandemic, how those were kind of playing out their operation plans, their plans for the summer and the fall and how they were meeting student needs during this time. And so just as a quick example from kind of those early surveys, we asked presidents to tell us what issues were top of mind for them. So, what were the issues that were most pressing for them. And, across almost every survey, both in that kind of first part of the pandemic and even a year later, presidents said that student mental health and the mental health and well-being of faculty and staff as well as long term financial viability of their institutions were their top issues. And this was from a list of 15 to 16 issues. And those three really maintain those kind of top spots across all of our surveys. Just for a moment on the mental health and well-being peace, from our surveys, we found out that about 60% of presidents, as a result of the pandemic have said that their institutions are investing more in teletherapy services. Almost half have implemented fully new student engagement strategies to help connect students with those mental health resources. Things that go beyond just kind of the technological needs now that so much of these services have been remote. And a significant share has shared how they've expanded their mental health resources for faculty staff to their employee assistance programs. So kind of fast forwarding for a moment, during the 2020-2021 academic year, I wouldn't say that it was getting old hat, we were still getting new things emerged from the pandemic. But we definitely were entering kind of a new phase of the pandemic and a new phase with almost a new normal. And so we partnered with our colleagues with Dave and our colleagues at the TIAA Institute to survey presidents four times during the academic year. So the 2020-2021 academic year. So twice in the fall and twice in the spring. To cover some of those similar topics that I referenced, but to also begin capturing presidents' perspectives on how the pandemic will shape higher education into the future. So how is the pandemic impacting how colleges and universities operate now and how they might operate into the future.

Jon Fansmith: And, Jon, before we move into, which is great, we're going to ask a few questions about what you found just serving monthly the presidents and their views on the pandemic. Obviously, you mentioned mental health of students and staff as the top two concerns. I think those are overwhelmingly the top two concerns. But what were some of the other things that emerged besides the financial stability. Were there other things that surprised you about it or was it specific to sectors?

Jon Turk: Yeah, so I mean, I think a lot of concern was tied up to both long term and short term financial viability. The short term financial viability was most salient in the early days of the pandemic as we were kind of unpacking what those initial implications would be and kind of predates some of the initial federal aid that was offered to institutions. But a variety of topics kind of have merged up. Presidents have had to rethink auxiliary services and how those services can continue during the pandemic. Presidents have talked about, particularly in the six months, kind of the resurgence of discussions and issues related to racial equity on campus. I think that the murder of George Floyd and other issues have really hoisted that back into the discussion. And our college university presidents have made clear that those are those are issues that they're grappling with and will need to continue grappling with into this next academic year and beyond.

Jon Fansmith: And were there any specific things that... I remember that one I think I looked at the February survey, mental health was by far the top concern overall. But when you looked at community college presidents, for instance, financial stability was actually their top concern just for that sector. Were there any other things like that that popped out at you looking at the data?

Jon Turk: Yeah, I mean I think in particular to the point that you're referencing there too, a lot of it is tied with the enrollment trends that we're seeing. And we're going to talk a little bit here in a moment about some of the future of enrollment. But we know that the pandemic has disproportionately hit community colleges in the enrollment space. So a lot of those types of indicators, the financial indicators, the enrollment indicators, things like that have been impacted disproportionately for community colleges as a result.

Mushtaq Gunja: Jon and Dave, thanks so much for being here. This series has just provided tremendous insight about the future of higher education, both in the short term as we went through the pandemic and I think has just really, really interesting information about how our college and university presidents are thinking about sort of the medium and long term too. Dave, I was wondering if I could ask a question about sort of enrollments. We have seen the enrollment data for both the spring and what preliminary data search shows for the summer and the fall, show that enrollments look like they are going to be down. What do we learn from the Pulse Point survey information about enrollments?

David Richardson: So, first I want to thank ACE for being such a tremendous partner on all these surveys, and we really value the relationship. We've learned a lot from this. And our thanks to you guys for being such great partners. Enrollment has been facing pressure, as you know, for quite a while now. And it's primarily a demographic effect that we're seeing and not just within the United States, but also globally. In fact, the United States has been doing pretty well with maintaining kind of a stable student population relative to the rest of the world. In particular Europe and East Asia, I would say we're way ahead of us with declining birth rates and the pressure that puts on kind of the number of college seats that are available versus the number of students that we have to fill them. Coming out of the pandemic, what we see is I think it's very clear that unlike previous kind of crises where you intend to see a big increase, for example, in the number of individuals going to community college really for the purpose of increasing their human capital and being able to attract higher wages in the market, this time we're seeing a big decline. There's been a bit of a bounce back, I was just looking at the 2020 data, there's been a little bit of a bounce back to community college. But it's been declining. Historically, community colleges had actually greater enrollment, we know, than what you saw from four year institutions. That has basically flip flopped after the financial crisis, it hasn't come back. I think in the longer term, what we're going to see is just continued pressure, not so much within the next five years perhaps, but within about 10 years, there's going to be tremendous pressure on our institutions to be able to fill all their college seats as birth rates continue to climb.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah Dave, I noticed that too. That our presidents that are four year institutions, about half of them saw an increase in applications, about half saw decrease in applications for the 2021 year, but that the number of our community college presidents who said that they saw a decline was pretty significant. Are we seeing a decline in particular populations of students?

David Richardson: That's very difficult to say. I mean, what we do know is that after the Great Recession, there was actually about a 10 percentage point increase in the number of high school students going on to university or college. And that's been fairly stable. I think what we're seeing is pressures perhaps in the short term that may be more financially driven. As we have uncertainty around the ability to pay for higher education, but at the community college level and at the university level then you might see people making the option to say that I'm going to test the labor market with the high school credentials and see if I can go with that for a couple of years. I do think that over time, what we do need is a deep commitment to making sure that first generation college students and groups that have historically been outside of the higher education market, this is a time to make sure that those groups still have access and opportunity. And more importantly I think, given some of the pressures that we see on budgets, especially in public education, that they have the tools to be successful. It's not really a big boon for these groups if they can get into college but they're not successful at completing it. We know that the getting either at a two year or four year level, completing your human capital investment is very critical, especially if you're debt financing it.

Mushtaq Gunja: As it relates to enrollment, have our institutions, have they made changes at all to their admissions processes as sort of a result of these demographic changes and sort of the pandemic? And Dave let me ask that both in the short term and the long term, have you gotten any sense that any changes to the admissions process are going to be more permanent in nature?

David Richardson: That's a great question. And I don't have a good answer for that. My read of the data is there have been substantial changes in the short run. The poll surveys indicate, as you know, that a large proportion of the institutions actually made the standardized test optional in the past year. I think it's an interesting question to see if this is going to persist out into the future. Historically, standardized testings were seen as a way to level set against different kinds of educational experiences. Right? So they had a definite role. I think more recently though, you've seen some legitimate concerns about what we actually learned from standardized testing and what it's future role should be. I do believe that there is a role for it in certain instances. I think in other instances that it's probably not as necessary. I do think our higher ed institutions are doing a tremendous job trying to attract a diverse, well-rounded student body. And I think that's an important goal of higher education, is not just to view themselves as kind of a gateway for future job success. But I think encouraging diversity is also a great way to encourage the students they bring in to think about their role as citizens in our country and how they fit into society. So I think we're moving in the right direction.

Jon Turk: I would just add to that, Mushtaq. I mean, one of the things that we've learned from our presidents in the survey is, on one standpoint there's certainly a lot to be done in the admissions side. But there's also a lot of work to be done to reengage the students, right? That were not retained as a result of the pandemic. And so, throughout our survey, presidents had mentioned their institutions really increasing the amount of outreach that was being done to these communities, the students that were enrolled and then departed, recognizing that for many of these students, they had to depart because of the challenging job market, job loss, had to depart for childcare reasons, for a lot of these other types of issues. And so providing and establishing additional or increasing the amount of financial aid that's available to these students to help defray some of those costs and make that possible. Presidents have also talked about using the pandemic as an opportunity to really review institution-wide policies and practices that hinder student success. The kind of adage of, "We've always done it this way. That's why we do it," kind of went out the window, I think in certain regards in the pandemic. I'll share just one very brief and it sounds like a trivial kind of example. But just, for instance, removing paper processes for things that seem fairly mundane, to have to fill out a paper form to drop a class for instance and requiring that paper form to be walked to three different buildings on campus to get signed to be able to make an adjustment to your schedule. I think of a particular university that has science and technology in its name that still had that process all the way up until the pandemic, but has now as a result, been able to push through and develop digital processes that help reduce those kinds of barriers to students. But even in that one specific example, we've also seen a variety of ways to increase the accessibility and reduce those barriers to the financial aid process to students support processes, to academic advising and such, all as tools to help really retain students and reengage students.

Jon Fansmith: And following up on that, you've talked about some of the changes to the operations at institutions. Well, this obviously driven by the sort of sudden shift to an online only learning environment. Given that sudden shift some of these things make sense in retrospect you can say, but we're also planning, I think for the most part, to return to a predominantly in-person, educational experience in the fall. Are there other elements of, particularly like instructional delivery or things like that, that we're looking back and saying, "Digitalizing our withdrawal process makes a lot of sense." What else is making sense to presidents? What are they thinking about implementing going forward?

Jon Turk: Exactly. So that kind of goes to some of that forward looking that we were hoping to capture in our survey. So, in two of our surveys in the spring semester, we asked presidents to talk about some of these areas that they made changes. So we had one group that really looked at kind of student service areas. And we had another question that really focused on some institutional level policies and practices, things like construction, things like employment practices, some other areas like that. And so I mean, you hit the nail on the head there. We began by asking presidents, "Which of these students service areas did you make some or substantial amount of changes to?" As you probably wouldn't be surprised, right? The presidents said, "Look, we really overhauled our dining and residence life services because we went digital," right? And so that wasn't so surprising. But when we asked presidents to tell us, "In these areas that you've made changes, where are you most likely to keep some of those changes? What are some of the areas that you think are going to be really shaped by the pandemic moving forward?" Three quarters of presidents said that they plan to maintain changes to how academic advising and student counseling services work because of the pandemic.

Over half said they expect to maintain changes to academic support services, new student orientation and family programs. At admissions, we were talking about test scores and other items like that a moment ago. But changes to admissions, some of those being kept into the future. And some of the qualitative information we collected in the survey, presidents helped us to understand what some of those actual changes were that they were keeping. And so, as you would probably guess, right? A lot of folks have found that the virtual environment can really provide a convenience factor for students and really to increase the participation in some of those services. So presidents talked about moving to online scheduling of appointments. One institution said that their academic advising was totally walk-in, there were no appointment-based systems available for academic advising. They've now created appointment based systems and they're using online tools to communicate that. You would guess, right? Some virtual advising and counseling sessions. It's not as if all advising and counseling is going to remain in a virtual standpoint, but that for some students, the flexibility offered in that kind of delivery is really helpful.

Jon Fansmith: It's so interesting, especially in those areas where I think we have often thought that in-person is sort of the gold standard, right? When you're doing counseling, the importance of doing it face to face. When we're talking federal policy, a lot of times it's, "How do we get past the shortcuts and get to something like that?" The institutions are actually seeing increased participation when they do this?

David Richardson: Can I put a thought on... So one is I'd like to say that I'm both amazed and impressed at how quickly institutions pivoted during a crisis. The kind of the standard model of an institution is very disaggregated down to the school and even at the departmental level. And I think that caused some problems at first. And I think it's just amazing. And it showed the strength of the U.S. higher education system, how quickly most institutions quickly pivoted to doing what they've done. And as Johnson said many times for years and years and years without any thought of ever changing it to a new model. That said, I would say, I think one of the big challenges that we face in this country is still kind of technological gaps between a number of students having access to technology, being able to leverage it and were able to use it very effectively during the pandemic. And a large proportion, both rural and urban, who have no access to technology or the internet may have to go... Students were having to go to the Starbucks or to the public library to be able to continue the pursuit of their college degree. Now that said, getting back to your kind of question, I'm a big believer in the in-person experience. I'm old enough to remember when we thought that MOOCs were going to take over.

Jon Fansmith: It wasn't that long ago.

David Richardson: It wasn't that long ago. It seems like-

Jon Fansmith: I think we're all old enough to remember that.

David Richardson: It just seems like a long time ago. And again, we heard a lot of feedback that this was going to be transformative, that universities were never going to be the same, that it was going to go to a completely online experience. And I think we're kind of hitting on this, a big component I think of the higher education experience is the in-person component, right? Of moving on and getting out there, being involved. And so I do think with advising, it will go back to what I would call more of a hybrid model, of in-person still being very important but also being able to leverage technology in a way that most institutions didn't before.

Jon Fansmith: And raising the idea of a hybrid model is such a good one too because we've been talking about how do institutions serve students? How do they enroll students? But institutions are big employers, right? And presidents are responsible for their staffs as well as their students. This hybrid model is, with the changes you're seeing from what the presidents are saying going forward. What does that mean actually for their employment, for how they're going to employ their staff? How they're going to use them?

Jon Turk: Yeah. So I mean, we had some questions that got to that in some of our surveys. I think one that really speaks to that was this kind of new world that we live in right now, with flexible work arrangements, partially on campus, partially in virtual spaces. And so we asked presidents if they were planning to continue that kind of flexible model for both faculty and staff. We asked that individually or those two groups separately into the future kind of post pandemic. And about 40% of presidents... And now, keeping in mind, that's just right now in this particular moment. But at this moment, 40% of presidents report that they do plan to continue allowing remote work and flexible work arrangements for at least some employees. The reality is, I think there will still be certain staff positions, certain faculty positions that the in-person, on-campus experience is so integral to certain institutions' missions that that's never going to go away. You can't necessarily substitute that for a full, online kind of experience, which I think is exactly what Dave's talking about when we talk about the kind of residential core for so many of our colleges and universities. But for other institutions, they've seen that.

One, an increasing number of employees are looking for these kinds of flexible arrangements. And in many cases, these kinds of services in particular can be delivered effectively, cost effectively and have good benefits for students. One president, I actually pulled this up just a second ago, when talking about moving some of their academic support services into this kind of digital realm. One president said, "We have seen better and more consistent utilization of services. No-shows for our tutoring appointments for example, have dropped from about 30% to negligible." So those shifting to that kind of online environment for tutoring, for instance, increased the the uptake rate of those kinds of services. So there might still be those kinds of opportunities for institutions.

Jon Fansmith: And this shift online. Dave, I want to follow up on something you were talking about which I actually spent a lot of time on here at ACE. This idea that when you shift your services, when you shift your instruction to an online environment, that's only effective for students if they can access those courses with a reliable connection, if they have the devices necessary to participate in coursework. And one of the things I think we learned from the pandemic was not just there's a lot of students who don't have that. And the pandemic certainly exacerbated the problems they have. There's a lot of institutions actually that lack the resources to help address that. You certainly heard about schools that would be putting routers out into the parking lot and doing things to expand the range. But we're talking community colleges, other institutions that may not be as well resourced, they didn't have those options. So what do you think is needed to make sure that if we are going forward with this hybrid model, a heavier reliance on the online environment, what do you think is needed to make that actually work for the majority of students, especially those we're most concerned about?

David Richardson: I think we need an infrastructure investment, and that comes from government not from the higher ed community or K-12 even. And I think there's a number of proposals out there that point that, in the same way that we had the REA back in the '20s and '30s and electrified the United States, we need kind of the same similar programming that provides internet infrastructure for everybody. I can tell the story about a former staffer of mine that was from rural, eastern North Carolina and all he had kind of dial up. And so, when he was going doing his, and this wasn't that long ago, when he was doing his college apps, he would have to do them in the middle of the night because the only time he could get enough speed on the dial up connection to actually be able to do his applications. I think it's easy when we're in environments where we all have the technology we need and everything's instantaneous. I think that the large number of American households that still don't have this type of technological access. And, like I said, it's not just a rural issue. I was very surprised to find out that I live in Charlotte, North Carolina, that the proportion of kids in K-12 that did not have internet accessing at home. And so I do think this is a national imperative. And it's an area where infrastructure investment can really help improve at fairly low costs, I think. Bang for the buck, if you think about the return on per dollar investment. Kind of an access, availability and the ability. And as Jonathan was kind of pointing out, the ability to leverage technology from kind of an economic perspective lowers transaction costs for doing certain things. Advising, tutoring, classes for people. You think about people that might have to drive an hour to go to a community college. It can really, really make a big difference in allowing people to have that access that they currently do not have.

Mushtaq Gunja: Can I pivot us over to another topic that we referenced earlier that I know was high on the list of pressing issues for our presidents. And that issue is related to diversity, equity and inclusion on campus. I think, had we been on campus last summer and last fall, especially in the wake of the George Floyd murder, I think we would have seen some pretty significant protests on campus. And I know that our college presidents have been thinking about this, thinking about ways to promote anti-racist teaching and really think through ways to promote diversity, equity and inclusion on campus. What did we learn from our surveys about these topics?

Jon Turk: Yeah. So particularly in our most recent survey, we learned that these issues are important to our presidents and that presidents are taking actions now to help facilitate conversations and to take actions on that. They also see it becoming a little bit easier when folks are predominantly back on campus. And so they're still seeing that much of this work will need to continue into the next academic year for sure and beyond. But in one of our questions, we asked presidents to share the kinds of anti-racist initiatives their campus was facilitating and what they were planning to facilitate maybe in the next academic year. We gave about 10, I think on that list for them to indicate, from all this highlight kind of the top three. Because these three, over 75% of presidents said these are things that are currently going on in their campus and will continue to go into the next academic year. So one is just hosting those kinds of open and real dialogues, those discussions with students, faculty and staff around racism and racial equity at their institution and in society more broadly. Hosting multicultural events and other items like that on campus to promote that cross-cultural learning, that can be really special at an institution, at a higher education institution where you're able to bring in so many diverse groups of folks to live and learn together. And then in really increasing efforts to recruit and hire underrepresented faculty and staff. This is an issue that I think gets brought up quite a bit in this space and how we think about diversifying both the pipeline into faculty and administrative roles, but then also to diversify the administration and the faculty and staff itself. I think there's a lot of work to be done here. And I think it's certainly a positive to see that this many presidents have highlighted this as an initiative that they're working on right now. But I would also say that we're ready to start seeing some results. And so we'll be looking forward, hopefully into our future surveys. We will be pivoting our survey series a little bit away from COVID and more to kind of the pressing issues that are facing presidents as we move beyond COVID, starting this fall. I think we'll be wanting to learn a little bit more and unpack what institutions are doing around these three specific areas that I mentioned.

David Richardson: And I would add in there that I think that Jonathan hit on kind of an issue that's very dear to me, is the role of tenure in faculty recruitment. And we all know that tenure has been on a long, slow decline for decades now. I worry a lot about, at a time when we have women and historically excluded groups coming into the professoriate in unprecedented numbers, tenure opportunities are not as available as they used to be. And I think it's a role for all of us to consider what are the implications of that and what does that mean?.....

Jon Fansmith: And I want to thank both of you for raising these questions. I think certainly the work you've done has highlighted some areas obviously where higher education's I think maybe surprised people, but obviously lots of work left to do. And luckily, we'll have both of you doing that work, doing the research and informing us so we have a better idea to improve our public policy and institutional practice. Dave, Jon, or I should say, Turk. Thank you both so much for joining us today.

Jon Turk: Absolutely. I was glad to be back.

David Richardson: Yeah. Thanks for having me. It was wonderful being here today.

Jon Fansmith: It's great having you. And I'm sure we'll be talking to you both often in the future. To listen to earlier episodes and subscribe to dotEDU, you can find us on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, Google Podcast and wherever you get your podcasts. For show notes and links to resources mentioned in the episode, you can go to our website at acenet.edu/podcast. And you can also use our email, podcast@acenet.edu. For suggestions for upcoming shows or guests you'd like to see or just thoughts on how we're doing. Before we go, I'd like to thank Carly O'Connell, Laurie Arnston, Audrey Hamilton and Malcolm Moore, who are the exceptional producers of dotEDU and make us sound as good as we do every episode. And finally, I'd like to thank you for listening.

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​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major public policy 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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