Federal Dollars, Creative Leaders Help Two-Year Colleges Post-COVID


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired May 6, 2022

Community colleges saw steep declines in enrollment during the​ pandemic. But creative leaders like President Bill Pink of Grand Rapids Community College are trying to reverse the trend. As he prepares to take on a new role as president at Ferris State University, Pink talks about how he used millions in federal and state dollars and other initiatives to invest in helping students continue their postsecondary journey and encourage access to college. Jon, Sarah, and Mushtaq also discuss the buzz around the White House’s plans for student loan forgiveness, the leaked Supreme Court opinion that could overturn abortion rights, and the status of U.S. research competitiveness legislation.​


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

U.S. Competitiveness Package: Recent Developments, Anticipated Timeline and Conferees
JD Supra | April 11, 2022

White House Officials Weigh Income Limits for Student Loan Forgiveness
The Washington Post (sub. req.) | April 30, 2020

Supreme Court Has Voted to Overturn Abortion Rights, Draft Opinion Shows
Politico | May 3, 2022

Community College Students Make the Most of COVID-19 Federal Aid

Ed Source | August 25, 2021

College Enrollment Decline Continues in Michigan, Though Two-Year Institutions Rebounded
M Live (sub. req.) | January 14, 2022

Colleges Look to Attract Older Students
Grand Rapids Business Journal | April 29, 2022

New Scholarship Available to Attend GRCC for Frontline Workers Ineligible for Federal Financial Aid
M Live (sub. req.)| December 2, 2021

Why so Few Students Transfer From Community Colleges to Four-Year Universities
The Hechinger Report | June 1, 2020

Patrick Lyoya fled Congo to Escape War. A Traffic Stop in Michigan Cost him his Life
NPR | March 22, 2022​


 Read this episode's transcript

​​Jon Fansmith: Hello, and welcome to dotEDU, the higher education policy podcast from the American Council on Education. A little later in the podcast, we're going to be joined by a really exceptional guest, Dr. Bill Pink, the current president of Grand Rapids Community College, and I don't know if he's just been announced, but the soon-to-be President of Ferris State University. But before that I am joined as always by my wonderful co-hosts, Sarah Spreitzer and Mushtaq Gunja. How are you guys doing today?

Mushtaq Gunja: Doing great. I got to see Sarah in person today. I am a happy, happy person.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. You guys go for walks to Panera, and you don't invite me, so-

Sarah Spreitzer: You're not in the office, Jon. If you started coming into the office, then you would also get invited to walks to Panera.

Jon Fansmith: Maybe if you invited me, I'd come into the office, right? Why are you putting this all on me?

Sarah Spreitzer: Are we trying to get Panera as a sponsor? Because we could also talk about how Mushtaq is part of the Panera Coffee Club.

Mushtaq Gunja: That's true. And I got a dozen bagels today too, then was accused by a team member of wanting to eat all of those said bagels, which I don't know if many of our listeners have seen me in person, but I don't think that I probably could eat 12 bagels.

Jon Fansmith: You have to call them delicious bagels. If we want Panera's response, you've got to sell it a little bit more other than, "I can't actually eat their product." That's not going to get us a response to this.

Mushtaq Gunja: Incredibly sliced, delicious Asiago cheese bagels that my children gobble up by the bagelful almost every morning.

Jon Fansmith: Panera bagels, the only bagels I'll come into the office for. Is that, maybe, no? Okay.

Sarah Spreitzer: Well we've already gone off the rails-

Jon Fansmith: Totally off the rails.

Sarah Spreitzer: But Congress is back this week, but I don't know if they were back last week, but they're back. The Senate this week, Jon, you probably know this because you follow all of my issues so closely, they're taking up the conference instructions on the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, the giant competitiveness bill that I just won't stop talking about. And as part of that, they're doing motions to instruct.

And our boss, Terry Hartle, pointed out that this is the first time since 2017 Congress has actually done a formal conference on a bill that's not appropriations or the defense authorization bill, so there. It's a very complicated process. We've heard that Congress wants to finish it before July 4th, because if they don't, then they're likely not going to get it done before midterms. But all of my conversations around competition, Jon, were easily overtaken by your issues this weekend.

Jon Fansmith: Because my issues are more interesting.

Sarah Spreitzer: Sure, let's go with that. What are your issues, Jon?

Jon Fansmith: In this case, the issue you're referring to is student loan forgiveness, which is one of those things that really is where our wonky inside DC policy world slams head-on into mass public opinion. And there's been increasing not only interest, but certainly more smoke around the idea that the Biden administration may do loan forgiveness. I think we saw over the weekend the clearer signs of what that might look like. There was a big Washington post piece that began to outline what the administration is thinking about. And obviously, there's lots and lots of factors that can be considered when you're thinking about who gets student loan forgiveness and how much, but at least as was identified in the article, they're really looking at undergraduate loans versus graduate loans, and then particularly, income thresholds for who will get those loans, setting them at either $125,000 to $150,000 for individuals, and $250,000 to $300,000 for couples that file together.

Sarah Spreitzer: And that's income levels, not the amount of loans that would be forgiven.

Jon Fansmith: Yep. Those are the incomes you would be at to be eligible to have your loans forgiven. Most of the amounts doesn't seem to be set, but it seems like around $10,000 is the most talked about number. It's what the president campaigned on. Also, none of these things are out of the blue. This is the idea of means testing the benefit, the idea of limiting the benefit so it's not universal. Those have been floating around policy discussions for a while now, so nothing shocking in that regard, but that was a huge deal on Monday. People were talking about this all through the weekend, and then Monday night something happened, Mushtaq, that blew that out of the news, and people stopped caring about my issues. You wanted to talk a little bit about our Supreme Court?

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah. Talking about going off the rails, right? The Supreme Court went off the rails a little bit, I guess last night. We're recording on a Tuesday, so Monday night, a draft Alito opinion that purports, I think, to be the majority opinion overturning Roe versus Wade. It was leaked, and whew, all of a sudden, student loan debt forgiveness was wiped off the front page, at least in my Twitter, where really it was, Jon, nine out of 10 tweets seemed to be about debt forgiveness, with the other one, of course, being USICA, Sarah. Obviously.

Sarah Spreitzer: Of course, of course.

Mushtaq Gunja: No, that's not true.

Jon Fansmith: The other one was about the NBA playoffs.

Mushtaq Gunja: Well, that's definitely true. But in any case, I mean it is sort stunning in a couple of respects. I think the idea that Roe might be overturned by this court of six conservatives when they took up a couple of abortion ban cases, that's not shocking. The leak of the opinion is very shocking. It doesn't happen often. It's not the only leak of a draft opinion in history, but it's certainly a big deal. It doesn't happen very often. The leak is a problem, but the opinion itself is pretty shocking. There are more and less narrow ways to overturn Roe, and Alito in this draft opinion, we don't know that it is the final opinion, but if it were to, he took a complete and utter sledgehammer not just to Roe, but to some concepts surrounding substantive due process. I was boring Sarah on our walk to Panera about all things-

Sarah Spreitzer: Not boring.

Mushtaq Gunja:... Substantive due process, but the reality is that this set of doctrine underpins decades worth of jurisprudence around things like contraception, and interracial marriage, and gay marriage, and so if we take out some of those fundamental building blocks, what might come, it's just hard to know. And so to me, the leak is interesting and will be interesting for another 36 hours, or maybe until our podcast listeners download and listen to this podcast, but the substantive effects of this opinion, if this were to indeed be the opinion, are pretty striking, and went way farther than I might have anticipated this court might go in overturning Roe.

Sarah Spreitzer: Given that everything this year is political in the lead up to the midterms, I think that also means that Congress could try and take some action around it to try and put further protections into law, or at least try to. And so it's unclear what that means for the rest of the congressional agenda, and the administration's agenda. Is this going to take up a lot of their time?

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah.

Jon Fansmith: You've already seen these calls for overturning the filibuster to protect Roe in the statute and other things, which seems unlikely, since there are obviously a few democratic Senator who are very hesitant to erase the filibuster on anything, but definitely something that I am sure we and all of our listeners will be hearing a lot about over the next few days and weeks and months. But before you hear all about that, you'll be hearing from Dr. Bill Pink, and what I promise you is a really fascinating interview with a really fascinating campus and college leader, so definitely stay tuned for that, and we'll be right back after a break.

Jon Fansmith: And welcome back. We are joined by someone I'm very excited to be talking to, and somebody that ACE is very lucky and very honored to have on our board right now, the distinguished Dr. Bill Pink, currently president of Grand Rapids Community College, but soon to be the next president of Ferris State University. So Dr. Pink, first of all, thank you for coming onto the show and joining us today.

Dr. Bill Pink: Honored to be here, Jon. Honored. Looking forward to this conversation.

Jon Fansmith: And I know that Sarah and Mushtaq and I joined you in that excitement. I think one of the things that's just so interesting about where you are right now is you are at this transition point between these two great institutions, and two different institutional types of community college for your institution. I think one of the things, we are at this really incredible transition point in higher ed. We're coming out of the pandemic, we're looking at all these changes, policy changes we've been talking about here in Washington. And I think maybe a great place to start would be talk a little bit to you or ask you a little bit about in the five years since you've been president at Grand Rapids Community College, what are some of the biggest experiences you've seen? What are some of the changes you've seen? Not just the pandemic, but you've had a real window of experience there. What are the highlights, you would say, of the last five years of your tenure there?

Dr. Bill Pink: Honestly, these last two years, as we have been digging at this whole issue of COVID-19, when you think about the amount of dollars that truly have been infused into our economy. We're always trying to live in that game of never wasting a crisis, and I will tell you, the last two years we've been in that space of not wasting this crisis. Combine that with the fact that we've had so many federal stimulus dollars that have flowed through community colleges, four year schools here in Grand Rapids. We were just doing some work on this yesterday, and over the last two years, we've put out $20 million to our students in terms of stimulus dollars. Now, $20 million, and the way we see that is twofold.

Number one, those are dollars that have gone to our students to help them. In many cases, some of our students who lost jobs, who are still trying to take care of family, trying to maneuver through some of the things that COVID-19 has done to them and to their families. What these dollars have done, number one, as I said, helping our students out, but then number two, as we were talking yesterday, that's $20 million that our college has been able to put into our economy here in West Michigan, so $20 million that we've been able to infuse into the economy.

And that's not to say for the other $20, $25 million on the other side that was institutional for us, that we then had the opportunity to take those dollars and as much as possible, try to keep it local, but to do some things to our campus to make our students' lives a bit better in terms of when they are on campus. So honestly, when I look at it nationally, Jon, the investment that's been made in higher education that we then are pushing out to our communities in days of pandemic, I think, have been very helpful and powerful to our community.

Jon Fansmith: And going back with the federal aid, one of the reasons it was released by the federal government was in part to help students, like the students you're talking about, be able to stay enrolled, to offset those financial concerns that so they could continue their education. Sadly, I think we've seen a lot of numbers nationally that community college enrollments are down pretty strongly, as high as 10% nationally. Were you seeing those same trends? Obviously, they're the same challenges. You identified them. Did those trends hold true for Grand Rapids? Were you struggling with that more or less than maybe other institutions?

Dr. Bill Pink: Yeah. That first year, so what I called the COVID year, the fall of '20 and the winter of '21, that was the year, Jon, that we saw about a 8 to 9% decline in our enrollment compared to the year before. So that was the year that, quite honestly, there was some programming coming from the state and the federal dollars helped. I'll talk about that state programming here in a second, but the dollars that helped in terms of the federal funding, that was helpful to our institution, especially the latter iterations of HEERF dollars that really said that these dollars can help. As far as budget stabilization is concerned, those dollars were helpful.

Now, fall of this year, now the year after COVID year, fall of this year, we were up 4.5 percent, so our enrollment truly saw a rebound. This winter, we are about 0.5 to 1% up from a year ago, and so our hope is that that's a trajectory that continues. One thing that helped, I will tell you, our state has two initiatives that were very helpful to community colleges. One is called the Michigan Reconnect Grant. Michigan Reconnect means that if you are an individual and you are 25 and older, some or no college and no degree, you can access community college last dollar tuition free of charge. So I will tell you, from our campus, that brought us about 1,000 students just from the Michigan Reconnect grant this year.

The other effort was what's called Futures for Frontliners. Futures for Frontliners was an opportunity, again, state initiative out of the governor's office. Both of these, now the legislature has caught traction on both. But Futures for Frontliners, if you were an individual back in 2020, that when Michigan shut down in March... We shut down as a state twice, once in March and then again in November, when everyone was fearful about the Thanksgiving, what's this going to do? If you were a frontline worker that kept working, you also got to be able to prove that employment and also summer of college, all that good stuff, also, those folks get last dollar tuition for community college as well. Both those combined, Jon, brought this college around 2,000 students.

Jon Fansmith: That's amazing.

Dr. Bill Pink: I'm not foolish, I know those efforts helped us out tremendously in being able to get to a good place enrollment-wise. Now we're focused this summer, it looks like it's going to be a bit down, but a year ago this summer, our enrollment was out the roof. It was one of the best summers we've had in a while. And so trying to match last summer will be difficult, but we're really pushing forward at what the fall's going to be.

Sarah Spreitzer: Dr. Pink. I hope that's true, that your enrollment numbers return, and that they start to come back. I am such a huge fan of community colleges. I'm a proud community college graduate. I transferred into my four-year institution, and also a Midwesterner. I love Grand Rapids, have flown into that airport many times. They're so important to the community and for people that also want to pursue a higher degree but are perhaps not ready. And I know that Grand Rapids Community College has a really robust articulation agreement, actually with the institution that you're moving to, Ferris State University. Is that something that started under you? How long has this been going on? And can you talk a bit about what it's like to have that relationship, especially since you're now moving to that four-year institution?

Dr. Bill Pink: Yeah. And Sarah, because of the relationship, that's what made it, for me, easy to really consider looking at Ferris State, because in my mind, Ferris State University, because of the relationship that it has not only with GRCC, but with many of our community colleges across the state, and then when you really think through that, when you pull that string all the way through, you realize that wait a minute, Ferris State also has a doctorate in community college leadership program that is very robust. I've had so many my colleagues across the country who email or call to say congratulations, and also say my provost, my whomever, my dean is a graduate of that program.

So when you think about that kind of an outreach to community colleges, Sarah, that's one thing that made it really easy for me to look at Ferris State, because I feel like it is a continuation of some of a lot of the work that we do here at the college. So the relationship with GRCC and Ferris State dates over 30 years when it comes to our applied technology center right here in downtown Grand Rapids. So that applied technology center, beautiful facility, when you go into that building, it houses some of our technical and occupational CTE programs, but it also houses the absolute best culinary school in the world, just saying.

But also what you get with that building is that Ferris State University, one of the strongest Grand Rapids present for FSU is in our building. So a student at GRCC can actually come to GRCC, finish the associate degree, finish a bachelor's with Ferris State, and if it's in one of those workforce-related programs that are over there, they never have to leave Grand Rapids. The home campus of Ferris State is in Big Rapids, Michigan, which is about almost an hour north of here. Those students never have to leave Grand Rapids, never have to leave our campus.

And so some of those, Sarah, are two plus two, but I will tell you, I always have students that tell me about having gone through the three-plus-one agreement, which is staying with us at GRCC for three years, finishing that associate degree. One more year with Ferris State, and they finish the bachelor's degree. Sarah, that sends so many students on to their next, whether that next be looking at a job that they already have, and many of those students end up having the job before they even finish because of that level of education.

And by the way, that also includes 19 other locations across the state where Ferris State has some level of presence, and my goal is to see how that footprint needs to be expanded to Grand Rapids, Detroit, and other spaces, but also having a strong, strong push in terms of how we stand up more robust professional development opportunities for our community college partners when it comes to leadership. My goodness, I'm a fool if I don't leverage a doctorate of community college leadership program as being the impetus to build more around professional development, to build leadership opportunities and education for our community college partners. If we are that close of a partner already, it's time to stand that up even stronger, and that's part of the devious plan here.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. And obviously, that will continue with your move.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. And Dr. Pink, can I ask you, because you just walked through that and you made it seem so easy, that there are these connections between the institutions, and it's such a natural flow. And yet we've had I don't know how many conversations, guys, with people about transfer, and the challenges of transfer, and particularly for students, the challenges of transfer. You've got a great national perspective. You're on our board, you're on Higher Learning Commission's board. You have this sense. And a number of other boards I haven't even gotten into yet. Can you maybe just lend some of your expertise? Why is it maybe so easy for you guys to do, and so much harder for other people to do?

Dr. Bill Pink: Yeah. Jon, I call it the next big issue of social justice when it comes to higher education, honestly. When it comes to equitable offerings and equitable outcomes, I feel like transfer is the one that's sitting right there that isn't just next, but it's what we're experiencing right now. You look at some of the national data. I've done some work with the Aspen Institute and also with AskU and some of the work that they're doing and some of the data that they put out talks about, from a transfer perspective, how many students of color and students from disparate communities, how transfer hits them even stronger.

Because many of them are coming through the community college ranks and trying to get to that next institution, but when they are faced with coming out of a community college where A, they may be a first gen college student, so how do you navigate the transfer piece? And then oh, by the way, the university is telling me that of the 60 hours I've just completed, only 32 are going to truly transfer. The other 28, they'll transfer, but they won't work towards your degree. Okay. Think about what that does to any student. But if you have more students of color coming through community colleges, then we truly have an issue in terms of what equity needs to look like.

And so what I'm really encouraged about is Ferris State has a lot of this already. Sarah, to your point, a lot of these pieces are already in place, so the conversation doesn't become how do we stand it up, the conversation becomes how do we strengthen it? How do we expand it? Because there's already a culture of transfer on campus. There's already that, and if you look at some of the data, it was interesting because during some of the search process, as I was looking at the presidential profile and some of the data in that profile, Jon, talked about, and I want to say the number was something between 60% and 70% completion of transfer students at Ferris State. Are you kidding?

Jon Fansmith: Fantastic. Yeah. That's amazing.

Dr. Bill Pink: That, to me, it's crazy. And so, my first thing is why in the heck aren't we blasting that information out? But number two, how do we make sure that we can continue that those numbers, and continue to build that to where we are making for smooth pathways, smooth highways into our institution, and smooth highways for that student to finish and get onto their job? But those kind of data, that's crazy. We've got to continue to promote that.

Jon Fansmith: Well, you just announced it on a national podcast. Sorry, Mushtaq.

Mushtaq Gunja: So Dr. Pink, that 70% number is outrageously high. It's excellent. Why is that number so high? Is it because of strong advising on the front end? Are you accepting more or will you be accepting more credits of the 60 credits that students come in with? Are a higher percentage of those credits being accepted at Ferris State? What's the secret sauce here?

Dr. Bill Pink: I think it's all around the intentionality of not only the articulation conversations, but also, again, when you've got people right here on campus, that students know they can go over the Ferris State to the office and sit and talk to people, that's helpful, and that's powerful. The articulation, that can't go unnoticed, as far as just programmatically, faculty and others getting together saying, 'How do we make this work, and how do we do this?" It's those levels of intentionality. And I will say this too, the person who I am replacing, Dr. David Eisler, who's been there at Ferris State for almost 20 years in that role, if you don't have commitment from the top, these things just never happen. And honestly, that's what some of the research also shows.

If you can't get the top leadership to be committed to it and saying, “We're going to put things in place to ensure this happens," you can't just leave it to chance. You can't just be a CEO that says, "Yep, we're going to do that. I'm all for it. I'm all for it," and then walk away and think that it just happens. It has to be followed by intentional pieces in place, and Dr. Eisler has been that kind of person who says, "We're going to make this work. We're going to figure out how to do it." And then the last thing is having a campus community at Ferris State who understands and gets it, and sees how the alignment of programs with what they offer and what community colleges offer. It's a strong space that they occupy, and to have a faculty that's going, "Yeah, we can figure this out. We're going to work this out," because everyone at the end of the day realizes it's to the benefit of our students, and without our students, who are we?

And so I credit not just the leadership down, but I credit the folks who are digging at it at the faculty and advisement level. Community colleges, we're always happy to have a conversation. A university calls, sure, when are we talking about it? We always want to have that articulation conversation. How can I expand the choices that our students have here? And so I think we're always going to be at that table, but if you don't have that four-year partner coming to the table, it's just never going to work. Ferris State has been one that's always been at the table.

Mushtaq Gunja: That's great. Dr. Pink, I was reading some research the other day, actually, that was about persistence and the importance of community engagement and employment in the community, and you mentioned a few minutes ago that you were proud of some of the relationships that Grand Rapids Community College had had with some community partners, some employers in the city and in the region. I wondered if you had a couple of examples that you were particularly proud of, and some best practices that you might want to share with the listeners of this podcast.

Dr. Bill Pink: That's a great question, Mushtaq, and one of them I think of right off the bat. So right here locally, one of the more popular one of our largest employers in West Michigan is Meier grocery stores, Meier stores. Meier has a footprint that is a regional footprint, not just in Michigan. They stretch into Wisconsin, Illinois, you have Meier grocery store down in Kentucky. They have a large regional footprint. This has been about four years ago when we first had the first conversation, when I was just transitioning out of that vice president role of workforce development into this president role, and the conversation we had with Meier was this.

We said, "Okay, you have people working at your grocery store, who many of which do not have a post-secondary credential, many don't have anything. So how is it that we can work together with you to help those individuals who work for you? By the way, here's a suggestion." Because one thing about these conversations, those are always good conversations, you always get people nodding their heads saying, "We need to do more." Whenever you get up from the table and you don't have a definition of do more, usually nothing happens.

So we said, "By the way, here's something that we have." It was new to our campus. It was a retail management certificate. It was a certificate that was about a seven to eight course certificate that was in, again, management. It's in our business department, and that it is embedded into what could become a business associate, leading onto the bachelor's. And so what we did with them is that we said, "We will build that certificate where not only will we take the seven, eight courses that are part of that certificate in terms of our traditional business classes, we're talking management, accounting, HR, all those pieces," I said, "But we'll do it in a way that is what I call Meier-centric.

So the accounting course, accounting one, we're going to do accounting principles, but then we're also going to cover what does that look like for Meier? How does that process look if you work for Meier, when it comes to accounting. Management, management principles, but what does Meier, their management structure look like? We made it very much according to what Meier would do. And so we made that, put that out there. They looked at it and they said, "Maybe. We may think about that, but right now we're looking at some other things." They came back about a year later and said, "Can we revisit that?" And so when we sat down and revisited that of what they were asking, and what they had done is that they were looking at something totally different, found out it wasn't working much for them, and they came back to us.

And now that partnership, all the cohorts are Meier employees, and it's now a fully online offering. I think we just started our fifth cohort, I believe, where they have people that they send in, they pay for it. They also are still their employees. This isn't one of those of trying to fill a pipeline, this is really retention of the folks you already have, and it's also trying to prepare your future leaders, as far as that organization's concern. And so what has happened is that we've started a fifth cohort of that, and they're all Meier employees. It's fully online. It's worked so well, we now have started the first cohort of a supply chain management certificate as well, and my goodness, supply chain. Look at how that looks right now.

So that to me has been one of those signature programs of example of how a community college can partner at a level with a large, large organization, and be able to provide that. I will tell you, my goal, I wanted to be their leadership, because I wanted to get into leadership classes, the leadership education. I want to be their number one professional development arm. I want them to always ask GRCC, "What can you guys build for us?" And so that type of a relationship has been developed there.

It also gives this institution a playbook of how to take that framework to other companies and do the same thing. I think that's the kind of work that higher education needs to become even more involved and more influential in, is how do we work directly with companies to give them what they're looking for? And again, I think we have to be as intrusive of saying, "And by the way, here's something that we would throw out," because again, these conversations that lead to nothing are those conversations that you just get up and say, "Yeah, we want to work together. That's a great idea," but you never say, "Here's what that looks like," and then months later, you see each other out of dinner or a luncheon and say, "You know what? We had that conversation." Well, the reason you only had a conversation is because you never came to a conclusion of what that partnership looks like. I'm sorry, I'm on a soapbox right now.

Mushtaq Gunja: I love that approach though, I have to say, because I think I worry that a little too often, our campuses just are providing knowledge, and hoping that the employers are just going to come to them. And I think being proactive about identifying the major employers, going to them first with the value proposition. Our students are amazing. Our professors are teaching incredible things, our students are learning just a ton on campus, and exposing that to our employers in the first instance, I think, is just incredibly valuable. It sounds like you've done a great job with that.

Dr. Bill Pink: Well, and I'll even go a little further with what you just said, Mushtaq, because it's so important. If we're not coming out of this place, shame on us. I think higher education is trying to move itself out of what you just talked about, where we have spent decades and decades being a place where we really didn't have to do a whole lot in order for people to come, companies to come, students to come. They were going to come to us, unless you are a specialty. When I worked in private faith-based education, we had to be out there beating the bushes and recruiting, but many of us on the public side, we've been able to sit back and say, "We've already built it, so they're going to come."

And we've always had enrollment. Sometimes it's up, sometimes it's down, but they're always coming. And we really, in my opinion -- this is all Pink opinion, by the way -- we took it for granted that they would always be there. But in the world we're in right now, here's what we're facing. We have people who are saying the degree isn't all that important. We've got companies that say, "You know what? You don't have to have a degree to come work for us," or you have others who are not even higher ed institutions who are saying, "You know what? We can do it. We can give you what you need. We can do it faster than they can. We can do it more relevant than they can, and you'll be working for us."

And so with all those challenges, we are foolish if we in higher education aren't taking heed and truly moving closer to a conversation with folks to say, "All right, tell us how you need this. Talk to us about how we need to build this with you and for you," instead of walking in the door, always just saying, "Oh no, we know what you need." No, let's get to what you need first. Now I can also throw out there, "Here's something that you may want to think about."

Jon Fansmith: So Dr. Pink, first of all, I think I could listen to Pink opinions all day, so I like that term a lot. And I know we're taking up a lot of your time, but before we let you go, I wanted to ask you. You were the first black president at Grand Rapids, you will be the first black president of Ferris State. You were the president at Grand Rapids during a period of intense activity and introspection, and national debate and discussion around racial equity and racial justice. The George Floyd issue, obviously, and apologies if I mispronounce the man's name, Patrick Lyoya, in the Grand Rapids Community. You're not just a campus leader, you're a community leader. That must have put you, in a lot of ways, very central to a lot of these discussions in your community. Can you just talk a little bit about that experience? What you might have learned from it, what perspective you brought to it, and how you think it'll also inform your work going forward at Ferris State.

Dr. Bill Pink: Yeah. It's been a very trying two years, for many reasons. So when you think about some of the things, and obviously, it didn't just start with George Floyd, but his murder really was I'll say another wake up call. I think we've had several wake up calls. A wake up call doesn't work unless you wake up. So we've had several things that have gone on now with what we're dealing with here in Grand Rapids, and from my perspective, what's been important is for me to not only continue to push the agenda of the community's college. That to me is important in all this, because I keep coming back to how we prepare and educate our community, and in this case, our African American community. How do we stand in that place of being that education pathway?

I don't care if it's the 18 year old or the 48 year old. How do we continue to give them, from an education standpoint, opportunity? Then, when I take the community college president hat off and then just put on the hat of Bill Pink, the community voice and community leader, how do we continue to call and shed light upon what we need to be thinking of and what we need to be doing as a community? I will tell you the other night, Jon, your question strikes me because last week we had our commencement ceremony. The day before commencement, we had our police academy graduation, and I attended our graduation as I always like to, and have some things to say to our graduating cadets.

But what was so interesting about it, Jon, is during that ceremony, one of our cadets, who was the speaker as far as that cohort was concerned, young man stood up. He was a white young man, and as I listened to him speak, it made me feel so good about where we are as an institution when it comes to preparing our next crop of law enforcement individuals. It is because of individuals who are focused on making a difference in this world. And to me, that's what makes this job all worthwhile, is that it's not only faculty and folks that work at our institutions that have that focus, but when I heard students really talk about...

And this young man already has a job. He's got a job already with one of our local municipalities, but his words in representing his cohort, they are focused on saying, "How do we?" It wasn't this, "Well, wait a minute. That wasn't." No. It was none of the way the we're not getting a fair... It wasn't that. It was, "We know what we're doing. We know what we're going into, we've been prepared to do it. Now how do we make a difference in this community in a way that will be so different from what we just saw?" So that, to me, keeps me motivated to do the work that we do, because it lets me know it's worthwhile when I hear students talk that way.

Jon Fansmith: Well, and I think that also speaks to the institutions you've led and how you've shaped them, and certainly speaks well to all the contributions you've made both at the institutions and your community. And I'll just speak for Sarah and Mushaq and say it's real pleasure to have you come on and talk to you, and I'm looking forward to hearing some more Pink opinions, reaching out and picking your brain on a whole lot of these subjects, because it's clear there's a lot we can learn from you, and we really appreciate you taking the time in joining us today.

Dr. Bill Pink: Well, you guys have to know, I'm honored to be a part of having this conversation with you. I look forward to us having more conversations when I'm on the other end up in Big Rapids at Ferris State, because we have work to do. This is fun. It's why we do it, because of the work, and so looking forward to that. And thank you guys, I'm honored to be a part of this.

Jon Fansmith: Well, thanks again. We'll be following up with you in the future, and thanks everyone else for listening.

Sarah Spreitzer: As always, podcast friends, you can check out earlier episodes and subscribe to dotEDU on Apple, Google Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. For show notes and links to the resources mentioned in the episode, you can go to our website at acenet.edu/podcast. And while there, please take a short survey to let us know how we're doing. You can also email us at podcastacenet.edu to give us suggestions on upcoming shows and guests. And a very big thank you to the producers who helped pull this podcast together, Laurie Arnston, Audrey Hamilton, Malcolm Moore, Anthony Truehart, Hisani Stenson, and Fatma Ngom. They do an incredible job making this happen, and making Jon, Mushaq, and I sound as good as possible. And finally, thank you so much 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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