Welcome back!August 2021 message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
The SCICU Newsletter is back after summer hiatus, just as thousands of students are returning to the campuses of the SCICU member institutions.
The students are desperately eager to get back to campus. Their educations have been disrupted by the pandemic and they’ve been looking forward to getting back to normal, as are faculty and staff. Incoming freshmen want to start their college journeys, and surrounding communities also await thriving, vibrant campuses.
However, the delta variant is throwing us all a curve ball, and, as the American philosopher and Yankees catcher Yogi Berra said, “it’s déjà vu all over again.” Across the state DHEC is reporting an increase in the number of delta variant COVID-19 cases, particularly among the unvaccinated.
Yet again, campuses must adapt to rapidly changing conditions. Having worked closely with the SCICU presidents I can attest that their very highest priority is the wellbeing of their campus communities. And while the welfare of the students, faculty and staff is paramount for each president, responding to COVID-19 is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.
The leadership of each campus is responding in a manner that best meets the needs of the institutions for which they are responsible. The campus location, facilities, demographics of the student population, and infection and vaccination rates are just a few of the many factors they must take into consideration in developing a campus response. Because no two campuses are exactly alike, neither are their pandemic plans.
In the last year and a half the presidents and their leadership teams have proved their capacity to be flexible and adapt quickly to the changing circumstances resulting from COVID-19. They had to make tough decisions, but thanks to their strategies, supported by faculty, staff and students, their campuses were noteworthy for their low rates of infection.
I am entirely confident that we can expect the same resilience this fall.
I would also like to offer a warm welcome to SCICU’s newest member institution, Bob Jones University. Now every eligible college and university is a SCICU member.
Independent Higher Ed – Its impact is even greater than you thinkMay 2021 message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
Though I have attended more than 30 graduation ceremonies in my career, hearing “Pomp and Circumstance” still brings a lump to my throat. I think of all the wonderful students I’ve known. Graduations are bittersweet – we must say goodbye to students we’ve mentored, but we know bright futures lay ahead for them.
To say the least, the SCICU member institutions have a deep and lasting impact on the students who they prepared and inspired for success on whatever path they choose. But that impact is much broader than you may realize.
As a new report from the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) reveals, independent higher education is vitally important to their students as well as the communities and states in which they’re located.
The NAICU report, Private, Nonprofit Higher Education: Shaping Lives and Anchoring Communities, details the national and regional contributions of private colleges and universities. The total national economic impact is $591 billion. They employ 1.1 million people, create another 2.3 million jobs and generate nearly $78 billion in federal, state and local taxes.
Now let’s focus on South Carolina. The SCICU member institutions have an extensive economic impact on our state. The 20 colleges and universities, with 33,000 students, employ more than 7,200 people and their payroll and business expenses total $844 million – that makes independent higher education one of the biggest businesses in South Carolina!
But as the NAICU report notes, the United States is a “nation of college towns,” and that is certainly true here in South Carolina where many SCICU member institutions are located in small towns. SCICU member institutions are often one of the largest employers in their communities.
The impact of private colleges and universities goes beyond dollars and cents. As former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder put it: “Colleges are the anchors for their community – not just an
economic catalyst, but a cultural catalyst. Their presence changes the dynamic of those towns.”
Private colleges and universities improve the quality of life in their communities through the volunteering by campus community members which inspires a philanthropic spirit in students that lives beyond their college years. The campuses work with community leaders to identify and meet public needs. SCICU campuses are good neighbors, and so are their students who become leaders in their communities and careers.
I urge you to take just a few minutes to read through Shaping Lives and Anchoring Communities. You’ll soon see that private colleges and universities not only educate and equip their students to succeed, they also sustain their communities and fortify their states.
The top five majors will surprise youOctober 2020 message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
For just a few moments let’s give ourselves a break from COVID-19 and focus on what the SCICU member institutions are so good at – preparing students for success in life. And you may be surprised to learn how students look at the future based on the majors they choose.
What do you think are the top five most popular majors at SCICU member institutions? I’ll give you a hint: they’re not what you might expect.
Of course, every SCICU member college or university provides a firm grounding in the liberal arts. In these courses our students are inspired by experiencing the greatest minds humanity has produced. Through the liberal arts, students are elevated by exploring the human experience as expressed by artists, writers, and scientists, to name a few. Through instruction, discussion, and research, students gain perspective that helps them put their own lives in a larger context — they are challenged to apply what they learn to their own circumstances. Doing so requires them to learn how to think critically and express themselves eloquently.
While they may attend liberal arts institutions, our students are also acutely aware that they must make a living after graduation. The most popular majors demonstrate that our students are well-rounded and career-oriented. That balance is apparent in the top five majors:
- Criminal Justice/Criminology
I’ll venture that many of you didn’t expect “Business” to be at the top of the list of majors at 20 liberal arts institutions. But students are keenly aware of what will give them a competitive edge. Think about the powerful combination a young graduate offers in a job interview who has been trained in the business disciplines and is also a complete person who can demonstrate their ability to analyze and make sound recommendations, and articulate them.
Biology is a jumping-off point to a number of careers or postgraduate programs, not the least of which is medical school. Don’t hospitals (and patients) want doctors who approach their cases as people and can empathize with those they’re treating? Budding psychologists complement their study of the human psyche with an appreciation for how it manifests in our struggles and glories. And in law enforcement we desperately need individuals who feel their duty to humanity and acting humanely.
The numbers are a bit deceiving because students in those disciplines are harder to nail down in terms of what they do after graduation. History majors may pursue a law degree, enter a tech field, or, in my case, become the president of a statewide organization!
You may be surprised that the humanities subjects – English, History, Philosophy, etc. – didn’t crack the top five majors. They remain popular because of love for the fields, but also because they offer flexibility in careers. While you may think of Philosophy as a cerebral exercise, the mental disciplines acquired in a Philosophy degree also lend themselves very well to positions at tech firms.
While COVID-19 has created challenges to providing students with the preparation on which they depend to secure a bright future, SCICU member institutions have remained laser-focused on the needs of their students academically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. In other words, our SCICU member institutions infuse the spirit of the liberal arts in every student.
How are SCICU campuses doing this fall?September 2020 message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
I continue to be impressed and humbled by the leadership demonstrated by our campus presidents and their teams in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
They are to be commended for the depth and breadth of their COVID-19 planning for the fall semester. They measured classroom space to provide social distancing. Doing so necessarily reduced the capacity of classrooms to which campuses adapted by repurposing larger spaces, using large tents and developing in-class/online hybrid courses. All these changes necessitated a complete rebuild of academic scheduling.
They have reduced the density of student residences and refit them to provide social distancing. They re-thought the cafeteria operations and developed thorough sanitizing procedures. They have adopted testing, quarantine and contact tracing protocols. And, of course, masks are required.
As of today (Sept. 21), students have returned to 18 of the 20 SCICU member institutions. Two campuses have elected to remain online with no students on campus.
And…so far so good. The students are very happy to back, and the surrounding communities who rely on the campuses for their economic well-being are happy they’re back as well. The campuses have experienced a volume of positive tests that are manageable within their plans. But this promising start to the semester can change in a heartbeat, or a breath.
Taking precautions for and adapting to COVID-19 has been expensive. The 20 campuses identified $12.2 million in PPE, sanitizing, facilities, and technology acquisitions, all the result of COVID-19. There’s also lost revenue and increased personnel expenditures.
These additional costs have had on impact on campus budgets. The presidents have made tough decisions, including budget cuts, furloughs, reductions in pension contributions, and yes, even eliminating sports.
Our campus leaders are doing what’s necessary to provide for the well-being of faculty, students, and staff, and to ensure their continued capacity to offer the top-notch learning and living experiences our students and their families expect.
Uncharted watersAugust 2020 message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
I cannot recall a more challenging year to be working at a college or university. Campuses that completely adapted their academics to online learning in the spring have spent the summer conducting a top-down review of all campus operations in order to be prepared for a fall semester like no other.
Our campuses are entering uncharted waters with few reliable markers to guide them.
There are no models for a pandemic, and no one has previously experienced the many disruptions resulting from COVID-19. In South Carolina we have perhaps too much experience with hurricanes, the fury of which last a few days. COVID-19 is storm that’s been raging since March. How do the campuses navigate through that?
The typical compasses used to chart the planning for the upcoming year have been knocked out of kilter by COVID-19. By this time campuses typically have a solid idea how many students will be enrolling in the fall. Attendance at on-campus orientations is usually a strong predictor, but many campuses cancelled or significantly altered how students and families came to campus, if at all.
What about the number of deposits? Admission counselors across the country have heard that students are leaving deposits at several institutions, concerned that if one campus will not resume on-campus, they will attend another. Many campuses have noted sizable attendance at virtual orientations, but no one knows if that will translate into matriculated students.
How many students will be returning is also difficult to project. Communications with students and national surveys indicate students very much want to come back, but families have trepidations.
One promising sign has been strong enrollment in summer sessions. Students seem to be more comfortable with online academic programming and are using the summer to get a jump on the fall semester – that suggests they’re planning to return.
Our campuses won’t know for sure who is attending until they move-in or start taking classes.
With the fall semester about to begin campuses face the challenge of mapping out how to provide the robust learning and living experience students want while implementing appropriate COVID-19 safeguards. But what is appropriate? Campuses have been relying on federal and state guidance, but those also have been moving targets.
Providing safeguards requires thinking through every aspect of a campus’ operation, and there’s a domino effect. For example, classrooms are being measured to identify how many students can be accommodated while maintaining social distancing. That will require moving classes into different spaces, which may displace other operations. And doing so will impact the overall schedule of courses. Courses are also being redesigned to provide the flexibility of being online so that the number of students in a classroom at one time can be reduced. In these “hybrid” courses, some students are online for part of the week, while others are in class, then they switch for the rest of the week.
How cafeterias operate and student residences are organized is also being reviewed to ensure that students can come back to campus as safely as possible.
There are also the logistical considerations of using PPE, providing physical barriers, and redirecting the flow of students around campus during course changes.
All campuses are initiating plans that reflect their particular circumstances and student needs. A number of campuses have elected to begin online and bring students to campus in about one month. Many campuses are restructuring their calendars so that students will finish classes around Thanksgiving and return home. And some will be entirely online.
The one constant our campuses can rely on is the strong leadership that begins with the presidents and follows through to their senior teams, the academic leaders, and supervisors.
SCICU is supporting their efforts. We’re coordinating weekly and bi-weekly virtual meetings of campus leadership so that they may benefit from each other’s experience. We’re also working in D.C. and in Columbia for legislation that facilitates their work.
A final word of deep thanks to the faculty and staff who demonstrate every day their commitment to students and dedication to the institutions they serve.
Where we go to get betterJune 2020 Message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
People are in pain. Our nation is hurting.
Where do we turn for relief?
COVID-19 has taken a physical, psychological and economic toll on all of us. Some have endured illness, or, worse, the loss of loved ones. Others have faced the trauma of losing a livelihood. Everyone has been subjected to a physical separation hobbling the personal interactions that bind us together.
A nation already weakened has been wrenched by the murder of George Floyd and the actions that followed. Racism has been laid bare. Emotions are raw. Violence has punctuated peaceful protests.
As we survey all that ails us, we should also observe there are places equipped to provide aid and treatment.
Along with hospitals, our college and university campuses are where people go to get better.
For those suffering from COVID-19, hospitals have provided diagnoses and life-saving treatments. Well-trained hospital staff provide expert care and much-needed comfort and reassurance to patients and their families.
When students return to our campuses this fall, they will not be the same young people we last saw just a few months ago. Many will be hurt, confused, angry, or fearful. They will bring back with them experiences from this long, hot summer they will need help sorting out.
They will feel relief being back at a place they feel secure, and amongst friends. At our faith-based institutions, they will come together in prayer. All campuses will provide a supportive community where students can start to make greater sense of what they now confront, and how they can make their communities, states, and our nation, safe and just for all.
The discussions on campus will often be difficult. As hospital staff must have upsetting discussions with patients and families about illness and treatment options, on our campuses students will address uncomfortable issues and face perspectives with which they may disagree. Our faculty and staff are professionals who are well-prepared to guide students toward personal realization and recognize when they are struggling.
Hospitals and college campuses are also both institutions where knowledge is stored, research is conducted and solutions identified. Possible treatments for COVID-19 are investigated at hospitals, with the most promising used to provide relief to patients.
Where does society turn for answers when it is ailing? From our campuses come the meaning for what is going on in the world. There’s no one perspective that is absolutely right, but our faculty provide the intellectual tools for grasping the significance of events and identifying the means for addressing them.
We don’t agree any more than medical staff always agree on proper treatment. But we can come together and have those vitally important discussions.
To be successful in their missions, hospitals and campuses must both commit themselves to improvement. Like society itself, these institutions can get better. The presidents of SCICU member institutions are committed to identifying areas for improvement and possess the resolve to effect them.
These are times that challenge us. Our colleges and universities will be remembered for inspiring us and our students to become leaders for positive change.
Our campuses are places where we will get better.
SCICU presidents are the leaders we needMay 2020 Message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
Will we ever shake hands again?
Hugging a loved one is now a decision.
COVID-19 is forcing all of us to face tough choices.
But making difficult decisions is something our campus leaders do every day.
They are responsible for the well-being of students, faculty, and staff while also providing for a vibrant academic environment and an elevating living experience. They must also adjudicate professional and social interactions that don’t always go as smoothly as they would like.
While it’s easy for the lay person to think of campuses as a collection of classrooms and labs, they are in reality communities – small cities – that typically operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Of course, there’s been nothing typical about this spring semester. Our SCICU member institutions moved quickly to create an online academic program that helped ensure the safety of their campus communities. And they made the very difficult decision of shutting down all the activities that are at the heart of campus life.
Their proven leadership is why we must trust our campus presidents and their teams to move forward and plan for reopening their campuses this fall, while taking all necessary precautions to keep everyone safe. These preparations are complicated by the unknowns we all face: How widespread will COVID-19 be later this year? What pandemic regulations will be in place? Will treatments be available?
Their students want to come back. They desperately seek the learning and living experience provided by being on campus. And I should point out our campuses are essential to the economic recovery of the communities in which they are located, and to the state as well.
We can be confident our campus leaders will make the right decisions for their campuses while maintaining as their highest priority the safety of students, faculty, and staff.
Our students should be back on campus where they will receive the education that will equip them to achieve their aspirations.
Let’s do everything we can to ensure COVID-19 does not deprive our students of a bright future.
Our colleges and universities respond boldly and courageously to the COVID-19 pandemicMarch 2020 Message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
Imagine a major hurricane that covers the entire state and lasts for weeks, if not months. That is the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on South Carolina.
The bold and courageous manner in which SCICU member institutions are responding to the unprecedented threat of COVID-19 proves the capacity and will of our campuses to innovate on behalf of their students and communities.
We’ve all heard the criticisms of higher education: Colleges and universities are old-fashioned; they’re slow to adapt to new circumstances; they’re incapable of being nimble.
I am here to tell you none of those are true. Throughout my career I have observed how a crisis reveals the true nature of individuals and organizations. Some crumble. Others focus on laying blame. Still others make bad decisions. All put those in their charge at great risk.
We can all be so very proud of the rock-solid and knowledgeable leadership of our SCICU member institutions. In less than two weeks our presidents and their teams have gone from business as usual, to making profound changes to their operations, while respecting their unique campus cultures and traditions. In this extraordinary effort they have been supported by dedicated faculties and staffs who have remained focused on the needs of their students.
I’m not sure when this COVID-19 storm will pass, but I’m utterly confident that our SCICU member colleges and universities will emerge as strong as ever.
Celebrating Black History Month – The story of an indomitable young womanFebruary 2020 Message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
I am going to tell you the story of an indomitable young woman. She refused to be contained by the many obstacles she encountered in her efforts to found a school, succumbing only to the limitations her own body imposed.*
Throughout her life her determination and faith would be rewarded in the most unexpected, and most fortunate, ways.
She was born in 1876 to a poor black farming family living in Georgia during Reconstruction. Her schooling was limited, but she persisted. As an early teen while reading under an elm tree in town, a breeze carried a scrap of newspaper to her feet, and on it was an advertisement for the Tuskegee Industrial School. So began her relationship with Booker T. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee, and the inspiration for this young woman’s vision for starting her own school.
The advertisement explained that “poor colored boys and girls could get an education by working their way through school.”
Her own family intended to impose upon this young woman an acceptance of their limited circumstances. They did not consider her going away to school possible, or desirable. She would not let the matter drop and eventually they relented.
Tuskegee wasn’t free and her family had nothing. She took on washing to earn pennies that became the few dollars she had when set off for Tuskegee. She still did not have enough to enroll as a day student, and worked in the kitchen while attending night school. Her physical frailty did not permit for this arrangement but Mrs. Washington herself heard of the young woman’s travails and arranged for a benefactor to provide a scholarship, and for lighter duties. The capacity of her body would never match the breadth of her will.
Inspired by the example set by Booker T. Washington, upon graduating – at the ripe old age of 22 – she immediately set about founding her own school. She wanted to establish in South Carolina an institution where young black men and women would break out of the poverty into which they were born by learning a trade and at the same time receive an academic and moral education that would equip them to become leaders of their people.
First she needed a location for the school. She tried three different towns and encountered white bigotry and suspicion within her own community.
At the first location her work was burned down. Twice.
At the second location, the white community was openly hostile and black leaders were threatened by the forthright young woman who they knew little about. Timber was cut down on the land she intended to buy, rendering it useless.
She encountered much the same at the third location. The very committee of locals she formed to assist her bought the land for the school so that she could not.
At this point no one would have thought less of this young woman if she concluded founding a school for poor black children in rural South Carolina was beyond her physical capacity. She persevered through her most trying hours nourished by her faith and driven by a determination to create hope and opportunity where there had been none.
At the fourth location, in Denmark, South Carolina, she found a more receptive, though not entirely welcoming, community. She also found benefactors who treated her fairly, buoyed her spirits, and provided the financial support she previously could only have dreamt possible.
State Senator S.G. Mayfield, impressed by a letter of endorsement from Booker T. Washington himself, became the young woman’s local champion at the expense of his own political future. He made land available for her to buy and spoke for her in the white community. Her first school in Denmark enrolled 14 students who were taught in a single room with a few chairs donated by neighbors. It was a start but she wanted much more.
As always, the money at hand did not match her ambitions. She had grown accustomed to walking miles, in good weather and bad, to local churches in order to raise just a few dollars, and often less. Her clothes were threadbare and her shoes worn because everything she had went toward the school.
At one point she had visited 66 churches around Denmark and had raised a total of $184.53. She gave Sen. Mayfield a $200 down payment for the land, cabin, and shanties that in 1897 became the Denmark Industrial School. Amazingly, she had 236 students for the first term.
The facilities were not nearly adequate. In an effort to raise additional funds she travelled north in search of donations, but to little effect. After a fruitless day going door-to-door in Philadelphia, she slept on a bench at the train station. At home vocal opposition from a local black pastor who felt threatened by this young woman’s success resulted in the local churches closing their doors, and purses, to her.
But her travels north produced the name of a gentleman who might be willing to help. After initial correspondences she traveled to New Jersey and made her case in person.
She had been tapping her limited physical reserve to scratch together a few hundred dollars, but Ralph Voorhees gave her thousands for a larger tract of land, buildings and equipment. The school was named Voorhees Industrial School and its founder was Elizabeth Evelyn Wright.
The school prospered, offering its students a wide variety of trades to learn with 17 teachers, a working farm, dormitories, and an infirmary, named the Booker T. Washington Hospital.
Voorhees Industrial School was Elizabeth Evelyn Wright’s life – she married the school’s treasurer. And having given every bit of herself to the school, her brief life ended with the completion of her task.
Elizabeth Evelyn Wright died in 1906, nine years after her school opened in Denmark, at the age of just 34.
Elizabeth Evelyn Wright’s impact on so many thousands of lives through what became Voorhees College was recognized this month by her induction into the South Carolina Hall of Fame.
I can think of no more poignant way of commemorating Black History Month than by recalling the life and vision of Elizabeth Evelyn Wright.
*In telling this story I relied on Tuskegee to Voorhees, written in 1922 by Dr. J.F.B. Coleman, who knew and deeply admired Elizabeth Evelyn Wright.
New Year’s Resolution – Be Counted!January 2020 Message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
New Year’s resolutions typically firm our resolve to undertake some form of self-improvement. Getting in shape, reading more, and improving your finances come to mind.
This year, how about doing something that will be good for you, your community and South Carolina. Be counted in the federal census!
Once the census is completed the U.S. government uses the data to divide among the states as much as $675 billion in federal funding. So there’s a real dollars and cents impact of not filling out the census form. According to The Post & Courier the 2000 census undercounted South Carolina’s population by about 48,000 people. Over the last decade the state missed out on $60 million in federal funding.
Another way to look at it is that each South Carolina resident not counted represents $2,900 in federal funds that will go to other states.
In South Carolina, state funding to localities is distributed on a per capita basis. Unlike the federal government, the state can’t print money, so the pie of funding is fixed. If the population of one county grows, it will get a bigger slice, but other slices will get thinner. If you want your roads to get fixed, fill out the census.
College towns, particularly those in rural and less populated areas, recognize that SCICU colleges and universities can have an outsized impact on the local population because students can declare the campus as their permanent residence. Campus participation in the census is a way of being a good neighbor. Following is a link that answers questions regarding campuses, students, and the census: https://censuscounts.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/GCPI-ESOI-College-and-Universities-fact-sheet-20191203.pdf.
Census data will not impact representation for the 2020 election, but will be used for redistricting for the following 10 years. How many congress members South Carolina gets, who they will be and which legislators will represent you in D.C. and Columbia, all depends on the census.
Two important facts about the 2020 census:
You can fill it out the census online. While students living on campus will be contacted by administrators, the rest of us will receive a paper copy in the mail, but you’ll be able to complete it online or by phone.
No citizenship question. Pursuant to a U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer, the Census Bureau has decided not to ask the status of citizens.
The following is a 2020 timeline provided by the Census Bureau:
- January 21: The U.S. Census Bureau starts counting the population in remote Alaska. The count officially begins in the rural Alaskan village of Toksook Bay.
- March 12 – 20: Households will begin receiving official Census Bureau mail with detailed information on how to respond to the 2020 Census online, by phone, or by mail.
- March 30 – April 1: The Census Bureau will count people who are experiencing homelessness over these three days. As part of this process, the Census Bureau counts people in shelters, at soup kitchens and mobile food vans, on the streets, and at non-sheltered, outdoor locations such as tent encampments.
- April 1: Census Day is observed nationwide. By this date, every home will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census. Once the invitation arrives, you should respond for your home in one of three ways: online, by phone, or by mail. When you respond to the census, you’ll tell the Census Bureau where you live as of April 1, 2020.
- April: Census takers will begin visiting college students who live on campus, people living in senior centers, and others who live among large groups of people. Census takers also begin conducting quality check interviews to help ensure an accurate count.
- May – July: Census takers will begin visiting homes that haven’t responded to the 2020 Census to help make sure everyone is counted.
- December: The Census Bureau will deliver apportionment counts to the President and Congress as required by law.
So fill out the census. Even if you get to the end of 2020 and you haven’t run a marathon, polished off War and Peace, or retired early, you’ll enjoy the sense of accomplishment of having done something important for all of us.
December 2019 Message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
I bet we’ve all seen posts online about how to handle difficult topics that are raised during holiday parties.
In that vein, you should be prepared to engage someone with strong, but misplaced, opinions regarding higher education. My standard response to any statement with which I take exception is, “That’s interesting. Tell me more.” It’s disarming – you’re not directly disagreeing with the person – and you’ll no doubt find out where they’ve gone astray. The answer often is akin to “Well, everyone knows that…”
Here are three misconceptions you might hear and how you might turn the conversation into a learning moment.
“College is too expensive.”
My glib response is, “You’re not worth it?” More diplomatically, I might observe that half the students attending SCICU colleges and universities are Pell eligible, meaning the most economically disadvantaged. If they can attend, that “sticker price” isn’t really an impediment. SCICU member institutions put up nearly $300 million of institutional scholarships and grants with the goal of putting college within reach of all students.
“Student loans are out of control.”
I wrote a whole column about student loan myths, but a thought-provoking answer is, “The median student loan at SCICU colleges and universities is $27,000. Now, suppose I asked you to take out a loan for $27,000 and invest the money in a way that will pay back about $1 million over the next 35 years, I bet you’d do it.” That’s just what an education at our institutions is worth compared to those who don’t earn a college four-year degree.
“Studying the liberal arts is a waste of time.”
I like to observe that people who study the liberal arts are better, not less, equipped for success in our quickly changing economy. According to Dell, 85 percent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet. If you learned to do one thing, you’re future is at risk. But if you’re skilled at thinking critically, adapting, and communicating with others to achieve a goal, you’ll be employed as long as you want to be. And while liberal arts graduates tend to have lower starting salaries than other degrees, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, they catch up by around age 40 – often becoming the managers!
I hope these tips help keep the holidays cordial, and give you the chance to share the gift of knowledge.
Give me a reading assignment. I’d like to know what you think are “must reads.” Any genre. Send me your suggestions at email@example.com.
I wish all of you the Happiest of Holidays.
Student loan myths
November 2019 Message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
When it comes to student loans, there are some big, frightening numbers thrown around, like $1.5 trillion in total outstanding debt and 45 million student loan holders. We even hear it’s a national crisis.
But let’s break it down a bit. I used data from credible.com and the federal government to work through four of the student loan myths you may hear:
Myth #1: Student loans are out of control.
Reality: Some of those big numbers you see contain graduate school loans, and those students take out the big loans because they can confidently anticipate getting paid the big bucks – average grad school student loan debt is $84,300. In fact only 6.2% of borrowers owe $100,000 or more, but they constitute about one-third of the total outstanding debt. That’s $500 billion! On the other end nearly 36%, more than one-third, owe less than $10,000
Myth #2: Every student takes out a loan.
Reality: Looking at the statistics provided by the federal government at collegescorecard.ed.gov, the median percentage of students at SCICU member institutions who take out loans is just over two-thirds, at 69%. That’s certainly a large number, but almost one-third – or 9,300 students – don’t have student loans. And the average debt of $26,943 is well below the national average for private colleges, $32,600.
Myth #3: A college education is not worth the student loan.
Reality: This is the most pernicious falsehood, considering the return. If I were to suggest you take out a loan to invest about $27,000 that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, will pay back about $1 million over the next 35 years, I bet you’d do so. And that’s just what an education at our institutions is worth compared to those who don’t earn a college four-year degree.
Myth #4: Student loans are the largest source of financial aid.
Reality: Our SCICU institutions provide more support through scholarships and grants than any other source, including student loans. Fully $300 million comes from our colleges and universities to support their students. Many thanks to those individuals, organizations, and corporations whose generosity makes this support possible.
My point is not to diminish the serious decision of taking out student loans nor that they can impose a serious burden on individuals and families. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that SCICU institutions are in the business of equipping their students for rewarding futures. Attending them is a smart investment.
And on behalf of the SCICU staff, let me wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving.
My first year
October 2019 Message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
October 29th will mark my first year as President & CEO of SCICU.
I used my president’s report at the SCICU board meeting earlier this month to reflect on that year. I talked about where we were, where we are and where we’re going.
Where we were –
When I started at SCICU we were blessed with strong leadership, and I’m fortunate that remains the case. The presidents had command of their campuses and the SCICU board included experienced and dedicated members who provided me with guidance and support.
The SCICU staff, all three of them, showed themselves to be overachieving in what we accomplish as an organization. The office was well managed, our fundraising was very successful and we enhanced our profile through publications like the Statistical Abstract and the College Guide.
SCICU boasted a solid reputation in both Columbia and Washington D.C. Every public official I spoke with held SCICU institutions in high esteem.
Where we are –
In this year’s session of the General Assembly we achieved significant success with our advocacy for the Tuition Grants Program, which received the full $1.6 million requested by the Tuition Grants Commission. I have emphasized collaborating with all sectors of higher education – as I supported their efforts they supported ours. I know members of the General Assembly very much appreciated our all working together.
We enjoyed putting together trustee appreciation receptions across the state, which gave our board members the chance to interact with one another and our campus presidents in a less formal atmosphere. The receptions also gave me the chance to get to know them.
In fundraising we pursued and secured new resources, including a $50,000 Power:ED Grant from the South Carolina Student Loan Corporation, and a $10,000 matching challenge grant from the Council for Independent Colleges.
In communications, we’ve gone digital. We’ve established a social media presence, and produced a digital version of the College Guide, which has been warmly received by guidance counselors across the state. And we’ve saved several thousands of dollars in printing costs for the College Guide, as well as materials for our Board of Trustees meetings.
Where we’re going –
As we work to support our campuses advancing their missions, we must recognize the daunting challenges they face. Our institutions confront unprecedented competition for a diminishing population of traditional students. At the same time that there are fewer high school students, the number of adult students looking to start or complete a degree is growing rapidly. And all students expect the flexibility provided by technology and online learning.
In my report at the board meeting I also discussed that higher education finds itself questioned as never before. Despite substantial evidence to the contrary, surveys show the public questioning the value of a four-year liberal arts education. And politicians and business leaders are attracted to the immediate gratification of alternative programs of shorter duration. While there is certainly a need for a broad continuum of higher education options, the irony is that most of these same leaders have a four-year degree and would acknowledge their career success would have been impossible without it.
Our job in the next year is to build on the relationships we have with community leaders and public officials so that we can tell the success stories coming out of our campuses and be unabashed in our support of independent higher education.
Back to campus?20 for 20
September 2019 Message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
I am very proud to report that in my first year as president & CEO of SCICU I have visited the campuses of all 20 SCICU member institutions. I had the opportunity to get a campus tour and sit down with our presidents to hear their experiences and perspectives on the future.
Let me share my top three takeaways from these visits.
Each campus is unique.
Our campuses offer prospective students a rich array of options. They each offer their own palette of academic programming and activities from which their students paint their individual collegiate experience. Students can find the setting in which they’re most comfortable, and thus most likely to succeed.
Of course, one experience we do not offer is the “big campus.” Our institutions are smaller, and that is their great strength. Our students aren’t lost in the crowd. SCICU colleges and universities have the advantage of offering a sense of community from which students draw strength.
All SCICU colleges and universities are deeply committed to their students.
I particularly enjoyed getting campus tours from students. They were all very open about why they chose to come to their particular college or university and conveyed in deeply personal terms how the school was having an impact on them. Each one of them felt special and were deeply appreciative they had the chance to attend their institution of choice. I was amazed how many other students they knew and said hello to as we walked across campus. The presidents, provosts, faculty and staff I met all stressed that the educational, personal, and spiritual development of each and every student is their paramount concern.
This focus on education is certainly not to say that research isn’t important. Faculty members conduct research in their fields that illuminates their teaching. And I was impressed by how often the presidents related to me the extent to which undergraduate students are given the chance to participate in research, often doing work students at other institutions don’t have access to until graduate school. SCICU is proud to support these efforts through our Undergraduate Student/Faculty Research Program, which culminates each year with our annual Research Symposium.
Our campuses are moving forward.
All the presidents stressed to me that they’re not standing still. Not once did I hear, “We’re satisfied and not doing anything different.” Presidents recognize the challenges they face in a rapidly changing higher education environment, and they’re leading change in a manner that reflects the particular values, cultures, and traditions of their respective institutions. They are pursuing new programs to meet student needs, and that includes adult students who are seeking to start or complete a degree or graduate studies. For them, as well as our full-time undergraduates, online courses help them achieve their academic goals. You might think online students are far afield, and, indeed, some never see campus. But many online students are regional to the campus – they prefer a hybrid approach which includes classroom instruction – they want to be able to sit down with a professor should they need to.
Our campuses are also offering new facilities that complement their educational goals. I visited impressive science and arts complexes, as well as new student centers and residences. They all have the goal of supporting students so that they will maximize their college experience.
My campus tours left me humbled by the dedication to the 33,000 students attending SCICU institutions. Everyone associated with them sets a standard I can only hope to meet as we at SCICU work to support their missions.
Back to campus?
August 5, 2019 Message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
In just a few weeks we’ll be welcoming back students for the fall semester. They will be resuming their studies, reconnecting with friends and participating once again in campus activities.
However, there are students who will not be returning, some for good reasons, and others deeply regrettable.
We’re happy that our recent graduates will not be returning. They’re busy applying what they learned to become leaders in their professions and communities.
Other students have internships that take them off campus. This real-world experience will complement their classwork, providing practical context for what they’ve been learning.
Still others will be studying abroad. They will be challenged to move out of their comfort zones by adapting to circumstances and cultures that can be quite different from what they’re familiar with. As students acclimate to their new surroundings they develop a global perspective that is essential for success. According to the state Chamber of Commerce there are 1,200 international companies doing business right here in South Carolina.
Sadly, there are students not returning this fall who would very much like to be. We’re all familiar with students for whom the pressure of adapting to college life created a stress from which they needed relief, while others required time off to address a personal or family tragedy.
Perhaps the largest number not returning confronted unexpected financial problems. That is certainly not to say they were on their own. SCICU institutions are deeply committed to providing the opportunity to all students who aspire to a college education, regardless of their background. In higher education, access is often measured by the percentage of students who qualify for need-based Federal Pell grants. SCICU research indicates fully half of undergraduate students attending SCICU colleges and universities during the 2016-17 academic year were Pell-eligible.
Our campuses do an incredible job of supporting their students. The largest form of student aid is not from the federal or state governments, but from SCICU institutions themselves, who awarded an amazing $297 million to students in the form of scholarships and grants – this is aid that does not need to be paid back.
Despite our best efforts many students tread on financially thin ice. Sadly, just a few hundred dollars may be too great an obstacle to great for these students to overcome.
At SCICU we are very proud to offer our campuses support through the Discretionary Scholarship Program which targets our most economically vulnerable students. Our campuses use the SCICU Discretionary Scholarship Program to help their students address an unexpected financial emergency so they can continue to benefit from an independent college education. With this program, campuses don’t need to hold back funding for emergencies that could be used in the financial aid packages of their students.
In the coming year SCICU will remain dedicated to supporting our member institutions through the Discretionary Scholarship Program and other initiatives so they can remain focused on student success.
May 23, 2019 message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez —
From my years on college campuses, I know how bittersweet graduation is. We’re happy that our students are opening the next chapters of their lives, confident they are equipped to take on the world. But we’ve spent much time with these extraordinary young people and it’s tough to say goodbye.
I think that special relationship is captured in the word “inspiration.”
Interestingly, the Latin origin of the word “inspiration” means both “blow into” and “breathe in.” Those two meanings capture our experience with our students.
First, our faculty and staff are an inspiration for our students. They are role models who, every day, show our students what’s possible in terms of personal achievement. They are mentors and guides who help students navigate the challenges of college, and demonstrate the sense of duty and service we expect our students to embody.
Second, they inspire students to do their best. They exhort them, they push them, they demand of them, more than students thought themselves possible. Many first-generation college students attend our institutions precisely because they know they will be held to the standard of their abilities, regardless of circumstances. They choose the path that may be more challenging, but offers the greatest reward. And students are secure knowing their mentors will be there to guide them along the way.
Because of the mentorship and encouragement students receive, they are empowered to experience the fulfillment that comes from personal inspiration – a revelation that had eluded them. In a moment of clarity, a concept that had seemed incomprehensible, is suddenly understood, almost simple. But that moment is hard-earned – students put in hours of reading, research, discussion and hard thinking.
These inspirations do not occur solely in the classroom or the lab, but during students’ many experiences at our colleges. By exploring new interests and confronting unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations, they discover things about themselves they didn’t know. These inspirations may reinforce their thinking or take them in entirely new directions. Passions are ignited that become lifelong pursuits.
Now, at graduation, after having served as an inspiration, and driving them to new inspirations, our student will go on to become leaders in their professions, fields of study, and communities. Where once they had breathed in, they will now go on to inspire others.
What a great week!
April 17, 2019 Message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez —
In my short tenure as President & CEO of SCICU, I can say with all confidence last week was one of the very high points, showcasing the finest our campuses have to offer – our students and those who teach them.
Last Tuesday I had the honor of accepting Chairman Jerry Govan’s offer to make a presentation to the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus. The legislators were impressed by the diversity our campuses offer. We expand the array of environments in which students, particularly first generation and minority students, can succeed. We add small campuses, faith-based campuses, and our Historically Black Colleges and Universities, known as HBCUs. I also stressed there are seven other SCICU campuses where African-American students make up more than 20 percent of the enrollment. And we demonstrate the importance of diversity on our Board of Trustees, where 32 percent are African-American.
That night we celebrated the SCICU Excellence In Teaching Awards Dinner (Please click here to see a gallery of photos from the awards dinner.). This is our chance to acknowledge the finest teaching at our campuses. This being my first dinner, I was deeply impressed by the show of support for teaching excellence. About 180 attendees, including seven campus presidents, were on hand to honor the award recipients from each of our institutions. Many thanks to the seven campus presidents who joined us.
As I read the profiles of the Excellence in Teaching Award recipients, I was struck by how each professor had a unique approach to teaching, but they all shared a dedication to the success of each and every one of their students.
The next morning was the opportunity for our students to shine at the annual State House Day, which is the culmination of the annual student letter-writing campaign. I thank the campuses for their participation by sending a total of about 100 students who had received support from the South Carolina Tuition Grant Program (Please click here to view a gallery of photos from State House Day.).
We kicked off the morning by honoring Sen. Vincent Sheheen as our 2019 Legislative Champion. Sen. Sheheen has been a steadfast supporter of higher education, including our private colleges and universities, and read from a legislative concurrent resolution designating April 8-12 as SC Independent Colleges and Universities Week. He also shared with the students the impact on legislators of their letter-writing campaign, and for taking the time to personally thank the legislators.
That impact has never been greater! We announced the stunning results of the legislative letter-writing campaign. I’m very pleased to report that our students wrote more than 9,000 letters to their state senators and representatives! That handily beats the previous record of 8,200 letters. And congratulations to Anderson University students for writing the most letters, and Erskine for having the highest percentage participation.
After the ceremony our students and those accompanying them, including Limestone President Darrell Parker, met with legislators and other public officials. The smiles and enthusiasm of our students was matched by that of legislators who were delighted to share time with these students who are making the most of the opportunity provided them by the Tuition Grants Program.
Thanks to the outreach of Coker College President Robert Wyatt, Speaker Jay Lucas acknowledged our students from the floor of the SC House of Representatives. Speaker Lucas asked our students, who were gathered in the House gallery, to stand by college. There were cheers and applause from the legislators for each our campuses.
We concluded the day with a group photo on the steps of the Capitol. What a great image – our students all wearing the colors of their alma maters.
I capped off the week by serving as a delegate at the investiture of Morris College President Dr. Leroy Staggers. Investitures and inaugurations capture the spirit of an institution by honoring its past and traditions while expressing optimism for the future under new leadership. Dr. Staggers’ investiture conveyed his deep ties to Morris, having worked there for 25 years, and his eminent qualifications to guide the college to a bright future.
SCICU campuses were well represented – thanks to the SCICU campus presidents who were also delegates: Dr. Ernest McNealy (Allen), Dr. Roslyn Artis (Benedict), Dr. Dondi Costin (Charleston Southern), and Dr. W. Franklin Evans (Voorhees). Claflin’s President Dr. Henry Tisdale was a distinguished guest and a member of the platform party.
As I look back on last week, I consider myself deeply fortunate to be associated with the SCICU campuses, our visionary leaders, inspiring faculty and the students who benefit from their knowledge and guidance.
March 26, 2019 Message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez —
Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of participating in my first SCICU Retreat as president and CEO. I very much appreciate the dedication to SCICU of the college/university presidents and trustees, upon whom I have the good fortune to rely on for their wise counsel.
I entitled our roundtable discussion “Quo Vadis?”, which is Latin for “Where are we going?” I asked the college/university presidents and trustees to think about an inflection curve, which tracks the evolution of an organization. Typically, organizations will grow — up to a point. They inevitably will face new circumstances which, if they adapt, will permit continued growth and even greater success. If they do not respond, they decline.
Following is an illustration:
Considering the organizational experience of our presidents and trustees, I asked them each to mark an “X” where they thought independent higher education — not individual institutions — were on the curve.
Interestingly, virtually everyone put their “X” somewhere within a small circle around the inflection point. They recognized that independent higher education faces an unprecedented period of volatility and change. Any one of demographics, heightened competition, or technology would be considerable to confront, but our colleges and universities face all three, and more when including the increased distrust of higher education generally, and an eroded faith in the liberal arts specifically.
Fortunately the 20 SCICU member campuses have the inspired leadership necessary to move our institutions forward. But they can’t do it on their own. They need all the help they can get.
Together our SCICU trustees are a formidable network and source of support for our campuses. We are grateful for our individual and corporate donors, and to public officials at the state and federal levels who have expressed appreciation for independent higher education in South Carolina.
And in endeavoring to facilitate the efforts of its member institutions, SCICU faces its own inflection point. We must look at our own operation to ensure we are functioning efficiently and applying resources in a manner that will be of greatest benefit to our member institutions. I am committed to charting a course that will adapt our organization to meet the changing needs of the campuses we serve.
February 18, 2019 SCICU federal legislative outlook from President and CEO Jeff Perez — I was fortunate to attend the Washington, D.C. annual meeting and advocacy day of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU). Joined by Spartanburg Methodist College President Scott Cochran, we received briefings from NAICU and congressional staffers and spent time on Capitol Hill.Following are my five takeaways from the NAICU annual meeting and advocacy day:
1. The federal budget will very likely be late.
Because of the shutdown, the Executive Budget will be submitted two months late, which makes having a federal budget by October 1 highly unlikely.
2. Any new Title IX rule is still a long way off.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed wide-ranging changes to how institutions of higher education address sexual assault. SCICU signed a letter drafted by the American Council on Education (ACE) in collaboration with NAICU that lays out our concerns with the proposed rule. Along with ours the Department of Education has about 100,000 comments to pore over, and it will be months before they’re done and revising the rule.
3. Sequestration looms.
Several of the speakers expressed fear that the gains made in the last federal budget, e.g. the increase in Pell Grants, will be lost in fiscal year 2020 due to the next round of sequestration. The Budget Control Act of 2011 established ten-year statutory limits on discretionary spending for FY 2012-FY 2021. If discretionary appropriations are enacted that exceed a statutory limit for a fiscal year, across the-board reductions (i.e., sequestration) of nonexempt budgetary resources within the applicable category are required to eliminate the excess spending. The Congressional Budget Office estimated agencies would have to cut $90 billion in 2020 and another $89 billion in 2021, if Congress does not upwardly adjust the spending caps beyond 2019.
4. First PROSPER, now AIM HIGHER.
During the last session, the PROSPER Act was the House Republican version of legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965. The bill, which passed through the Committee on Education and the Workforce when it was chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), focused on simplifying federal aid and expanding the higher education market through deregulation. However, with Democrats taking over the House, and Bobby Scott (D-MA) becoming chair, the focus will move to the Aim Higher Act which Democrats introduced in response to the PROSPER Act. The Aim Higher Act places greater emphasis on securing and expanding student aid. Having announced his retirement, Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is very eager to pass a reauthorization bill on his watch.
5. Earnings by major is coming.
The Department of Education is pressing ahead with adding to their College Scorecard website the median earnings of students – by major – 10 years after enrolling (not graduating) at an institution of higher education. Graduate students are pulled out of the data, and to ensure privacy, institutions (and majors) with fewer than 30 students will not be included. How double-majors, changed majors, and interdisciplinary programs will be addressed is not clear. What is clear is the keen interest of the Department of Education to start posting this data, which does not require rulemaking. Don’t be surprised if they go ahead and include it on the next iteration of the College Scorecard this September. Information for all SCICU member colleges and universities is available on the College Scorecard website.
Independent colleges and universities are well regarded by the South Carolina delegation. President Cochran and I met with Rep. William Timmons (R-SC) who sits on the House Education Committee and its Higher Education Subcommittee. We also met with the staffs of Sens. Graham and Scott. They all spoke highly of independent colleges and universities and recognize their importance to the future of South Carolina.
January 15, 2019 South Carolina legislative outlook from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez —
Education reform will be at the top of the SC General Assembly’s agenda during the 2019 legislative session, as will how to spend an additional $1 billion. Including independent higher education in these discussions will be a major part of SCICU’s 2019 advocacy efforts.
In recent sessions the General Assembly has tended to focus on one major issue. Last year, it was addressing SCANA and Santee Cooper’s abandonment of the multi-billion dollar VC Summer nuclear power generation plant. The session before the General Assembly was absorbed with passing an increase to the state gas tax.
There is wide agreement that reforming K-12 education will be at the top of this session’s priorities. During a pre-session meeting with reporters, senators and house members all mentioned the importance of addressing education needs. And in his inaugural address Governor McMaster stated: “We must also commit ourselves to providing the highest quality education for South Carolina’s children if we are to continue to compete in the future for jobs and economic prosperity.” And later, “Being perceived as weak in education is not good. But, being perceived as not committed to fixing it is disastrous. We will fix it…”
Our job will be to work for inclusion of higher education in this education discussion. A focus during this session will be S.298, the “Higher Education Opportunity Act,” sponsored by Senators Vincent Sheheen, Harvey Peeler and others. Sen. Sheheen first introduced this bill last year, and there is broad agreement it will receive significant attention. There is a lot in the bill, including allocating internet sales tax revenues for a special fund for the public universities, in return for which they must cap tuition. It would also bring South Carolina back to a 7-point GPA system, which would reduce the number of students who currently qualify for state merit scholarships. It also increases the CHE Needs-based Scholarship program (of which independent colleges and universities receive 16.5 percent), and setting it and the Tuition Grants Program on a schedule whereby they would receive annual increases matching the Higher Education Price Index (HEPI) but no more than 2.75 percent in a year.
This bill is at square one – there will be hearings held that will no doubt result in revisions to S.298. SCICU will be following this bill very closely to ensure that it properly reflects the needs of students attending independent colleges and universities in South Carolina.
Also driving this year’s session is $1 billion dollars – that’s how much additional funding the General Assembly has at its disposal. About half is in non-recurring “one-time” monies that must be spent on facilities or debt reduction. The other half is recurring – once it’s in the budget, it stays in future budgets. Legislators will tell you having more money is harder than a deficit – it’s much easier to say “no” to everyone than try to decide who gets the additional resources. How that $1 billion will be spent will occupy much of the legislators’ attention.
There’s also a new leadership position in the Senate. Because of a change in the state constitution approved by voters in 2012, the lieutenant governor is no longer elected, and thus cannot serve as the President of the Senate and rule on points of order and other procedural matters.
Under new rules approved by the Senate, the position of President of the Senate will now be held by a senator, and the position of President Pro Tempore, previously held by Sen. Hugh Leatherman, has been eliminated. Under the new rules the President of the Senate cannot be a committee chair. Sen. Leatherman opted to remain chairman of the powerful Finance Committee. Sen. Harvey Peeler was unanimously elected the first President of the Senate, and will have a role in the appointments to state boards and commissions.
The wild card in this year’s session may be Santee Cooper, the other owner of the abandoned VC Summer nuclear plant. While the General Assembly no longer needs to deal with the sale of SCANA, the governor would like to sell state-owned Santee Cooper, which holds $4 billion in debt from the failed plant. While the General Assembly has set criteria for weighing proposed buyers, the fate of Santee Cooper employees, and the utility’s ownership of Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie, would have to be addressed.
I look forward to representing SCICU this session and will provide you with updates as the session progresses.