President Scott L Wyatt and host Steve Meredith talk to Dr. Frank Dooley, Chancellor of Purdue University Global, about Purdue University Global.
President Scott L Wyatt and Solutions for Higher Education host Steve Meredith share a conversation with Dr. Frank Dooley, chancellor at Purdue University Global, focused on the non traditional students that are largely overlooked by higher education.
I think that the biggest thing that has changed in the past year, I think the acceptance of online education has moved forward—and I mean by both faculty and by prospective students—has probably been moved forward a decade.
Dr. Frank Dooley, Chancellor - Purdue University Global
...we're serving a set of students, when you look across the country, that largely have been ignored by higher education for a long time.
Dr. Frank Dooley, Chancellor - Purdue University Global
Steve Meredith: Hi again everyone, and welcome to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. I'm your host, Steve Meredith, and I'm joined today on Zoom, not in studio but on Zoom, by President Wyatt. President, you and I are a mile and a half away but our schedules are tight enough that Zoom has come to the rescue once again.
Scott Wyatt: [Laughs] That's right. Yes, it has, as always. I had a Zoom meeting with all of my brothers the other night, and you can tell that a couple of us work in higher education and one doesn't, because Zoom was driving him nuts and the rest of us is, "This is just our world." So, it's really easy.
Meredith: It is our world. Well, we have been doing…we've been hopping around actually a little bit this semester between a couple of different ideas for our podcast, but this is back on the idea of those who are challenging us in higher education with new models of the way that we are doing things, and we feel very fortunate to have our guest with us today. Would you like to introduce him?
Wyatt: Yes, I'm delighted to. We're so pleased to have Dr. Frank Dooley join us today, the Chancellor of Purdue University Global. Welcome, Frank, thanks for taking some time for us.
Dr. Frank Dooley: Scott and Steve, I'm just delighted to be with you and look forward to the conversation we're going to have.
Wyatt: If anybody is disrupting or taking new paradigms or views of the world, you're doing it. You're right in the middle of that.
Dooley: Well, yeah I guess we are. We're a fully online institution, we have 36,000 students at this point in time, but I think one of the things that's important is the students that I have are very different from the students that a traditional, residential university has. So, the demographics of my students, the typical student starts at the age of 34, so they're coming to me with probably 10 years of work experience or more, most of them are bringing transfer credit with them which can be a challenge for some students as we know, 60% of them are PELL eligible, over 50% of them are first generation, and 65% of them have dependents—either children or perhaps they're caring for a parent in some cases. So, I have a set of working adults is probably the best way to think about it, who started their education, and as we know at a lot of our four year institutions, we lose so many people that…it's always frustrating that our retention and graduation rates aren't higher and our legislators remind us of that fairly often, right? So, we're serving a set of students, when you look across the country, that largely have been ignored by higher education for a long time.
Dooley: And our mission is to start to provide education to them.
Wyatt: We talk a lot about the fact that higher education is the golden door to everyone's success and wellness in life and independence and all of these socially wonderful things, but for some reason, higher education has been really slow to make that accessible to all of the people who can't walk away from their day jobs and sit in a classroom at 8:00, 11:00, and 2:00. It's been hard.
Wyatt: It's been really hard for really high-quality, high-reputation schools to say, "No, I'm going to reach out."
Dooley: Yeah, I think a part…there's a number of factors. For a long time in the U.S. and around the world I suspect, you really didn't need to have an associates or a bachelor's degree. There was a lot of well-paying jobs that allowed you to have a middle-class lifestyle. But I think with the information age and where we are, some of those paradigms have changed and I think the expectations of a lot of employers out there, they are now starting to expect that you do have at least an associate's degree for a lot of positions, if not a bachelor's. and I don't know if the world saw that coming. Like I mentioned, over half of my students are first generation. There very much is…first generation status to me is probably one of the biggest predictors of student success, because you don't have a role model, you don't have somebody to help you learn how to navigate college. And a part of it is just figuring out how to move through either a residential campus or an online campus. So, I think with that shift, we now have these working adults, and in a lot of the cases for our students, there is an employer who is coming down, and they might say, "Hey Steve, you are a great worker, we really value you in the job, but you know what? I can't give you your next promotion unless you have more education." So, a good number of my students, probably 30% of them, are in an employer-sponsored program where the employer oftentimes is paying most or all of their tuition for them. Another 30% of my students are military. We have a relationship with the U.S. Army where soldiers who are going in…specialists, they do a lot of training in the Army, and one of the things we've done is we've created an associate's degree that we took all the training that the Army does as you go through your levels of specialization, and then we looked at courses we have in a program we're calling Small Teams Management. Because really what the Army is training people how to do is to work as a cohesive team, and so they're taking courses, passing their specializations, getting promotions, and along the way they walk out of the Army with an associate's degree. So, that's some of the innovative work we have, and then that leaves about 40% of my students are students coming to me you would say "on their own" seeking additional education. So, it's a little bit different type of a pipeline. The employers tend to…with COVID last year, we ended up with employers saying, "Look, we're going to be furloughing a bunch of people, could you take more in the next year? Because we don't want to lose these people, they are critical to what we're doing." So, COVID, as bad as it was for many places, for us from an enrollment perspective, we ended up with a growth in enrollment at that time.
Wyatt: Let's jump back—I think that a lot of our listeners have heard of Purdue University, of course, and a lot have heard of Purdue University Global, but it would be interesting I think if you can kind of tell us how Purdue University Global came about. And to start out with, Purdue University is kind of like a system…
Wyatt: With multiple campuses and Purdue University Global is just one of those campuses that's a virtual campus, right?
Dooley: Yeah, correct.
Wyatt: The faculty that teach in Purdue University Global, where do they come from?
Wyatt: But before I ask that question—we've asked you two, so let's jump back. Tell us how Purdue University Global started?
Dooley: I'll give you the origin story. So, Purdue West Lafayette is the main campus, and Purdue is a Big Ten university and it's in Indiana. With the name, most people don't realize that Purdue is the land grant university for the state of Indiana. So, it would be the equivalent of Utah State in the state of Utah. So, Purdue is a public, state institution. There is roughly 46,000 students in West Lafayette—about 35,000 undergrads and 11,000 grad students. Mitch Daniels has been our president since 2013, and when he came in, Mitch…as a president, Scott, I'm confident you spend part of your time thinking about the future and working to position the university to be successful in the future, and Mitch is phenomenal at that and he has been asking this question, "Where should we be in online?" from the first day he was here. We had a couple task forces who tried to study the question, we went and visited places like ASU online and talked to Mike Crow and his team, "How did you do it?" And then we'd come back, we'd try and do it, we just couldn't make it work. Mitch, among college presidents, probably has a Rolodex unlike many just from his background. He knew Don Graham from the Washington Post family. So, Don and he went back many, many years, and Don Graham, the Washington Post from that conglomerate, which is Graham Holding Company, owned a university by the name of Kaplan University. And it was a for-profit institution, and the for-profits if you go from about 2010 to about 2020 have seen a steady decline in their enrollments over the last decade for a variety of reasons, some which are very legitimate. Don was trying to get out of the business, Mitch wanted to get into the business, and they started a conversation then they spent about six months doing due diligence and then in the spring of 2017, Mitch said, "Purdue has bought the old Kaplan University and it will become Purdue Global." And what we bought, we bought the faculty, the students, and when you think about what you have on your campus—the registrar's office and all the kinds of supports to support your students—we bought that. We then signed a contract with Kaplan who continued to do what we would call the back office support for us as a university. We had to get a series of approvals from our accreditors, from the Department of Education, etc. that took about a year and we launched as Purdue Global on April 2, 2018.
Wyatt: That's pretty good. So, how did everybody react? I think one of the first questions that most people think is, "Purdue University has an incredible brand."
Wyatt: I mean, it's got one of the best reputations of universities in the entire world, and now you've just bought this sub rate—I'm just saying…
Dooley: No, I think that's a fair question, Scott. And I mean, there's a couple things that really complicated it out of the gate. Graham Holding is a publicly traded company and because they're publicly traded, all of the due diligence work had to be done with non-disclosure agreements and basically, it's around May 1 of 2017, Mitch had a university-wide meeting to announce, "Look, this is done. The trustees," it was a trustees meeting because the trustees make all of the decisions, "The trustees have signed this contract and this is what we're gonna do." And the faculty in many cases were very upset with this. "You didn't consult us, etc." And Mitch said, "I couldn't." He did work with the deans…there were people from…so, it's not like he totally ignored it and it is set up as a separate entity, so formally, Purdue you could say is the parent and Purdue Global is like a regional campus is probably the best analogy. So, Purdue Global, we have our own accreditation, we have our own faculty, we have our own degrees, so we operate, but when you have the name, when you share the name, there's a question of alignment that goes as well. What we did…and I was brought in about two weeks after this announcement was made, and at the time, I worked at the Provost's Office for Purdue West Lafayette, and basically what I did over the next year was shepherded the approvals and I worked with the faculty on West Lafayette. And I would say where we are today, there's a handful of people who continue to be very critical of this, but the reality is in most cases what we're now looking for are synergies. And I could…we have some programs that were built by West Lafayette, but they're going to be delivered through Purdue Global. The best way to think of us is my faculty are a teaching faculty, and West Lafayette as a Research I institution, they take teaching very seriously, but they also have major commitments for research, and as an institution, their design makes it really difficult for them to serve at-scale. And that's one of the things that we're really good at. I think that the important thing, the way we rationalized this and explained what we did and why we did it is if you look at the history of the Land Grant Act back to 1862 with Lincoln, you read the enabling legislation and the whole purpose of being a land grant is to provide educational opportunities to the masses. But when you start to look at it, the definition of who we are serving has evolved over time, because you go to 1890, there's actually a second Land Grant Act, Morrill Act, that was designed…that created the HBCUs, because guess what? We weren't serving the black population of America in the 1890s so we created a new system. You go forward, a lot of states following World War II created another series of institutions that were serving regional populations, because just like you said before, many people couldn't come to West Lafayette, and that's when Purdue created additional campuses in the state of Indiana. And now we fast-forward to where we are today, and when you look like I talked about earlier, the expectations of society are changing that we need more people that understand how to work in an information age, we just didn't think that a traditional university was structured to do that, and we felt that Purdue Global could. So, when you talk to your trustees and your alumni and people who hire from you and people who know you and explain that, "Here's a set of individuals who are part of our society," I'm going to say 98% plus that this is actually a university like Purdue taking on its full responsibility makes sense. And once again, there's always going to be people who disagree and that's certainly their right, but the vast majority of people at this time think that it's been a really good move for Purdue.
Wyatt: I had a discussion with one of our faculty members a while ago, speaking of online, and this faculty member said, "You know, I think I could do an online class, but I would require the students to come to our campus for at least a week or two each summer." And he thought he was making this wonderful concession, but my immediate response was, "Well, you know that…" And there's a town that's an hour and a half from our campus called Kanab, so I just said, "Why would you intentionally deny a single mother of three who lives in Kanab and is waiting tables the opportunity to have your amazing degree? Because you know she can't leave her job for two weeks, you know she doesn't have enough money to pay for a hotel for two weeks, you know there's nobody to take care of her children while she's gone." And I think it was the first time that this person thought, "Oh, my gosh. Wow." [Laughs]
Dooley: Yeah. I agree entirely, Scott, and I think it is the realization…and I'll say, there have been almost 600 Purdue West Lafayette employees who have been Purdue Global students. And it's one of the benefits of being an employee is you can take courses or be enrolled, so a lot of the department heads and deans, it's the admin in their office who is now doing this, there is other people working on their master's, and I think the other reason we've gained some respect is when the people come back to the office, it's across the board, the employees from Purdue who have got the degree said, "It's a lot more work than I ever thought it would be." And I think there's always this concern that, "If it's online, it must be easier. If it's online, it can't be rigorous." And all those kinds of questions. If it's online, it's different and it means you need to approach the education a little bit different, but you certainly don't need to come for two weeks to validate the education that you're doing. So, I agree entirely with your observation.
Wyatt: As you reach out to this new population in a way that caused people to wonder, "What in the world is Purdue doing?" For all the noble reasons and then for all of the cynicism or question or whatever legitimately may be said, how has this impacted the reputation, the brand of Purdue University itself? Do you have any way of measuring that?
Dooley: Well, that is a great question. Actually, the brand is a really big question for us and initially, we worked really hard to try to keep the brand separate, and I can give you a couple of examples. So, when we were going to do some of the first advertisements for Purdue Global, they came and they were going to have the web page have pictures from West Lafayette, and West Lafayette said, "You can't do that, that's not who you are." And so, almost intentionally, we went to great lengths to move them apart. Now, three years later, we're rethinking that, and there's a couple of things that we've done in the last couple of years. So, I've worked at West Lafayette from 1998 until a year ago when I moved over to Global, I hired a provost who had worked at West Lafayette (he had left West Lafayette but he came back as my provost), I've hired a couple more people…we moved the headquarters of Purdue Global were in Chicago. With the pandemic, Chicago shut down, we moved the headquarters from Chicago to West Lafayette and we're doing more and more to find alignment. Around the question of brand, we are in the midst right now of going both ways. Number one, I need more Purdue within the brand called Global, and I need more Global in the brand called Purdue. And the marketing team from West Lafayette is working on that project as we speak. So, I see…we didn't see the diminution in brand and it might speak to how powerful the Purdue brand is and how…some of the higher ed brands are incredibly strong as you go around the country and around the world even. One of the things, you'll find this interesting, initially, some of the market research we did, there were a lot of the working adults who are our target population felt they wouldn't be good enough to get into Purdue. So, perversely, your brand can be too good. And so, it has taken us some time to convince them that, "No, we're an open admission institution unlike West Lafayette which is a selective institution." But we're getting there, and it takes time to build that reputation and build direction.
Wyatt: So, how many students are at…I think you said something like 36,000 in Purdue University Global?
Wyatt: So, how many students in the entire Purdue University system?
Dooley: If you take the entire system, I think it's 102,000 at this point. So, we're about 36,000, West Lafayette is about 46,000, and then our regional campuses take up the rest which is about another 20-something-thousand combined.
Wyatt: That comes pretty close to what some might describe as a "mega university."
Wyatt: [Laughs] And there's a few of them scattered about, universities that have more than 100,000 students. What do you see as the future? What changes do you think we're going to see as a result of some of these mega universities?
Dooley: Well, like I said before Scott, you and I spend a lot of our time thinking more about tomorrow than today, and I think a lot about being the mega. I mean, Western Governors and Southern New Hampshire are both well over 100,000 and if you follow them, they're both talking about growing to 200,000 or 300,000. I think that the biggest thing that has changed in the past year, I think the acceptance of online education has moved forward—and I mean by both faculty and by prospective students—has probably moved forward a decade. Because it was just…a great thing about universities is the scrutiny they give to new ideas and the study they do before they just jump onto a bandwagon. But now we have so much experience with it, I think there's a legitimacy to it that has simply been earned in the last year. So, if that's the case, I think for higher ed—and I will talk all of higher ed—there are certain things that you are able to scale, and a lot of residential campuses aren't designed to scale and that's what Western Governors, what Southern New Hampshire and what we are designed to do. And I can share how that might work. When I was at West Lafayette, I use an example of a course, I use zoology because we didn't have zoology and I didn't want to get people upset, but it very well might be the case for Zoology 101 that I might have three different sections taught be three different people with three different books and three different learning outcomes, and the reality is Zoology 101 was not 101, dependent upon who you took. And to a certain extent, we celebrate that, but the way Global comes at it, we come at it much differently. We have faculty design not only a course, we design the entire curriculum together at the same time because what we're trying to make sure of is that Zoology 101 feeds to Zoology 201 feeds to 301 and that there's a progression with what we're doing. We also review the entire curriculum, so we go through program by program—this takes us about 90 days to do—every program is reviewed on a three-year cycle. In part because we're online, we have to make sure that we're keeping our content fresh and our models fresh, but that discipline of coming at these every three years in depth means that our courses don't get too stale is probably the best word. So, the course then has a team of faculty who oversee the course and then it might be delivered by…on a West Lafayette campus, a lot of it would be…in like our English comp, a lot of it is taught by grad students, right? I'm using either additional faculty to teach them or adjunct faculty, but we very much guide, evaluate, make sure that you're an effective teacher and spend a lot of time working with you to be a great teacher. The other thing that's a difference: every course is built within a shell and we're trying to make sure for the student that it is as easy to navigate a course as possible. And I built my courses and, "Well, it's convenient for me to put assignments here and to put the schedule here and to put readings here" and stuff like that and I had a web page, etc. For the student, they're going from course to course not knowing that, "Oh, I buried the assignment in my syllabus rather than…" We do those things without thinking. And we come at it very deliberately and very intentionally. All of our policies, for example, a late policy for handing in homework and stuff like that, it's consistent across every course. And what that means is the faculty member…students will come to you sometimes with reasons, sometimes with excuses, and we oftentimes leave the faculty to be the arbiter on, "Well, do I give the student an 'excused' or not?" And it's very clear to everyone what the policy is, and I think both the faculty and the students understand it because it's very clear on guidelines and what they're supposed to be doing in these cases. So, I think that the difference that I have versus a lot of traditional universities, we actually come at this as a curriculum rather than a collection of courses, and it builds very intentionally as you go through it. And once people see the quality that you have with an intentional curriculum, it starts to build some trust in what we're doing.
Wyatt: It's fascinating. Students need some consistency as they go from course to course to course, it makes it easier for them to know what's expected because there's the same late policy for every single course. But on our traditional face-to-face campuses, every policy is different in every class.
Wyatt: I don't think that we've ever really considered the idea that…"How hard is this for students?"
Dooley: Exactly, we haven't thought about it from their lens. And I don't blame anyone for not thinking…and we would often fall into tradition or a model of how we do our work, and it's until you start something different that you come at it and start to ask some of the questions, "Well, what if we thought about it from this direction?" One of the other things that we're able to do because the courses are consistent, let's say I have a new support in a class like a tutoring module or something like that, I'm able to do some AB testing to find out the effectiveness. Does this solution, proposed solution, does it actually lead to better learning for the students? Or is it not effective for what we're trying to do? I have "living labs" as well and we try to be very…just like you, we have courses that students really, really struggle with and when you find those courses, one of the things you want to do is try, "Why?" And "What can I do to help more students be successful?" So, I have some advantages that I'm really delighted to have found.
Wyatt: That's fun.
Meredith: I've told this story before to our listeners, but in the development of our Master's Degree in Music Technology, we had decided as a group that we would design the left-hand columns on Canvas the same way, that students would sort of have that same view as you have just suggested here. We also decided that every assignment was going to be due at midnight on Tuesday night. And we knew that was going to make it so that people would have to schedule because they'd be in two or three different courses, but we'd invite our students to become friends with us on Facebook in the program, and I think that they sometimes forget that we can see what they post on Facebook. [Laughs] And I had a student fairly recently while I was still involved in the music program there say, "I never knew how much I would come to hate 11:59pm on Tuesday night." Which made me laugh, but every single student that we've ever asked about that said, "Oh, no we love that because now I can plan my whole week around that and if I know I've got something on Monday, I know I have to get this done by then." So, just having…it sounds like a small thing, but as you say, from the student lens, it can be a huge thing.
Dooley: We actually do the exact same thing, Steve, 11:59 Tuesday. And we settled on Tuesday after spending time with the students because what they told us is, "Don't make it Monday because you just ruin my weekend…"
Meredith: That's right.
Dooley: "If I'm going to my kids' games" or something like that. And Tuesday was a compromise day. And we talked about moving that, and "No, no, no, don't mess with that. It works." And I think…our lives, you need some anchors, and this has become an anchor for us.
Meredith: Yep. It's been very effective for us as well. Franklin, I'm curious—President, I'm sorry to interrupt—but I'm curious. So, in my world and in your world, COVID, as you said, no one is rooting for COVID of course, but in the online world it has driven enrollments. What's your sense…or do you have an idea of what's going to happen as the COVID tide rolls out a little bit? Do you think that you're going to have people that were short timers with you that kind of go back to the face-to-face world if they're able to in West Lafayette or some of your other campuses? Or do you think your growth will be more or less permanent and grow above and beyond?
Dooley: I think what COVID has led the entire country, the entire world to re-evaluate…Zoom meetings. Who would have thought that we would want to do this a year ago? And I can't claim that I want to spend all day in Zoom meetings, I don't think any of us do, so the idea of being back with people is very appealing to me. But now we go back to the populations of students, so I think I see three populations of students emerging in the future. One is our traditional, 18-year-olds and they want to get to have a residential experience for all of the richness that that brings to their lives, and I think that's great. So, I think that set that was looking and going to our campuses in the past will likely still be there, but I do think maybe…I'm going to put a number on it, at least a third of them, what they really want now is what I'm going to call a blended experience because they probably took an online…today, they're doing dual-credit, while in the future, maybe dual-credit is going to be replaced with online credit that we're teaching and what they might want to do is I see more of them trying to say, "I need to pay for school, so I'm going to work this semester and take two courses." So, I call this, "Do they need to be on campus for the entire four years? Or can we do things with this population of students to get them more kinds of internship type experiences or study abroad experiences that help give them a more rounded education?" And before, whenever a student left campus, we just kind of ignored them, right? Well, not what we maybe want to do in summer is have a handful of courses available so they can continue to make progress and things like that. In talking to the students at West Lafayette, when I was at West Lafayette I think we almost increased the number of students doing summer…we doubled it in about seven years. And what we found is a lot of students who might now be in a…they're not with any of their friends, they're working an internship, they have nothing to do at night. And when we started providing online courses to them, it meant when they came back in the fall, maybe I only need to take 14 credits instead of 17 credits and I'm taking a design lab and all these kinds of things, so it gave them some important flexibility. So, I think that the question we need to be asking the 18-year-olds: how are you going to use your time, whether it's fall, spring, or summer, and what should you be doing educationally? Now, that leaves this last population. I think what's happening, and you see it like the Google Certificates where Google is giving away, I think they have five or six now in coding and cyber security and cloud computing, IBM has them, there's a lot of short-term credentials out there that are really high quality. And I think as an institution, one of the questions we have to ask ourself, "So, why would I teach somebody something they already know?" So, cyber security is a huge issue in this country, a huge issue for so many industries, and if we had…when you talk about information literacy, maybe what a literacy in the future is going to be is some sort of cyber awareness or cyber information literacy, but if I have…if we have a cyber program and we're evaluating the learning that has come from the IBM and Google Certificates, and the reality is the faculty that have look at these have said, "This is as good as some of the transfer credit we're taking." So, can we start to look at these short-term credentials—now, it doesn't replace the whole course, it might only replace one credit of a three credit course—but can we get inventive and try to recognize as much learning as you already have? Now, you go back to that population of lower income, first generation students. If I can make it easier for them to move forward by giving them more credit, and we used to call it "prior learning assessment" or something like that. I'll give you one other example—a lot of people who were displaced with COVID worked in hotel and restaurant industries. Almost all of the large, national chains have managerial development programs where they're training people to be managers, and you get a lot of training in fundamentals of business and fundamentals of customer support and things like that, and if you lined up that kind of training again and put it against your courses, you'd say, "Well, you know two thirds of this content." So, can we articulate…and we call it "prior learning assessment," so an institution has a mechanism to recognize that as learning, and if you can validate it—that's always going to be the key, is there some evidence that you actually know how to do this? Can I start to award credit for that? So, I think what we're going to be called on as universities—and this is hard, this is probably one of our challenges right now—how do I recognize more of what you bring me today so I can move you quicker forward to where you're trying to get to tomorrow?
Meredith: Especially for that older group of students.
Dooley: Especially for that older population of students, absolutely.
Wyatt: Well, it's an effort to respect the students coming to us rather than just telling them to line up. And there's more than just recognizing their prior learning, frankly. I think that one of the outcomes that you'll see, Frank, is that…and I'm not telling you that you don't know probably, because we're all talking about these same things, but I think what we'll end up seeing is that we will be instilling values that the students will take with them in their next job. And one of those values is to respect where people are and build on what they have instead of assuming that they're idiots at starting them at scratch.
Dooley: I think that, Scott, you said that incredibly well and I couldn't agree with you more. There's one other thing in our curriculum that is somewhat unique that I'm really proud of. We have identified…a student who comes to us gets basically two transcripts every term, and one is your traditional, "You took your courses and got grades," but we also have something called the Skills Report, and the Skills Report, when I use the words skills I'm talking about professional skills, and every field that's looking, what do they want? They want strong oral and written communication, they want strong teamwork, critical thinking, we have seven of them. So, every one of our courses in the catalog, in addition to the disciplinary topic, is also working on one of the skills. And somewhere in that course, there is an assessment that might be evaluating your…let's say writing. And the way a lot of traditional universities treat this, "This course covered this subject and you check the box and you move on." Well, what we do with writing for example, a student is probably going to, over the course of their time with us, might have seven courses that have embedded writing into it. So, what that secondary report, the Skills Report is giving to you, "Are you developing your writing skill? Are you developing your oral communication skill?" And so, it's a richness, and we have career counselors because we're very much…the students coming to us are very focused on improving their job and their position. The skills that we have come, there's a group that our career centers work with called NACE, and I'm not even sure what that stands for…I think it's National Association of Career Exploration [National Association of Colleges and Employers] and we're using the NACE standard as the skills that we're emphasizing. I think the second thing that it does for us, and this is something that might be very different with the 18-year-old, the 18-year-old in many ways, these young students that come to us with so much desire and getting away from home and the chance to establish lifelong friendships and mature along with learn, they're wonderful and I love the energy they bring. My adults are coming and it's, "How am I going to manage this?" And for them, one of the things that comes with skills is they identify a relevance of, "Oh, I am taking a course…" For example, ethics. A lot of people, if you had to take a course in ethics, "Why do I need to take ethics? What does that have to do with…?" Well, it has a lot to do with what your job is, but because it's built into the Skills Report, they see where it fits from a relevance perspective. So, I think it helps. And the secondary thing that it helps with is when we work with employers, "We're looking for this, this and this." And we say, "Well, this is where they get it." And they can go, "Oh." Because another criticism higher ed struggles with oftentimes is employers say we're not doing a good job of preparing students. And I chaff a little bit at that accusation; that one is troubling to me. I think many institutions may not be preparing you for the first job, but I think we are educating you for a career. And everyone wants something different. My company might do something different than your company, something different from Steve's company, so for me to train somebody to be job ready on day one? I think that's unrealistic. But if you have a fundamental set of skills around communication, team work, critical thinking, you should be prepared to move into that.
Wyatt: Yeah, there needs to be a reasonable expectation on the employer side. I met with a mine out here and said, "What is it that you need…the people that we teach at our school that come out to work for you, what is it that they need?"
Wyatt: And I thought they were going to say, "They need to know how to weld." And the answer I got was, "Every single employee that we hire is going to potentially be a manager. So, we want you to teach them all the soft skills. We want them to be able to read well and to be able to do critical thinking and problem solving. And if they aren't great at welding, that's fine, we'll train them up on that. Because that's the simple thing. What we want is the bigger kinds of things that you do in higher education." And I was really surprised.
Dooley: And those are the employers we love to work with, absolutely.
Wyatt: Well, this is fun. I have one last area to explore briefly with you.
Wyatt: I think we're going kind of long maybe, I don't know, but this has been so interesting.
Meredith: It has, thank you.
Wyatt: But now we get to the question of assessment and the public perception of what's happening. Why don't you talk for a minute about…we have IPEDS, which is this federal organization that tracks us and how well we're doing; what's our graduation rate? Retention rate? How many students fit into these categories? And all of these kinds of things. And anybody that's tracking this data and looking at the way we're all ranked through these various ranking groups…it doesn't always make online schools look successful.
Dooley: Scott, I've got to thank you for that question, because to me, it's probably the bone I like to pick. And like I said, I moved from West Lafayette, an institution where IPEDS measured my population of students very well. IPEDS is designed to do one thing, and I don't…what it's designed to do is to capture the students that you talked about: the 18-year-old, first time beginners. "First time, full-time" is their standard definition. When I look at my students, I have virtually none of them that fall into that category. So, last year roughly, I started 30,000 students and I think I had 81 who were first time, full-time beginners. Virtually all of my students are working adults. They are part-time. They are students who started college, left college, came back, but yet IPEDS is reporting my data for a population of 36,000 students on the basis of around 100. So, the data for a lot of the variables in IPED or the metrics that they use have no meaning at all. Now, to their credit, there is an asterisk at the bottom of some of these charts that says, "This may not mean anything." But a lot of times, people aren't very good at looking at asterisks. What I mean is…so, we go through this exercise, and when you have a working adult trying to compare Purdue Global with Western Governors or Southern New Hampshire or Arizona State Online, etc., the public data has no meaning at all. And I would say a corollary that is a challenge for this country, if we're really serious about educating adults, a lot of the financial aid policies are also written to support the full-time student and it doesn't anticipate a student…think of what happens: if you're a student and you leave, your loans come due. We have some students who should take off time simply to deal with work and to deal with family, and it would be a logical thing for them to do, and oftentimes they're punished for doing what would be smart in their particular situation. So, I think…what I'm working on and I have some colleagues at similar types of institutions, we simply want the regulatory structure to understand that our students are different, and because of that, we might need to amend or have modifications to some policies so we can serve them better. So, thanks for that question.
Wyatt: Yeah, it's a sad story to say that a lot of institutions avoid serving the people that need them the most, simply because they know they're going to be evaluated poorly as a result of that.
Dooley: Yeah, I don't know that we avoid it. I think it's maybe…I would say it's not that we avoid it, it's just that sometimes when then somebody pulls the data, you get criticized pretty severely for doing a really lousy job, and the data they're using to evaluate you probably isn't fair. That might be the better way to say it.
Wyatt: Better way to say it.
Dooley: Yeah. I'm open to having anyone look at the work we're doing, and I know we could be better. We can always improve, and I would welcome ideas for improving what we're doing, but if you want to call it dealing with potshots, that's a hard thing to do and I could do with fewer of those.
Wyatt: Sometimes, inaccurate data is worse than no data.
Dooley: Exactly, and that's probably the bone I'm trying to pick here. I had one person…how did they say it to me? They came at me and they said, "Well, where there is smoke, there's fire." And my response to them, "I'll agree with that, but are you talking about the fire associated with the conflagration? Or are you talking about the fire associated with a nice barbeque?" So, just because there is smoke, smoke can be a really good indicator sometimes that there's something here we want.
Wyatt: Frank, this has been so delightful. Thanks again for your time. It's been informative for us and I want to follow-up with you sometime and talk more about Skills Report.
Dooley: Scott, I would be delighted to do it. One of the things when you engage somebody who is somewhat different than you are, we bring different models and there's a lot that an institution like Southern Utah can learn from a place like us and some of it makes sense for you to consider and perhaps adapt, and others it won't. But I have…I mentioned that the National Association for Career Counselors [National Association of Colleges and Employers], the current president is one of my staff members, her name is Jenn Lasater, she knows more about the Skills Report and what industry is looking than anyone, so you might want to talk with Jenn and I would be glad to set that up for you. But this has been delightful and I applaud you for…this is one of the things a university can do and get different voices into the room and let us think about this thing and how it might apply. So, it's been a delight working with you today.
Wyatt: Thanks so very much.
Meredith: You've been listening to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. We've had as our guest today Dr. Frank Dooley, who is the Chancellor of Purdue University Global. Frank joined us in a Zoom meeting, and Frank, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us.
Dooley: It's been my pleasure, thank you Steve.
Meredith: And we thank you, our devoted listeners, for tuning in. We'll be back with another episode very soon. Thanks for listening, bye bye.