Episode 81 - Enrollment Issues and Accreditation

We've invited Barbara Brittingham, the President of the New England Commission on Higher Education, to discuss what the downturn in higher ed enrollment is doing from an accreditation standpoint.

Full Transcript

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 in-studio today, as always, by President Wyatt. Scott, good to see you again.

Scott Wyatt: Thank you very much, Steve.

Meredith: We've been running our little group of podcasts here about what The Chronicle of Higher Education notes as "the looming enrollment crisis." And while we hope that we here in Utah are somewhat buffered by that crisis, there are parts of the world, parts of the country that are not and because I'm the Accreditation Liaison Officer for Southern Utah University, which means I am responsible for our relationship and reporting to the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, which is our accrediting body, I'm interested in what this downturn in higher ed enrollment is doing from an accreditation standpoint. So, we thought we would invite someone that could speak to that particular issue and we're very honored and happy to have a guest joining us today to do that. Why don't you introduce her?

Wyatt: Thanks, Steve. Yes, it's so nice to have Barbara Brittingham join us today. You are the President of the New England Commission on Higher Education, speaking to us today from your office in Massachusetts. Thank you, Barbara.

Barbara Brittingham: Thank you, it's a pleasure to be with you.

Wyatt: Why don't you give us…you're in one of these very unique jobs, there are only a few of you, I can't remember how many.

Brittingham: Seven.

Wyatt: Seven.

Meredith: Seven associations, yeah.

Wyatt: There's seven of you in the country. Tell us a little bit about your story? How did you get to this role?

Brittingham: Right. So, after graduate school in Iowa, I wanted to live in a different part of the country for a couple of years, so I looked around and accepted a job at the University of Rhode Island and stayed there for 25 years doing various things. I was head of a curriculum research and development center, I spent a year as interim affirmative action officer, I was dean of a college, I spent three years interim dean at the library, and along the way I had an opportunity to first go be a team member on business for then NEASC, New England Association of Schools and Colleges, and then team chair, and then I served on the commission for six years and chaired it and then did some other things for a while, including chairing some more teams, and had a chance to work at the commission and was thrilled to do that, because it really intrigues me. I've loved figuring out different colleges and universities, we have a glorious mix of them here in New England. I've lived in Wyoming, so I can know that's not true with every part of the country. [All laugh] We drive to each other most of the time so we avoid the joys of domestic air travel almost all of the time. And it's…for somebody who is as intrigued as I am with higher education and the different kinds of institutions and what the changes in society means and watching leadership, it's a very fascinating position to be in.

Wyatt: Yeah, we don't drive to our commission offices very often.

Brittingham: [Laughs] Probably not, no.

Wyatt: It's a long drive from Southern Utah to…

Meredith: Seattle.

Wyatt: Seattle, Washington.

Brittingham: Wow. Wow, yeah. Our commission accredits 220 colleges and universities in the six New England states and someone once said to me, "You have all of those funny little states up there." And they are most of them quite small, including Rhode Island, where I lived for 25 years which I call a state you can leave by accident because I know that, I've done it in two different directions. [All laugh] All the way to Maine which is, in square miles, Maine is just about the size of the other five states put together.

Meredith: Yeah.

Brittingham: And then we also accredit five…I'm sorry, 11 American-style institutions in other countries.

Wyatt: I was in Maine last November. Had a great time, what a beautiful place. They are small states, you can get from one state to the next pretty quick, but amazingly beautiful places with great history. What a terrific history.

Brittingham: Lots of history here.

Wyatt: Well, in this enrollment change, probably your region in New England has seen the consequences of these changing demographics of students coming to colleges probably as much or more than anybody.

Brittingham: I think that's right. A lot of people are who…in this business in New England and in the Upper Midwest are familiar with a book by Nathan Grawe, G-r-a-w-e, called the Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education.

Wyatt: That's right.

Brittingham: And I think if any of your listeners are interested in this topic, it's an amazing resource. He looks at demographic projections of, basically he's interested in 18-year-olds and, of course, that's where the change is and a lot of institutions also serve adults, either on-ground or online, but the changes for 18-year-olds are very dramatic in several of the New England states, and the farther north you go, the more dramatic it is likely to get.

Wyatt: Yeah, our Chief Financial Officer is from Vermont and there've been several closures of universities in the last two…colleges and universities in the last couple of years.

Brittingham: That's right, that's right. And one of the things that the commission has seen is that, and Vermont is an excellent example of this unfortunately, is that when a small college closes, it is obviously very hard on the students and the faculty and the staff who work there, it's difficult for the alums, but it's also very difficult for the local community because they have their campus that was a major employer in town, often it was a cultural center and has athletic facilities available to the community often and provided a lot of activity for the small businesses in town and the practitioners in town. So, it's very hard on the local community. We had a couple colleges close in the Boston area, and while that was very difficult for the students and the faculty and staff and they alums and…it was not hard on the community because there's so many other things going on in the Boston area.

Wyatt: WE just get…

Brittingham: And then with…

Wyatt: No, go ahead, please.

Brittingham: Go ahead.

Wyatt: We get so much emotion tied up in these colleges. You know, the college that I went to and that students go to, this is that moment of their life when they meet their most important friends and develop as a person.

Brittingham: Yeah.

Wyatt: And to think that those colleges might go out of business is really a sad thing for so many of us.

Meredith: But, as you mentioned, in a city like Boston which not only has lots of economic capacity but also lots of educational capacity, it's much less impactful to a city like Boston than it is to a small, rural city in Vermont to have their local university close.

Brittingham: That's right, that's right. And we also see a difference between public and independent colleges and universities. New England has had a, compared to some other parts of the country, New England has had a very small number of for-profit institutions, we're down to three that we accredit right now, at one point it were six or seven, but because higher…because this is a part of the country that was settled for a long time, there are a lot of colleges and universities and there just hasn't been that market space for much for-profit, which tend to be newer, at least the publicly traded ones. But with the public institutions, those…I don't know anyone in New England who is contemplating closing a public university campus. And in fact, we had a…there was a community college in Connecticut about three years ago that had an instructional location that they wanted to close and by federal regulation, they needed to present a teach-out plan to the commission and have that approved. So, they called us up, we walked them through it, they made their teach-out plan, they took it to the commission, the commission approved it, we called them up and said, "You're all set and we'll send you a letter." They called back in about two or three weeks and said, "We're not closing the location." What happened? The legislature passed a law saying they couldn't close it.

Meredith: Oh, wow.

Brittingham: So, I think that speaks to how tied to the local community these places are even in an instructional location, let alone a free standing college. So, when the demographic challenges hit public institutions, it's harder because, again, I don't hear anybody talking about closing them. There has been one merger, or one and a half, depending on how you count, but in Vermont, there were two state colleges, Johnson State College and Lyndon State College that merged and as I like to say, they decided to forego the one time opportunity to become Lyndon Johnson State. [All laugh]

Meredith: I was going to say…aren't they already related? [All laugh]

Brittingham: Instead, they became Northern Vermont University. So, that's the combination, and there about an hour, an hour and fifteen minutes apart. Happily, one of them had a more liberal arts focus and the other one had more of a focus on professional programs, so it was a complimentary merger which, in my observation, is easier than if they had both had the same array of programs. If you have a law school and I have a law school and we try to merge, we're going to tussle over who has the best approach to having a law school. But if you have a law school and I have a dentistry school, it's much easier.

Wyatt: Yeah, that's right. This…what you're experiencing in New England, we're not experiencing right now in Utah, but these demographics are changing. And as you mentioned in Nathan Grawe's book, we may experience some of these things in Utah several years down the road.

Brittingham: Right. So, his…he's got a lot of nice charts in there, and one of the things that we see, and this will affect just about everyone, is that in 2008, people started having fewer babies. So, in 2026…right now, we see a graph that's headed downhill and in 2026, it takes a sharp turn and declines at a faster rate because there's nothing you can do about it now to have more 12-year-olds right now so that there are more 18-year-olds in 2026.

Wyatt: There are no microwave babies.

Meredith: Nope.

Brittingham: No.

Wyatt: Well, and under Grawe's projections, that includes the second half of this coming decade that we may see a loss of about 25,000 faculty members.

Brittingham: Wow.

Wyatt: So, that increases the supply of Ph.D. faculty members, but the demand goes down. So, that's going to have a big impact on a lot of things. Could.

Brittingham: Yeah, I think we're starting to hear and I think we will hear that increasing volume for all but the most elite Ph.D. programs where people have traditionally aspired to be faculty members, there's going to be…that's going to be very disruptive. And a lot of places, those Ph.D. programs count on the Ph.D. students to teach freshmen, so that's another disruption. And if you're in an urban area, you can always find adjuncts. If you're in an isolated area, that's hard. That may effect things being offered more online. It's really hard to project everything that's going to happen.

Wyatt: So, what do you think the lessons learned are? What are we learning from this?

Brittingham: I think we're learning that, one of the things that the commission has spent a fair amount of time talking about is the importance of the governing board being realistic, understanding what the demographics are, understanding what the finances are, understanding in a realistic sense what the capacity of the institution is to take on new things. One of the institutions in New England that closed recently had planned to start a physician's assistant programs and it would have been arguably good addition, but the specialized accreditor there requires an institution, by way of protecting students, they require the institution to have the facilities built, the faculty hired and the curriculum done before they will approve admitting a first-year class. And so, this institution spent a lot of money, bought a building, refurbished it, hired faculty, did the curriculum, and the specialized accreditor said, "No." And that was a very hard blow to recover from.

Meredith: Wow.

Brittingham: So, the capacity of the board as well the administration to understand risk and capacity, I think, is a major lesson.

Wyatt: Ouch, that would hurt.

Brittingham: That hurt. That's absolutely right. In Massachusetts there was, and your listeners can find a lot about it online, there was a school that closed precipitously in spring of 2018 and in April, Mount Ida College announced that it would close after commencement that spring.

Meredith: Right.

Brittingham: And it's a long story, a not very pretty story, but Massachusetts is willing and able to fund a robust state government and several branches of that government sprang into action. The governor [inaudible] legislation, the Attorney General's Office did an investigation, the consumer people got involved and the Board of Higher Education and Department of Higher Education got involved and just in November, I think it was, they passed legislation that will set up a system of financial screening of all independent colleges and universities in Massachusetts, and that number is like 77, so there is a lot of independent higher education in Massachusetts. We are, our commission right now is in the process, consistent with the law, of talking with the Mass. Department of Higher Education that our commission be the one to do the initial screening. And that was in part because our commission has spent a lot of time looking at the financial conditions of colleges and universities. If you go to our website, you can see there's a section in there for the public on closed and merged institutions. So, colleges in Massachusetts, there have been colleges coming and going for a long time. So, our commission has a lot of experience there. We also have a greater ability to keep things confidential than state government does. And so, what we're talking to them about is that our commission would do the screening and if certain thresholds are met, certain judgements made—because it's not all just quantitative information, there needs to be qualitative information considered as well—then our commission would alert the state and the state would figure out how to monitor and make sure that if a teach-out plan was warranted that the institution would be compelled to do that.

Wyatt: What's the…this is really interesting and the role that governing boards need to take to make sure that their…that they have the right information, they're making the right decisions and charting through this course well. What is it that faculty and staff need to learn from the experience we're having right now?

Brittingham: I think that that's a great question because I think it is…I think it would be a good thing for faculty and staff to understand the basic outlines of the demographic issue and to…a lot of colleges and universities tend to be fairly stable cases and in some cases, there's going to need to be some significant change. What some places have done is to have…they've had a traditional campus space operation and they have continuing education and there are online programs that offer, operate under slightly different governance arrangement that provide some stability in the traditional operation…but, perhaps a greater ability to be agile and entrepreneurial in the market for, particularly adult education]. One of the things that you can find is estimates by state of the number of adults who have "some college but no degree." And that's really a hard problem because evidence indicates that a lot of these people who are in that situation left a college or university because it didn't work very well for them the first time. And so, it's often difficult to figure out a way to motivate people to come back and say, "Let's try this again." But we know that the economic return for individuals for degrees is considerable over the decades. And so, there's personal reasons, there's economic reasons to want to have a more educated citizenship, citizenry, and educated workforce.

Wyatt: I'm looking for the number and I can't see it in my notes that I've got here, but we have seen across the country, a reduction in the percentage of faculty who are tenured and an increase in the number of faculty who are contract or adjunct-type faculty.

Brittingham: Right.

Wyatt: And some of those reasons are tied to finances, some of them are tied to an insecurity about, "How many students will we have in the future? So, can we make a 40 year commitment to a faculty member by giving that individual tenure?"

Brittingham: Right.

Wyatt: What do you see happening with tenure moving forward? What's your perception of that the next 10 or 15 years?

Brittingham: Yeah, I think it could be under strain because that is a very long commitment to make. Adjunct faculty are easier to find in some places than others. They're easier to find probably online in places where there are not a lot of people down the street who could be a good adjunct. I think we may see something in between, you know, a rolling contract of three, five, X number of years that provides some reasonable amount of security for the individual and balances that with some potential flexibility for the institution. Obviously there are some places that have collective bargaining agreements and that's going to be very hard to undo. And in some cases, those collective bargaining agreements are only for tenured and tenure-track faculty members and in some cases at least, they are for everyone who teaches. And that could be very difficult.

Wyatt: It's hard to hear that because we're so grounded in this idea of tenure. It's just such an integral part of how we see ourselves.

Brittingham: Yeah.

Wyatt: But Nathan Grawe predicts that tenure is going to continue to be…that we're going to continue to move away from tenure.

Brittingham: Yeah.

Wyatt: The three to five year contract is an interesting possibility. Ours…I don't think we have anybody that fits that category, actually, here.

Meredith: No, I don't think we do.

Wyatt: I think they're all either tenured or they're…

Meredith: Or they're non-tenured, right.

Wyatt: Or they're non-tenured.

Meredith: Yeah.

Brittingham: Right. And then there are some places that have a track for—and I think they can in some cases probably tenured and in some cases not—but a track for full-time teaching faculty which is sort of a middle ground.

Meredith: Yeah.

Brittingham: It provides X amount of security.

Meredith: That's our non-tenured track, yeah. Our non-tenured track are still full-time but they're not granted tenure. They're not considered for tenure.

Brittingham: Right, and often they have expectations to teach more than the tenure track and lower expectations for scholarly productivity.

Meredith: That's right. Exactly right.

Wyatt: What is the lesson that should be learned by presidents? [All laugh]

Wyatt: We've talked about…

Meredith: Now we've got it down…

Wyatt: Governing boards, faculty and staff, what are…

Brittingham: Um, I am…several probably. I think one is…has to do with making sure that there's the right expertise around the table of the governing board. My predecessor used to say that most boards want good news and a good meal. [All laugh] And I think a good meal is still possible, but I don't know if the news is going to be good. And figuring out how to have the right talent around the board, around the table, how to keep people up to date, how to walk that line between being informed, asking the right questions, making sure the strategy is right but not stepping into management. We've seen cases where an institution has…crisis may be too strong and the board takes on a stronger role in the interim until things get stabilized again and that can be very important and helpful. But then walking back from that is not always so easy. So, that's one thing. Another thing is, I'm struck by the great advantage of professional associations and having a group of colleagues, some of who will probably be competitors but that's OK. Just being able to learn from people. And we have among the 220 colleges and universities, occasionally I run into a place that seems isolated. And I think that's a hard thing for the president not to have that group of peer colleagues to…some commiseration, yes, but also some, "Oh, there's a good idea. We couldn't do it that way but it gives me an idea about something that we could do." So, staying connected and having that group I think is important.

Wyatt: I just, by the way, while you were talking, I just found the note that I was looking for. Research from Curtis and  Thornton in 2013 shows that there's been a steady decline in the share of faculty who are tenured or tenure-track. That in 1975, 44% of the total instructional staff were tenured or tenure-track and in 2011, it had dropped to 25%.

Brittingham: Wow.

Wyatt: And the trend appears to be continuing nationwide. We're a lot higher at SUU than 25%.

Meredith: Yeah, we are.

Wyatt: We're still higher than…

Brittingham: Is that based on credit hours? Do you know how they counted that? However, they counted it, it's a big change.

Wyatt: It's a big change. Yeah, it's almost a drop in half. But what surprised me, frankly, was that in 1975 it was only 44% tenured/tenure-track. I thought it was much higher than that back then.

Brittingham: Yeah. I think…well, it depends on who was in the schools. I mean, community colleges I think, at least around here, have probably tended to have higher percentages of part-time than some of the other places.


Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: Yeah. This is a…

Brittingham: Another thing for…

Wyatt: Yeah, go ahead.

Brittingham: Yeah, presidents…two things that we frequently recommend to new presidents and we don't have any particular contact with either one of them or a relationship with either one. One is that the Harvard Grad School of Ed runs, I call it "Famous President School." It's a gathering for new presidents either before the first year or before the second year. It's about four or five days now and what we consistently here from that, from the people to attend, is that the content was good but the relationships that they developed, the contacts that they can stay in touch with were equally valuable. So, that's one. Another one is, the association governing board I think twice a year runs retreat sessions for presidents and board chairs. And it's structured and, as you might imagine, a lot of the value comes from the time together to think about the institution and what are the challenges and what are the opportunities there? And to have conservations that are probably easier to have in that setting than they might be just in the normal course of events.

Wyatt: We have an interesting governing structure in Utah because we have one system and the governing board is the Board of Regents, but that board is the governing board for all public colleges and universities. And then we have Boards of Trustees connected to each institution, but they have very limited authority. So…

Brittingham: How many public institutions are there?

Wyatt: We have eight.

Brittingham: Eight?

Wyatt: In Utah we have eight.

Brittingham: Yeah.

Wyatt: And six of them are universities.

Brittingham: OK.

Meredith: Yeah, we're backwards from much of the rest of the country in that regard. Very few community colleges and very many universities comparatively.

Wyatt: Yeah, so my…our Board of Trustee chair has very limited authority relative to our school in comparison to the Board of Regents, who is the organizations that hires and fires presidents and does the budget requests and a lot of these kinds of things. So, I'm not sure who I take with me to that convening.

Brittingham: That's a good question. Well, one of the things that I've learned in this job and it was said well by someone, I wish I could remember who, was, "If you've seen one system, you've seen one system." [All laugh]

Wyatt: That's right. That's kind of like…I go to Africa about once a year and the saying is the same thing. "If you've been to one African country, you've been to one African country."

Meredith: Yep.

Brittingham: Yeah.

Wyatt: We're all so different.

Brittingham: One of the interesting things that's a little bit in motion right now in New England is that the University System of Maine's governing board at its meeting two weeks from yesterday is going to consider making a request to our commission that we accredit the system as opposed to the, depending on how you count, six or seven institutions and universities individually. And that's because they have a very steep decline in the number of traditional students.

Meredith: Right.

Brittingham: They have a large desire to make sure that adults with "some college and no degree" can have access to programs. They are the only place, fortunately the only one that has what other parts of the country would consider significant distance and they want to, because of distance education, they increasingly want to have academic programs that are offered by courses held at multiple institutions. And while our commission can figure out how to fulfill our responsibilities if they do some of that, if they get really good at it, and they want to get good at it, then their academic programs will be so intertwined that when we send a team to an individual campus, we can't tell who is responsible for what. But if we accredit…if they request that the commission accredits the system, and the commission has indicated they are open to doing that if the system can demonstrate how it meets the standards, then that provides them with more opportunities to figure out how, collectively, to serve the people of Maine. Which I think would be an exciting opportunity.

Wyatt: You've brought up an interesting topic.

Meredith: That is interesting.

Wyatt: Do you mind if I take that a step further?

Brittingham: Go ahead.

Wyatt: So, in the United States, we have these seven regional accrediting commissions and the standards are very comparable from place to place, but there are some variants.

Brittingham: Yes.

Wyatt: But how do…what do you see going forward into the future with these institutions that are becoming mega universities? We have in Utah Western Governors University, but they probably have more students that are physically present outside of our regional accreditation boundaries.

Brittingham: Right. So, in New England we have Southern New Hampshire University.

Wyatt: Yes, you do.

Brittingham: Which…

Meredith: That's what made us think about it, yes.

Brittingham: Which started as…started in downtown Manchester as a place and there were certainly a lot of these in New England and probably other parts of the country, that sort of taught basic accounting and bookkeeping and office skills. And then they built a campus, moved to a campus and were doing OK and then they got a new president several years ago who has really created an amazing online program. They have an enrollment significantly over 100,000 now. And the first direct assessment program approved by the federal government and by a regional accreditor, and that's where students, unbound by the structure of the semester, can move at their own pace through a competency-based program. They're doing some very interesting and creative things. They employ, and I wish I could remember the number of data analysts that they have who can figure out ways to look at signals that students are sending that mean that they're likely to be successful in a course or that the university may want to have somebody "ring them up" as it were and make sure that they are on track or can get back on track. They devote a lot of resources to that. They are…their president was on our commission, so he certainly understands regional accreditation. He has been very open with the commission. They had their comprehensive evaluation a couple years ago and they…he made sure, as we did, but together we made sure that it was going to be a rigorous and thorough review of what they did by an expert team that was drawn partly from New England, but partly from other parts of the country as well. So, I think part of what we see anytime higher ed changes is that regional accreditation needs to make sure that it can figure out ways to make sure that its processes for looking at, for example, Southern New Hampshire are as rigorous as those that look at a small, successful liberal arts college somewhere in another state. And that's, by the way, regional accreditation is so heavily dependent on volunteers.

Wyatt: Yeah, that's right.

Brittingham: We have a small staff of about, there are about eleven and a half of us right now, don't ask me which one is the half, and each year we enjoy the talents of about 600 volunteers and part of what makes this work is that, particularly with all of the changes going on now, being on an evaluation team or being a commissioner, both of those experiences, are real work. But they are also, I've heard several people say, the best professional development that they could have. I remember a few years ago calling a president from out of the region who chaired a team for us, and it wasn't an easy visit, and I called to thank him and he said, "You don't need to thank me." He said, "I've quit going to conferences" and he said, "This is the best professional development that I can get." So, our team members and team chairs work hard at what they do, our commissioners certainly work hard at what they do. They meet four times a year for two days and they have one retreat, and for the last three years they've had a second one. And we give them a lot of encouragement to come to our annual meeting and participate in that and the commission meetings that they go to take preparation time so, it is a very significant commitment to make for people in higher ed. And we, by federal regulation, have public members who have no relationship with higher education, nor does anybody in their immediate family. And so, that's an even greater level of commitment to this enterprise. It's really quite remarkable.

Wyatt: Do you see…looking way down the road hypothetically, if you had a Southern New Hampshire University where the vast majority of the students were outside of the region, any adjustment to the process of accrediting that school? It seems…the traditional model is, is you're accredited where you are because that's where your students are and that's where you're physically located.

Brittingham: Well, there's…are you familiar with NC-SARA?

Wyatt: I am not.

Brittingham: OK, NC-SARA is a, and I'm not going to be as good at this as I should be so I apologize in advance, but it is an attempt to get at that very question and it's a…I call it a private workaround to an awkward federal regulation. But, the federal government, the Department of Ed wanted to make sure that if a student in Utah was taking a course from Southern New Hampshire University and there was a problem that they would have a way to deal with the state and have that problem addressed as well as they could if they were attending a college on the ground in a given state. And so, NC-SARA (National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements) and that's "NC-SARA" you can look it up, is a mechanism that was set up by WICHE (Western Interstate Commision on Higher Education) and NEBHE (New England Board of Higher Education)  and the regional state consortia and now it's its own organization and it has invited and vetted states to join it and everybody but California now is in. Massachusetts was the other one that was…it was last other than California, which is not in, thinking that Massachusetts didn't have all that much to learn from other people, unfortunately. [All laugh] But they're in now. California not so much, but it's designed to get at that real question, "How do you do that?" And I think for accreditation teams, if they visit an institution that has significant numbers of students online, part of what the team does is figure out a way to hear from students. So, that part, hearing from students, doesn't really matter if they're down the street or across the country if they're studying online from the accreditors point of view, but from the consumer protection point of view, that's where NC-SARA comes in.

Meredith: Interesting. So, Barbara, it appears that there will be a period in higher education of perhaps contraction and perhaps merging and other things. Do you remain optimistic that we'll find the right size and shape going forward? You've kind of been at the top of the mountain here for your area.

Brittingham: Since 2015 I think we've had 14 closures and 9 mergers. So, we've had a lot of activity. There's something else going on here that I think is an important part of the equation and that is, a couple of years ago I read a book called The 100-Year Life and it starts with what they assert is a "fact" that a baby born in the U.S. today has a projected lifespan of 106 years. So, the idea of…

Meredith: Wow.

Brittingham: Going to college and graduating when you're 21 or 22 and then working and retiring with enough money to live on when you're 65, those days are over. And so, there are places that are talking about subscription models to education and we've got a couple in New England and unfortunately I can't remember exactly which ones they are, but "If you graduate from our institution then you can take," and I'm going to make this up, "One course per year free from us forever." That's one attempt to get at this, but I think creative institutions are going to be looking at ways, maybe in partnership with employers, maybe in partnership with each other, but looking for ways to address what that's going to mean if people really are going to live to 106. And that's going to…I think the 18-21 or 22-year-old, some people call it "the coming of age experience." I think a lot of us found that to be extremely valuable, for a lot of people, I don't think that's going to go away. That that's still part of becoming an adult and a very valuable way that goes way beyond the classroom. So, I think there will be an amount of that but I think there are things to…what we call "continuing education," it will take on different names for people. Probably more effective ways to help people with "some college but no degree" get back on track and finish a degree. Creative ways to help people change careers that don't involve getting a second degree. I think the master's degree is going to be…I don't know what it's going to be, but I would look there for change as well. I think we're seeing changes already. We see, through EdX we see what they call a MicroMasters.

Meredith: Yes.

Brittingham: And I took an edX course by the way and loved it and it was actually...turns out to be had been taught by the two people who won the Nobel Prize for economics this year. It was on the economics of poverty, it was great. So, I think there are going to be more ways to learn throughout…for interest and for professional development, for switching careers. I think as retirement changes, that's going to mean things for colleges and universities. It's going to be opportunities and, for public institutions, also responsibility.

Wyatt: Well, some of these different modalities, and you just mentioned edX, this is a whole new kind of training that's coming in as a competitor.

Meredith: That's right, yeah.

Brittingham: Yeah.

Wyatt: Competition makes us better, but it also weeds…

Meredith: Puts some of us out of business.

Wyatt: Yeah, it's a…

Brittingham: Yeah.

Meredith: Yeah. I am exhausted thinking about living to 106 and I'm not prepared financially if that's the case. [All laugh] I just want to be clear about that. I'm glad to be one of the remnants of the old folks that are just going to get old and die in their mid-80s. So, if my children are listening, you don't have to worry about it. No 106 for me. [All laugh]

Wyatt: Well, this has been delightful. Thank you so very much for spending time with us.

Brittingham: Thank you. I'm pleased to know about your theories and I've enjoyed our conversation and I wish you all the best.

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 Barbara Brittingham. She's the President of NECHE, the New England Commission on Higher Education. Barbara joined us by phone from her office in Burlington, Massachusetts, that beautiful part of our country. We're so glad that Barbara was able to join us, and, as always, we're glad that you, our listeners, have been able to join us and we'll be back with another podcast soon. Thanks for listening.