Reporters' Roundtable: Florida, Amenities U. and the Future of the BA.

Monday, February 13, 2023 - Back by popular demand: Reporters' Roundtable. Pam Kelley on how a motivational speaker and businessman turned around High Point University; Emma Pettit on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis's efforts to overhaul higher ed; and Paul Fain on the future of the bachelor degree. This episode made possible with sponsorship from Ascendium Education Group, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Course Hero.

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A Harbinger for 2023? Presentation College, a small private institution in South Dakota, has announced its plans to close due to "slumping enrollment and rising costs."

How to Sell a University -- An examination of High Point University President Nido Qubein turned HIgh Point University around "wow" amenities, flag-waving patriotism and a focus on life skills.

High Point's Controversial New Law Dean Speaks Out (Sort Of) -- Critics of former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin say he needs to take responsibilty for his role in fighting the 2020 election outcomes. 

DeSantis's Higher-Ed Push Just Got Bigger. Fresh Resistance is Starting to Bubble Up -- DeSantis announced a wide-ranging plan that includes greater authority for boards and college presidents to hire and fire, including tenured faculty members

What is Happening in Florida? -- Demands for diversity data, a governing-board overhaul, and a pledge to strip "trendy ideology" from higher ed. Is Ron DeSantis just getting started?

DeSantis Asked Florida Universities to Detail their Their University Spending. Here's How They Answered -- The amounts the state’s public universities reported spending on diversity and critical race theory came out to 1 percent or less of their overall budgets.

Pennsylvania is axing its college degree requirement for 65,000 state jobs, calling it an "arbitrary requirement" Measuring the returns on college -- Paul Fain examines several studies on the value of college credentials.

A 'Divorce' Creates Florida's 11th University -- Jeff's 2001 article on the creation of New College of Florida.

The Rich-Poor Gap Widens for College Students -- Jeff's 2006 article on the growing divide between students.


Michael Horn:

Stories are everywhere around the moves Ron DeSantis is making around universities in Florida: employers dropping degree requirements, and then, Jeff, seemingly out of nowhere, the success of High Point University.

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah, Michael. And so today on Future U, we're going to be joined by three reporters on the front lines of these stories for one of our most popular features here on Future U: A Reporter's’ Roundt Table.


This episode of Future U is sponsored by Ascendium Education Group, a nonprofit organization committed to helping learners from low income backgrounds reach their education and career goals. For more information, visit This episode is brought to you by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, working to eliminate race, ethnicity, and income as predictors of student success through innovation data and information policy and institutional transformation.

Earn continuing education units this spring with Teaching Practice, an online faculty development program from Course Hero. Over a series of asynchronous courses, you'll uncover new ways to leverage tech in the classroom and build inclusive curriculum, all while supporting your own wellbeing. Plus, you'll get weekly office hour support from leading instructors. Enroll for free today at Subscribe to Future U wherever you get your podcasts. And if you enjoy the show, share it with your friends, so others can discover the conversations we're having about higher education.

Michael Horn:

I'm Michael Horn.

Jeff Selingo:

And I'm Jeff Selingo. Welcome to Future U. As you know, Michael, I love talking to reporters and think our audience also enjoys listening to them. So, let's jump right in with this conversation.

Today on our round table, we have with us Emma Pettit, who is a senior reporter at The Chronicle of Higher Education;. Paul Fain, who is a contributing editor to Work Shift and writes the newsletter, The Job, which are both part of the Open Campus Network and focuses on education and workforce training issues; . Aand we have Pam Kelley, who's a journalist in North Carolina, and recently co-wrote a story for The Assembly, which is a digital magazine focused on the state about High Point University, which is what we'll be also talking about today. Welcome to all of you.

Paul Fain:


Emma Pettit:

Thanks. Great to be here.

Jeff Selingo:

Pam, I want to start with you because one of the dominant narratives about higher ed right now is one of decline. And as we record this, Inside Higher Ed just ran a headline about another college closing, asking if it is a harbinger for 2023. And yet, here you co-wrote this profile of High Point University, which is not exactly a household name in higher ed, about a president there who turned the place from a struggling college into a booming college. And it remains though something that maybe some institutions may not want to emulate. So, what was it about High Point that made it worthy of such a lengthy article, especially right now?

Pam Kelley:

Well, what initially caught our attention was that in June, the school announced its choice for a dean of a new law school that's going to be opening. And it was a very controversial choice. Mark Martin, who was former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice, who, according to the New York Times, served as one of President Trump's informal advisors in his efforts to overturn the election.

We started doing research, that was interesting, and it became clear that the university's president, Nido Qubein, had pulled off just an incredible transformation. The school went, in 18 years, from less than 1700 traditional students to 6,000, from 91 acres to 520. It's getting ready to open schools of law, dentistry and optometry, a new library. It spends lavishly. For instance, it recently decorated the campus for Christmas with more than 200 giant nutcrackers, it flies an eagle in for convocations.

We realized this is a good story. And there've been a lot of national stories about High Point University's amenities and a lot of glowing press releases that are reprinted locally. But nobody had really looked at a deep look that said, how did they do this?

Jeff Selingo:

So, how did they do this? What was the kind of bottom line of the piece?

Pam Kelley:

The bottom line was Nido Qubein, who did not have a higher ed background at all, he was a motivational speaker and businessman, he treated it as a business and really looked for students who could pay full freight and branded it in ways that attracted certain students and families. It's a nonprofit, but it's making a huge profit.

Michael Horn:

It's a fascinating story. And Paul, I want to turn to you, as we just heard, president Nido Qubein at High Point is really selling a dream that students and families seem to be buying, or at least they're at least for now, if you will. But it's also true that higher ed as a whole is struggling in terms of public perception. We had this recent poll, it's one of many from populists, that found that Americans have shifted their priorities on K-12 education. What it's trying to prepare students for. And get this, getting kids ready for colleges has plummeted from the 10th highest priority to 47th, according to this poll.

And of course, enrollment is down some 1.3 million during the pandemic. So, despite the rosy picture that President Qubein might be painting at High Point, I want your take. Is higher ed's suffering from a crisis of confidence right now?

Paul Fain:

Absolutely. In the literal sense, for sure. I think folks are less sure about the value of higher education. There's a lot of doubt about the job market, for a lot of good reasons, as you all know, what job is going to be there on the other end is a big part of this.

But I think one of the biggest factors, certainly one of the ones that I think doesn't get discussed enough, is how much attention we've had on student debt. Years and years, particularly among prominent Democrats, folks who have been talking about college being out of reach, I've talked to undergrads at Cal State who think they're overcharged for 5,200 a year. They're not. That's a good value.

But I think right now we're in this place where all institutions are suffering confidence in our country and a lot of people are doubting whether or not it's a good investment. That said, residential full freight paying students, as Pam said, wealthy students at four-year institutions, they're doing great. Wealthy people are doing great in this country. Wealthy institutions are going to continue to do that way. Jeff and I, when we worked at The Chronicle long ago, had a series of stories about the growing divide in higher education. It's grown a lot worse. It's a chasm now.

Jeff Selingo:

Paul, I'm glad that you remembered that. Maybe we should bring that series series back. This was about the growing divide not only between institutions, but also between students. So, we're going to put a link in the show notes to that.

Emma, let's knit you into this conversation because public perception in higher ed, as Paul was talking about, is not just a partisan issue, it's really a bipartisan issue. It's really plummeting among Democrats and Republicans. But in Florida in particular, republicans who have long criticized higher ed as being too liberal, have really found a friend in the reelected governor there, governor Ron DeSantis. What's happening in the state of Florida? Because it seems like almost every day there's a new story coming out there about what's happening in higher ed.

So, can you give us just a quick flyover about what's happening in higher ed and why Ron DeSantis just seemed to be picking a fight with colleges and universities right now?

Emma Pettit:

Yeah, a lot has happened, really in the last month. In late December, DeSantis's office requested that all colleges and universities, public colleges and universities, detail what they spend on diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory programs, activities and required courses. And this is seen as, by many, a hostile move from a governor who is certainly no friend to DEI or critical race theory.

This month he also appointed six new members to the board of New College of Florida. The nNew Ccollege, it's a public liberal arts college in Sarasota. It's small. It's known for not using a traditional grading system. And DeSantis appointed to the board the activist, Christopher Rufo, who has really led the campaign against critical race theory and diversity initiatives in education. And a staffer for DeSantis said that he wants to make Nnew Ccollege into a, "Classical college."

He likened it to being a Hillsdale of the South. Hillsdale is a private and conservative college in Michigan. And he said in a recent speech, "We must ensure that our institutions of higher learning are focused on academic excellence and the pursuit of truth, not the imposition of trendy ideology."

And also, this month, he requested that state universities report information regarding transgender students. He wants institutions to report numbers and ages of their students who sought gender-affirming healthcare, including sex reassignment surgery and hormone prescriptions. All of that combined means it's been incredibly busy for us and for Governor DeSantis.

Jeff Selingo:

Do you get a sense of... Is he trying to just develop a talking point for running at a national level? Is there some sort of polling that he sees down in Florida that kind of picking a fight with higher education is a good idea? I mean, it seems to me that there's always these dust ups with governors in higher education in a lot of other states, but not to this level.

Emma Pettit:

Yeah, I definitely agree. Last year I did a project where I looked at some public sentiment and conservative lawmaker sentiment around higher education in Florida during the Cold War and after the Cold War era. And you see this kind of criticism of higher education as being beholden into liberal values of being not for politically conservative students or faculty, of being elitist and out of touch. That comes and goes over the history of American higher education, especially for the past 50 years.

Before all of this happened, DeSantis championed the, what was commonly known as the Stop Woke Act, which restricts how teachers and professors can teach concepts related to race in the classroom. Florida Republicans passed measures that transform higher ed in all sorts of ways, they could require a review of tenured faculty every five years, which DeSantis framed as a check on intellectual orthodoxy.

It's more than a talking point. It's a clear vested interest. And actually a journalist, Jason Garcia, reported that last year, DeSantis had actually drafted legislation that would've gone much further. It would've completely overhauled oversight of higher ed in Florida, centralizing power in boards that are run by the governor's appointees. And a lot of that draft legislation didn't get passed in the package that Garcia reported it. It got broken out and certain pieces were left behind and certain pieces were put into other bills, but it's clearly a hobbyhorse, and Florida's legislative session starts in March. I agree that it does seem like an escalation of some of these themes and trends that have been happening for decades in public higher ed.

Jeff Selingo:

These are three very different stories and perspectives, but it seems to be a thread running through all of them in my mind, that higher ed as a sector is really struggling to change to a shifting mindset about what is college and what kind of education does our population need after high school?

Because obviously in Florida, DeSantis has also been focused a lot on the ROI of the degree too and focusing on programs that really have currency in the job market. Paul, I want to get your take on a story out of Pennsylvania where the new governor, Josh Shapiro, in his first executive order, eliminated the requirements for the bachelor's degree there for state jobs that cover something like 92% of state jobs now.

Now, this follows, of course, a similar move for governors in Utah and Maryland, as well as some big employers like Delta dropped the degree requirement for pilots last year. I really hope someone, and hint hint, I'm not your editor anymore, but I hope somebody follows up on these in six to 12 months to see how many people are actually hired without bachelor's degrees. Is this just a PR move?

Paul Fain:

Certainly some PR. There's some messaging that I think is valuable in that they're trying to signal to look beyond the degree to open up the hiring funnel. Whether that translates into large numbers of those 92% of jobs in Pennsylvania, I doubt it.

The data showing that higher education is failing lower income and diverse students is very clear. For me, one of the biggest ones was when we got disaggregated data on student debt default, fully half of Black college students who borrow will default on their loans within 12 years. I mean, that's insane. And I think the chatty data in particular really blew the doors off of this.

It's just not working for many low income people. And they know that. And I think the Varsity Blues scandal really captured people's attention that the deck is stacked. If you're a low income person, college might not be your best bet. College is a big word there though. Does that mean a one-year certificate from a community college? Maybe not.

But I think, to your point, a lot of companies have been talking about dropping degree requirements and continuing to hire. Oracle was one I saw, made no progress. Zero. Even though saying that. And you hear this a lot. The C-suite, the CEO gets all excited, wants to diversify their workforce, and then the HR folks are like, "Yeah, whatever. I'm going to continue to look at four-year universities." But all that said, I would not underestimate this movement. It's captured a lot of attention and it is bipartisan.

Jeff Selingo:

We're also in a very tight labor market right now. So, if the labor market loosens up a little bit, do you think that these degree requirements might come back or is this kind of a... Do you really think that this is some new world order?

Paul Fain:

I think that the degree requirements won't come back. I also think that in a tight labor market, it's going to be harder to get hired in certain fields without one. It's already hard. And the whole last hired first fired, if you're coming in with an apprenticeship and not a college degree, you might be in more danger of getting laid off. A lot of people are worried about that. This week we saw, what, 10,000 layoffs at Microsoft, 12,000 in Alphabet? You've got a lot of very degreed, credentialed people looking for jobs in tech.

That said, while Big Tech might not be hiring, you're seeing very strong demand for tech workers in financial services, retail, healthcare, even higher education. And one in three cybersecurity jobs are open right now. There's a lot of desperate folks looking for new on-ramps apprenticeships, short-term credentials, professional certificates from some of these big companies themselves. And don't forget the ENI piece, cybersecurity is 80% white and 80% male. That's just not going to cut it for most companies anymore.

Michael Horn:

Yeah, it makes sense, Paul. And it strikes me that one of the biggest issues isn't just the requirements, but the pipeline where they finding potential workers and so forth. With that, let's just take a quick break on Future U, and we'll be right back.

This episode is being brought to you by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Today's college students are more than just students. They're workers, parents and caregivers and neighbors and colleges and universities need to change to meet their changing needs. Learn more about the foundation's efforts to transform institutions to be more student-centered at

Jeff Selingo:

This episode of Future U is sponsored by Ascendium Education Group, a nonprofit organization committed to helping learners from low income backgrounds, reach their education and career goals. Ascendium believes that system level change and a student-centric approach are important for our nation's efforts to boost post-secondary education and workforce training opportunities. That's why their philanthropy aims to remove systemic barriers faced by these learners, specifically first generation students, incarcerated adults, veterans, students of color, adult learners, and rural community members. For more information, visit

Michael Horn:

Pam, I want to turn back to the enrollment machine that is high point because there were a few numbers in your story that I think regular listeners of Future U might be surprised to hear given their knowledge of the sector, frankly.

First is that the university posted a 27.7% margin in 2021. That's essentially profit, right? And it's way higher than, say, the 2% margin or even deficit that a lot of schools run across the country. So, one way that High Point did this is they buck a lot of higher ed convention. That is, they don't discount tuition very much. That means they're either attracting students who can pay mostly full freight or they're really just making poor students sort of figure out how to pay for college on their own and creating a gap in that story for them.

One result of that, and this is the other number, is that only 11.5% of High Point's first year students were on Pell Grants in 2020. How is High Point getting so many people to pay full price, especially against a landscape in which any other college they went to, that might not be the case?

Pam Kelley:

Yeah. They do get a lot of students who can pay close to full freight. One thing they do is they market like crazy. And I've seen on different kind of parent sites, like College Confidential and Niche, that some parents even complaining about how many things they get from High Point. But they've found a couple really successful marketing niches, and I think that's really key.

One is that they call themselves the premiere life skills university and they tout their ability to give students practical skills that get them jobs. And they talk about internships and experiential learning. I think a lot of schools do the same thing. They talk about teaching students to communicate. Well, I think most schools would say they do that, but High Point, and that this is Nido Qubein again, have really found a way to market that.

The other thing they've done, and they have really leaned into this in the last few years, is they market themselves as a, "God, Family, Country school." And that's a phrase, it's on the cover of their view book. And the president says, "If you aren't comfortable with that, you probably wouldn't want to come here." And it really appeals to a lot of parents who are turned off by what they see as more left-leaning universities.

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah, it seems like... I want to move from North Carolina back to Florida because it kind of goes along with what you were mentioning earlier, Emma, about New College. And I wanted to ask you specifically about that because it's a place I visited when I was a reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Ed way back in 2001. And I dug up that story last week, and there's a quote from a professor in there, Glenn Cuomo, that it's so relevant I think to the time today because he said, "I can only wonder how we will look to a conservative legislature," back in 2001. And I don't think his definition of conservative probably in 2001 is very different from what a conservative legislature might look like today.

And it seems to me, what's surprising to me, and I've been talking to some of my friends down in Florida about this, is that the faculty, not only at New College but at many of the other state universities, seem to really want to do battle with DeSantis. And I wonder why, because it seems like it's a losing one for many of them because they don't have a lot of power in this.

And what's interesting to me is that it's the faculty, but not the presidents, that are seeming to go up against DeSantis. The presidents, and correct me if I'm wrong here, they seem to be fairly silent on this, at least publicly, while the faculty are just kind of going to battle with the governor. What's really happening there? And do the faculty have any chance of changing public sentiment there? Because again, as we noted earlier, the governor was just reelected by a pretty wide margin.

Emma Pettit:

Not only are the presidents silent, some are speaking in support of what DeSantis is doing, or at least the recent request that his office made for all the spending data on diversity and critical race theory, in a pretty, I would say, extraordinary statement. The presidents of Florida's 28 state and community colleges, so not the 12 universities, put out a joint statement saying that they would identify and eliminate by February 1st, any academic requirement or program that, "Compels belief in critical race theory or related concepts, such as intersectionality."

In that declaration, they claim that, "Some initiatives in instruction in higher education that fall under the label of diversity, equity, inclusion have begun to portray the true purpose of DEI by seeking to push ideologies, such as critical race theory and its related tenants." That's presidents of 28 community and state colleges in Florida saying in a joint letter that they're going to comply and they agree in, at least, the previous paragraph that I just read.

Yeah, if you're a faculty member at one of those institutions and you see your president signing on to such a statement and you have a different view, it certainly makes sense why either you're perhaps concerned to speak out or why you think to yourself, "Well, my administration is not going to push back on this in the way that I think they should." It is up to us, especially if you're a tenured faculty member who is unionized within the Florida system, to put up a fight.

Whether that fight is winnable, I think is a completely different question. And the Florida legislature, I think has a super majority, the Republicans have a super majority perhaps in the Houses now, and we're entering a legislative session after the last year's legislative session that did not look too great to liberal faculty who were watching what was happening.

Yeah, if it's winnable, that, I think, is way more up to debate and I might side with the governor and the ruling class of lawmakers of a state over some angry faculty members, if I was betting on the outcome. But I do think we're seeing a period of resistance, certainly.

Michael Horn:

Pam, I think this relates to this, which is there's a lot of perceptions in all of this and politics and so forth, and I'm just curious, what was the reaction to your piece? What have you heard, and maybe more broadly, what do people think will happen to High Point after President Qubein steps aside at some point? Is this a case where the man, maybe the myth if you will, is bigger than the institution he leads, or will this have staying power beyond him?

Pam Kelley:

Well, you may not be surprised to hear this, but the reaction I heard kind of fell into two camps. There were a lot of readers who were really turned off by the God, Family, Country focus, and the fact that he's one of the nation's highest paid presidents and that he calls himself doctor, but he only has honorary degrees, and that the school off offers lavish amenities. But amid all this growth in spending, its financial aid packages are less generous today than when he took over back in 2005. There were those people.

And then on the other hand, a lot of people looked at the university's financial success and they said, "Good for him, smart businessman, he has made it work." I think it depends whether you view universities as businesses or as institutions that have higher missions. I do think that even people who don't care for what he has done and many of his decisions, admit the school may well have closed without him. And I hadn't mentioned this, but the school has been a huge boon for High Point, the city, which was really suffering from losing lots of furniture manufacturing jobs.

And it gives millions to the city, so they are very beholden to the university. And your question about what's going to happen when he leaves is a great question. And I've heard that. He's 74 and he has told me that he intends to be involved with High Point University as long as God gives him breath. But he and others have told me the school has a strong team of administrators and it will be just fine when he goes.

But there's no question that he is a charismatic leader and he has made himself the face of the university. There are two campus buildings, a city street and a city children's museum now that have been named for him. And when I talked to some parents at the opening convocation where he had the eagle fly, they just marveled about him. I mean, he's one of a kind. And so, it's an open question.

Jeff Selingo:

It's interesting, Pam, your story made the rounds of some people in my LinkedIn groups who are trustees, who tend to want to say, "How can we do this?" Because again, they're looking at the numbers. And to them, this is a very successful university: meeting enrollment, you're not spending a lot of money on financial aid, you're getting all this publicity. So, it's interesting how I think how people look at different stories.

And Emma, it's kind of a similar question to you about reactions to your pieces. Especially given The ChronicleChronical readership, is there just a strong belief that, "Yes, go faculty, let's fight and act against this." Or is there some nuance to it where people are saying, "Well, maybe higher ed has moved too far in one direction, and here's somebody finally challenging it to kind of move back?"

Emma Pettit:

Yeah, I think perhaps predictably in my inbox, it's a lot of faculty members because I covered the faculty who are saying, "How dare DeSantis do this?" And, "Go, faculty." And, "Protest more." And, "Why aren't university presidents knocking down the door of the governor's office every day??" and la dah dah dah. And I understand that.

I also do hear from people who, I think, are critical of universities focusing so much on diversity and equity and inclusion or who they think, and maybe have more of what I would consider a classical liberal approach of, "Universities should focus on teaching and on preparing students for the job market," and aren't so thrilled about the DEI initiatives that DeSantis is also not a fan of. But I don't necessarily think that they would put themselves in the same camp as the Republican governor of Florida.

But yeah, the people I hear from are the people who are embedded within academia and I think are concerned that other governors and other state legislatures in other conservative states are going to take up the mantle and are going to see what's happening in Florida and think those politicians are going to mount something similar there. But I do think that there is broader criticism and debate over the programs and initiatives that are the ire of DeSantis, but I don't think those people would necessarily align themselves, politically or otherwise, with the governor himself.

Michael Horn:

It's interesting. And thinking a lot about reactions and perception and how it drives next moves and so forth, and that gets into where the puck is going, if you will. And Paul, I'm just curious, you have your pulse on this, where employers are interacting with education and the nature of new programs popping up and so forth. What's next for the college degree in terms of where employers stand? Where's this all going?

Paul Fain:

Yeah, well, let me start with an anecdote from Florida, which is always turbocharged. In the furor over Ben Sasse's appointment at UF, I was reminded of a story... I went down when, I was working with Jeff, to cover another crisis in Florida, and a former president of UF told me getting just destroyed during the budget hearing in Tallahassee. Right after that hearing, several legislators who had yelled at him for the culture war-fueled stuff, slipped him a note of who they had to admit, who UF should admit. Don't give up on the college degree. UF is going to be just fine.

It's going to still be one of the hardest public universities to get into in the country. I think you are going to see small growth in alternatives, and I'll give you a specific example. Really devastating study recently about CUNY, the City University of New York, doubled their STEM degree production, particularly in tech fields, software development, et cetera. Terrible outcomes. More than half of those graduates aren't working in tech. The median wage is 45K.

So, it's not just a degree, obviously. It's your advantages in life, it's your networking, it's your social capital. We all know this, but I think the veil is getting lifted here. You're not going to compete with an elite college grad if you go to CUNY for a tech job in New York City. That's just how it works. So, the Marcy Lab School, I love this place. It's one of the only actual alternatives to a four-year college that I'm aware of. This is a tiny startup school, takes students who would've gone to CUNY, right out of high school. They've done a couple hundred so far, it's very expensive. It's subsidized by employers. They do a year of intensive training, including liberal arts sort of education. And the median wage is over 100K for their graduates. They've got jobs lined up.

But we're talking a few hundred here against CUNY, which is massive. But I think particularly though in the community college, open access world that I cover, which is more than half of college undergraduates, 45% of undergrads go to community colleges, you're going to see more alternatives to that kind of transfer-oriented degree, which frankly isn't working. One in eight community college students will eventually graduate with a bachelor's degree.

You'll see these subsidized on-ramp programs in high growth fields where ideally you can break into a job and then continue to work on your degree. And I think Texas, another culture award-fueled higher ed market, you're seeing a massive increase in funding for community colleges. A third of their budgets is being added, 650 million, of that sort of targeted performance, funded, string-attached for high demand fields.

Jeff Selingo:

Just kind of curious about what we didn't ask about anything else on your mind with these stories...

Pam Kelley:

When Emma was talking, I just thought it was so interesting, and kind of horrifying, what they're doing in Florida. But I feel like I kind of heard from the parent end of that when I was at High Point. And the fact that I talked to one parent who had a freshman daughter and was super pleased with the school, just loved it and told me he's already considering it for his nine-year-old son because he thinks that as a white man, he's going to have a difficult time. And I think there is a segment of the population that really is so turned off by what they see as left-leaning universities. And I think Nido Qubein has found kind of a genius niche there.

Jeff Selingo:

We often talk about niches in higher educationition, and it seems like it he's filling something that exists out there.

Michael Horn:

Yeah. I mean, everything you're saying, as somebody who's covered for-profit higher education for a long time, massive profit margins of 20% plus that you plow into marketing around a niche, it works. It doesn't just work for for-profits. You see Western Governor's University and Southern New Hampshire University, over 200,000 students now. It's marketing that helps make that happen.

I will say though that Western Governor's profit margin is 2%. And I do wonder, for some of the deep pocketed four-year universities, you've already seen local governments coming after endowments. You've seen Congress coming after endowments. I think it's going to get harder for the wealthy institutions at times, in terms of at least scrutiny of their wealth.

Emma Pettit:

When Paul was talking about that interesting moment of the president getting totally beaten down by the legislature and getting slipped the notes about, "Can you let my kid in?" Or someone else in, I think that's an important thing to note about these culture war issues too, is just because lawmakers will issue statements about woke ideology in higher education, sometimes they support funding for certain things at universities or sometimes they support raises for faculty members when the general budget comes around.

Like Florida's Board of Governors approved 20 million, I think it is , for a new artificial intelligence initiative at the University of Florida. And they're very invested in having UF remain in the top five. It's all top five all the time. So, it's this interesting dichotomy of them not being hostile to higher education in total or wanting to abandon the enterprise altogether. And sometimes it's quite interesting to see there's this kind of sideshow, which is becoming more of a main show in Florida, of this culture war battle.

But also, there's sometimes real initiatives or STEM-type stuff that these lawmakers very much do want to support because they think it's going to bring jobs to Florida, et cetera. I think that's an interesting thing to keep in mind is just the culture war stuff is so interesting. I love reporting on it, I love thinking about it and find it fascinating, but it takes up a lot of room and might not have as much effect long-term on people's trust in the value of a college degree.

Michael Horn:

I was just going to say what you really need to worry is if those lawmakers give up their tickets to UF football games.

Emma Pettit:

Yeah. Yes, totally.

Jeff Selingo:

Well, speaking of UF, Emma, and I don't know if you have any thoughts on this, but there's a new sheriff in town in a couple weeks at UF, in the name of Ben Sasse. And just kind of wondering how is he going to play into all of this? Because he's not a Republican in kind of the Ron DeSantis mold. I'm wondering if he's going to become the next Mitch Daniels. In fact, Mitch Daniels 2.0, since Mitch Daniels is retiring and he's going to be kind of the favorite conservative of liberal higher ed, but how is that going to play in the State of Florida with somebody like DeSantis?

Emma Pettit:

Yeah. I think that all remains to be seen. I've heard different opinions. Faculty members who are optimistic, have heard his stated commitments to academic freedom and to tenure and to some of these issues that they really care about and are thinking, "Well, here's someone who can perhaps speak the language of the Republican lawmakers and of DeSantis a bit better. Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe he'll be able to provide some kind of protective coating or be able to navigate those relationships because that's what they are, they're relationships."

I think I've heard optimism from some faculty who I'm speaking with, who have this wait and see and fingers crossed for the best approach. I think that there are students and other faculty members who are not that optimistic at all, I think, to put it gently, who think that this just is another step in the road of Florida's flagship being in the pocket of the conservative powers that be in the state. I don't know. I think time will tell.

Michael Horn:

It's going to be fascinating to watch this. Some of the sentiment you're expressing around, "We don't like colleges, but we do like colleges," reminds me of sometimes an anti-American sentiment around the world too. There's the great story from the 1990s where I can't remember which country President Clinton was visiting, but he was somewhere and there was protests and there was a sign said, "Go home, Yankee. And take me with you." It's sort of this ambiguity, I think, is often in these stories.


eff Selingo:

Well, Emma, Paul, and Pam, thank you so much for joining us today on Future U.

Paul Fain:

Thank you.

Emma Pettit:

Thank you so much for having us.

Jeff Selingo:

So, that does it for another episode of Future U, and we'll see you next time.

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