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Episode 4: The Future of Higher Education

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Transcript for Episode 4: The Future of Higher Education

Guests:

PAUL TOUGH is the author of The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us and How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. He is a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine; his writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, GQ, and Esquire, and on the op-ed page of The New York Times.

PAUL LEBLANC has been the president of Southern New Hampshire University since 2003. Formerly, he was the president of Marlboro College from 1996 to 2003. In 2015 he served as Senior Policy Advisor to Under Secretary Ted Mitchell at the U.S. Department of Education. He is also the chair of the Board of Directors of the American Council on Education.

Transcript:

Danielle Mattoon: Welcome to The World As You’ll Know It, a podcast about life after Covid-19. I’m your host Danielle Mattoon. If we think about the pandemic as a giant global re-set, what challenges and possibilities will it bring? That’s the question this show is asking. Each week, we invite an established journalist to host a conversation with an expert in their field about how Covid, and our response to it, will affect the future. This week, we’re talking about the future of higher education.

Our host is Paul Tough, a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine and the author, most recently, of The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us. Joining him is Paul LeBlanc, the president of Southern New Hampshire University.

Now before they begin, I want to say a few words about this school, because it’s unusual. In 2003, when Paul LeBlanc took over as president of Southern New Hampshire University, it was a small residential college of about 2,800 students. Today, while it still retains that residential core. But it has also become the largest non-profit provider of online higher education in the country.

This gives Paul a unique perspective on what’s happening this year in colleges and universities, and what it could all mean for the future. Yes, he believes, there will be more online learning post pandemic than there was before. But the most important change, he believes, could be a new, national will to make college affordable for all.

Here’s his conversation with Paul Tough.

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Paul Tough: Okay, Paul. So it's great to see you, first of all.

Paul LeBlanc: Nice to see you as well.

Paul Tough: So today I mostly want to talk about the future of higher education and how we get there. But I think we need to start off by talking about the pandemic. You're a college president at a time that I imagine must be a very stressful time to be a college president. How is Covid affecting your campus? And how is it going for your peers? What’s going on for college presidents dealing with the pandemic right now.

Paul LeBlanc: It's a time when all of us who lead institutions are probably drawing into every shred of experience we have. It's pretty stressful. We're a school that decided not to open its campus, so we decided that early on and that relieves us of some burdens. When I talked to colleagues who have opened, they spend almost all of their time on managing that day-to-day, there's very little bandwidth for anything else. They're in kind of constant crisis management mode because it always feels so precarious. I've colleagues who talk about the first thing they check in the morning, "Did we have any kind of outbreak?" So that's pretty hard.

Paul LeBlanc: Now, we're also a very large online provider and I would observe generally in the economy, if you are a digital enterprise, you're probably doing okay and if you're an analog enterprise, like a campus, you probably have some struggles. So for our digital enterprise, we are surging, I mean enrollments are hitting historical records for us and we've had to hire 350 new full-time people in the last six weeks and I have a proposal on my desk to hire another 250.

Paul Tough: Wow.

Paul LeBlanc: So, I'm sort of navigating parallel universes. For our traditional-aged students who are not on campus, it's incredibly painful. And I'm hearing from them already, "What about January? What about January? What about January?"

Paul Tough: Meaning will you open?

Paul LeBlanc: So it’s -- Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And, of course, what we see broadly across the United States ah, is really an amazing range of experiences on campuses. So we've seen the well publicized cases of major outbreaks and students ignoring things and having to shut down again, but we also have examples of schools that seem to be navigating this pretty well.

Paul Tough: And are there any patterns? Is there a sense that there are certain types of institutions that are doing better or worse? Or is it just sort of the luck of the draw?

Paul LeBlanc: No, I think there are some patterns you can start to discern here. So isolation, rural isolation, if you're able to do pretty frequent testing, so Bates and Bowdoin both test twice a week and they get very, very quick results and they're doing a lot of things to monitor and quarantine immediately. But they have some real benefits, they house almost all of their students. Campuses that are struggling are in urban areas where many of their students are out of their control, they're living off campus. So parties, going to bars, all of those things become more of an issue. You have campuses that are in high infection areas.

Paul LeBlanc: And then of course, against all of that, you have enormous fiscal strain. We've been talking about the pandemic, but you have to talk about schools that are laying off or furloughing hundreds of people and all the pain that goes with that. Who are cutting programs, who are curtailing athletics, who are juggling, some would say pretty ethical, moral questions about who do you bring back for what thing because there is a financial implication. So it's a fascinating time to lead an institution.

Paul Tough: And so, how bad are the finances for the colleagues, the peers that you're talking to?

Paul LeBlanc: I would say two things. One is they've been bad for a long time, they were bad before the pandemic. So the pandemic has accelerated trends we already knew. So we knew that the business models of non-selective privates were very strained. They depend on tuition, if they can't reopen and they can't collect tuition, which they tend to do twice a year. So you got a big tranche of tuition in the summer, that's your fall tuition that's come in and you live off that until the January influx of cash. So there are lots of places that are really struggling with cashflow. And as you know, when you can't pay the bills, that's sort of the end of the game. Now here's the flip side of this, colleges are really hard to kill. They can borrow against their endowment, they can do things, they can get lines of credit, they can survive for a long time, but they'll be pretty damaged.

For the first time we’ve thought about public institutions possibly closing. Um, that’s more likely to happen in states that have already divested or underfunded their publics in ways there are huge demographic downshifts. So we know that in the Northeast and the Midwest it’s already happening and in 2025, we go off a demographic cliff. The size of the pie from which you will recruit is going to be so much smaller. And again on the converse, is that public institutions are very hard to kill. They tend to be, like all colleges, economic generators within their own communities and there is a state legislatir who is going to go to the mat to save his or her institution. So it's hard. And I don't think you're going to see the precipitous disappearance of colleges overnight, but you may see a speeded up decline.

Paul Tough: And on the public side, I imagine there's... So you might have those legislators that are going to go to the mat for any individual hometown college, but, so far at least, they don't seem as a group to be going to the mat for more funding for public higher education as a whole?

Paul LeBlanc: That's right. And part of what makes the challenge of the public so hard right now is that they have been underfunded since the last recession. There was a great divestment of States from their public higher ed systems, it began in 2009, 2010. Some States restored some of that funding, but, by and large, you've seen this enormous cost shifting to students and their families. The result of that is you see $1.6 trillion dollars of student debt, second only to mortgage debt in America, more than all credit card debt put together.

This recession stands to be even uglier. It's a deeper recession, the States are reeling still and we now talk about, as you know Paul, a kind of K-shaped recovery when it does happen. So the haves will do better and the not haves will do two worst. Right? And we see the early signs of that already in the decline in community college enrollments. it looks like maybe a 7% drop in community college enrollments. Now in the last recession, which was not as severe, community college enrollments surged because it was a more affordable option. But now what you're seeing, at least one theory, is that community colleges are attended by people with fewer means and now they have so few means that community college isn't even an option for them.

Paul Tough: Right.

Paul LeBlanc: It would be evidence of a troubling trend. And part of what the pandemic has certainly shown a light on is the great inequities in higher ed. So who's been hurt most? Students of color, students with modest economic means. And there's real fear, and it's still a little bit too early to tell, but there's real fear that we will see a lot of those students disappear off the radar screen.

Paul Tough: While we're in that sort of big picture mode, looking at the systemic problems in higher education, I want to just go back to pre-pandemic to January 2020, those happy days when we had barely heard about the coronavirus or it seemed like it might be pretty limited. And so if I had talked to you then and asked you what the two or three biggest problems were that were facing American higher education, what would you have told me?

Paul LeBlanc: Affordability would probably be number one. So more and more students unable to afford the cost of attendance. And we had a broken business model in which so many schools, because they don't have other sources of income, are really left to do one thing, which is increased prices. Now critics would say you could also decrease costs and they wouldn't be entirely wrong. If you take a look at the rate of inflation in higher education, it's twice the rate of healthcare since 1980, so we are arguably the one industry that makes American healthcare look good.

Paul Tough: And that's even with out, not just talking about whether the costs go to students or to governments or to anyone else, you're saying just the amount that the institution spends.

Paul LeBlanc: Yeah. The inflationary cost of goods, if you will. And there's a lot to unpack there, so I would argue it's easy to point at institutions and say they've been poorly managed, but in reality, I think almost everybody is complicit in this. If I tag along on a tour on my campus it's interesting to listen to families talk about, "Do you have a food court? My daughter is a vegan, will she be able to find enough to eat here? What about study abroad? How long will we have to wait till we get a single room? Do you have a JV team in baseball? Because I don't think my kid's good enough to quite make varsity, but he really loves baseball."

Paul LeBlanc: And you kind of go on the list of all of these things that people ask for-- every one of them in isolation is perfectly reasonable, "I want the kid who is a vegan not to go hungry," yeah, I get it. But in the end often it's a tend to, "So why is it so expensive?" And I think, "Well, think about those questions you just asked." So there's some of that, there's certainly been more and more regulatory burdens placed on institutions. We are certainly seeing the cost of massive shifts in our culture and our society with young people. So even before the pandemic, we were seeing historically high levels of anxiety and depression among students, which meant that we had to increase resources on our wellness staff and our counseling staffs. So you have all of those pieces.

Paul LeBlanc: I think we are also dealing with the responsibility to deal with a population that comes out of American high schools, 50% of them are unable or unready to do college level math, unready to do college level writing. So we don't use the word remedial any longer, but whatever that sort of bridging is, it's very costly. And then you have institutions’ own culpability, and that could be everything from the status chasing that's afflicted higher education. So Frank Gehry designed buildings, do I really need that? Athletics, I love sports, I love athletics, but the reality is it's a handful of D1 football programs that bring money in, and there's just tons of them that lose money. And really in the end, how much of that has to do with the quality of education. So we are all complicit in the rising cost of education.

Paul LeBlanc: And if you think about the two jobs that traditional campuses have to do, so one is to get you, to get a student, a degree that unlocks opportunity for them in their careers but they have this other job they do. And that other job is everything that I would put together under the sort of umbrella of coming of age. You make this incredible experience available to students and we give them four years of that. That may be a luxury. That's a lot of living in the bubble. And how do we start to think about these? Can we start to decouple those two jobs? So it's an interesting mix of how college came to be in this place to be so expensive.

That was the big pre-pandemic challenge we were all facing. I think a second challenge is the dysfunction in the college-to-work pipeline. To the extent that government needs us to make sure we're supplying the economy with well-trained workers, that's getting harder to do in a world in which the nature of work is changing at a ferocious pace, and curriculum committees go slow. So, one of the things you are seeing for example is the emergence of a whole host of new providers that aren’t part of the traditional higher ed ecosystem. Bootcamps, for example. What does a bootcamp say? Hey, we can do this faster, cheaper, very precise in terms of what you learn, and we can guarantee you at the end that there is going to be an employer out there who is going to just do anything to hire you and you’ll make a lot of money. So I look at a company like Trilogy, for example, which partners with institutions to layer on a bootcamp. If you layer on the sixth month program that gives them training in programming, full stack web development, etc. They’re going to get a good job. They’re going to be happy graduates. So you’ve got this career readiness finishing school approach that’s one, there are many other examples of the kinds of things that are popping up now.

Paul Tough: I’m still thinking about what you brought up earlier regarding time students should spend on campus. I talk to first-generation students and low-income students as they're making their way to college. And what’s complicated about their experience is that absolutely they care about having a good job on the other end, but I feel like they really do want that coming of age experience. And in some ways they need it, a big part of their transition is going from one class background to another. But I do hear what you're saying, that for some four years is too many. So my question is as higher education starts to experiment, is there something short of that four year experience, but something more than just an online experience that an institution like yours can give to those students to give them enough?

Paul LeBlanc: Yeah, for sure. And you and I are on the same page on this. I am that student, I was immigrant, first generation college student, my parents had eighth grade educations. And part of what you get in that residential experience, and it's usually faculty, though coaches and advisors can provide this as well, is you get someone who believes in you, ideally, and ideally more than one. We can't overstate the importance of the human factor and the sense of being together that an 18-year-old gets on a campus when they find just the right faculty member. In fact, I bet if I were to ask you to list the most influential people in your life, somewhere in the top five would be teachers. That's very hard to replicate in fully virtual spaces. There's a big caveat here, which is that we are now out of the reach of too many kids who really need that experience.

Paul LeBlanc: And part of what I hope will happen is that we will develop new models that can be more within the financial reach of families that can do both those jobs, but think of them in a broader range of options. If I could sort of wave the wand and say post-pandemic what would I hope for? I would hope for an industry that's actually not built around itself, which is what I think most of higher ed is, it's sort of institutionally centric, "You are lucky if we admit you, you come in on our terms." I would love to see a form of higher education in the future that really wraps itself around the individual students.

Paul Tough: Now that we've laid out all of the things that we want this perfect model to do, I want to understand more about what Southern New Hampshire University does and the different models that you are employing at the same time. And I mean for me the background to this question that comes out of what you’re describing is that there is I think this tension of affordability on one hand and sort of focus on job skills and accessibility, certainly, a broader accessibility than we have and this question of all the complexities of what students really want and need from their universities. Skills but a lot more than that as well. So how does Southern New Hampshire University thread that needle?

Paul LeBlanc: We experiment. We have a culture of innovation that encourages our folks to think about new delivery models and we've had a series of these experiments over the last few years that we're trying to distill now and think about, how do we come out of this pandemic? So we have a very, very large online presence, one of the largest in the country, about 131,000 online students. 30,000 of them are traditional age. We have 30,000 students of color, that's larger than any campus-based population of students of color in the country. We have more Native American students than the largest tribal college. Then on campus, we have a traditional residential campus of about 3000 students, 3000 undergraduates, bucolic setting in Southern New Hampshire.

Paul LeBlanc: But before the pandemic, back in October, I wrote to the campus and said, "If we're looking at the numbers, we are out of reach of too many students. Students are taking on too much debt to be here. We have to address the affordability issue. So by 2023, we have to be in market with $10,000 tuition options." When the pandemic hit and then we realized, this recession is going to dwarf the recession of 2007, 2008, 2009, I said, "We need to speed this up, This year's high school seniors and juniors can't wait until 23, so let's have some options available to them in fall of '21. That’s a really heavy lift and I can’t say enough about our campus faculty and staff who looked at this with unease and anxiety. Like wait a minute like how are we going to get to 10,000 our tuition was 32, which by the way isn’t even that high for a private. So they’ve worked all summer, I got their report, which was 5,000 pages. 3 binders. All of these things that we’ve been doing without a lot of questioning and how we might start to rethink that.

Paul Tough: And so, what does that mean that that's an option? I would definitely take the $10,000 option over the $32,000 option, but what’s different [crosstalk]?

Paul LeBlanc: You might, unless you didn't like what was different, right?

Paul Tough: Okay, so what's different?

Paul LeBlanc: Yeah. I said to you that we've run experiments. So we came into this summer's work not from sort of zero, we actually had a lot of learning under our belt, and that's part of what we've drawn on. So we've had a program two years in now called Project Atlas and Project Atlas takes our competency-based degree program, so no classes, no courses, you progress to the degree by demonstrating mastery of courses and you do that through completion of projects, and you work with learning coaches.

Paul Tough: Is it that the salaries of the learning coaches are lower than a professor’s salary?

Paul LeBlanc: Yeah. So, historically, the value add that institutions brought was in the creation, curation, and delivery of content through the faculty. Right, if you think what is a college in the end? It’s faculty who are creating knowledge, they’re curating knowledge (ie. they are designing courses and programs) and then they are delivering those courses. We’re living in an age when content is increasingly available, rich and closer to free. If you believe that, there's less value to be rendered there and the value then of an institution becomes more in the ability to know students, curate their learning pathways, and make sense of their learning and be there for them when they get stuck. So we don’t have faculty standing in front like, nope, there’s the onus on you to read, to do the work, to watch the videos, to really go deeper with the content, and then come together, working together in very well constructed projects, where an academic coach who has been trained to monitor that, knows where you're getting stuck, when it's time to get help to unlock learning. You can serve many more students in that model. I could dig out the economics of it, but it is, we've quantified this and it's considerably less expensive.

Paul Tough: Ok so those students are on campus but let’s say I’m a student in the online part of Southern New Hampshire, what's my experience like? Am I watching videos? Is there somebody I'm talking to? What's happening?

Paul LeBlanc: So asynchronous courses because for our busy students, the biggest factor for them is probably convenience. Right, so think about the student who's juggling a full-time job, kids, soccer practice, getting dinner on the table, et cetera. In the old traditional model of adult education or continuing education, you would work all day, maybe grab a fast-food dinner, eat it in the parking lot, go into class, and if you're lucky, you would get home in time to say goodnight to your kids. What our model allows them to do is work all day, have dinner with the kids, help them with their homework, put the dishes in the dishwasher, and at 9:30, now you're a student for the next two or three hours. So that convenience is massive for people who are trying to hold down a full-time job, take care of their family and squeeze in a college degree. And it's why our graduation rates are closer to 50% for a population that is routinely single digits or low teens.

Paul LeBlanc: When we look at who doesn't graduate, there's a lot of, “Life gets in the way.” Remember we're talking about a time in this country when 45% of people say they would struggle to come up with $400 for an unexpected car repair. That's who's going back to school trying to have a better life. But think about how fragile that is. They are one car repair sometimes from dropping out. 50% of the people who default on their educational loans have loans for under $8,000. You have to compute that for a minute because we often think about, "Well, wait a minute, people are struggling to pay their college debt because it's so much." It's like actually fully half of it are poor people for whom $8,000 is really a struggle. So that's who we serve.

Paul LeBlanc: And I think one of the things I've been thinking a lot about lately is the degree to which time is the enemy of the poor. If you don't have a washer dryer down the hall, it takes more time to get clean clothes. If you don't own a car, it takes more time to get groceries. Right, it's just, everything takes more time and we're really thinking hard about models that are untethered to time.

Paul Tough: So even before the pandemic you were seeing a need for more choice for students, less synchronous learning, what's the pandemic doing? Is it accelerating this push toward the future?

Paul LeBlanc: Yeah, it's for sure accelerating all of these trends that we saw before. So online was already accelerating and that was before the pandemic. And then we had this enormous national experiment that no one asked for, which is to move everybody remote. And it was uneven and messy and it wasn't very good online in many instances, but it broke the log jam and I think we will certainly see institutions that go as quickly as possible back to their very traditional residential natures, but I think you will see now online just becoming part of the landscape. You'll probably see a lot more hybrid learning, which is ideal. And I think at some point we're going to stop making a distinction, we're going to stop talking about online versus not online. I just think we're going to have learning. It won't be as fast as we want, but online and hybrid and that kind of seamlessness definitely coming and definitely coming fast.

Paul LeBlanc: I'm pretty optimistic, actually. I think we're going to get to see a lot of creativity. Remember that whenever this country has gone through a national catastrophe of this kind, it's tended to redefine higher education. So if you think about the Civil War, out of the ashes of the Civil War, we get the Morrill Act, our land grant institutions and the expansion of the public system, really changed the whole landscape. And then if you think about the depression and World War II, we get the GI Bill, the democratization of higher education, who gets to go, and the community college movement. So I have some optimism about what comes out, it's going to be painful like all these things, it's really painful in the time. Creation often requires a destruction of a kind, but I'm pretty optimistic that we're going to break through some long held log jams.

Paul Tough: One of the things that strikes me when I look back at that history of the GI Bill, the land grant universities, is that in so much of American history, when we were talking about higher education, it wasn't necessarily a very democratic institution, but it was usually a pretty cheap institution, if it wasn't free. And when I think about this year, obviously the big thing that's been going on is the pandemic, the other thing that's been happening is this presidential election. And on the democratic side, there's been some pretty different thinking about higher education and funding higher education and the federal role in higher education, including this idea of free college. Which, depending on how you define it, sometimes means free college, but certainly means a bigger federal investment in higher education in order to counteract that phenomenon you were describing of this huge shift, that's happened certainly over the last 12 years, but even before that, of the cost going from the public to individual students. Which seems like it's at the heart of so many of our problems in higher education.

Paul Tough: When you look at the future, do you think we might be on the brink of really redefining and potentially redefining back to the way that things used to be not that long ago toward a system where the public is once more deeply involved in paying for public higher education?

Paul LeBlanc: I do. I don't know if I believe the idea of free college because A) there's no such thing, someone's paying for it, B) I do think there's something about skin in the game. And then if you take a look at free college and a lot of countries that have free college, it's a mixed bag. But I love the idea of debt-free college and I love the idea of income contingent thinking about financing. So I'm a big fan of the Australian financial aid system, which is: all of your college funding comes from the federal government and it's paid back as a percentage of your income. So you have to hit a certain floor before you pay any. If you hit a second, much higher floor, you pay a higher percentage, but it means that someone can go to college to become an early childhood worker and not be perpetually poor.

Paul LeBlanc: And every system has pros and cons, so does that system, but I think we need a much saner form of college financing, we need more support for students, and we need to send students out into the world without debilitating levels of debt. And it's not a surprise to me that we're talking about free college because the level of frustration and the sense for the first time, really, in a long time that my kids may not do better than me is deeply disturbing for people.

Paul Tough: Great. Okay. Are you ready for a speed round?

Paul LeBlanc: Yeah. Can I say one other thing, where we talked about some big catastrophes.

Paul Tough: Yeah, please, please.

Paul LeBlanc: The other thing one might observe is that after big global catastrophes and national catastrophes, you tend to see waves of more progressive legislation. So out of the depression, of course, came FDR and sort of all the sort of social security and things that were intended in some ways, some would argue, to save capitalism because it was going to destroy itself. And after World War II you saw in Europe, the social safety net put in place because the level of destitution was so desperate. My hope is that in what some people think will be a K-shaped recovery, that we're going to see an intolerance of this level of inequity and maybe the next wave of progressive legislation.

Paul LeBlanc: And I think you will see higher education right there at the top. Because people still see it as an engine of social mobility and opportunity. And I lived that, I came in as a first-generation immigrant kid and I see the life my daughters have, it's transformed. My mother worked in a factory until she was 76. My parents could hardly imagine the life of my children. It was access to affordable, really affordable, higher education that made that possible. I think returning to that is very likely, because right now where higher education was so long seen as part of the solution to America's inequities, it's actually now seen as part of the problem. If you look at public opinion, the opinion of higher education has plummeted in America, like 20 percentage points last year in polls. And why? Because it feels like you're part of the problem now. We've got to fix that, that just breaks my heart as an educator.

Paul Tough: Yeah. I've been looking at that polling data too and what scares me about it is that it seems to be leading, I mean I think I share your sense that it comes from this feeling that I share that higher education is not equitable and that it's too expensive, but what struck me and I was just reading a Gallup poll that, I think, came out last year, is that just over a few years that the cohort that's changed the most in their opinions is young people. And that the young people not just saying college is not fair or too expensive, but they were saying a college degree isn't necessary or isn't valuable. It's gone from young people being the most likely to say it was important to the least likely to say it's most important, going from like 70% to 40%, something like that. And there's just no evidence out there that's actually true, that a college degree is less important to those people.

Paul LeBlanc: Absolutely not.

Paul Tough: So it just seems like it's really coming out of like, "Well, if you're not going to make it possible for me, I'm going to convince myself that it's not important." But at a moment where the politics of higher education is, I think, about to become more important, if you have a big part of the population that has convinced itself that a college degree isn't an important thing for them or anyone else, that worries me.

Paul LeBlanc: Yeah, absolutely. And you take a look at, as you say, all the data tells us it's just not true. Take a look at the levels of unemployed right now between those with college educations and those without. This was true in the last recession, it's just not true. But if it feels out of reach, it might as well be true.

Paul Tough: Right.

Paul LeBlanc: All right. So wholly agree with you. All right. Lightning round.

Paul Tough: Okay good. All right. So I'm going to hit you with a couple of rapid fire questions and if you can answer in a sentence or two, that would be great.

Paul LeBlanc: Okay.

Paul Tough: If crises beget solutions, what do you see as the biggest opportunity right now?

Paul LeBlanc: To break the long time industrial-age model of higher ed to make it more dynamic, to make it more fluid, to make it more available?

Paul Tough: Excellent. What's the biggest practical obstacle standing in the way of that?

Paul LeBlanc: Our regulatory environment, which makes dramatic change very hard.

Paul Tough: And what's the biggest imaginative obstacle, the biggest sort of incorrect assumption that standing in the way of that change?

Paul LeBlanc: That time equals learning. We've built a whole industry on the idea of measuring time as a way of understanding how much you've learned.

Paul Tough: And what is one plausible, tangible accomplishment in the next 12 months that would give you the most optimism about the path ahead?

Paul LeBlanc: If in the upcoming work around federal legislation, we were able to create expansive spaces for experimentation. Because policy will always follow practice, you just have to accept that. They're never going to be able to invent innovation, but they have to make it more possible.

Paul Tough: So the job is for someone like you to show models that work and to have the space to show models that work, and then the system can react?

Paul LeBlanc: That's right. That's right.

Paul Tough: Got it. All right, Paul, this has been great. Thank you so much for taking the time, really enjoyed the conversation.

Paul LeBlanc: It's been my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me. It was great.

Danielle Mattoon: Thank you for listening to The World As You’ll Know It.

Paul Tough is the author of The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us. Paul LeBlanc is the president of Southern New Hampshire University. You can find links to their work and more in our show notes.

This podcast is brought to you by Aventine Research Institute, a non-profit dedicated to supporting work that helps us understand the long-term consequences of today’s decisions and behaviors on the future. I’m Danielle Mattoon, Editorial Director. The views expressed are those of the participants and do not represent those of Aventine, its employees or affiliates. This podcast is produced in partnership with Pineapple Street Studios.

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Next time on The World As You’ll Know It we talk about COVID’s effect on the future of cities. This time with two guests. Julian Castro, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and former mayor of San Antonio, Texas.

Julian Castro: This is where cities have to go full bore into investing in a common denominator here which is quality of life.

Danielle Mattoon: And Janette Sadik-Khan, an expert on cities and transportation, former Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Janette Sadik-Khan: One of the problems that we have certainly on the transit front is there were a lot of headlines early on that transit was a super spreader. And in fact, what we’ve seen is transit is not a super spreader.

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