2 min read January 2022 — In an interview with Invest:, Scott Bullard, president of Pfeiffer University, discussed how the labor shortage is changing the manner in which the university is interacting with neighboring industries and how they are preparing students for the future workforce. He also gave his thoughts on the idea of life-long learning experiences and what majors are currently experiencing the most interest among undergraduates.
What are some successful strategies that you implemented to manage the pandemic?
Three out of four of our Charlotte-based graduate programs were delivered online before the pandemic. While we have always, and still want to, prioritize in-person learning for the undergraduate model, we are providing online capabilities to our undergraduates in most academic disciplines. Our graduate faculty experienced in online teaching trained our undergraduate faculty, and I am so proud of the way in which we took the “lemons” given to us by COVID-19 and made lemonade, so to speak, we were innovative during a period of adversity and have come out stronger and more flexible on the other side. Like most institutions we’ve also been pushed on the administrative side to leverage video conferencing to be safer and this has resulted in some unintentional cost saving.
The results of the national survey of student engagement put out by the Indiana University Department of Higher Education are in and tell us that vocational conversations are high here at Pfeiffer, higher than many participating universities, even given the limits created by the pandemic.
Has your application or graduation rate been impacted over the course of the pandemic?
Our retention rates have actually remained high during the pandemic, and while undergraduate tuition revenue is slightly down, graduate tuition revenue is higher due to our new and innovative programs in health care. Historically recessions lead to interesting improvements in (graduate tuition) revenue for universities, and we’ve experienced an uptick overall.
What are the most in-demand professional skills in the area and how is your institution responding?
I think the mental health crisis is a place where Pfeiffer stands ready to help Charlotte. We have three accredited programs in marriage and family therapy in the state of North Carolina. One of them is East Carolina University and the other is Appalachian State in the west. Pfeiffer is focused on Charlotte and the Central Piedmont region.
We have a wonderful faculty, and all of them have doctoral degrees in this field. They are able to supervise current students and offer mental health services through our Pfeiffer Reach Clinic. Persons in lower socio-economic classifications secure this care for free or at drastically reduced costs, and I could not be prouder of this service to the Charlotte region. Now, we want to take this to the next level – offering care to individuals, contracting with organizations that pay us a flat fee to provide counseling to their employees and their employees’ family members.
People often have to wait weeks and months for mental health so we are striving to change that.
Pfeiffer has also constructed an $18 million building in Downtown Albemarle, NC called the Center for Health Sciences. We’ve accepted 90 students in the area going into physician assistant studies and about 70 students in the area of occupational therapy to help an aging population.
What majors are most in demand at your university?
The largest major among our freshmen is business and the second largest is nursing. The third is health and exercise science. Health and exercise science is one of the fastest growing majors in the country because it is so flexible. We are also seeing an uptick in accounting as well.
How does the university construct or update curriculum for majors?
Sometimes it comes from feasibility studies. We paid a healthy sum to get good data on the shortages of nurses and occupational therapy. Our own faculty conducts studies as well. Another way is Pfeiffer graduates just doing well. A school like Pfeiffer develops relationships with industries that are successful for many years and have the ability to be nimble and adjust to the request of those industries in order to build the future workforce.
What is your opinion on life-long learning experiences?
Typically graduate programs are full of adult learners who gradually unveil new gifts and abilities that they want to give the world. We find that a large portion of our students are female who find they want change as their kids become more independent. I think that in the world of families needing two incomes and people wanting the ability to make their own hours and schedules, we are going to see a lot of entrepreneurship.
Charlotte is superseded now by only New York City in terms of the banking industry in the country. I think people want to make money and are finding what they are gifted at to create change while making money. I don’t think that hunger for lifelong learning will go away.
What is your outlook for higher education over the next 3-5 years?
I am a lot more confident now than I was a year ago. Small universities continue to be places wherein professors with PhDs in important fields mentor young adults, and help them find the most effective and fulfilling ways in which to exercise their gifts. It also remains a great investment. The average college graduate’s lifetime earnings still exceeds the average non-graduate by over $1 million. The federal and state governments know this. We have benefitted from 2 CARES Acts essentially and the state of North Carolina has designated relief money for each private college in next year’s budget. Our benefactors have seen our vision and I believe we’ve entailed confidence in our donors.
We are currently recruiting architecture firms to do a master facilities plan for our athletics complex. We have some proposals on the way and are evaluating our academic programs. We are refocusing to find what is working and what people want.
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