Welcome back to Powering Your Retirement Radio. Today, we’re going to continue our conversation about college planning and colleges in general with my good friend, Dr. Bryon L. Grigsby, who I’ve known since we were high school classmates, college roommates, and many other things throughout our lives. Bryon is the President of Moravian University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and he is one of the few presidents is also the President of his own Alma Mater. Moravian was founded in 1742. It’s the sixth-oldest school in the country. It was the first to educate women. And it’s been thriving since Bryon became the President back in the summer of 2013. So with that welcome back, President Grigsby. Why don’t you tell people that maybe didn’t hear our last episode, just a bit of yourself and Moravian?
Start of Interview
President Bryon L. Grigsby:
It’s great to be here. Dan is a treat to run our Alma Mater, and I’m not quite sure when we were tearing around the campus. Either one of us thought that we’d be in the roles we’re in right now, but it’s a joy to be at your Alma Mater. It is the sixth oldest college in the nation. It’s in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. We have one of the only Revolutionary War hospitals on the campus, and we’re about to get UNESCO world heritage designation, which will be the second a university in the nation to be a world heritage site, the University of Virginia being the other one. So it is a place of very historic buildings. My house, the President’s house, comes with a desk that was George Washington’s. And so you are when you’re wandering around the streets of Bethlehem, truly wandering around in the footsteps of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Lafayette. So it’s a neat place to be. The campus is a Division III sports campus. We have about 2,600 students on the campus. We have about 25% of our students are graduate students and primarily in the healthcare and business industries. The other 75% are undergraduate students and all sorts of liberal arts and science and nursing.
Main Points Covered
Four Year School vs. Community College
Value of a Liberal Arts Education
What does success look like in college?
As an aside for the listeners, I’ve got to tell you the story of the George Washington desk. I was back at Moravian for Bryon’s inauguration, and I heard the story about George Washington’s desk. Later we were back at the President’s house for a reception. And I asked him, where is this George Washington’s desk? And Bryon looked me square in the eye and said, you’re leaning on it, which I promptly got off of and wondered why there wasn’t a velvet rope around it. The things you learn after you graduate from college. Anyways, one of the things that is an issue here in California, and we talked about it a little bit in the last episode about affordability, is kids that aren’t quite ready for a four-year school. Here the answer is DVC – Diablo Valley College. It’s the community college much like North Hampton in Pennsylvania or Orange County Community College, where we grew up, and that’s in New York, not California for all my California listeners. Should I go to a four-year school and figure out if I like it or not, or should I do two years in community college? Let’s start with that.
President Bryon L. Grigsby:
The lowest level of risk financially is to go to a community college. If your child doesn’t know academically, what they want to do, and financially you’re having difficulty affording college education, community college is a very viable opportunity. If a student is not successful at community college, they’ll have maybe a couple of thousand dollars worth of student loans. As opposed to, if they’re not successful at a state university or even an independent college, you could have $10,000 or more in student loans and no degree to be able to help pay down those loans. If you look at when people talk about the student loan crisis, everybody’s eligible by the federal government. When you do a FASFA to get a loan from the federal government, it’s guaranteed from the federal government. You don’t have to put up any collateral for it, but paying that loan back without a college degree can be nearly impossible.
If you look at the default rates of all the student loans, they’re all in $10,000 and less that’s because a person who has $150,000 probably is going to med school and will be able to pay that loan back after they graduate. But the person who has $8,000 and did not get a college degree of any kind associates or bachelors can’t afford to pay back that loan. And so that’s where all the defaults come in. So if you are financially at risk and academically at-risk, community college is a great opportunity. It is an ability to very, cost-effectively see if you can make it in college courses where the downside comes in is if you academically know that you can make it in college, you’re confident that your academic, your college material going to a community college may set you back in your degree, completion in programs such as nursing and engineering and computer science, because, the four-year schools have programs where you’re going to get basic level information for your major in your first two years.
So that’s the only risk you have is that if you have a career path that you really want to do in health professions, in computers and technology or an education, and, you know, you can make it, your college material you’ll do fine in college. Then the best avenue is to go into a four-year school so that you can graduate within four years. If you are wondering whether college is right for you or having significant issues about paying for college, then community college, that gives you the ideal situation. And, students transfer from North Hampton here. They become highly engaged in our campus as a transfer in for the last two years. Sometimes if they’re in nursing or computer science, they may have to take an extra semester to complete out that degree. But even at that level, it’s still financially better for them if they’re having difficulty paying for the finances.
Obviously, Moravian’s a liberal arts college. And we had talked about it a little bit before we got started today. I thought it was an interesting comment. In liberal arts school, you’re training people for jobs that don’t exist. Talk to me a little bit about the value of liberal arts versus going in with like, just I’m going to be an engineer, and this is all I’m going to do.
President Bryon L. Grigsby:
Well, Moravian’s proud of saying that it intentionally combines the liberal arts with professional programs. So, in my experience, I find two kinds of students have Moravian. I find the student who has known since they were eight years old exactly what they want to do. So I want to be a doctor. I want to be a veterinarian. I want to be a lawyer. I want to be a nurse. I want to be an occupational therapist. And those students come in, and they have a path. They know what that path is. They want to go. They want to go straight through that path to get their degree. Where the liberal arts benefit them is liberal arts are what we call the soft skills. So I want at the end of a college career, I want a student to be able to critically think, to work well as a team member, to be a leader, to be ethical, to be able to use quantitative, qualitative analysis, to arrive at a decision, to understand and use technology effectively in their disciplines and their majors, and to be a global citizen that understands the value of diversity.
Those are the components of a liberal arts college. Those components are transferable across every career possible. So, I may want to be a veterinarian, or I may want to be a medical doctor. And after four or five years of doing that, I decide I want to move into finance. And I do a career change because you have all these liberal arts skills. You can make that switch into a different career. Statistics will tell us that children today who are going into college will have four to five different careers over their lifetime. So, the value of the liberal arts college, even if to the student who knows exactly what they want to do right now, most likely across their lifetime, they will switch careers and need to rely on those liberal arts skills so that they can manage moving into careers back in the day when you and I went to school, everybody wanted to be a web page designer.
The internet was just starting, and all these tech schools created eight-month web page designers. Well, someone eventually created a software program that was easier just to do the software program than hire the guy for $60,000 to do your webpage. And they all lost their jobs because they didn’t have all those other soft skills. So that’s one kind of student that knows exactly what they want to do and the benefits of still getting a liberal arts degree, even in their professional programs, so that they can switch careers seamlessly for the student who comes into Moravian. And I would say, this was me who doesn’t know what they want to do. The liberal arts provide a sampling of a variety of different careers that are possible. I had five different majors at Moravian. I went from a physics major to a math major, to a computer science major, to a criminal justice major, to an English major.
The liberal arts allowed me to think about different careers, and if I wanted to do those for the rest of my life, and then settle on the one that I wanted to do. The liberal arts right now, as you said, Dan, not only are we training students to have four or five different careers over their lifetime, we are also training students for careers that will exist in four or five years or ten years. Think about what’s happening with Tesla and automated cars as automated cars come out and electric vehicles. There’s going to be this mass need for technicians to build charging stations, repair stations. Those careers don’t exist yet. They will in five or ten years as more and more vehicles become autonomous. The skills of the liberal arts will allow people to learn how to learn again, to learn a new career. And that those are the benefits of not just going to a technical school where you’re just going to learn how to be a webpage designer. You’re just going to learn how to be an engineer. You’re going to learn how to just do one thing. You want to go to a place that will allow you to learn that and create all the other skill sets that you’re going to need to be more diversified and more able to change careers.
And I can attest, I was there for at least three of the major changes. I know which class it was that made him an English major. And Bryon is still good friends. How has Dr. Burcaw
President Bryon L. Grigsby:
And he’s good, 92 years old, still learning quantum physics and other things.
I was in that class. I went a different route, but it worked for Bryon for sure. And that, that kind of is a good lead-in, I think to our next question, which is, what do you think success looks like for someone at college? And I bring that up because, you know, I know the answer you gave me earlier. I’ll let you tell the people, but I know who one of those people is for you.
President Bryon L. Grigsby:
It is actually pretty simple. It’s been studied by Harvard for over 50 years. Success is that you have out of college, uh, one or two, three or four close friends, people that you truly are your lifelong friends and one mentor, and that mentor can be a faculty member or a staff member, but someone that you rely on to mentor you through your college career and beyond. I’ve said that person is Dr. Burcaw for me. And you know, Dan’s been a lifelong friend. We were friends before college, but we were roommates in college. So it’s really not rocket science for having a successful college career, two or three strong friends, and a mentor. That’s it. The chances are of that happening at a small college are way greater, particularly in the mentor program. When I started out my career teaching at the University of Connecticut, I had 450 students in an upper-division Shakespeare class in a large rake auditorium.
There was not any way to get to know any of the students. That was markedly different than my Chaucer class at Moravian with four students at eight o’clock, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, where we had breakfast, the last class at the faculty member’s house, getting the mentorship part is much easier at small independent colleges than it is at large state universities. For parents, the one thing I would say is to visit lots of college campuses, ask your child, do you see yourself fitting in here? Do you see yourself walking around and seeing people with who you could be friends with? Do you see yourself sitting at a table in the cafeteria, and you would have friends here? That’s going to be the key for finding a place where they feel they fit and belong?
I can attest to that as a, again, back to Bryon’s inauguration. When he talked about his dreams to become present and all of that, I got to remind him that I was the first student he ever recruited to Moravian because I was a transfer student to Moravian. And I know that everything Bryon just said about, do you see yourself fitting in at the school I was at? I definitely did not. And when I would come to visit Bryon and Moravian, I did. And by the end of my first semester, I had already applied and was ready to go for my first semester, sophomore year. Bryon was a good recruiter then and is still doing a great job for the college. Now, why don’t we wrap up with this one, Bryon? You kind of touched on it a little bit there, but you might want to hit a few other points—just some of the benefits of, you know, a school like Moravian University. I won’t use one that’s in the same city. So, let’s say a school like the University of California, Berkeley, or Stanford, or one of the schools where you’ve got thousands and thousands of students there versus hundreds in a class like in the entire class, not just one that you’re taking, but like everybody that’s a freshman. There are what now? 500 at Moravian
President Bryon L. Grigsby:
Well, we’re about 450 incoming first-year students. And then about 150 transfers and 50 international students. It’s what the student wants essentially. And, and I get back to, you know, mom and dad who are paying the bill has to think about the value of the education. I personally don’t see a whole lot of value in 40,000 students and focused on Division I, football, or Division I basketball. That’s not, to me, the reason you should be going to be educated. There are many people that love that. And, there are 4,000 institutions of higher education in the United States. I guarantee you, if you want to go to a Buddhist school, there’s a Buddhist school. If you want to go to a Catholic school, there’s a Catholic school. You can find any mission possible in higher ed. But I find that the places that truly transform students are the small independent colleges where they have less than 5,000 students.
You’re taught not by a graduate assistant, which is the case for almost all state universities and research universities. The first two years of undergraduate education is taught by a graduate student who has not finished their Ph.D. I was one of those students that taught other students when I was getting my doctorate. There’s value to that. But there’s also value to having a full professor who has 20 years of teaching experience teaching your child, freshmen writing. That’s the kind of places that small independent colleges have at a place like Moravian. You most likely in your four years there we’ll have a dinner at the President’s house. We cycle through all the athletic teams and all the clubs every other year. So, if you’re even remotely engaged at the campus, you’re on a, in a club or you’re in a sporting, or you’re an athlete.
You will get a dinner at the President’s house with the President. I guarantee that’s not happening at Berkeley. There are just too many students for that to be occurring for some students. That’s not important. But for me, that was, it was life-changing for me to be able to go over to Bob Burcaw’s house and have dinner with him and Dottie and become part of the family, or be known on campus by your Faculty on a first-name basis, not a number it’s not right for every student. I realized that there are students when I said I was at UConn. They wanted nothing to do with me. They simply wanted to go back to what they were doing together as a group of adolescents. I just think if you’re paying a lot of money for this education, you want to get the most out of it. And, at small independent colleges, you know, the faculty member is by your elbow, helping you with your skills that are going to be so important for your career.
Fantastic. I think that’s a great way to wrap up today. I want to thank you for taking some time out with me to do the last two episodes for the listeners on the Powering Your Retirement Radio website. There is an ask a question button. If you just click on that, you can leave a voicemail or type in a question. If you have one, as I said, if we get overwhelmed, maybe we can have Bryon come back and answer a few of those. But, I will work with Bryon to try to get answers to any of the questions that do come in and get back to you with a response. So, I sincerely appreciate your time, Bryon. I know you’re a busy guy, so we’ll let you get back to, uh, the important business of running a school and, uh, for my listeners, uh, until next episode, stay safe. And, uh, this should have just come out the week after Thanksgiving. So I hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving and a good holiday season. Thank you so much.
President Bryon L. Grigsby: