“Online learning is reshaping the landscape at every level.” With Penny Bauder & Joe Sallustio

Continued investment in online education is critical — even a return to what we hope to be normal will be varied due to new technologies and educational preferences, so all institutions must continue to embrace and implement online learning solutions. As a part of my interview series about the things that should be done to […]

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Continued investment in online education is critical — even a return to what we hope to be normal will be varied due to new technologies and educational preferences, so all institutions must continue to embrace and implement online learning solutions.

As a part of my interview series about the things that should be done to improve the US educational system, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Sallustio.

Joe Sallustio is the COO and Executive Vice President at Claremont Lincoln University (CLU), a graduate school that offers a new wave of socially conscious programs for modern-day America. In this position, Joe oversees multiple areas of university operations, including business administration, enrollment management, marketing, student affairs, financial aid and others. Joe’s role is to ensure that CLU is at the forefront of innovative graduate education in the 21st century by being disruptive, innovative and disciplined.

Joe has nearly 20 years of experience in higher education working for regionally accredited non-profit, regionally accredited for-profit, and nationally accredited for-profit institutions, and serving students from certificate to doctoral levels.

He received his Ed.D. in organizational leadership from Northcentral University. Joe also holds a master’s in organizational leadership from Regis University and a bachelor’s in speech communications from the State University of New York College at Oneonta. Additionally, Joe is a current board member for the Association for the Advancement of the College Admissions Profession (AACAP).

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “back story” behind what brought you to this particular career path?

This question makes me laugh inside. My journey to higher education is truly ironic, as my mother reminds me when she tells me the story about my sophomore year of college. I had finished up all of my general education requirements and I needed to pick a major. As I looked through the pathways, my mom turned to me and asked, “there are a lot of choices, what are you interested in?” I replied, “absolutely nothing.” I hated high school, I hated college (other than the “college experience”) and the fact that I was directionless did not help. I did graduate in four years with a B.S. in speech communications, which is basically a B.S. in BS-ing, and found my way to my first job out of undergrad trying to recruit people to donate blood at a blood bank after they finished work. That was a hard job.

A few years later, in my early twenties, I responded to an ad in the paper for a sales representative in education. The day I started was the day I knew I loved to help other people achieve. Since then, I’ve earned a master’s and a doctorate, have decided I love learning, and have dedicated my life to bringing speed, agility, and innovation to an industry that is notorious for moving slowly.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In one of my previous positions, the university I worked at was helping many failing institutions by conducting teach-outs of students. Essentially, when an institution closes, the students are displaced and another institution will give them an opportunity to finish their course of study. Many schools do not want the financial and oversight risk that comes with helping through teach-outs because they can be a double-edged sword. In this case, I was attending a graduation from the first of eight teach-out/transfer agreements we managed to help displaced students. I was in the line on the stage to shake student’s hands, and this younger woman started walking up the stairs absolutely balling. She took her degree, shook the hands of the president, walked over to me, hugged me, and said, “you saved my life, thank you.”

The lesson I learned from this experience is that the power of education is immeasurable. Yes, there are problems in higher education — but the value of a degree to each individual varies greatly. For some, it’s a line on a resume, while for others it may be the ticket to economic mobility. My responsibility is to help change the world for the better, and the only way to do that in a sustainable way is through education.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, earlier this year I entered the world of podcasting — and I’ve found it’s infectious! In June of this year, Claremont Lincoln University started a podcast called Leaders Who Learn. We have three hosts — Tony Digiovanni, Dr. Lynn Priddy and Dr. Joanna Bauer — who interview emerging and established leaders about what the world needs right now in terms of leadership, ethics, diversity, equity, inclusion and communication. I’m the producer of the podcast — and I’m happy to be behind the scenes on this one.

I do, however, play a more leading role as a co-host on another podcast called The EdUp Experience. On that one, I’m joined by co-hosts Elizabeth Leiba and Elvin Freytes, and we dig into issues, innovations and ideas in higher education with college and university presidents, administrators and other insightful guests. The EdUp Experience has quickly gained attention as America’s leading higher education podcast, largely due to its incredible growth and our incredible guest lineup.

Both of these podcasts can help people learn without having to be in school. We shine a light on what notable leaders are doing, the struggles higher education is going through, how CV-19 is affecting communities and other timely and thought-provoking topics. Podcasting is the new way to consume news and, when guests are involved, it’s laced with a personal touch that makes it that much more captivating.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority in the education field?

I am one of the few people in higher education who has worked for a nationally accredited career college, a regionally accredited for-profit university and a regionally accredited non-profit university, which gives me a unique vantage point. Add to that my near 20 years of experience in online education, my ready access to some of the country’s leading higher education thought-leaders through The EdUp Experience and the fact that I’ve grown enrollment considerably for every institution I’ve worked for. I believe those together qualify me as an authority in education. Additionally, I only know of about five people who, like me, have conducted teach-out, transfer and merger/acquisition agreements with multiple institutions.

Also, in 2019, my Claremont Lincoln University colleagues and I won the American Marketing Association Higher Education Team of the Year Award, beating out Stonybrook University and the University of Notre Dame. This year, I was nominated individually for the 2020 American Marketing Association Marketer of the Year Award, and hope to win that award for marketing innovation.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?

As everyone is aware, US higher education is in a state of upheaval due to COVID-19. Many institutions have had to move their all-on-ground operations swiftly to online, and there are both positive and negative consequences. For higher education, the question of value, skyrocketing tuition rates, tuition discounting, declining enrollment and job-readiness were barriers to effective education even before the pandemic hit. What we are witnessing, in my opinion, is a higher education awakening.

A few things that stick out to me at this moment:

  • Online learning is reshaping the landscape at every level.
  • Equity, diversity and inclusion are still major issues — if higher education is the great equalizer, it must be accessible to everyone.
  • Students are consumers — until we all admit that, there will be issues how the public perceives higher education. Can it be trusted? Higher ed needs to start getting comfortable using terms such as debt, ROI, work readiness and degree value
  • College students at the undergraduate and graduate levels struggle with writing skills, especially in the age of texting (IMO can’t be the beginning of a sentence).
  • More important than anything is the need for students to respect each other and work together.

In short, my viewpoint is the system still needs improvement to keep up with societal changes that were transpiring even before COVID-19. That said, there’s lots of work underfoot right now and change is being accelerated. For instance, I am very proud of the work we are doing at Claremont Lincoln University. to impart the skills of mindfulness, dialogue, collaboration and change to our graduates. This is where the future lies and it gives me great hope. When I see graduates go on to do amazing things for their communities, it is the payback we all need for our investments in higher education.

Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?

  1. Innovation is coming more swiftly than ever –non-credit, for-credit, short-course, long-course, asynchronous, synchronous and hybrid learning are all viable options — and they need to be so people can get back to work.
  2. Institutional choice — online learning has widened the playing field, with students now able to go anywhere in the country and not be limited by physical distance.
  3. Online learning acceptance — many institutions across the country are understanding the benefits of online learning either as a primary or secondary learning methodology and implementing it efficiently and effectively.
  4. Institutions across the spectrum have been working in partnership to help each other get up to speed and serve students in the “new normal.”
  5. There’s a broader understanding that more must be done to support underserved populations, and more tangible steps are being taken to achieve educational equity.

Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?

  1. Continued investment in online education is critical — even a return to what we hope to be normal will be varied due to new technologies and educational preferences, so all institutions must continue to embrace and implement online learning solutions.
  2. In higher education, institutions need to be conscious of student debt and find ways to offer relief because mounting debt will hinder economic recovery.
  3. Higher education institutions have been reliant on fundraising to supplement tuition income losses, but as more dollars shift to healthcare in 2020 and beyond, higher education will need to be intently focused on servicing the student consumer.
  4. Mental health — these services have never been more important than they are now. With social distancing, extracurricular activity limitations, play dates with friends for kids, older students and adults meeting up for lunch, etc., obstacles to good mental health have increased.
  5. Except for a few institutions in higher education, institutional exclusivity will be eliminated due to online enrollment. Let’s look at making those admissions requirements more inclusive for diverse populations!

If you had the power to influence or change the entire US educational infrastructure what five things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I’ll keep my answer focused on higher education because that’s the realm I know best. Generally speaking, higher education has been long overdue for reform. In the U.S., the higher education system is known to be rooted in tradition, and tradition is usually a synonym for slow. All of our nation’s current events are hastening a change, and there are some areas where I’d focus.

  • For one, the call for socially conscious education has never been greater. Social unrest tells us that leaders today need to be able to communicate with empathy and respect, which is why we’ve made these top priorities in our modern-day programs at Claremont Lincoln University. I would ensure that curricula have a social justice component included to make it relevant for today’s learners, whether it is a class, module or certification.
  • Completely eliminate standardized testing for entry into college. It’s been well documented that standardized testing limits diversity and inclusion. Institutions should instead weigh total body of work more heavily and this will enable them to really understand the merits of a candidate.
  • At times, accreditation regulations can stifle innovation. I would make it easier and faster for institutions to initiate a merger and acquire assets from each other. These processes can take 18 months to move through a process, and the lack of speed, in the end, hurts students. There will be more university closures coming as fall and spring show enrollment declines.
  • Encourage universities to operate more like startups than bureaucratic machines. The typical college presidency isn’t much more than five years — innovation can be stifled by many of the functional structures that include decision-making bodies that operate outside of normal operations, faculty tenure and unions.
  • Welcome business and industry to higher education in a way that is a win/win for everyone. Google just started offering non-credit career certificates, but what if Google could quickly partner with Claremont Lincoln University to offer socially conscious degrees that were conferred by both institutions? A degree that is work-ready? In my mind, that’s a win/win.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 500 BCE) — “The only constant in life is change.”

The one inescapable thing in life is change — we can fear it or we can embrace it. Change creates uncertainty, but it also offers opportunity. This is relevant in my life because I have chosen to welcome change. I have said yes when presented with opportunities. I say yes when someone reaches out to me for help (with no expectation of return). I also say yes to being a good dad and husband every day.

Change is hard, but it can also be fulfilling and transform perspectives. Change brought me to education, and I’ve been able to change people’s lives — and I have loved every single day of it.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in business, VC funding, sports and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? They might just see this if we tag them.

This is a tough one, but I would have to say Elon Musk. He is someone who has bucked the status quo and brought some of the most amazing innovations to the 21st century so far. He’s a disrupter in every sense of the word. Higher education has a lot to learn from business and industry leaders like Elon — take risks, be willing to innovate, don’t be afraid of failure, and help communities and the world along the way.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’d welcome the chance to hear from readers. They can find me in the following places:

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