Lee Pelton, the president of Emerson College, and Roger Brown, the president of Berklee College Of Music, joined Boston Public Radio to talk about what it takes to run a college. Among the topics the two discussed are higher education during the Trump era, the high cost of college, their international campuses, and the relationship they have cultivated with each other. Here are some highlights from their interview, edited and condensed for clarity.
Have you seen a change in the number of international students who attend your colleges since Trump became president?
Brown: Fortunately, I think we are a big enough magnet to overcome some of the negative signals the country is sending about welcoming people from other places. I think something Lee and I agree on, is we are preparing students to go out into the world and sustain a career doing something in arts, music, culture, and communication. They need to understand the world beyond the borders of the United States of America. Speaking personally, one of the most formative experiences I had was being a school teacher in Kenya right out of college.
Are you worried that the online classes you offer will create a two-tier education system? That those who can afford to will attend college on campus, and those who can't will attend online classes?
Brown: Only about 35 percent of people in this country get college degrees. First, let’s make it accessible. Secondly, let’s not think of a rigid differentiation where you either do online or you do on-campus. We have students who are arriving as freshmen who have already gotten nine credits of courses they have taken before they got here. In our case, we have a lot of kids who form bands, and they go touring. This is a way to continue your education without having to drop out, at lower cost, and you can be in Iceland performing a gig and then go home to your hotel room and do your homework.
What factors are driving the increasing costs of high education?
Pelton: We are service providers, and the service that we provide is highly inefficient. If you look at any college or university budget, 65 to 75 percent of that budget is labor. We are people providing a service and one could reduce the service, but then you have a different kind of education... Labor makes up two-thirds of the cost.
You two have been known to take longs walks around Boston together. What do you talk about during these walks?
Pelton: We talk about the joys and frustrations of being a college president. Woodrow Wilson once said that being a college president is no way for an adult to make a living, so we talk a lot about that...
Brown: It is hard that the axiom, 'It is lonely at the top' is true. With Lee, I can say whatever I need to say. He can encourage me or give me some advice.