The following is a conversation between Marvin Krislov, President of Pace University, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer WNYM in New York City.


Denver: A central element to the American narrative is that education, particularly higher education, is the path that allows young people to move ahead and hopefully, enjoy a better life than that of their parents. But that narrative has been challenged of late as more and more families wonder about the value of a college education, as compared to its ever increasing cost. But there is at least one institution where this is rarely questioned. Pace University, who has recently been named by the Chronicle of Higher Education as the Number one private school in the nation with the greatest upward social mobility. And here to discuss that with us, along with much more, is Marvin Krislov, the president of Pace University. Good evening, Marvin, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Marvin Krislov

Marvin: Good evening, Denver. It’s great to be here.

Denver: Pace University was founded back in 1906. Share with us, Marvin, some of the history of the university beginning with its founding vision.

Marvin: I wasn’t there in 1906. Homer and Charles Pace, who were British folks, came over and decided that they thought we needed an accounting test prep program that was more affordable and more accessible. So, they started it. The beginnings of Pace were aimed at democratizing education and also very practical. It started as an accounting school. It’s grown over the years. We now have multiple campuses; one in Westchester. The largest one is in lower Manhattan right near City Hall and Wall Street. We also have a law school in White Plains. Our focus has been on providing a world-class education to students that helps them attain great success in their personal and professional life.

Denver: Tell us a little bit more about what Pace looks like today, in terms of the number of students, where they come from, demographics, and all of that.

Marvin: We have 13,000 students including graduates and undergraduates. They come from all over the country,  from all over the world. They study topics ranging from computer science, business, everything in the arts and sciences, education, health professions, and law; graduate and undergraduate degrees. We focus on giving them a great education, but also helping them think about their lives and their professional lives. So, there’s a lot of mentoring, hands-on experiences, internships, and jobs. These things help launch them into the real world.

Denver: Are many of these students first-generation college students?

Marvin: Yes. We are very proud of the fact that nearly 50% of our students in our most recent class identified as first in their family to go to college.

Denver: That’s remarkable. You’re a bit of a mini United Nations. I think I read you have students from 120 nations?

Marvin: It is absolutely wonderful. Yesterday, I went to the Holi Festival which is primarily for South Asian students, and it was just terrific. We had about 50, 60 students out there celebrating, and any day of the week, you can find various celebrations of culture and politics in various parts of the world.

Denver: There’s got to be a tremendous advantage for the students that are going there because it is so important to learn about other cultures, and there’s no effort here. It’s all around you.

Marvin: Right, and it’s great for the American students. It’s great for the international students, and it really enriches the educational experience for everyone.

We really think that it’s important for the educational experience to have students from these diverse backgrounds interact together. We also think it helps train them for the workforce because then they are meeting people from different backgrounds and understand different norms, cultural traditions. It’s funny, we had a discussion with some of our international students about the ways in which American customs differ from the customs in their countries. Of course, that applies to American students as well. But we really think that global feeling of Pace University and the diverse environment really enriches the experience of everybody.

Denver: You certainly have a diverse student body. Let me ask you a little bit about that. Because you know, diversity is a hot issue these days, particularly on college campuses. You were well ahead, I think, of most of the pack when it comes to this issue and probably have a few insights you could share with us.

Marvin: Pace has nearly 40% students of color; 30% of our students are also Pell-eligible, which means that their families are from working class, lower income families. We really think that it’s important for the educational experience to have students from these diverse backgrounds interact together. We also think it helps train them for the workforce because then they are meeting people from different backgrounds and understand different norms, cultural traditions. It’s funny, we had a discussion with some of our international students about the ways in which American customs differ from the customs in their countries. Of course, that applies to American students as well. But we really think that global feeling of Pace University and the diverse environment really enriches the experience of everybody.

Denver: Let me ask you one more thing about academics. You mentioned a number of things that you do at Pace. But you, like all schools these days, can’t afford to be all things to all people, so you really have to sit down and decide what those priorities are going to be. And part of that’s going to be informed by where the student demand is in terms of what they want. What would the case be of that at Pace?

Marvin: Our signature program is called the Pace Path, and the Pace Path combines rigorous academics with mentoring and hands-on internships and jobs. We’re really focused on making that experience come alive for every single student. I taught for instance in what we call UNV-101 which is our class that’s offered to every single entering student. It acclimates them to the university. It acclimates them to things like: how to do research, how to balance your budget, how to think about dealing with stress, all these important themes that really help people move on. We also have a large population of not only traditional-aged students – by that I mean 18 to 22 – but we also have working adults, and we have a lot of veterans, as well as students who might live at home. There really are a diverse group of students at Pace. What we’re trying to do is make sure that that educational experience works for them. That’s really our focus.

Denver: As we mentioned before, upward social mobility is really in the DNA of this organization in terms of what you do. The job placement rates that these graduates get are more than impressive. Share with us some of those.

Marvin: I don’t know the latest, but they’re well into the 90s in terms  of students who are employed or in some graduate programs. But the overwhelming majority of our students are in well-placed jobs out of undergraduate, as well as graduate school. That’s why, as you mentioned earlier, the Raj Chetty study, the equality of opportunity project study, said we were the Number one nation for upward social mobility. Our career office has probably the widest, or certainly one of the widest networks of employers, not only in this region but really throughout the country. But a lot of the focus of course is in this region. New York is such a magnet for talent, and we really want to equip our students to get the very best jobs.

Denver: New York is sort of like your laboratory. You have really integrated yourself into the fabric of this community, and so many people that I know who go to college just go to class. Not your folks. They’re interning. They’re taking part-time jobs. They are learning the real world simultaneously.

Marvin: Our students are so busy; many of them are not only going to classes and involved in extracurriculars, but they’re doing internships or jobs or clinical placements. I taught a class, and we are trying to find time to do a social outing, and the only time that they all could agree on in their schedule was our class time. So, we actually took one class to do a social gathering. But we of course combined the educational experience when we did it. But these students are really motivated. That’s one of the things that I love to see with our students. They are strivers. They want to make a difference in the world. They want to make a difference for their families, and it’s just so exciting to see that sense of optimism and drive in students is really what makes me tick and really makes my heart sing.

Denver: For listeners who may not know, you were the president of Oberlin College out in Ohio 10 years previous, before taking on this assignment. How do you compare those student bodies in terms of what they bring to the table? You’ve had enough time to observe here. What do you see?

Marvin: I love the students at Pace. I love the students at Oberlin. I think that young people today help motivate those of us in education because they do want to make the world better. And this is a time when some people are not feeling particularly optimistic, and I think if you step on most college campuses, you see that sense of optimism.

Oberlin students tend to be arts and sciences students or music students. Pace, there’s a variety of fields including, as we talked about earlier, computer science, business, health professions …more leading to a profession. All the students at Pace do take a core liberal arts curriculum– two years. So, they learn the basic skills, analytical skills, writing, quantitative proficiency. So, we equip them with that liberal arts background whether they go on to be in a more professionally oriented field or not for their degree. Depends on the individual student.

I saw a group of students hanging out, and they were having fun and talking. I went around and asked the students where they were from and what they were doing. There was a young woman; she was from Texas. I said, “What year are you in?” and she said, “I was a first year, but I’ve dropped out.” I said, “Why?” She said, “I couldn’t figure out how to work out all the financials. I said, “Let’s talk.” I got her name. We put her in touch with the financial aid folks. Just two weeks ago, we had our scholarship dinner, and this woman came up to me and said, “Thank you. Because of you, I’m still here. I’m on track to graduate. I’m working very hard. I have a very nice scholarship, and I’m so grateful to you because you helped change my life.”

That’s a story that involves me, but I think our faculty and staff every day do this kind of work. My goal is to make it such that this is the focus of our institution, and we can bring every student who wants to complete their degree across that finish line with us.

Denver:  Going to college is one thing, but as we know, graduating is quite another, and Pace does pretty well at that compared to many other institutions. But your six-year graduation rate has been stuck maybe in the mid-50s for quite some time. What are some of the things you’re doing to try to improve upon that number?

Marvin: We’re really focused on improving our graduation rates. Many of our students who don’t graduate go on to other schools. We also take a lot of transfers. Whether the real graduation is reflected in that number or not is a matter of debate… probably not of great interest to your listeners. What I can tell you is, that we are focused on making the student experience very powerful. Working on advising, mentoring and working with students on everything, including their financial challenges as well to trying to improve that graduation rate. We’re following well-known patterns by other schools and by the best research in the field that tells us how to keep students on track.

 

I will tell you that one of the things I think about is every day :  What can I do to help students succeed? Even when I’m going in an elevator, I try to ask the students how they’re doing. Is everything okay? I’ve had some students reveal things to me that one wouldn’t expect. But because of that, I’ve been able to help lead them to people who can help them.

Let me share a story if you don’t mind. One night, I was coming out of the university on the later side. I think we had had a board meeting, and I saw a group of students hanging out, and they were having fun and talking. I went around and asked the students where they were from and what they were doing. There was a young woman; she was from Texas. I said, “What year are you in?” and she said, “I was a first year, but I’ve dropped out.” I said, “Why?” She said, “I couldn’t figure out how to work out all the financials. I said, “Let’s talk.” I got her name. We put her in touch with the financial aid folks. Just two weeks ago, we had our scholarship dinner, and this woman came up to me and said, “Thank you. Because of you, I’m still here. I’m on track to graduate. I’m working very hard. I have a very nice scholarship, and I’m so grateful to you because you helped change my life.”

That’s a story that involves me, but I think our faculty and staff every day do this kind of work. My goal is to make it such that this is the focus of our institution, and we can bring every student who wants to complete their degree across that finish line with us.

Marvin Krislov and Denver Frederick inside the studio

Denver: That’s a great story, Marvin. I’ll tell you what I know about Pace University is student success has always been at the very top of your list. Just hearing you, I see why.

You just mentioned your faculty. My goodness, your faculty at Pace is about the size of your student body at Oberlin.  Tell us a little bit about them and maybe some of the exceptional work and research that they’re doing.

Marvin: Pace faculty are very dedicated to both teaching and research. Faculty are very committed to the mission of Pace. Our motto is opportunitas, which in Latin can either mean opportunity or advantage. I think every faculty member that I know really buys into the vision and the mission of Pace and are very dedicated to helping our students succeed. We also have faculty who work very closely, and doing that, they work very closely with students on research projects and things that will help them develop their career. Some of the great faculty we have in all the disciplines do work that is not only very helpful to the students, but very helpful to the community, to New York and this region.

For instance, Lauren Birney who is in the School of Education is working very closely with the Billion Oyster Project which is trying to restore the oysters– which is very important for ecological reasons. So, we work with the Harbor School and other partners on trying to improve the ecology of the bay. She’s gotten wonderful National Science Foundation (NSF) support. Matthew Bolton and Emily Welty are faculty members in Dyson College of Arts and Sciences. They work very, very closely with the group ICAN; their campaign against nuclear arms that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize just a couple of years ago.

I might mention also that we’re very proud of the fact that our Environmental Law Program at the Haub School of Law was recently rated the number one environmental law program in the country. So, we have many faculty… people like John Nolon who works with Land Use, Jason Czarnezki, Katy Kuh; a lot of great people. I’m sure I’m not going to mention everybody. Nick Robinson of course founded the program. If you’re listening, Nick, Shout out to you! We have so many faculty who are not only dedicated teachers but are doing really important work to make our world a better place.

Denver: I’m glad you got a chance to name a few.

I’ve always been curious about this. We live in an increasingly on-demand society. Except for a sporting event or a big news event, I don’t think anybody watches television live anymore.  And probably more people are going to listen to this interview on podcast than will be listening to the radio. Are students beginning to demand an on-demand education?

Marvin: This is a great question, Denver. Our students are operating in a world that’s faster and even more goal-oriented. One of the things that we have done is we provide some classes online. We also provide some classes in a hybrid model, where there is some instruction provided online, and then some in-person, but we embrace a wide variety of students– different ages, different stages of life. One of the programs that I’m really inspired by is, we have a program with NACTEL, which is a consortium of employers… Verizon and others… and the unions, to help workers advance their careers.  It’s a virtual program, but there was an in-person graduation. To hear the stories of some of those students who were able to advance– some of them had not achieved a college degree; some were going on to get a graduate degree, and because of their work schedules… and in one instance, the woman who spoke had reared two children and was working a full-time job, and it was just very hard for her to follow a traditional in-person type of educational route… this was accommodating and advancing her career in a very powerful way.

We have to meet our students where they are. Some of them are online; some of them are in person, and some of them are in both places. That’s where we need to be.

Denver: The customer is at the center.

Marvin: We have to meet our students where they are. Some of them are online; some of them are in person, and some of them are in both places. That’s where we need to be.

…I think we need to adapt, and we need to talk to people about the ways that we need to help them achieve their goals and not be in… whether you call it an ivory tower or somewhat isolated, I think we need to get out of that. We need to get into the public schools. We need to get into the world of work. We need to be talking to business people and policy makers. How can we be part of whatever they want to be doing? And I think that’s the way higher education will retain its vitality.

American higher education is one of the greatest exports we have in America, and we are still viewed internationally as the best place to go. But to continue to remain vital, I think we need to be listening to the people who are going to be using us and working with us.

Denver: I started this off by saying that many people are beginning to question the value of a college education. We certainly see the circumstances at Pace and what you’ve done to address that. But on the broader scale, do you think Higher Ed has done a good job in communicating to people the real value of higher education?

Marvin: I think sometimes we talk to ourselves in higher education, and that’s probably true of a lot of different fields. I believe that one of the reasons why Pace is so successful is because we’re in the community; we’re talking to employers; we’re talking about the needs of the workforce; we’re talking about ways that we need to either set up programs or change some of the programs we have that really meet the changing needs.

The NACTEL program is a good example where we worked with that consortium to try to develop a program that works for their students. But then of course, we have to adapt too because things change, and you can’t remain stuck. I do think that higher education, it’s a wonderful, noble profession. As you may know, my father was in higher education all his life, and I, like many children, follow their parents. I’m very very proud of that. But I think we need to adapt, and we need to talk to people about the ways that we need to help them achieve their goals and not be in… whether you call it an ivory tower or somewhat isolated, I think we need to get out of that. We need to get into the public schools. We need to get into the world of work. We need to be talking to business people and policy makers. How can we be part of whatever they want to be doing? And I think that’s the way higher education will retain its vitality.

American higher education is one of the greatest exports we have in America, and we are still viewed internationally as the best place to go. But to continue to remain vital, I think we need to be listening to the people who are going to be using us and working with us.

There are many, many good schools for your child to go to. It’s not the end of the world if he or she doesn’t get accepted to your alma mater or whatever. But I think it is an indication of the anxiety that some parents and families feel. That’s a shame. I think we need to reset the base, so that people understand that this is not something one should be cheating to get ahead in.

Denver: Let me get your take, Marvin, on the college admissions scandal. First off, how surprised were you by it?

Marvin: I was surprised, but I wasn’t surprised. I was surprised by the blatant nature of the cheating, and I was disappointed by the fact that at some schools, there were employees that had participated in it. I was not surprised by the fact that admissions, particularly to super-selective schools, has become a high-pitch game with a lot of anxiety on the part of the families. One of the things that I’ve tried to say, and I know a lot of my friends and colleagues have tried to say it to parents is: Please, relax. There are many, many good schools for your child to go to. It’s not the end of the world if he or she doesn’t get accepted to your alma mater or whatever. But I think it is an indication of the anxiety that some parents and families feel. That’s a shame. I think we need to reset the base, so that people understand that this is not something one should be cheating to get ahead in.

Denver: Do you think that there should be any preferential treatment for children of alumni or family of a very significant donor?

Marvin: The whole notion of legacy admissions, or consideration of who the family is, is very tricky. I think that at most, it should be a very, very marginal consideration, and I would hope that most schools would consider that. At Pace University, we’re not in this particular situation, and I’m very proud to say that we look at each individual as their own person. So many of our students come from families that are first generation, that aren’t legacy, and that are strivers, that I’m really proud that we can admit so many students from backgrounds that… we’re helping them set up the social networks and the ability to move through connections.

We’re in the people game. We are all about people. Yes, there’s some money spent on technology. Yes, there’s some money spent on capital facilities. But we believe in people, and people are crucial to our mission. It is sometimes challenging to create the environment with the financial resources we have, and I think many of us talk about:  What can we do to get either government or philanthropy really to support our mission and to see the value?

Denver: It’s an inspirational story, what you do.

Marvin, when a group of you, college presidents get together, what do you most likely discuss, aside from the cheating scandal at the moment?

Marvin: I think most of us would talk about the challenging environment we live in. I think that for many in Higher Education, the cost of higher education has become quite difficult. We’re driven by things like healthcare costs, sometimes energy facilities. Many of us have buildings that are old and need repair. We’re also trying to provide services to a diverse array of students. This costs money.

We’re in the people game. We are all about people. Yes, there’s some money spent on technology. Yes, there’s some money spent on capital facilities. But we believe in people, and people are crucial to our mission. It is sometimes challenging to create the environment with the financial resources we have, and I think many of us talk about:  What can we do to get either government or philanthropy really to support our mission and to see the value? I think we all feel very… all of us who are in this work, feel very inspired by what we do and believe in it; I think sometimes it can be a challenging environment.

Denver: I know you’re doing a lot of things down at Pace. Fewer consultants, energy efficiency. Just a lot of things… enhanced fund raising; you’re doing everything you possibly can.

Marvin: We are digging in, and we’re prioritizing. As you mentioned, we did  complete a renovation of the downtown campus, and it’s absolutely beautiful. One of the main goals was to set up learning spaces for students, and even in the short period of time… it opened in late January, you can see the effects. Students are hanging out. They’re working with each other in small groups. That’s the way you build a strong community. Candidly, that’s one of the ways that we hope the graduation rates will also benefit from.

Denver: What is it like to be an employee at Pace University? What do you think makes it a really special place to show up every morning?  And specifically, what do you do to shape and influence the organizational culture?

Marvin: I think Pace is a very good, kind place, and most people are happy to be there and feel good about what they do on a daily basis. One of my goals is to do everything I can to make people feel proud of what they do, to feel respected, to feel that they make a difference in the lives of others. I try to say: “Hello”  and “Thank You” and check in with people about how they’re doing. Sometimes that’s not always easy. But I think it’s very important for us to create a community where everyone feels valued.

I talk to the people who are custodians there as well as people who work in the cafeteria, as well as faculty and administrators as well. I think that that sense of community, that sense of support for each other is what keeps people at Pace for a very long time, and we do have tremendous continuity in our faculty and staff.

Denver: You’ve been in New York a couple of years now. Tell me what you like about our city, and what could you do without?

Marvin: I love the vitality. I love the mix. I love the sense of all sorts of people trying to work together and coexist. The subway is the quintessential experience, and I love the way we all position ourselves, so that we’re giving ourselves maybe one-half of a millimeter space. I’ve just seen tremendous acts of love actually in these odd settings. I find myself very energized about it. Sometimes, I find it’s important to get out a little bit. My release tends to be outdoors playing tennis, running, biking, and so forth. I do need a sense of space every now and then. When it’s nice outside, Oh Boy!  My mood improves. Tennis is probably my favorite outdoor activity. When I’m playing tennis, the world is right.

They instilled in me the belief that education was really the key to a better life, not only economically, but in terms of the life of the mind. Growing up in Kentucky, I was very aware of the great gift that I had in having parents who supported me and were able to help provide me with a great educational opportunity which I had. I was also very conscious because they reminded me of how fortunate we were, and that we needed to give other people those opportunities. So, my working in education is my way of giving back and honoring my parents’ legacy, but also to try to help other people. I drive enormous pleasure in feeling that we’re making a difference in the lives of other people, particularly people who may not have had some of those opportunities from birth that I was lucky enough to have and my children are lucky enough to have.

Denver: Let me close with this, Marvin. You grew up in Kentucky. You’ve been around the country, and I know that your upbringing had a profound influence on you. Tell me about it, and how it has informed the way you’ve led Oberlin, and now the way you lead Pace University.

Marvin: Thank you, Denver. My parents were both from immigrant families. My mother actually was born in another country. They instilled in me the belief that education was really the key to a better life, not only economically, but in terms of the life of the mind. Growing up in Kentucky, I was very aware of the great gift that I had in having parents who supported me and were able to help provide me with a great educational opportunity which I had. I was also very conscious because they reminded me of how fortunate we were and that we needed to give other people those opportunities. So, my working in education is my way of giving back and honoring my parents’ legacy, but also to try to help other people. I drive enormous pleasure in feeling that we’re making a difference in the lives of other people, particularly people who may not have had some of those opportunities from birth that I was lucky enough to have and my children are lucky enough to have.

Denver: Marvin Krislov, the president of Pace University, I want to thank you so much for being here this evening. For people who want to learn more about the university and all of your offerings and your events, tell us about your website and what they’ll find there.

Marvin: Thank you, Denver. It’s been great being on this show with you. Our website is www.pace.edu. Look at the events and news space. There are so many activities on our multiple campuses – Lower Manhattan, Pleasantville, Westchester, and White Plains, which is the law school. We have performing arts activities, athletic activities, policy discussions, so much going on. If you have any questions, you can even write me, mkrislov@pace.edu and say, “How can I find something?” and I’ll get you an answer. Come visit us, and check out our website. There’s so much going on, and we want to share it with you.

Denver: Fantastic. Thanks very much, Marvin. It was a real pleasure to have you on the show.

Marvin: Thank you.

Denver: I’ll be back with more of The Business of Giving right after this.

Marvin Krislov and Denver Frederick


The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at www.facebook.com/businessofgiving.

Share This: