Rethinking Regent

Campo envisions academic excellence and lots of change

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Print this page by Paula C. Squires

Like many executives in higher education, Carlos Campo, president of Regent University in Virginia Beach, knows change is coming. The model for higher education is shifting, and he says Regent —a private university founded by Christian Broadcasting Network televangelist Pat Robertson in 1978 —is changing, too.

Two Regent undergraduate programs, criminal justice and leadership studies, have been retooled so they can be completed in three years.  Eventually, the school would like to offer all of Regent’s undergraduate programs that way.
Increasingly, online education is part of the mix.  Some of Regent’s undergraduate classes are available through an eight-week block of online instruction, notes Campo, as opposed to 16 weeks of traditional classroom instruction.

For Campo, one of the biggest challenges today is melding business practices into higher education while still shaping students.  “There is an increasing tendency to see higher ed as a business, and I think that is a two-edged sword … There is danger there because we’re not a business. Our output is not the same … Our students are not products.” On the other hand, he adds, “We have to find this balance between what I’ve described as the critical importance of shaping a citizenry and understanding that if higher ed doesn’t adopt appropriate business practices, we will fail.” 

He considers privatization the right route for higher education, provided there’s state oversight to ensure state-enrollment slots and diversity.

Making education inclusive weighs on Campo, the first Latino to head a private Christian university in the U.S. He is a first-generation Cuban-American who credits his success to hard-working parents. Campo, 53, is the son of Pupi Campo, a Cuban bandleader, and Betty Clooney, a singer who died of a brain aneurysm when Campo was 17.  Campo credits his parents with instilling in him the expectation that he would go to college and graduate.  His mother was the sister of Rosemary Clooney, a famous American actress and singer, and Nick Clooney, the father of actor George Clooney, which makes Campo a first cousin.

He came to Regent in 2008 as vice president of academic affairs after 20 years in academia.  He became Regent’s eighth president on Aug. 1, 2010.  Two years into his tenure, Campo has developed a long-term strategic vision for the campus, which began with 77 students:  He wants to position Regent as an Ivy League university among faith-based schools, aligned with institutions such as Brigham Young University and Notre Dame.

Today, Regent’s enrollment includes nearly 6,000 students: 2,500 undergrads and 3,500 graduate students. The school changed its name from CBN University to Regent in 1990 and began enrolling undergrads in 2005.  While Regent is still young, Campo likes to point out that it already has many successful alumni, including Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who graduated in 1989 from the graduate school’s Law and Government program.

Campo has focused on championing Regent as a regional asset. A new glossy marketing piece says Regent’s annual economic impact in Hampton Roads exceeds $312 million. The school employs 648 people and says students help the local economy by spending $10 million a year, over and above tuition, room and board.

Regent’s mission is “Christian leadership to change the world,” and Campo believes churches have a role to play in inspiring young people to attend college.

Robertson, a Christian conservative who unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, praises Campo’s leadership. “The most significant challenge … facing higher education is the conflict between providing a traditional liberal arts education versus the incessant demand to prepare students for immediate placement in the job market,” Robertson told Virginia Business in an email. “In my opinion, Dr. Campo will adhere to a concept of higher education which embraces the classical mode, and that, in turn, is my personal opinion of the role of Regent University in the 21st century.”

Virginia Business sat down with Campo at its office in Richmond. An edited transcript follows:

Virginia Business:  One of your goals was to make Regent more of a regional asset and collaborative partner in Hampton Roads.  How is that effort going?

Campo:  The effort is going very well … One of the primary things we’ve been doing is listening and understanding what the dynamic is, both on the business end and then more broadly in terms of the career paths that align with our programs …
Any university president is always concerned about perceptions and reality.  I think we’ve had to reshape some perceptions about Regent … Someone who cares very deeply about education and about Regent in particular said, “Carlos, to be frank, we were waiting for some time to be sure that Regent was serious about education.” … What that person did was crystallize what some people have thought … I think people almost wondered … in Regent’s early years … Is this some sort of project that Dr. Robertson has launched as part of an outgrowth of the Christian Broadcasting Network?  In the last 10 years people realized that Regent intends to be part of the landscape for a long time.  We have taken upon ourselves this desire to lead with excellence, and I think it’s paid off … What we’ve really set out to do … is to perhaps re-establish Regent’s place in the community … We want people to rethink Regent, to re-envision Regent.

VB: What are you hearing from the business community?

Campo: One of the things we’re hearing is that businesses in the region are grateful that Regent is producing ethical leaders. We hear that a lot … the emphasis on moral and character development … We feel it’s a critical part of what we do.  One of the other things we’ve heard from businesses is:  … Can Regent provide us with some of the [business education] specific to the industries that are in Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads, most specifically hospitality and hospitality management?  We have something of a living lab on our campus in The Founders Inn and Spa. It’s owned by Regent … We actually have a minor now in hospitality management in our graduate school. We just had a consultant come in and look at how appropriate it might be for us to expand that program and maybe offer a four-year degree, a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management.

VB: Do a large percentage of your graduates stay in the area? 

Campo: They do.  Our statistics indicate that somewhere around 60 percent of our graduates stay and work in local area businesses: health care, the military and these kinds of things.

VB: We’ve heard a lot of talk recently about the need for schools to have a long-term strategic vision.  What is your vision for Regent?
Campo: We see Regent aligning with schools like Notre Dame and BYU in that they are faith-based schools and schools who have built such strong reputations that when people think about [them], they don’t think of their faith alignment first.  They think of them academically first … We don’t want to diminish our mission, which is certainly linked to our Christian heritage.  But we do want to lead with excellence, and we want people to perceive Regent as a school that leads with excellence … We’re really in our infancy and yet we have achieved a lot … The truth is we do have a governor in the governor’s mansion.  We have competed against the top Ivy Leagues in law school and won national competitions that have clearly indicated that our students can be employed at the highest levels and can have a huge impact on their culture … We feel we already are, and want to continue to be, innovators in the online space, undergraduate and graduate. 

VB: How important will online education be in the future?

Campo: The experts say that 60 percent of all higher-ed coursework will be delivered online by 2020 … I launched 18 full programs for my previous institution at the College of Southern Nevada.  I’ll say this about online: It’s a little bit like the comparison between butter and margarine … Most people believe that this traditional education that students have received forever is the butter of higher education.  … It’s maybe even tied to a higher-cost model.  You pay a little bit more for that sort of education … Think how butter tastes.  Would you ever have corn on the cob with margarine if the calories were the same? 

VB: So, going forward, are you saying one way to hold costs down is to let students take more online classes in the basics. Then when they get into their major, switch to the costlier model of classroom instruction?

Campo: Higher ed has to envision all of those possibilities. Before I leave the metaphor, I’m going to say that today people are consuming margarine at four times the rate that they’re consuming butter.  Part of the reason is because we can customize margarine … There are a lot of restrictions on higher education … I do believe that online gives you a flexibility that margarine gives you in that you can do much more in the online space. 
… We’re telling students all the time “Go to the community college for your first two years.  It’s a bargain.” We actually have a 2+2 model.  Most schools do.  Two of our undergraduate programs will be available to be completed in three years this fall.  By next fall we’ve targeted all of our undergraduate programs.  Will every student do it?  No, but the national completion rates in higher ed, they’re around 50 percent.

VB: In four years?

Campo: In six years … In six years we’re at about a 50 percent graduation rate.  That has to change.  We’re looking at prior learning assessments as well … Is it appropriate for us to force you to sit in a class if you can demonstrate a skill set that [shows that you know the material]? … One of the things that we are looking at … is granting nontraditional credit for work, for skill sets that they may have acquired. We want students to be able to get that credit and to move on.

VB: The controversy over Dr. Teresa Sullivan’s forced ouster and later reinstatement at U.Va. focused attention on university governance. Is the role of university boards changing? And do you feel there are more demands on presidents today to function like CEOs and professional fundraisers?

Campo: It’s clear that boards are changing.  One of the things mentioned in reference to Dr. Sullivan’s ouster was the preponderance —I think the phrase used was “business types” —on the board of trustees.  I think it would minimize what occurred at U.Va. to say that there was some sort of one-to-one parallel between business types and her ouster. That would be very unfair and, frankly, I don’t have enough information to know all of what led to those changes.
… There are a lot of business principles that relate to higher ed, and we had better take note of a place like University of Phoenix [which has become] … the largest university in the United States. 
We had better take note of the business practices of for-profit institutions. But if we lose sight of the fact that we are shaping the citizenry … We have to see them very differently because part of what happens is if I’m a consumer — and that’s what you’re telling students — so what’s a faculty member then? I paid my money, I did what you asked me, I completed the assignment. Now I’m a consumer, and I want the product for which I paid.  That means this grade in this class.  We’re seeing that more and more because we’re treating students like consumers instead of young adults who are hopefully being shaped into the future leaders of this nation. 
VB: Where’s the money going to come from in the future, and what about proposals for privatizing [public colleges and universities]? 
Campo: I’ll try to answer part of the question I missed last time [about] this pressure on CEOs and presidents to fundraise more.  I think that probably happened about five years ago. That shift happened even before the 2008 reshifting of the economy … Presidents now are spending somewhere around 60 percent … maybe even closer to 70 percent of all their time fundraising. 

VB:  How much time do you spend?

Campo: I would say closer to 50 percent.  About half of my time is spent fundraising.
So what about this idea, should we privatize higher ed? … We’re almost there in so many regards.  … My concern in states that don’t have a strong central funding system for higher ed is that there’s a lot of duplication going on … unnecessary duplication … So if privatization is the right route and, frankly, I think it is, I wouldn’t want states to have no oversight.  I think that would not be the right model.  So I would say privatization with some provisos [for state oversight] is the right kind of approach. 

VB: What about slots for state students?  Under privatization, would everyone go for the more lucrative out-of-state students and tuitions?

Campo: I’m very concerned about that.  I think we have to find that balance. When we look out at higher ed over the next 10 years … enrollment for Anglo-Americans … is flat or declining. For African-Americans, it’s increasing 25 percent and for Hispanic-Americans, it’s increasing 49 percent ... You privatize higher ed, and now you’ve taken higher ed out of reach for almost all of those students. How are we going to bridge that gap?
I worked in the community college world for about 11 years.  Here’s what the statistics say.  If a student enrolls at a community college this fall, they will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in six years at about a 12 percent rate … My point is the preponderance of the students of color of whom I just mentioned, they’re enrolling in those kinds of institutions, and they’re going to graduate with a bachelor’s at a much lower rate than if they enroll at a four-year institution … This is a very personal issue for me as a Hispanic-American as well.  These are not just my brothers and sisters and my children.  They’re all of ours … It’s about all Americans.  If we fail to educate this growing demographic, not just Hispanics but African-Americans, then we fail as a nation.  It’s just going to be haves and have-nots … We believe that the government is not the solution to most of these educational questions.  We think that private industry can help. We believe that the church can help.

VB: Tell me about that.

Campo: We think that there’s too long been a separation between intellectual life and spiritual life.  For years and years, not just in America but across the world, and not just in the Christian faith but the Muslim faith, the Jewish faith … this idea that somehow we’ll secularize part of our life and part of our life will remain spiritual is a very strange and new one … This idea of loving the Lord your God with all your mind is something that we have lost in the 19th, 20th and 21st century in America and elsewhere.  So what we’re asking the church to do is come full circle and come back to its intellectual roots. 
… One, help fund students who are in your congregation.  See that as part of your mission.  Not just fund but help them see higher ed as, not a privilege, but as an expectation … That sentiment has to be embedded into the life of children of color and all children in America today.  I think the church has a huge role to play in that. 

VB: One thing front and center is what happened at Penn State.  When you talk about issues of morality and spirituality … everyone’s talking about the NCAA sanctions and what happened there and what should have happened in the cases of child sexual abuse.

Campo:  The former president of Penn State is likely to be indicted over what has occurred.  So certainly that is bracing for me as a university president.  We saw the resignation of Florida A&M’s president over the death of Robert Champion, the drum major who was killed in a hazing incident.  So a couple of things come to mind that I would like to comment about in reference to those things. 
… First of all, there’s no way to inoculate any campus against tragedy.  There’s no way. I wouldn’t want to set up a false expectation that Regent or any other faith-based campus would somehow be inoculated against tragedies and the foibles of humanity … Are you intentional about trying to eliminate even that possibility?  I guess that is an appropriate leadership question. 
One of the things we try to do is be very open and transparent … The truth is we are in an environment that as a leader I have to give people permission and the freedom to say at the highest levels, “I’m not doing well.” 
  … I’ve been reading one of Tony Dungy’s books.  [The former NFL football coach] talks about being transparent as a leader.  You’re not going to get it right every time.  You have to have the permission to fail, but you had better make clear a couple of things.  One, there is an expectation for transparency at our institution … We’ve developed a Regent University Behavioral Intervention Team. At this time you can … just send an email to the team and say we’re concerned about this situation or this person.  Just that simply, we get professionals involved, both behavioral professionals and legal professionals involved to take the next steps.

VB: Do you get many emails from people?

Campo: We get a fair number of emails.  It’s probably less than a dozen per semester, but frankly in some ways we want it to be more as appropriate.  I think more than anything it’s having an outlet for people … It’s a model.  You’ll see it in place at other schools.

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