Ep. 122 – Claremont Lincoln University Chief Operating Officer, Dr. Joe Sallustio

Ep. 122 – Claremont Lincoln University Chief Operating Officer, Dr. Joe Sallustio

Online universities have long been around, but due to the pandemic, it is now needed more than ever. As it takes center stage in the field of education, they are now facing both advantages and challenges in the rapidly-changing market. Joining Cameron Herold is the COO of Claremont Lincoln University, Dr. Joe Sallustio, to share his experiences in running an online university. He discusses how online learning impacts student behavior, particularly in their specialization skills, as well as the intricacies involved in recruiting and maintaining faculty in such a digital set-up. Dr. Joe also explains the marketing side of running this kind of institution, especially with everything being done across the internet.

Dr. Joe Sallustio has become one of our nation’s foremost online higher education experts. He’s led a broad range of educational institutions, including a regionally accredited nonprofit university online, a regionally accredited for-profit university online, and a nationally accredited for-profit university, which is an online-offline hybrid. It’s giving him a unique and effective breadth of knowledge, on-ground, and online higher education administration.

In ever-evolving and competitive online higher education landscape nowadays, this diversity of experiences is necessary to lead the university in the future successfully. With nearly two decades of experience in higher education operations, Joe has led teams in marketing, enrollment, finance, financial aid, Student Services, Student Affairs, human resources, accreditation/Title IV compliance. Also, business to business relationships, and product strategy for on-ground hybrid and online universities.

Specifically, his extensive experience in scaling, marketing, and enrollment activities have driven the success of many of the institutions he’s served. Joe received his EdD in organizational leadership from North Central University. He also holds an MS in Organizational Leadership, strategic human resources management from Regis University and a BS in speech communications from the State University in North College at Oneonta. Joe, thank you for joining us on the show.

No worries. The first correction is when you say my last name. You’ve got to say it with a little Italian panache. That’s okay. We’ll roll right through.

I have Sausalito on the brain. I’m going to be there with my girlfriend. Where is your background in Italy?

My family dates back to Rome and Pompei. When I visited Italy, there’s a house of Sallustio in Pompei. All the roots are back there and here I am.

It’s a great region. Thank you for joining us. I appreciate the time you’re going to be able to share with us.

It’s an honor.

Can you tell us a little bit about the organization that you run now and I’m super interested in the whole online university as well? Tell us about the organization.

Claremont Lincoln University is a nonprofit startup university. Starting a university is not easy. Let me say that. We had a single donor whose name was David Lincoln. Along with our first president, Dr. Jerry Campbell, they came up with a concept that universities or higher education, in general, doesn’t teach ethics, ethical decision making in the way that it needs to. Grounded in the golden rule to treat others as you’d like to be treated.

With a sizable donation, the university started. I’ll save you all the gory details of getting through accreditation. There are some mergers and seeding but as of 2014, we became a standalone institution. In the world of higher education, we are this embryo that has formed. We don’t have a 150-year history. We’ve got less than a couple of years of history and we enroll leaders, so all of our programs are graduate programs, Master’s degree programs, and we’re focused on delivering education to socially conscious leaders.

We’ve gone and trademarked Socially Conscious Education so we’re developing the skills that people need for the 21st century and our core curriculum is called the Claremont Core and it teaches four key skills, mindfulness, dialogue, collaboration, and change. It’s these human skills in an ever-evolving technological society that becomes so important. We have to build and maintain relationships as humans and we teach people how to do that. We’re a fully online institution. We’ve been growing rapidly. Our enrollment over the past few years are up almost 700%. We’re fast-growing thought leaders when it comes to leadership and ethical leadership. It’s been an amazing journey.

How do you start a university?

You’ve got to have money. The single donor, David Lincoln came in and he had given a sizable amount of dollars. US accreditation, generally, when you have to be accredited if you want to offer Title IV funding, which is financial aid, the government says, “If you want to give a student financial aid, you have to become accredited, and you have to have an oversight agency.” The oversight agency says, “You have to have graduates before we’re willing to provide oversight.” You can’t have graduates if nobody enrolls. Most people won’t enroll if you don’t have financial aid, so what you have to do is fully scholarship students for a period of probably two years or so with those dollars that you’ve been donated to get the outcomes that you need to become accredited.

Fully scholarship means you can come here, you can graduate from here, but you won’t have any expenses. Your tuition is paid.

It’s a 100% scholarship. The risk you take as a student is, this is an unaccredited college, but you get a free education. When we get accreditation, you’ll be grandfathered in your education.

I’m betting on you and I’m going to get my education for free. You’re betting on me because if you get enough students, that’s going to help you get your accreditation. Bob’s your uncle and everybody wins. That’s how you started.

It’s similar to programs. Programs are the same way with a nursing program or any program where there’s a body that oversees the outcomes. They want to see the outcomes first before they’re willing to give you their backing. A lot of times, it’s a risk for the student but that’s how you start a university and to be honest. It’s not easy. That’s why there aren’t a lot of new universities. They’re old universities. When they do start, a lot of times, they’re not in the nonprofit sector. They’re in the for-profit sector.

What’s the difference then between a nonprofit university and the for-profit university? Why do we care what the difference is?

That is a can of worms there.

I’m Canadian, so I don’t even understand that there were for-profit universities in the first place and I’ve always seen the US education system as a business less of an education. It seems it got out of control for tuitions but that’s biased.

That’s a whole other topic. The easy way to understand it is for a nonprofit university, you’re registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3), which means that your dollars go back into the university in terms of investment or endowment. You’re basically a nonprofit. For the for-profit model, it’s a tax status. You’re usually overseen by a board of directors. Some of the profits are enriching or the owner is profiting from the business. That’s the main difference.

SIC 122 | Online Universities
Online Universities: The idea of online education is that the savings should be passed on to the consumer, which is the student.

 

It’s a tax status and both get financial aid. They’re different models and that’s been one of the big deals in the United States. It’s the fall of the for-profit sector because of the amazing and unfair at times regulatory oversight that those institutions have seen and I’ve worked in both nonprofit and for-profit now. They run pretty much the same. They try to get students. That’s it. If you don’t have students, you don’t have a model. Nonprofit or for-profit doesn’t make a difference.

If I’m thinking about that, you’re not going to have that model. Does the model of the current education system even exist years from now? Especially now that they’ve been forced to go online and everybody’s seen the opportunity to go online. Both of my kids are doing online classes now and my oldest isn’t even going into second year university now, he’s going to do it online because the university is not taking kids back until the second semester. Does the old world of universities even exist or is this giving you guys an injection?

Anybody that thinks they can answer that question now is full of it. Besides my work at Claremont Lincoln University, I also co-host a podcast called The EdUp Experience. We interview presidents and top higher ed leaders and we ask the same question, “What’s the future of higher education?” Everybody gives an opinion that yesterday that meant something and today it has changed with COVID-19, certainly. What COVID-19 has done is sped up a consequence. Education was moving online anyway, slowly. This has fueled and It’s been a catalyst. The other thing that’s done is it has created a rock in a hard place, a double-edged sword if you will. A lot of institutions are in financial trouble.

They run with two-year operating expenses in total and now maybe 15% to 20% to 30% to 50% of your students aren’t coming back to campus. You aren’t going to get the level of revenue you needed to go to the next year. Do you have students back on campus because you have to financially to survive or do you follow the CDC guidelines and go online? This is the type of decision that we’re seeing institutions have to make. It is tough on ethics. It’s an ethical nightmare. What do you do? We’re seeing some schools accept students back, we’re seeing some schools that have moved online and now have to worry about online education and it is not the same. My friend is in grad education and it’s completely different.

I even want my son to get back to campus because he grew so much in the first year, being around the other kids, socializing, working together, and without his parents having to make sure he’s doing his homework or going to bed on time. He grew up as an adult. It was amazing to watch. It isn’t the same either, but at the same time, we’ve now seen millions and millions of kids who would have never wanted to do their university or take any courses online have now done it for the last months. They went, “Shit, if I can do it at a tenth of the cost.” Are you cheaper than a normal similar offline program?

Yeah. At Claremont Lincoln University, our graduate degrees are $18,000 in total cost. In the world of higher education in the United States, that is economical. Our mantra is, “Accessible, affordable, life-changing, and world-changing.” We are careful not to saddle a student with so much debt that they can’t do something with it and these are working students. Ninety percent of our students are working. They’re in a job, they’re a VP of something or they’re a director of something. They want to get a graduate degree to move up, we have to make it affordable for them to do so without them taking a hit.

In the US higher education, the cost of tuition skyrocketing, you’ve seen some institutions that you would recognize now that have gone fully online and have not reduced their cost. You might pay $50,000 a year to go online and you don’t have dining halls, dorm rooms, or have the campus amenities available like lazy rivers and that whole BS that comes with some of the higher ed stuff. You still have to pay that amount doesn’t make sense. The idea of online education is that the savings should be passed on to the consumer and the consumers are the students.

We’re going to definitely see some shifts there because of the basic supply-demand, the basic economics, and the opportunity to change that business. You guys are in an interesting time for sure.

It’s tough. What’s fascinating is this affect so many leaders. You talk about the people you’ve had on this show, COOs. They’ve got kids. Like me, I have some kids that are in grade school. How do you take a five-year-old and put them in online education? It’s hard to understand that. It’s a lot easier for an adult but when you’re paying there is something to the college experience. As an online educator, I fully get that. My undergraduate was fully on-ground. Let’s say I had a complete undergraduate experience.

It’s exactly the same.

I did my Master’s and doctorate online fully because I had to work. There is still that as a dad and as a mom, you still want your kid to have that level of experience, but it may not exist anymore.

When I went to university, we didn’t have the opportunity for online because we didn’t have online. I got a typewriter as my high school graduation gift from my parents and when I graduated from university, they were starting to have computers in the residences but no one in residence had one. I graduated in ’88. The opportunity for an online education didn’t exist, but now, it’s become pretty obvious that it has to go that way. The business, economics, and ROI don’t work anymore. My son’s education in Canada is $5,200 a year for his tuition for his bachelor’s degree at a good university.

Canadian education is a lot different.

The University of Victoria is a great school. Switching off of the economics of the business, how do you turn then from you’ve raised money, you’ve got your sanctioning, you’re getting things started? How did the business get up and running? How do you start attracting those for students? What are you selling them on? How are you continuing now?

First, you’re selling them on free education to get the outcomes. What you do in that respect is you have to create the educational infrastructure. You’ve invested a lot of faculties and a lot of invested a lot in instruction and in curriculum design because that’s how the accreditor is going to review you. They’re going to say, “Are your outcomes of quality? Before we’re willing to say that we’re behind you want to see these quality outcomes.” When you get government funding, when you become accredited, and you’re able to offer Title IV funding, you want to grow and you want to grow quickly because you now need revenue. You have a lot of expenses because you’re paying instructors, you’re not collecting any revenue, and now you have title IV funding. The US government says, “We’re going to give you the money to borrow so students can borrow. You have to grow it.”

That shift from an academic model to now growth is totally different, so you need a completely different infrastructure. That’s when I came to Claremont Lincoln University in January of 2018 with an infrastructure that did not know how to scale. We had very hefty deliverables in terms of education with lots of faculty and lots of Students Service stuff, but nothing on the front end that said, “We have to grow.” What do we do? Marketing, enrollment, Student Service, financial aid, and we have to create a brand new infrastructure to grow. What we’ve done in a short period of time is grow and scale quickly, but it’s come with a mind shift and a cultural shift because it got comfortable. Think of it this way, you’re paying a faculty member $1 amount to teach five students, and now you want to pay him the same amount to teach 15 or 20. There are lots of cultural things that come into play.

How many total employees are within the university?

We’re still small. We have about 30 full-time employees.

It’s 30 full-time employees from the teachers, marketing, and sales side of the business. It’s still a startup business in a way. How many students are going through it?

In January of 2018, we started at ten paying students, so there are a couple of students paying something when I say paying something, I mean a couple of dollars but now we have over 260 students. We expect to be well over 300 or closer to 350 by the end of 2020.

Now you’re starting to turn on the marketing side of the business then. Were you marketing restraint before or production restraint in terms of having the teachers or the courses or was it funding?

It was a lack of knowledge and a lack of understanding of what to do with it. There were marketing dollars, but how we were marketing was traditional. When you start a university and you bring in people, a lot of times you’ll run traditionally. We were doing a lot of marketing going to college fairs to try to get the 18 to 22-year-old student who’s graduated with a bachelor’s degree to go to a Master’s degree. That wasn’t working.

SIC 122 | Online Universities
Online Universities: There is a huge difference between designing an education system online than simply moving something online.

 

When you’re online, you can scale. We’re a socially conscious university. That meant that we’re coastal. Let’s look at New York, Atlanta, and let’s look where there’s progressive thinking and let’s market to those areas. We geo-fence, geo-targeted and we looked at people who had been out of school for a couple of years. That was a director that wanted to move up in LinkedIn and got LinkedIn targeting, so we changed the entire model.

I did recruit years ago. I used to do a lot of recruiting off university campuses for a company called College Pro Painters. I was recruiting at one in Olympia, Washington called Evergreen State. I was there and I asked the woman I was interviewing, “What are your grades like?” She’s like, “I’m passing.” I’m like, “That’s awesome. What are your grades like?” She goes, “I’m passing.” I’m like, “Can I ask you a third time?” She goes, “You don’t know. This is a pass-fail university.” I’m like, “What are you talking about?” She’s like, “There are no grades. You either pass the course or you don’t.” I’m like, “What?” It was such an interesting way to get the kids engaged in learning. They weren’t stressed about whether they got 84, 92, or 76. Are they engaged in learning? Are they enjoying the course content? Are they working their best? Are they collaborating? I’m like, “That’s an interesting model.”

A lot of schools in the spring of 2020, when COVID hit moved to that pass-fail or not because they couldn’t move timeline quickly.

Interesting opportunities. Where are you now with the marketing? If we talk about the marketing of students, what are you engaged in? Are you and are you outsourcing some of that? You’ve got to be outsourcing. With that limited number of employees, you can’t be building an in-house marketing team.

It’s a combination of both. I’ve got two people and myself. We are the entirety of the marketing team internally. Their names are Rina and Arbazz. I am proud to say that in 2019, we won the American Marketing Association Higher Education Team of the Year Award, which beat out two universities that you may have heard of. One’s called Stony Brook University in New York, and the second called the University of Notre Dame. We were pretty proud of that.

That’s a mighty team of three we’ll call it and I’m a half-timer because I got other stuff to do. I outsource some to a colleague of mine, his name’s Jake Casper does a lot of our Google AdWords, search engine optimization, and things of that nature. Between the four of us or some we’re doing all of it. It’s a multi-layered media strategy, social media, Google, and Bing, AdWord development, and organic. We’re building a lot of content, writing a lot of articles, doing a podcast internally at Claremont Lincoln University to create organic reach.

Here’s the thing I would say about marketing, especially now. We are all at home, so our screen time has gone up exponentially. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be working and I’m like, “Let me check this golf game I was playing last night, or let me check the news over here.” We doubled, tripled, and quadrupled our social media output right away the minute I heard work from home. I said to the team, “Double the post, triple the posts, and quadruple the post. We want more content all the time, so when somebody thinks about going to college, they see us first.”

I love the idea of a pure-play online education and you guys are at an exciting stage where you are young, nimble, and starting to scale at this time too. Did I hear right that Harvard is putting a lot of their courses online now for free?

You said it first, so they do have some courses online for free, but you still have to pay $50,000 a year if you want to go to Harvard online.

If you want to get an education, that’s another whole twist as well. Will there even be a challenge for credit, but if you’re a legacy institution that’s trying to convert people, they’re going to have a tougher time than you will of being a purely online institution that’s saying, “We’ve got this. It’s good and it scales.” You’ve got to know what your cost per acquisition is and what your value of the student is so you can start to dial that up as a marketing play, can’t you?

You’ve got it right. Our cost per lead, or student inquiry, if you will, here’s the fascinating part, there is a business part of higher education, but most people in higher ed are afraid to say it, “Students are our customers.” That’s the cost per lead. “Students aren’t leads.” They are. You want to get a student on a cost per enrollment cost per start, so for your acquisition cost, if you don’t know them, you can’t scale.

Your overhead is so much less than a traditional university that we know of with the bricks and mortar because you don’t have all the overhead. It’s an exciting space to be in.

It is.

What do you struggle at in terms of the size that you’re at with the vision that you’re going to? When you hit a breakeven point?

There’s still a loss.

You’re a nonprofit. You still have to operate within a budget. When do you hit a breakeven?

The main thing for us is capacity. We want to do X and Y but we only have a number of people to do it. This is a great example. As Chief Operating Officer, I’ve got a responsibility, basically, for the financial performance of the institution and all the operations. We started a podcast at our university and I’m producing it because I happen to know how to do that, so I took that and now I’m editing episodes of a podcast on the sides. It’s a capacity issue for us. David Lincoln gave us enough money to sustain ourselves for several years into the future so we can climb out of the hole that we’ve in and scale appropriately. We’re looking at somewhere between 600 and 1,000 students where we become that breakeven university and in fact, create an endowment for ourselves.

Our accreditors said, “You’re on the right path to do it.” We’re growing. When enrollment goes from about 10 students to 160 plus students in a two-year period that’s solid growth even at those small numbers. It’s not like we have an undergraduate population that is naturally coming up through the pipeline. We are getting students who’ve been out of school for a period of time. We’re marketing from scratch in their brain.

What I love about it now, though, for you, as well as if you think prior to March 2020, you had to explain how this whole thing worked and now people are like, “Shit, online.” Of course, you’re online. It’s not even a question that this could be a model now. It’s an exciting time for you guys. You’re going to hit your 600 to 1,000 in 2021 faster than you think you’ll hit.

We hope so and there’s a difference between design for online like we are and taking something and moving it online. It’s a completely different deal.

It’s completely different. What are you working on in terms of your skillset? You came out of bigger or larger institutions and come into this more of a startup.

That’s been an interesting, but welcomed transition, because at the institution I worked at previously, there were 40 locations across the United States, there’s 260 recruiters or so and I came in. At Claremont Lincoln University where we had two recruiters and those students. It’s a different challenge. I’m going to use technical words here, but you learn the guts of the institution from the ground up and that’s important because it gives you an understanding. Claremont Lincoln University is dear to my heart because of the mission to treat others as you want to be treated and to teach people how to operate in an ethical framework. Has there ever been a greater need for that amongst leaders than there is now?

SIC 122 | Online Universities
Online Universities: Higher education is bogged down by committees, and these slow down practices.

 

I believe in it with my whole heart. I’ve wanted to learn every single part of the business and it’s given me a real opportunity to do that without having to go backward in time. I stepped in and said, “What is this? Let’s evolve this?” I’ve been able to execute that vision that the founders had to offer this education to students and have them go out and change the world. Let me tell you, a lot of our students, do a capstone project before they leave their degree but a lot of them are doing amazing things. There’s one guy I can think of now. He holds a health expo on Skid Row for the homeless every year. It’s a massive Expo with sponsors, they hand out kits for health and he is one of our graduates. The effect he’s having on the homeless and to give them the supplies that they need is incredible.

I’ve got an intro I’m going to make for you or whoever is on the recruiting side of the university. We’re close friends with the founder of a company called Y Scouts and they’re culture-based. They’re on the board of Conscious Capitalism but they’re a big recruiting firm that’s always looking for senior season talent to bring in to other firms. I’m sure that they would love to take your applicants and start placing them into companies or they’ll start poaching them anyway. I’ll do an intro.

I wanted to say one of the most important things I want to say about Claremont Lincoln University is that we can customize. That’s one of the big things that’s given us an advantage now in the marketplace. We offer a non-credit certificate. Think about an organization that wants to train their employees and this is not higher education talk, this is COO talk. You need to train your employees and now you need to train them on diversity and inclusion. You need to train them on the state of society now and provide that training, so we’re all aware of the decisions that we make.

We have a non-credit certificate called Beyond Bias that teaches unconscious bias, hiring practices, it teaches you to be more aware and we customize that curriculum. An employer comes out and says, “We need to train our employees. We need two weeks of diversity inclusion training. What do you have?” We have it. “We need six weeks of diversity inclusion training.” We have it. “We need your women’s empowerment training.” We created that and we can deliver it in a 1, 2, or a 10-week format. It doesn’t matter.

I was curious about that. I was thinking about your sales team or the marketing team of, “If we had this we could land these students.” How many different programs or degrees do you have?

The degrees are different from the non-credit stuff. We have five Master’s degrees, Organizational Leadership, Social Impact, Human Resources, Healthcare, Sustainability Leadership, and we’re close hopefully to having a Master’s in Public Administration. On the non-credit side, we’ve got certificate-based programming. Women’s Empowerment and Beyond Bias. We have an HR certification. We’ve got stuff like that on the non-credit side. One in mindful leadership, which teaches our core curriculum so that’s the stuff that businesses need. They need short skills-based training to offer employees for professional development. That’s a space we play in as well.

Sadly, I read that David Lincoln passed away in 2018.

March of 2018. It was three months after I started.

That sucks.

It’s so sad.

It’s sad to read that. Where were you in the growth of the organization? Did you have students at that point?

No. When I started, we understood that we had about 25 total students, but only ten were paying something. In April of 2018, we walked into at that time, our largest incoming class of 26 students.

There were some kids that were learning. When he passed away, at least somebody was there learning?

Yep. Somebody was in learning and he knew we were walking into our biggest class ever of 26 students. He knew that before he passed that we were growing and now we offer our start dates on a monthly basis. That 26 students were over a quarter, and now we’re starting somewhere between 30 and 50 students per month.

I’m glad that he, as a benefactor, got to see something. I remember when my mom passed away that she saw her three kids had all been married, had all bought their first house, and we each had our own had a child and she passed away four months later. It was like her job was done or that she could see that. I’m glad. I don’t know why it touched me because I don’t know the guy.

He knew what was happening. He saw its building. I got to see him at his house a couple of weeks, two weeks before he passed and I told him that’s going to happen and you get a big old smile on his face.

That’s wonderful. It’s too hard for me to pay attention and listen to you and read his bio to know who the heck this guy was but who was he to have money to donate to start a university? What’s his story?

His father started Lincoln Electric Company, which is a publicly-traded organization. David took over and they made lots of money. Also, they were one of the first organizations to integrate human resources management into their operations. We read about the Lincoln Electric Company and you see that it was about creating employee benefits, listening to employees, and going through that but they did well. They’re publicly traded, as I said, and there are a lot of spin-offs for the Lincoln family as well.

He’s a successful man and lived as an extremely well off man who lived simply. He had a jeep that looked like it could be anybody’s jeep, but it’s not like he was driving some Ferrari around in his house. When I went into his house, it must have been the same as it was in 1970. It looked like the original shag carpet and the wood panels on the wall have not been updated. He left it almost in its original state. He had been a frugal man and donated so much money to causes that he believed in.

It looks like he was probably about 80 when he passed away, what was he thinking of starting an online business? How did he get exposed to that?

Our first President, Dr. Jerry Campbell, the two of them became friends and there was discussion around ethics. David Lincoln said, “Good ethics is good business.” That became the framework. That’s great. Good ethics is good business but how do you teach someone to be ethical? That’s what they wrestled conceptually. How do we teach ethics? How do we take somebody that doesn’t understand it and teach them that this decision has implications? It’s how they wrestled with. That’s how they came up with the core curriculum and that’s what we teach so when we’re putting out graduates, they’re going out there with the skills to make better decisions.

They started with the cause, and they work backward from that. Is that what got you engaged in joining the university as well because of the cause that you believed in?

SIC 122 | Online Universities
Online Universities: Offer your knowledge to people, particularly in the networking space, because they will pay it forward to you later when you need it.

 

I had been in higher ed for a couple of years and in situations where it was country-wide, I was national, I was traveling all over the place and I was looking for somewhere that I truly believed in. Not that I didn’t believe in the organizations I worked for before but I got older and I said that, “I want to make a difference.” This school, Claremont Lincoln when you read about its mission it’s about the golden rule, ethical leadership, socially conscious leaders, diversity and inclusion, expansion equity, women’s empowerment, and all of these issues. I thought, “That’s somewhere where I can walk away years from now and know that I made a complete difference.” That was important for me at that time in my career. It still is.

In building out the university and the business, are you a purely online company? Are your employees remote or are you based in a building in an office somewhere?

One of the things David Lincoln said is he wanted us to have a place to call home so we refurbed and own a building in Claremont, California that we call home that all of us go into an office to or at least used to go into the office every single day. We got that building and moved in December 23rd of 2019, and we were on home quarantine in March. We spent about two months in that building and have been at work from home since.

Do you think you’ll go back to the building or do you think you’ll transition to an online business?

We’re all online anyway. We’re a 100% online university so our operations and our students were not affected. We had zero interruptions. In fact, we have been busier than we ever have been but we are a small family of employees and people still do want to go back. The State of California is on lockdown still so you can’t go anywhere.

I spoke to the Second in Command for the AARP, the American Association of Retired People and they’ve got 2,200 employees. He said within three days, they went from all working from eleven offices to 100% online. It was extraordinary. There’s going to be this huge shift for businesses moving to be pure online now as well where they’re like, “I’m going to get rid of the overhead.”

That’s it. There’s a lot of fixed costs that are involved in being somewhere physical and you eliminate those costs. There are other consequences. For us, we were lucky that we had faculty that were skilled in self-care and mindfulness because there is that piece. You’re working from home and you’re working more than you ever have before. You’re probably not taking as many breaks. How do you take care of yourself? You have interruptions. We have some employees who are moms, who are making dinner at the end of the day. You never get a break. You can’t even take the drive home for ten minutes to reset your brain. It’s one thing to the next, so that’s an important part of working from home as well.

That’s interesting too. I hadn’t thought about that. As much as I always hated the commute, there is something about the commute that allows you to ease into your day and ease out of your day versus rolling out of bed and be on a Zoom call four minutes later.

That’s it. If you’re in Los Angeles and we’re in LA County, your drive can be long so you have a lot of time to listen to podcasts, this show, my podcast, or turn on the radio. Employees are moving from one thing to the next. That’s been an important focus for us internally. How are the employees doing? That’s a good question. What’s going to happen? I don’t know. January, maybe when there’s a vaccine. We have a couple of employees that take public transportation who are freaked out. How do you say, “You guys got to get back on the train, and let’s see you back in the office?” How do you mandate something like that amidst this? It’s a hard decision making.

I’ve got some companies that I coach now that are dealing with that back East and they’re struggling with the whole forcing employees to come back. You can’t. They had to come back when they’re ready. Talk about recruiting faculty and how you recruit and bring faculty into a startup environment where they’re dedicating their time and their careers. How are you attracting those people?

In an online institution, the majority of faculty are going to be adjunct, which means they’re not full-time their other contract faculty. They pick up a class here and a class there. For the majority of US colleges, they will have some adjunct faculty and an adjunct faculty member might teach for five institutions. That may be what they do. They teach here, and there. Engagement of professional development and communication becomes critical and Claremont Lincoln University believes that faculty are important to the mission. A lot of faculty resonates with our mission, so we’re attracting world-class faculty. We have people that are doing amazing, amazing things out there and it hasn’t been an issue.

That’s interesting and again, you don’t have the overhead.

This whole model starts to make sense, doesn’t it?

It does. Online education as much as it is important for kids to be in school there’s a social component and social-emotional learning component for grade school for college and stuff our kids are technological beasts. My five-year-old can operate an iPhone like nobody’s business now. Those kids and young adults want technology as a complement to what they’re doing or to completely supplement something that they’re doing. It’s important that we’ve seen it move that way. What does an eighteen-year-old do in the future? Maybe they work and go to college online instead of going away for the college experience? We don’t know what it’s going to look like but it’s changing.

Is it different running this online business online education versus a traditional university in terms of the types of employees you’re finding or recruiting? Is it more of a tech company culture versus a typical university culture might be?

Yes, is the answer to that. You’re looking for people that have savvy business knowledge. You can find people from traditional higher education that have been stifled in the traditional sense and are looking to innovate so that’s important, but there’s a business factor that comes with it. We don’t have that million-dollar endowment sitting on the side that we can pull from if we get in trouble one year. We can’t get in trouble this year. We need to produce so there’s a high level of ambiguity. We pilot, try, and move. Higher education, in general, is bogged down by committees, and these slow practices so we try to move quickly.

Dr. Joe Sallustio, I need one final question from you. If you were to go back as the 21 or 22-year-old graduating from college and getting ready to start off in your career, what word of advice would you give for yourself back then that you know to be true now, but you wish you’d known when you were getting out into the work world?

That’s a big one. It’s so many things. The one piece that I wish I had then is besides maturity is to say yes to anything. Anything meaning, when it comes professionally and somebody says, “Can you do this? Can you do that?” The answer has to be yes and sometimes I would say no back then, “That’s not my job.” The other side of that is to help people and help them without cost without charging them. Help people with your knowledge.

If you think you can help somebody do something, whether it’s be better on social media or help their business, make those contacts because those contacts stay with you forever. I’ve had the same people with me for years and years but that’s an important piece. Offer your knowledge to people particularly in the networking space because those people will pay it forward to you later when you need it. Those are the two pieces I would say that have moved me along later in life that I wish I knew earlier.

You did now as well. Dr. Joe Sallustio the Chief Operating Officer from Claremont Lincoln University thanks very much for sharing with us on the show. We appreciate the time and ideas.

It’s been an honor. Thank you.

Appreciate it.

Important Links:

About Dr. Joe Sallustio

SIC 122 | Online UniversitiesDr. Joe Sallustio has become one of our nation’s foremost online higher education experts. He has led a broad range of educational institutions including a regionally accredited non-profit university (online), a regionally accredited for-profit university (online), and a nationally accredited for-profit college (online/hybrid), giving him a unique and effective breadth of knowledge in on-ground and online higher education administration.  In today’s ever-evolving and competitive online higher education landscape, this diversity of experience is necessary to successfully lead a university into the future.

With nearly two decades of experience in higher education operations, Joe has led teams in marketing, enrollment, finance, financial aid, student services, student affairs, human resources, accreditation/Title IV compliance, business-to-businesses relationships, and product strategy for on-ground/hybrid and online universities.  Specifically, his extensive experience in scaling marketing and enrollment activities have driven the success of many of the institutions he has served.  

Joe received his Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership from Northcentral University. He also holds an M.S. in Organizational Leadership (Strategic Human Resources Management) from Regis University and a B.S. in Speech Communications from the State University of New York College at Oneonta.

Leave a Reply