Troy Chamber President, Tara Tomcsik-Husak interviews Patti Swanson, Walsh College’s Chief Marketing and Enrollment Officer.


TARA: How has COVID-19 affected higher education at Walsh and higher educational as a whole?

Patti Swanson, Walsh College’s Chief Marketing and Enrollment Officer.

PATTI: Walsh’s focus has been on how the pandemic is affecting our students and how we can best support them. Students are anxious, even afraid. Their lives are currently upended. They are losing jobs; their physical and mental health may be compromised. Institutions of higher education must do all we can to reduce anxiety, minimize obstacles and extend flexibility for students. This is an opportunity for the higher education sector to demonstrate an ability to innovate and adapt to the changing needs of students, both in the current situation and into the future.

TARA: With the campus being closed, how has Walsh adapted to an entirely remote environment?

PATTI: Walsh was fortunate that we were able to nimbly transition courses and student services to 100% remote delivery in less than a week. Our online learning and IT teams worked tirelessly with faculty and staff to ensure a smooth transition. The technology we had in place and the fact that 96% of our students already attend partially or entirely online also helped ease the move to remote delivery.

Because of our ability to transition to remote delivery of courses and student services, Walsh students have been able to continue their educations without interruption, which brings an air of stability when so many things are out of our control.

TARA: Can you talk about your great virtual options for getting a degree at Walsh?

PATTI: Walsh offers several 100% online programs at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral level and many of our online programs have received international and national recognition. Our online MBA was just ranked a Tier One program by CEO Magazine for the second year in a row.

We have an incredibly talented online learning team working closely with our faculty to develop online programs that are academically rigorous but also engaging, applicable and technologically convenient. Content is developed to be accessible across all platforms, devices and operating systems and broken into smaller sized chunks so students can easily work school into their busy schedules.

TARA: What has been your greatest obstacle during this crisis?

PATTI: Walsh’s transition to 100% remote delivery of classes, student services and operations was quite nimble thanks to technology we had in place, our strong online learning and IT teams, and the fact that 96% of our students were already attending partially or entirely online. Our primary concern has been making sure our students have the support they need, whatever that support looks like. That’s where our focus has been.

TARA: Has this affected enrollment and how are you addressing that?

PATTI: For Spring semester, we are at 99% projection despite an historic disruption in all of our lives. The unfortunate reality is that we lost access to the undergraduate students who typically transfer to finish their degrees at Walsh. That was due to colleges and universities experiencing a significant interruption in their semesters and having to cancel or pause numerous courses, events and presentations.

TARA: What great ways are you staying connected to your students, faculty, staff, and community?

PATTI: Our faculty use a variety of remote delivery methods including virtual class meetings (both synchronous and asynchronous), online discussion boards, and email. All of our student services including academic advising, admissions, career services, financial aid, free tutoring, even library resources and some events are available virtually. Our faculty and staff have been actively reaching out to students to ensure their needs are being met. We have also been sharing insights from our thought leaders via virtual events, on our blog, and on social media channels.

TARA: What great things is Walsh doing to look toward the future?

PATTI: We are excited about the future including new programs, expanded services and more. The pandemic will have an aftereffect that students and businesses will need to adjust for. Walsh is uniquely positioned to help navigate those adaptations for students and our business partners ensuring they are well-prepared for this changed world. Our adjunct faculty are working professionals using this very real case study to help students learn, understand and prepare in a way no other school can. And, yes, we too are looking at how higher education will be changed forever and what that will mean for our industry as a whole.

TARA: As so many people are out of work and looking into new career paths, is this is good time to start looking into getting a degree? Is there any financial aid or grants assistance available during this time?

PATTI: Right now could be a great time to finish your bachelor’s degree or start a master’s, doctoral, or certificate program, all of which Walsh offers. People’s lives are being disrupted in so many ways. School can offer a steadying sense of purpose – making progress toward a goal that can improve one’s future. A business degree provides knowledge and skills that are applicable in virtually every industry, so it’s a sound investment. Walsh is an upper-division-only school, which means undergraduate students start at another school and transfer to Walsh to finish their bachelor’s degree. We accept up to 91 credits and have a reputation for a smooth transfer process.

Financial aid, grants and scholarships are available. Walsh has also expanded the Student Emergency Assistance fund to help support current students being financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are working individually with any students experiencing challenges to support them in any way we can. Our COVID-19 information hub and blog provide information, industry insights from our thought leaders and useful resources for both students and the community.

In addition, The CARES Act that was recently signed into law has also made available to students emergency financial aid grants for their expenses related to the disruption due to coronavirus, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care and more.

TARA: In what ways can people help support the higher education sector during this time?

PATTI: Be open to new kinds of higher education experiences. If you’re in school and able to continue, keep going. If you were considering going back to school, don’t let the current situation preclude you from starting. It is a time to reflect, advance your knowledge and prepare for the future.

TARA: What’s the first thing Walsh is going to do once were back to our new normal?

PATTI: What we always do, focus on the student and ensure they are receiving the support they need to meet their educational and career goals. Our strategic plan positions us for a strong future and we are focused on maximizing all factors within our control, particularly the quality of our programs and faculty and return on investment and overall experience for our students, from their first inquiry to the day they receive their diploma.

TARA: What advice/tips can you give?

PATTI: Focus on what you can control.
Stay informed but try and avoid information overload.
If you are in school and can continue, keep going.
If you were considering going back to school, don’t let the current situation preclude you from starting.

TARA: How do you stay optimistic during this time?

PATTI: There is no question that this time is incredibly challenging for all and devastating for many. But Walsh remains optimistic. Our strategic plan positions us for a strong future and we are focused on maximizing all factors within our control, particularly the quality of our programs and faculty and return on investment and overall experience for our students, from their first inquiry to the day they receive their diploma.

TARA: Thank you Patti for speaking with us today. Walsh has been such a great partner for the Chamber and the business community. I know we are so grateful to host our Non-Profit Network (NPN) Conference at Walsh on October 27th and have you as our venue sponsor. This event is going to help so many nonprofits as they recover from the negative impacts of COVID-19 in philanthropy.

Walsh is a true leader in education and outreach for the business community and we are so grateful to have you as members of the Troy Chamber. Thanks again.

To feature your company in the Blog Series: The Effects of COVID-19 on Industry, please contact Troy Chamber President, Tara Tomcsik-Husak.
>> Email Tara Tomcsik-Husak