Spotlight: Carolina University

In this series, ActionCOACH Mary Ann Hauser (MAH) and team virtually sit down with business owners to learn how they are working through COVID-19. Check out their inspiring stories for tips on how to cope with and successfully recover from this pandemic as well as ideas on how to avoid making common mistakes. And be sure to look at special offers from these businesses – we can all use a little extra help right now! 

MH: Coach Mary Ann Hauser 

CP: Charles Petitt, President of Carolina University 

Special offer: 50% COVID-19 scholarship for any Carolina University program 

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MH: The first thing I wanted to say is, congratulations on the name change!  

CP: Thank you.   

MH: What does Carolina University do, how long have you been doing it, and what is your “why”?  

CP: How long is an interesting question, because we actually pulled seven universities together through mergers. The oldest one was John Wesley University in High Point. By merger rules and regulations, we’re allowed to claim the name of our oldest partner. So we’ve been around since 1903 – the oldest theological training school in NC. The other 6 came along in the 20s, 30s, and 40s.   

As far as what we do, we provide high quality higher education on campus and online. We have grown substantially in our degree areas in recent years. We now offer about 50 majors and minors, including Business Administration, Criminal Justice, Information Systems, Sports Management, American Sign Language, and Social Work. This fall we launched an E-sports program. We also are offering Nursing degrees at the Bachelor’s and Master’s level.  We still have all of our Biblical Studies and ministry degrees that our partners offered, as well as Elementary Education, Counseling, MBA, Public Health, Psychology, and so on. Our flagship degree program is actually a PhD in Leadership, and we have graduates from that program around the world doing pretty exciting things.   

MH: Who is your best customer, and who are you looking for when you go out to find students? If I were to compare you to the other big schools here in North Carolina, do you have a different market? 

CP: We do endless targeted marketing through Google and social media. We’ve done extremely well attracting students from across America and internationally. Last year alone, we had students from 45 states enrolled and 100 countries. One of our seven schools had International in their name, Piedmont International University, and that was no joke. We set up branch campuses in Egypt and Bangladesh, and we’ve translated entire degrees into Arabic and Spanish. We have 2 degrees that you can earn now entirely online and entirely in Spanish. We received a large grant that enabled us to translate a Master’s degree into Portuguese, so we currently have 5 Portuguese students who are earning an American accredited degree without having to speak English.  

As far as international marketing goes, we use a lot of social media marketing to attract those prospective students. We do the same across America. The irony is that we’re probably more well-known in those cities across the world than we are right here at home. We’re getting ready to change that through more local and mass media advertising. We don’t advertise to people driving down I-40, because most of those people aren’t students.   

Even before COVID-19 hit, we were focused on delivering a high-quality online education. We pushed for innovation in our technological, online approach. Even if you’re on the main campus, much of your work is going to be done online. Yes, you’ll still go to in-person classes, but students from around the world will be teleconferenced in to your live classes. All of our exams were already online.  

Back in March, we sent everyone home because of COVID, but we were extremely blessed because there was no learning curve. For the students and professors, it was seamless and instant to transition to fully-online learning, because what we do on main campus matches the curriculum for our online programs.   

Once everyone was home, I decided to do something I had never done before with all my free time, and I decided to call as many of our main-campus students as possible. I had a Zoom call with almost every student to ask, “How are you? How is your health and family? How are you adjusting to all of this?” But the other question I asked is “What do we need to improve with the online delivery of your classes? Do you love it? Do you hate it?” And every single student said, “We love it. Everything has been really smooth”.    

MH: What has been the biggest impact of COVID-19 on Carolina University?  

CP: We have seen blessings and benefits. We have the same anxiety as other schools have had about this pandemic, but we also have a lot of students from other schools transferring to us because we are one of those rare, private, accredited universities that happens to be affordable.  When you come to our school, you’re not paying for marble and hardwood floors and ski slopes, you’re paying for a quality education. If you were a student attending one of our competitor’s schools, with a tuition of $75K a semester, and then suddenly you were forced to go online, you throw together an online program which consists of a few videos and a few Zoom calls. But these schools weren’t equipped to transition so quickly to online delivery because they had never done it before.  

We actually have a higher level of applications for our university now than ever before, and many of them are transfers from other schools. Our administration talks every day about what the fall is going to look like. There is a lot of uncertainty, and we don’t get any control. If Governor Cooper says, “do this”, we do that.  

But I will say, our theme for our both our chapel and our convocation this school year is going to be “Pivot, Don’t Panic”. Uncertain times like these are tailor-made for seizing opportunities if you don’t panic. Many great American corporations were born in the Great Depression or during war and horrible times, where someone saw a need and decided to fill that gap. So we’re trying to encourage our students to do the same thing and look for those opportunities that have been born out of this pandemic.   

MH: So, what have been your biggest learnings since this pandemic began? What have you learned?  

CP:  To try to practice what I preach a little more. We’ve been preparing for our theme of “Pivot, Don’t Panic”, but when you sit in my chair, panic seems like a pretty good option from time to time. But we’re refusing to do that.   

We have these innovative meetings every week and come up with things we’ve never done before. One of the things we may do is pop up large tents around campus and have students take some classes outside, at least 6 feet apart from each other, while getting fresh air at the same time.  Another way we’re innovating is that students will be mainly online for classroom times, but will be able to schedule office hours with faculty where they sit six feet apart and get to ask questions. So, they’ll get a lot more personalized attention than they ever got before and do it safely. A lot of innovation is coming out of this, and if it works well, we may do it forever because it’s a better method and has good pedagogy attached to it.  

We do a lot of flipped classes where you basically flip homework and classwork. You do your lectures at home, where you can pause and rewind and re-watch the lectures at your own pace – which by the way, has prompted a higher quality for lectures. If your professor knows their lecture is going to be published for the whole world to see, or that your parent might be watching the lecture with you over your shoulder, they really bring their A-game and deliver a great lecture.  

Students now do what used to be called homework in class, collaboratively, in small groups with other students. Scores have all gone up since we integrated that method.   

MH: If there is one thing, or one person that is inspiring you today, what do you think it is?  

CP: The spirit of young people inspiring to me. I don’t know how much we should buy into generational stereotypes. I’ve had more conversations with students because of COVID than any other time in my life, and I’ve just seen such a passion in this younger generation. They don’t just want to make money and be successful, they want to make an impact.   

MH: I have one last question. Are there any special offerings that you would like me to include?  

CP: I’d like to share about our COVID 19 scholarship that we created in the spring. We’re giving a 50% scholarship to any program we have – whether it is online or on-campus, undergraduate, Master’s, even our PhD program — to any programs whose industries have been directly hurt by this pandemic. You can find the whole list of industries on our website, but that includes airline, hospitality, food service, tourism, travel, education, entertainment, medical, recreation, law enforcement, first responders, military —  any one of those, if they enroll this year, will get a 50% scholarship. By the way, for an accredited, private university, we’re already very reasonable at $12,000 a year, so with the scholarship, that price is brought down to $6,000 a year. If you qualify for the full Pell grant, you can even come for free. So if you’re sheltering at home, go earn a degree!   

To learn more about Carolina University’s COVID-19 scholarship program, go to: https://carolinau.edu/academics 

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