Thomas More College President, David A. Armstrong, J.D., in a recent public address, stated that higher education is “under attack,” especially at small, faith-based enrollment-driven institutions. As pressure from the public for accountability has mounted over the years, a new wave of regulatory obligations has been imposed at the federal and state levels, as well as from various governing organizations, aimed at promoting and protecting the best interests of student safety, student finances, and institutional value. While the demands on these institutions to adapt and enforce the complex web of guidelines, policies, and procedures continue to grow, administrators must seek to collaborate with these agencies through partnerships and sharing of knowledge to influence policy and law that places these colleges and universities on more solid ground.
Oftentimes, at institutions like Thomas More College, the reality of employees wearing many hats and limited resources poses additional challenges to maintaining compliance in all areas. On top of that, the penalties of non-compliance, such as monetary fines, accreditation sanctions, liabilities, and damage to the institutional brand, pose serious threats to the viability of small colleges and universities. With no end in sight to the regulatory obstacle course through which institutions must pass, it is paramount that we work smarter and more efficiently to address our concerns and satisfy our compliance obligations. Therefore, compliance must become an integral part of who we are and how we work to serve and promote the bests interests of our most valuable asset – the student.
So, how has Thomas More College better positioned itself with the ability to attack the gamut of compliance regulations? By bringing the conversation to our own backyard, placing ourselves at the forefront of the discussion, and living out our mission.
At Thomas More College, our mission challenges us to examine our “responsibility to others.” With that purpose in mind, in April, President Armstrong announced the establishment of the Institute for Higher Education Compliance to host an annual, affordable conference on our campus, where legal experts, college officials, and lawmakers can gather together in the spirit of collaboration to advance the conversation of how to navigate the regulatory hurdles we all face. Essentially, we invested in the knowledge of one another.
On Tuesday, July 18, over 100 individuals representing 27 different institutions (law firms, colleges, regulatory agencies, state officials, and a high school) joined us on campus for the inaugural Institute for Higher Education Compliance Conference. The Conference centered around the Institute’s four pillars:
The EDUCATION of college professionals on the challenges associated with compliance;
A COMPREHENSIVE survey of relevant topics, including Title IX, Accreditation, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Athletics Compliance;
The importance of developing a CULTURE of compliance with emphasis on the hurdles facing smaller schools, like Thomas More College; and,
The RESPONSIBILITY of all college stakeholders to focus on student welfare in their pursuit of compliance.
The Conference began with an inspiring opening keynote on “The Age of Compliance” from President Armstrong, who shared his experiences in the field that have led to him becoming a nationally-known speaker on Title IX, the Clery Act, and the Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA) – a set of laws aimed at raising awareness to and protecting the rights of those involved in cases of sexual assault.
After attendees split up to spend the morning taking in sessions in our various tracks from a line-up that featured the best of the best, everyone gathered back in Steigerwald Hall for a President’s Panel over lunch featuring President Armstrong, President Fernando Figueroa of Gateway Community and Technical College, Dr. Bradley Bielski, Dean and Chief Administrative Officer of Kent State University Tuscarawas, and President Jamel Wright of Eureka College. The President’s Panel was moderated by Mr. Jim Newberry of Steptoe & Johnson PLLC and leader of the firm’s Higher Education Team. The panel informed attendees on the challenges that college presidents face, issues that keep them up at night. The panel also offered the audience practical advice that they could take to better perform in their roles and support their presidents in understanding and ensuring compliance. The President’s Panel served as one of the major highlights of the day.
After one final afternoon breakout session, the attendees once again regrouped to take in the closing keynote, “Culture of Compliance,” delivered by the nationally-known and highly sought after experts in Title IX, Gina Maisto Smith and Leslie Gomez of Cozen O’Connor, a Philadelphia-based law firm who served as our major conference sponsor. Smith and Gomez wowed the audience with a wealth of knowledge and energy that enabled our attendees to return to their campuses armed with the ability to start their own discussions to bring about effective and positive change.
After the informational session of the conference came to a close, the attendees were able to come together in a true atmosphere of collaboration at our on-campus Networking Social prior to having the option to take in the Cincinnati Reds baseball game that evening.
With the establishment of the Institute for Higher Education Compliance and the hosting of an annual conference, Thomas More College answered the question of how institutions can respond to the rising level of regulatory demands by positioning itself as a leader in discussions on higher education compliance. While the weight of cumbersome regulatory responsibilities continues to present challenges to colleges and universities, fostering collaboration and dialogue around these key issues is central to meeting our obligations. For institutions like Thomas More College to thrive more at a time when we are most vulnerable, it is vital that we invest in knowledge because the path to compliance begins with us.
Special thanks to the Institute for Higher Education Compliance Planning Committee: Kelly French, Director of Institutional Research and Assessment; Kevin Reynolds, Dean of Students; Noah Welte, Legal Counsel; Laura Custer, Director of Human Resources; and, Bill Wilson, Director of Campus Safety
CONFERENCE ATTENDEE COMMENTS:
“THANK YOU for hosting the Institute for Higher Education Compliance Conference. I can honestly say it was one of the best conferences that I have attended in a very long time.”
“President Armstrong did an excellent job setting the tone for the day. In offering his background, insights, and key takeaways from each incident, and most importantly the approach of leveraging crisis situations for institutional (and individual) improvement.”
“I appreciated that this conference spoke small school. I don’t have the resources that DI schools do, and this conference offered programming that I could relate to and apply to my campus.”
“The Thomas More President’s keynote was very powerful. His approach and passion for small, faith-based institutions was evident and appreciated.”
SAVE THE DATE – June 17, 2018 for next year’s Conference, details to follow!