Pace University finished out 2021 winning the 18th annual national College Fed Challenge. It was the school’s fifth win in seven years in the competition, which has students focus on the U.S. economy, monetary policy and the Federal Reserve System.
However, the distinction of this latest win was that it came as the result of a virtual competition, due to safety precautions taken because of COVID-19. The nonprofit university was one of 74 schools who submitted video entries to clinch its victory in the latest contest.
Pace rose above semi-finalist and finalist rounds in October and November respectively to reach the top. As the school celebrates, City & State caught up with Pace University President Marvin Krislov to ask about the win, how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted higher education learning, and what plans there are for Pace moving forward.
Pace University has won five of the last seven Federal Reserve Challenges. Why is this competition so important and why does Pace keep winning?
The Federal Reserve College Challenge is a major national competition on economic policy issues. With this year’s win, we became the winningest team in its history – moving ahead of Harvard, which has four wins. It’s exciting to do so well, but success requires not just skill with economic theory but also an understanding of how to apply that theory, how to think on your feet, and how to respond in real time to challenges. And that’s why we do so well: Our students learn how to help solve the world’s problems. A Pace education is grounded in real-world, hands-on learning that combines academic instruction with opportunities to do the things you’re learning about. It’s a powerful combination that pays off in great jobs, successful careers and a dominant track record in the Fed Challenge.
How has the pandemic shaped higher education?
The last two years have been tough, and we’re not out of the woods. But I’ve been deeply impressed by the resilience and commitment I’ve seen among our faculty, staff, and students. We pivoted online when we needed to, and then we brought people back with careful safety precautions. Our community has stayed healthy. Our graduation rates continue to tick up. We brought in our biggest new class of first-year students for Fall 2021.
I see two big takeaways from this. The first is that we need to be flexible. The last 18 months showed that we can pull it off. We’re taking that expertise and creating more online programs, more hybrid programs, more ways for students to get the education they want in ways that work for them. The population of college students is no longer all 18-to-22-year-olds. As older students enroll, students with jobs and families and other obligations, we need to be able to meet them where they are. That’s part of how Pace can be such a vibrantly diverse community, and how we support all our students.
At the same time, we’ve been reminded how important the in-person experience is. Our students want to be on campus. Since we’ve been back, and since we required vaccinations, our enrollment inquiries skyrocketed. Even as we know college must embrace remote and hybrid options, a big lesson has been the need to provide face-to-face services where needed and in-person experiences where possible. In-person is part of what we do, and it will always matter.
How are students managing through the pandemic?
We were facing a mental-health crisis in higher education even before the pandemic, and the last two years have only exacerbated matters. Students, not just at Pace, are reporting high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. We’re working hard to get them the support they need. We’re expanding counseling services, and making sure counseling is available virtually. We’re redoubling our efforts on academic support. For students who haven’t returned to Pace, we’re reaching out to learn why they didn’t re-enroll and what we can do to help. Like many higher-ed leaders, I believe that we need a national effort to support the mental health and wellbeing of college students, and that addresses the diverse needs of an increasingly diverse student body.
You are getting close to five years as President of Pace University, what are your priorities going forward?
I want to ensure that Pace is the premiere student outcomes-centered institution in the New York region, preparing our students for success in work and life. That’s always been my goal. We have a long history at Pace of creating opportunities for students of all backgrounds, and I remain deeply committed to that work. Our students are ambitious and hard-working, and we provide them with the skills and perspectives that enable them to succeed. I want this university to reach more students, offer them new and innovative programs, and continue to transform lives. We are ranked the No. 1, four-year, non-profit college in the country for driving upward economic mobility, and I want to make sure we keep delivering those kinds of outcomes.
You’re building a brand new building in lower Manhattan, why?
Lower Manhattan has been our home for more than a century, and we’re proud to be a part of it. We take seriously our role in the community. Our new building at 15 Beekman Street will make Pace an even more attractive option for students, with a modern residence hall, a state-of-the-art library and dining facility, and new, technology-enabled classrooms. This comes in the context of our Master Plan renovation of our lower Manhattan campus, where we’ve been transforming our buildings at One Pace Plaza and 41 Park Row and renovating leased space at 161 William St. It’s all part of our commitment to Lower Manhattan, and our efforts to create more open, accessible spaces that bring our community in.
Early on in the pandemic, New York City was the epicenter for COVID-19. How did that impact student recruitment and what are you doing to help bring back Downtown?
We’ve found that students want to be in college, and they want to be at Pace. Like all institutions, we faced some enrollment challenges in the last academic year. But this year we’ve seen enrollment numbers rebound to near-pre-pandemic levels, and that’s even while we continue to face obstacles to international enrollment. I’m most excited about two great stats: First, we’ve confirmed that our graduation rates are continuing to tick up, with our six-year graduation rate (the standard metric) reaching the highest level in decades last year. On top of that, we also enrolled the largest incoming class of first-year students in as long as we have records. To me, that’s the biggest testament that higher education will make it through the pandemic, and that Pace, and New York City, will continue to thrive.