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Lincoln tech's COVID-19 reopening strategy: Season 2, Episode 8

MORE FROM OUR EPISODE ON Lincoln Tech's COVID-19 Reopening strategy

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OUR GUEST ON THIS EPISODE: SCOTT SHAW

Joining us on this episode is Scott Shaw, president and CEO of Lincoln Educational Services.

Lincoln Tech has 22 campuses located throughout the United States, and they have been educating tomorrow’s workforce since 1946. Lincoln Tech trains its students to enter the workforce in the automotive, skilled trades, health sciences, culinary, spa and cosmetology, and information technology career fields. They are accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.

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Bob Martin: Joining us today for this edition of Imagine America Radio is Mr. Scott Shaw, president and CEO of Lincoln Tech. Lincoln Tech operates 22 campuses in 14 states throughout the United States. Today’s topic of today’s episode of Imagine America Radio is an update on Lincoln Tech’s COVID-19 pandemic response strategy and Lincoln Tech’s reopening schedule. The nation’s governors have begun the process of opening the country’s economy on a state-by-state basis. Since Lincoln Tech operates in 14 states, that means Lincoln Tech has to develop and implement 14 different state plans, responding to the directive of the executive in that state.

Scott, thank you for joining us.

Scott Shaw: Thanks, Bob. I appreciate the opportunity.

Bob: Let’s start today’s program by refreshing our audience on what Lincoln Tech has done to accommodate the current COVID-19 pandemic. Can you please explain Lincoln Tech’s approach to maintaining good public health, protecting students and staff, and continuing to serve existing Lincoln Tech students, Scott?

Scott: Thanks, Bob. As you know, we’ve moved everything from on-ground to online, and that’s how we’re keeping everybody safe. We’re very proud of the organization and how they responded, and really proud of how engaged the students have remained as we’ve changed, really, what students had signed up for into a totally different environment.

However, now what’s exciting is that states are starting to open up, and we have three campuses that opened up, frankly just this week, with the fourth one opening up next week. And the challenge, though, is that each state has a slightly different approach to how we should be doing things and the timing on when they opened up is challenging. And then also within certain states, you can also have local municipalities that have additional regulations and rules that we have to follow. So, fortunately, we have a team that we’ve put together that’s staying on top of all these rules and regulations and then sifting through that by state and by locality of what we need to do, and then those teams are sitting down with the campus presidents that happen to be in those locations, and they’re working together to work out plans for bringing students back on to campus.

And it’s not fully back on to campus as of yet, but instead what we’re doing is initially bringing on students who need to complete their education to graduate first, and that’s kind of our test group of understanding how we need to operate because we need to be—our number one priority is to ensure their safety and our faculty’s safety and abide by all the local rules.

So, what we’ve had to do is staggered starts—we’ve taken certain programs—let’s just say, use our Grand Prairie campus in Texas as an example, which opened up on Monday. The welding students have been broken into different groups and they might come in at 7:00. Another group might come in at 10:00. Another group might come in at 1:00. Another group might come in at 4:00. And they’ve kind of broken it down so that we remain within the right ratio and the number of people in the space. But we’re very much focused on making sure that while the students are in the school and their campuses, they’re getting specific skills that they need to master. So this has also been somewhat of a different approach for us. We’ve actually had to go back into our curriculum and look at, by course, each course, what are the most important skill sets that students need to have—and then how do we focus the time that they’re on campus to exercise and achieve those skill sets so that we can get them in, give them the training that they need, but then also get them out safely and kind of as quickly as possible.

Bob: Scott, this is Bob again. I’m envisioning a massive wall chart. Just in my mind, I’m seeing a very large whiteboard, a very large chart that constantly changes every day

Scott: It does! And it’s complicated because what we’re trying to gear up for certain campuses to open up and—literally every week, depending on what’s happening in that state—sometimes we get more jubilant that things are going to open up sooner. Other times, we have to start pulling back as things get delayed. And, so, there are a lot of moving pieces taking place. And as I said, we just opened up the first group of schools this week. So that’s really been our test case of trying to really figure out—what is the best way to ensure that we’re keeping people safe? Re-ensuring that they need to be wearing their masks. We are taking people’s temperatures when they come into school and if there’s anyone that has a temperature that’s too high, we’re asking them to go see a doctor a get some verification. Again, we need to be as cautious as possible. We don’t want to jeopardize anyone’s health. And so we’re trying to do this in a compliant way, but also in a way that gets students back into the campuses as quickly as possible.

Lee Doubleday: Okay. Scott, now, this is Lee. I’m talking to Scott Shaw, president and CEO of Lincoln Tech. So what I think I hear you saying is that on a state-by-state basis (and even more granular, on a county-by-county basis), you’re doing what you can to abide by what the executive in that state has that state to be able to do.

So, what I think I hear you saying is that you have students coming in on staggered hours to be able to get classwork done. You guys are taking a look at your curriculum and deciding what is essential to make sure that the students are able to do before they graduate. And you’re making sure that students have their masks. Maybe it’s a limited number of students that can come in at a time.

Can you just briefly outline for me—what are some of the restrictions that you guys are putting in place in this reopening strategy, and what should students expect? Let’s say I’m a student, and I’m currently in school. Down in Grand Prairie, I think is the example you made. Is there certain hours of the day that I could go to school? How does that kind of work?

Scott: Yes. So, the students are being told in advance when they should arrive at campus and when they’ll be leaving. And so the directors of education and the deans have mapped out on large pieces of paper how each group is going to come in, where in the campus they will be, and what activities will they be doing—just to make sure that things are coordinated. We’re trying to keep students separate because there is that possibility that as this goes on, someone may come down with something and we want to know clearly where in the building they were so we can make sure that we can do extra cleaning there. We will want to know who that student maybe was interacting with so we can notify those people if something were to happen.

We’re trying to think through all the different challenges that may arise when we start bringing students back. But, in short, students are being told when to come back. They’re being required to wear gloves. We have posters and signs reemphasizing the need to wash your hands. We have indications to keep students, ideally, 6 feet apart as much as possible. We’re having the proper student–teacher ratios, as is mandated by the local rules. And students are asked to basically stay in certain sections of the school versus, I’ll say, wandering throughout the campus.

So it’s not completely business as usual, but most importantly, it is giving the students that interaction with their faculty members and getting them interaction with the tools and equipment that we have—and giving them those hands-on skills, which is why they came to us and are pursuing the career that they are. So at least we’re able to move them forward through their education.

But also keep in mind they’re still going to be doing work online, and we anticipate that this will be the way that we’ll be operating certainly possibly through all of this year—and who knows how much longer. We’ll continue to have students working online, but we’ll be bringing back more and more students onto the campus to do their hands-on portion so that they get the full experience and get the full learning that’s required for their careers.

Lee: I see. So you sort of have a hybrid approach, where there’s a little bit of hands-on learning at the actual campus, but then there is also the online component. Is that right?

Scott: That is correct. That is correct and, as I think that you mentioned, we are constantly monitoring this. I mean, to the extent that we’re able to do more and more on the campus, we will certainly adjust what we’re doing—but for the foreseeable future, it’s going to be this definitely very hybrid model of coming to campus for hands-on work, going home, and doing online work.

Lee: I got you. Okay. And let’s say that I’m going to class. I’m streaming. In staggered hours, groups that come in and groups that leave. What procedures is Lincoln Tech putting in place to make sure that classrooms and tools are effectively cleaned for a safe learning environment?

Scott: Well, we definitely have increased our cleaning process and our sanitization process at the campuses. So actually, after every group goes through, certain things are cleaned at that point, and then, at the end of the day, the whole campus is scrubbed more thoroughly to make sure that things are clean for the next groups of students that come in. But there will be much more cleaning throughout the day, especially on certain products or tools or equipment that gets touched a lot. Then that will be cleaned periodically throughout the day as well, to minimize any potential contact with the virus that someone may have brought in.

Again, we will be taking the temperatures of everybody. We’ll also be asking all the students just to let us know if you’re feeling ill or not. And it’s in your best interest (and the best interest of your fellow students) that you don’t come in on a day where you think there might be something that makes you uncomfortable.

So, we are trying to be as respectful of each other as possible and yet still trying to make sure that the students can progress through their education. And like many of us who are trapped at home during this period of time, there are a lot of students who are just so anxious to get back onto campus, and frankly see some of their friends, and interact with their faculty members. It brings a nice perk to their day, which has become for all of us a little bit repetitive.

Lee: Yeah, I can attest to that myself. I mean, honestly, I would be excited to get to campus, too. But, let’s say I’m a student and I’m a little uncomfortable physically in the class on campus. Is there an online option for students who may not feel completely comfortable or some sort of other accommodation that might be made for them?

Scott: Sure. So definitely if someone’s uncomfortable, they can definitely do—like all of the other students—the online portion of their program. Depending on which program we’re offering, we have developed simulations and other methods for people to learn the skills, and we’ve worked with our states and local accrediting agencies to approve these types of training. So that if you’re a medical assisting person, or a dental assistant, or especially in some of our healthcare sectors, you can go and do these simulations (which are dome virtually on the computer) to learn some of the skills. Needless to say, it’s not completely the same as doing it hands-on, but it does give you great exposure and enables you to practice a lot of different things that we frankly were not offering from an online perspective.

So with each passing week, we are trying to create more and more robust learning exercises for people (and employ technology as much as possible) in order to give them a more hands-on experience, even when they can’t have that hands-on experience.

Lee: I understand. Okay, now let’s talk about housing, because I know Lincoln Tech offers that to students and I know you’re currently still enrolling new students. So has the pandemic affected individuals, and can I still sign leasing agreements even if I’m interested in attending your school but I have to travel to get there? Can you kind of tell me how this has sort of affected the housing?

Scott: Sure. So, there are different forms of housing. For the most part, students who come to Lincoln and relocate, they’re going to get housing through a third party because we only have one campus, which is our national campus, where we actually have housing right on the campus.

So for those that are going through the third party, it’s really kind of up to them to pick what housing makes them comfortable. Some students might opt for a single room, and if they can afford that, that’s great. Others might want a double room and, therefore, they know what that means, that they might have to be sharing a space with someone else. So if both parties are acceptable of that and willing to do that, obviously that’s out of our control so they can go ahead and do that, and we just encourage them to make sure that they’re washing their hands and doing other things.

For ourselves, for our dorms that we have on our facility, we’re still working through that, to be honest with you, and most likely what will happen is that rooms that were typically to accommodate two people might now just become a one-person room, which will then limit how many people we can accommodate on our facility.

However, there’s also other restrictions that come into play, because for the students that may be relocating from out of state, certain states have restrictions on students coming from other states. So, for example, I believe in Texas, if you’re coming from New York, for example, they want you to self-quarantine for two weeks—so that could be complicated. You come, you move in, you have to stay in the dorm for two weeks before you come on campus. So it’s something that we’re still frankly working on.

As of right now, for the campuses that we’ve reopened, it’s all the commuter students that are coming and we’re working through the logistics of how to accommodate the housing students, but our expectation is we’re going to be accommodating the housing students within the next 30 to 45 days.

Bob: We’re talking to Scott Shaw, president and CEO of Lincoln Tech. I’m getting a pretty thorough update on what Lincoln Tech’s done in their commitment to making sure that they’re doing things in a very safe and responsible manner.

Scott, what we’ve gotten since we starting doing these podcasts during COVID, there seems to be a common theme that we’re hearing from schools—and that is that there actually have been some positive things that have come out of the current national crisis. I guess through all this chaos, we improve procedures, policies, whatever. Whether that might be establishing a stronger online admissions process or new school procedures, new classroom procedures, implementing new online learning techniques, whatever it might be. Do you have any lessons that you could relate or new procedures that you would like to talk about that you saw that has come out of this horrible COVID-19 experience?

Scott: Sure, and I agree with the things you just touched on. So first of all, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is how, by giving direction to the campus and saying, “This is what our challenge is. This is where we need to get to,” and then allowing the people that are there, I’ll say, on the ground dealing with people day to day, the opportunity to figure out a solution to the problem. It’s been far more effective, and we’ve executed on it far more quickly, than if we tried to, from a central perspective up at corporate, come up with a solution for all of our campuses out there. The people on the ground have really come up with very clever ways to do what they need to do to figure out who on their campus has the skill set to make engaging curriculum, how to approach delivering that curriculum, and keeping people engaged. And so that was one really great lesson that we learned just from an operational standpoint.

But then, also, what we’ve learned is that people are far more receptive to doing things remotely, not only from our employees’ perspective but also from our students’. And, so, you mentioned admissions. Our mission’s philosophy in the past had been, “You need to come on campus to really see what we do, from day in and day out.” We’ve learned that while that’s still true—you coming on campus is a benefit—there are many students who get a really good picture of who we are and what we do and are very much willing to enroll with us without having to come visit a campus, and that’s a good benefit to them. It could speed up the process for them or it doesn’t take up as much time in the whole enrollment exercise. We’re also finding with technologies that we’re able to share a lot more videos and pictures and things with students that, again, give them a good feel for what they’ll experience when they come to a Lincoln school. So that’s been helpful.

But on the education front, everyone knows, I believe, that some form of online learning is just going to be in everyone’s lives going forward because there are some really great aspects of online learning. The fact that you can do it when you have the time and availability. The fact that you can have, really, multiple forms of teaching: you can have visual; you can have auditory; you can have visual and auditory; you can have stagnant pictures; you can have videos. You can really create very immersive interactive environments, which is a great way for a lot of, frankly, hands-on learners to get acquainted with material. And, so, as we’ve been forced to move to this modality, we are learning every day ways to improve the delivery of education. Our final goal is really, how do we make it more exciting, more interesting, more informative, and more effective for students to learn? And we will end up taking the best of both worlds of the on-ground and online going forward and make that part of who we are and what we do throughout the organization.

And we all know the benefits, especially at our healthcare side. We have a lot of single mothers. They’re finding the flexibility of doing a class online to be tremendous, especially if their child is sick or something of that nature. They’re just not distracted or forced not to come to school because they’re trying to deal with another situation. And instead, it lowers their cost of education and enables them to continue their education, so there’s less chance of interruption. Students also talk about how they don’t have to commute in the day to school. And some of our students might be driving an hour to get to school. That saves them time.

So, there are really some real benefits to the students. And as long as we are moving the education forward and making it more robust and not taking away from the education, we will definitely move in that direction.

Bob: Wow. You’ve really encapsulated—as you know, Scott, from talking with me before, I’m big on lists and this is what I heard from you. This is what I would call your kind of—the “Scott’s Lessons” from this. I heard empowering. In other words, the first lesson you brought through was, you were very happily surprised—or you were very happy with the level of responsiveness on the operations side when you empowered the local campuses to do certain things. You gave them a direction of what you wanted to do. You gave them the authority and responsibility and you let them just do it. I don’t want to put words in your mouth but that’s what I heard. Is that right?

Scott: We did coordinate things from corporate and we looked at best practices—

Bob: I get it, I get it!

Scott: —absolutely.

Bob: I’m seeing that big wall chart. I’m seeing that. The second thing I heard is that you were pleasantly surprised with the people, whether it’s staff or students, very responsive or more responsive to change. In other words, change can be your friend. It’s an awful thing to go through, but change can be a very good thing too.

Scott: Correct. I was just going to say that change is very difficult, and as I’ve said other times—If we, as an organization, had tried to plan this out and move in this direction, we probably still would have been arguing over it, or could we get there?

Bob: Oh, I know.

Scott: And, in fact, within literally a week, people were already embracing it and moving forward and trying to figure out, what’s the next thing that we do. So, yeah, that was truly the most exciting aspect of all this.

Bob: You know Scott, if someone has been around it a long time like you, it’s another whole show. How long would it have taken you to implement the kinds of things that you’ve had to implement, as a result of COVID, if you just went through your normal, methodical, business processes?

Third thing I heard is that technology is your friend. And that, even some of your programs that are heavily hands-on oriented, you can have a very serious technology integration in a hybrid that students are very responsive to. Is that fair to say?

Scott: Absolutely. Absolutely. And we’re just touching what we can do there. And I think, just in general, education, just touching on what can do. I mean, we’ve already started to try to figure out, how do we incorporate VR? Is VR a great opportunity for us? So, it’s changing. It’s going to change rapidly. I think the changes are exciting. And it’s all designed around making it more engaging for the students.

Bob: Yeah. Yeah. And then the final thing I heard, I heard a lot of other things, but on the education side, online—the online learning has been extremely well received. In other words, in the past, we worried whether or not kids were going to be willing to do these sorts of things. You find out now, they are. Right? Am I right?

Scott: Yes. Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to say that there aren’t some students—but it’s been a very small fraction of our students—that just say, “I didn’t sign up for this. This isn’t right for me. Let me know when you’re back to 100% on-ground and I’ll come to you.” But that’s really been 5% or less of the students. Others have been a little bit cautious. Not quite sure they could do it. But now they see that they can do it and becoming far more receptive as well.

Bob: This is not on the script, but this is another question. As far as, the way you see it, are you ever going to—will Lincoln Tech ever go back to delivering education the way they delivered it pre-COVID? Do you see it there? Or do you see it constantly moving and growing?

Scott: I think we’ll be moving and growing because we’ve been looking for ways—especially if we can help hold the cost of education down or, ideally, even lower the cost of education. And the only way to do that is with technology, since we’re people heavy. So, it’s only going to get better, I believe, for us, because of this. I mean it’s horrific that we’ve all had to go through this, but it should lead to a better product and a better experience for students at the end of the day.

Bob: A funny thing is that I think it’s a good thing from the students’ standpoint. I think that they like to see you moving in this direction. Moving to more technology-based stuff. A little more flexibility. Computers. Cell phones. I think that they’re going to be very, very receptive—continue to be very receptive to that.

Scott: Yeah. I agree. And with each year, even more so.

Bob: Yeah. Hey, we’ve just had an outstanding conversation with Scott Shaw, president and CEO of Lincoln Tech. And we’ve been getting an update on the COVID-19 activities that Lincoln Tech plans and their reopening schedule.

We’d like to commend Scott and Lincoln Tech for their proactive focus on student and staff safety. It is this type of forward-looking leadership that singles Lincoln Tech out as one of the truly student-focused institutions. Our thanks to Scott and Lincoln Tech, for his time and thoughtful insight.

This concludes this edition of Imagine American Radio. We want to thank our audience for taking the time out of their very busy schedules to join us today and to listen to this episode. On behalf of my colleague, Lee Doubleday, and myself, please be safe and we’ll talk to you again very soon. Thank you.

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