When entering Dr. John Meyer’s office, you quickly realize his passion for cars and the automotive industry. Professing the business side of him questions the financial soundness of owning collector cars, given the opportunity, Meyer would be the next Jay Leno. Fascinated by cars from an early age, it led him to own and operate private automotive ventures; however, just as it can happen with any career field, the shine wore off and Meyer put himself on a new path – one that would lead to academia.
Admitting his inability to grasp the concepts associated with accounting and business law when he first attempted college at 19 years old, it is ironic that he would go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting from International College (now Hodges University). In his mid-30s, Meyer “knew he needed to do something,” as his work in the automotive industry began to not only take a physical toll but the passion that once existed no longer kept him excited.
“My wife heard an advertisement for an open house at International College and made me go,” he said. Apprehensive about the idea of returning to school, he went and enrolled in classes that evening, saying, “I took the entrance exam, passed it, enrolled in classes and started two weeks later.”
During his time at Hodges, Meyer earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting as well as his MBA. Never aspiring to enter academia, he had the opportunity to teach automotive technology at Lorenzo Walker Technical College before accepting an administrative position with a school district further north in the state of Florida while completing his MBA.
“That is how I started in education, in Career Technical Education (CTE) at the post-secondary adult vocational level, and I saw the great things we did and the impact we made on people in a short period of time,” he said.
Unaware of how his time spent teaching adult learners would transform into a career in higher education, Meyer found himself back at Hodges University. Spending 11 years working as an adjunct, full-time professor and program chair of management in the Johnson School of Business, he went on to earn a Doctor of Business Administration from Argosy University in 2010, before moving to Florida SouthWestern State College (FSW) in 2012 to serve as the dean of the School of Business and Technology.
Although his knowledge, experience and expertise in workforce education led him away from his alma mater, in April 2017, he returned home to Hodges to serve as the executive vice president of academic affairs, and nine months later, in December 2017, Meyer accepted the position of Hodges University president.
You stress the importance of essentialism and how Hodges’ priority is the students. How will students be able to see this?
Our priority is students, and we’re going to define what that looks like by the idea that everything we do must benefit a student, educate a student or help attract a new student, and if it’s not doing any of those things, it’s not our priority. Time is finite, money is finite, physical resources are finite, and I would rather devote our resources as fully to students as we possibly can. I hope that students will see this by being able to get the classes they need when they need them, giving them a predictable schedule, and being able to accommodate the needs of our students in regards to locations, times and dates that are beneficial to them. These are some of the improvements I hope students will notice, and if they do not notice them, I hope they will let me know.
Explain the Pathways initiative.
It’s about finding an approach to teach people, especially those who have families, jobs and things to do, through a mechanism that will meet them where they are and help them accomplish their goals but not sacrifice any of the academic rigor. This is the model we’re transitioning into with these one-month classes and monthly starts we are planning.
For starters, we’re moving to mostly three-credit courses from four. That single change will help align with the Statewide Course Numbering System to help with ease of credit transfer – both into and out of Hodges University. Students will also be able to focus exclusively on one subject at a time but for a shorter period of time, so the rigor and content are absolutely maintained. Instead of asking a student to come to class three nights each week for four hours per night to study, for example, marketing, finance and English, that student can travel to campus once or twice in the month and get the rest of the content in a blended (or hybrid) model, focusing on just one subject at a time within each four-week period.
The student can still take 12 credits in a four-month period, he or she just takes the classes one at a time. We are also developing a model – for students who take 12 credits and who otherwise qualify – to take an additional four-credit tuition-free self-paced learning (SPL) course over the span of the four months. So, essentially the student could earn 16 credits while only paying for 12 credits.
While we know this option won’t be for everyone, for some it will be a game changer by dramatically reducing both the time needed to earn the degree as well as the overall cost of doing so. There are other institutions in the country doing things similar to this, and it is simply a response to what the adult degree-completion student demands in today’s economy. Those students are looking for packaging that enables them to fit finishing their degree into their undoubted busy schedule.
Also, if you think about master’s degrees, many are just 30 credits, and by my calculations, if you did three credits per month, that’s 10 months, which means if you start in January, you could complete before Christmas.
What are some of the biggest challenges Hodges has faced and how are we working to address them?
You can’t pick up the newspaper or anything dealing with the political environment without hearing some indictment about higher education. There is the accusing finger of blame pointed at higher education and not without some cause. The other thing you hear is tying a workforce imperative to higher education outcomes. Hodges University (and before that, International College) has always understood that the education we offer does tie to a career or has a workforce imperative. Almost exclusively, everything we do ties into the workforce. Almost every Hodges University professor who is teaching in these programs has been working in the field he or she teaches or is currently working in that field. So, if one of the issues concerning higher education is tying programs to the workforce, I would say we’re doing a very good job of addressing that issue with programs such as accounting, physical therapist assistant, clinical mental health counseling, nursing and more.
What are the three biggest differentiators between Hodges and schools such as Keiser or Rasmussen?
- We have practitioners in our classrooms and a good mix of full-time and adjunct faculty.
- The fact that we’ve been here and are actively engaged in the community and in discussions with economic development offices and industry, businesses and community leaders, means we have a good understanding of what the demands are and what’s coming in the future. There is a finite demand for the types of programs we offer, but there are always new things coming along for which there is a new demand, and through programs like Workforce Now, we know what these are and have created programs in anticipation of that demand. Some examples include our Bachelor of Science in marketing and professional sales program, as well as our Professional Effectiveness Certificate, which is a program we developed in concert with industry.
- Lastly, as you can see in our employees and our students, there is a family-vibe here. We know who you are, we know your name, and we know you have an individual set of needs, and we strive to help meet those needs.
What is your vision for Hodges?
To continue to serve the adult student. That is our mission and that is core to what we do. It is a noble calling and among the most important things we can do and we do it well. I never want to lose that. I also think that concept can be expanded to areas we traditionally haven’t provided services in. Currently, we are looking at programs that may be in a format other than a degree but still would result in a workforce credential and would enable career laddering.
What is one thing people may not know about you?
In high school, I reluctantly became a member of the International Thespian Society – a society dedicated to acting and the broader theater arts. This is extraordinary really, because I was absolutely petrified of public speaking and the idea of getting up on a stage to act in a play was enough to leave me literally weak in the knees. I did the technical side of the theater in high school, built sets, ran lights and sound, etc. But the faculty member who led the club encouraged – demanded really – everyone in the program to become a member of the society. In order to become a member, the requirements included both time on stage and time behind the scenes. That is, you had to do a number of technical hours if you were an actor, and you had to do a number of acting hours if you worked on the technical side. The acting requirement was brutal for me. I was in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” and I don’t remember which part I played, but it was enough for me to get the credential and become an official member of the society. I never acted again!