Few people have the experience of leading a country out of a crisis as significant as the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. George Pataki, who was the governor of New York on September 11, is one of them.

The 2016 presidential candidate shared his vision for how America can recover from the pandemic during a May 29 CFES Brilliant Pathways webinar with specific advice for students entering college and a challenging job market.

“Most important, it’s about belief,” said Pataki. “After September 11, the stock market crashed the day after it opened. The press asked the head of the stock exchange what was going on and he said ‘don’t ever bet against America.’ If you had listened to him then, you could have made a lot of money. And today, people are doubtful and concerned and worried, but take those words to heart: don’t ever bet against America. It’s a tough time, but we’re in this together and we’re going to come out of this together stronger than ever.”

The appearance by the 53rd governor of New York was part of a bi-weekly CFES webinar series titled “Leadership and Careers Post-Pandemic: What Will the Landscape Look Like? Pataki talked with CFES President Rick Dalton about the future of higher education, leadership, and the importance of staying optimistic during tough times.

“Leadership matters,” said Pataki. “There needs to be signs of hope for people who have been discouraged. You have to have actual policies that work, but also symbolic actions that encourage people. A few weeks after September 11, Robert De Niro and I went shopping in Lower Manhattan and went from store to store to send a message that it was okay. We know you are afraid to come back to Manhattan but those fears are unjustified. It sends a signal to people that things aren’t as bad as we thought.”

The three-term governor from Peekskill, NY, said higher education was already in need of an overhaul given its rising price tag, and that COVID-19 will change it forever. He offered an innovative plan based on the creation of one-room cyber campuses in rural parts of the country, where distance learning isn’t currently possible due to lack of internet access. He compared it to the evolution of the U.S. healthcare system with ambulatory clinics and emergency room settings scattered around major hospitals with primary resources.

“I can see a similar pattern developing in higher education where you have a tertiary campus with a satellite network that would be lower cost, more accessible, but that can still provide tuition for the university, and more important, higher education for the student,” he said.

One of Pataki’s main concerns regarding the pandemic is that young people are becoming discouraged and might give up on their college and career dreams. “The effort that CFES is making has been tremendous and has never more important than now,” said Pataki, who thinks colleges should announce now that they will be open this fall. “The discouragement of young people looking at higher education is a very damaging trend for our country, and organizations like CFES are going to have to do twice as much to overcome it.”

The Essex, New York resident and longtime CFES supporter said that the best way to address the issues facing young people is to ask them.

“One thing I learned early on in government is that people in positions like mine often think they have all the answers,” said Pataki. “Well, unless you ask the questions you are not going to know the answers. I would really make an effort to ask students how their attitude about going to school this fall has changed since early March. Then you can target the responses to meet the needs of what people are most concerned about.”