U of Wisconsin Official Takes Temporary Federal Post

September 24, 2015

Deb Bushway, the interim associate dean at the University of Wisconsin-Extension, has joined the U.S. Department of Education as an adviser to Under Secretary Ted Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the department said Wednesday. Bushway will focus on innovation in higher education during her post, which is temporary.

The role appears similar to one recently vacated by Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University. LeBlanc spent three months as an unpaid adviser to Mitchell. His focus included two experimental sites projects -- on competency-based education and on partnerships between traditional institutions and noncollege providers, including boot camps, online course providers and corporate training entities. The experiments waive some requirements for participation in federal aid programs. The department this week said it will release further guidance for the competency-based education one, and the feds plan to announce the alternative provider project soon.

Bushway is an expert on competency-based education. Prior to arriving at Wisconsin, where she has worked on a direct-assessment competency-based education program that does not rely on the credit-hour standard, Bushway worked as chief academic officer and vice president of academic innovation at Capella University. She helped develop the direct-assessment degree tracks at Capella, a for-profit chain. Bushway also previously worked at Minnesota's Metropolitan State University.

"Having an experienced, respected practitioner voice at the table when policy is being made is enormously helpful," LeBlanc said in a written statement. "Deb can bring institutional realities to bear in ways that help the department and those it regulates."

The department in the past has tapped officials who work at colleges as temporary advisers. In 2012 Karen Gross, who was then president of Southern Vermont College, served in a similar role at the department. Even so, some critics said LeBlanc's appointment raised at least the appearance of a conflict of interest, because Southern New Hampshire was among the first institutions to start a competency-based program.

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