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What colleges can learn from the military about competency-based learning outcomes (essay)

In a word-association game on “education,” “the United States Army” would probably not be the first response given. But for those who work closely with the Army and understand the depth of the Army’s interest, involvement and expertise in educating Americans, the Army’s lack of recognition in the education field is puzzling.

It is hard to imagine any other institution that invests more time and resources to ensure its personnel are learning -- or one that has more at stake in the outcome of its educational efforts -- than the U.S. Army. American soldiers are serving and representing our nation in more than 130 countries, many in the crucible of ground combat or engaged in other high-risk activities. As both the producer and employer of those it educates, the Army is dependent on the graduates of its many schools and training courses to overcome the multitude of challenges it routinely faces in those countries. The Army has a vested interest in the learning outcomes achieved by its students and, as a result, works extremely hard to optimize those outcomes.

Indeed, the long and distinguished track record of the graduates of the Army’s training and education system stands as proof of the Army’s success in accomplishing its educational goals. In the 241 years of its existence, the Army has produced highly adaptive, agile and innovative soldiers and leaders who have been able to apply critical and creative thinking skills to conquer the myriad challenges thrown their way -- and under some of the most extreme conditions imaginable.

Undervalued Learning Outcomes

That the Army is not widely recognized for its expertise in education is no doubt largely because education is not its core mission -- it exists to fight and win the nation’s wars. To do that, however, the Army requires educated soldiers. Training, educating and developing soldiers is, thus, an integral means of achieving its ultimate end.

Many people also hold the view that the Army’s training and education system is primarily just vocational, skills-based training that doesn’t require the type of cognitive engagement that America’s colleges and universities purport to develop within their graduates. But producing technicians is only part of the Army’s training and education mission requirement. The larger, and by far the most important, part is its obligation to develop young men and women who can solve what are frequently complex problems while simultaneously completing highly technical tasks.

Thus, as much as any academic institutions (and arguably more so), the Army is in search of the holy grail of education: developing learners who can transfer and apply their learning in different environments to achieve optimal results no matter what the conditions.

Perhaps the largest reason for the failure of many to recognize the Army as a premier learning organization, however, is that the Army doesn’t record its learning outcomes in the ubiquitous Carnegie unit (credit hour) format. In fact, the absence of a registrar-validated transcript with learning recorded in credit hours is possibly the single biggest reason for soldiers receiving inadequate credit for the learning that occurs during their Army training, education and experiences.

Without that acceptably certified record of learning, soldiers leave the Army with a vast amount of assessed and validated knowledge, skills, attributes and competencies for which they more often than not receive little credit. Their educational outcomes are imperfectly communicated and poorly understood by employers and educators alike. And while many higher education institutions and businesses would surely like to give soldiers the benefit of the doubt and award them credit for their Army learning outcomes, they face risks from their own accrediting and licensing bodies and are limited in their ability to do so. The end result is that soldiers are often left with little to show for their extensive, taxpayer-funded training and education.

Assessing the Problem

For the Army, the issue is not as much a matter of receiving recognition for its educational outcomes as it is an issue of readiness. Critical readiness funds are being diverted from operations to pay for unemployment compensation for soldiers who aren’t being hired, in part because of their lack of certified trade credentials. Meanwhile other funds are siphoned off for educational benefits to pay for learning that soldiers already received in the Army but are forced to repeat because it wasn’t recorded in a manner acceptable to colleges and accrediting and licensing bodies.

Thus, garnering publicly recognized academic credit for the Army and its soldiers was one of the first tasks leaders took on upon the establishment of Army University in August 2015. After reviewing the problem, Army University leaders concluded that devising a means of recording Army learning in terms of credit hours, seeking academic accreditation for its numerous schools and granting soldiers academic degrees was fraught with numerous drawbacks -- and ultimately provided only a partial solution to the problem.

Expenses involved in paying for accreditation, hiring degreed or credentialed faculty, establishing a registrar and hiring additional personnel to perform the many other tasks required by accrediting bodies would rapidly mount and eventually become prohibitive. Meanwhile, the vast majority of learning in the Army is difficult to measure in credit hours. Instead, it must be measured by a soldier’s demonstrated ability to apply the knowledge, skills and attributes learned in a classroom or training area, or as a result of one’s experiences, to accomplish a task. In short, the Army primarily uses competency-based education and experiential learning methods to achieve its developmental goals.

Effectively Measuring Learning Outcomes

Army University leaders came to recognize that what was needed to solve this problem was an acceptable method of capturing and recording the learning outcomes of its predominantly competency-based training and education system. They also soon realized that they were not alone in their search and unintentionally found themselves immersed in the contentious American education debate over measuring student outcomes.

The Army was, in essence, struggling with the same challenge that plagues many American colleges and industry today -- its learning outcomes are not being recorded in a way that is truly meaningful for employers or educators in providing them adequate information on students’ or employees’ distinct knowledge, skills and attributes. The resulting inability of employers to understand a potential employee’s competencies leads to wasteful redundancies and inefficiencies as time and resources are spent re-educating and retraining students and employees to develop abilities they may already possess.

Army University leaders quickly came to understand that several organizations had already done much work to try to measure and improve student outcomes, such as the U.S. Department of Education in its Experimental Sites Initiative. Among ex-sites many experiments that are of immediate interest to the Army are those dealing with CBE, prior learning assessments and direct assessments -- all of which offer the possibility of developing an acceptable method of measuring and recording the learning outcomes of nontraditional education practices like those used by the Army. The Educational Quality Through Innovative Partnerships, or EQUIP, program further enhances the prospect of developing a solution to this problem.

Equally encouraging to Army University leaders were the efforts of the many academic institutions and educational foundations that are also seeking solutions to this problem, such as programs funded and supported by the Lumina Foundation, like the Competency-Based Education Network and Degree Qualifications Profile/Tuning program.

Even more specific to the Army’s purposes is the Lumina-funded Multi-State Collaborative on Military Credit initiative. That program’s stated goal of advancing “best practices designed to ease the transition of veterans and their families from military life to college campuses, with special reference to translating competencies acquired through military training and experiences into milestones toward completing a college degree or earning a certificate or license,” is perfectly aligned with Army University’s efforts to increase the recognition soldiers receive for their Army training and education.

Informed by these and the many other similar ongoing efforts in academe, Army University is establishing partnerships with such groups and working on its own tailored solutions. In 2017, the Army began prototype testing of MIL-CRED (Military Credentials), a microcredentialing ecosystem that offers the capability of capturing soldiers’ learning outcomes at the granular level in a way that is meaningful to Army leaders, talent managers and soldiers themselves -- both while they serve and as they transition out of the Army. The system records soldiers’ learning outcomes as microcredentials (badges, credentials and certificates that contain the specific learning outcomes of a training event, school course or experience) and populates them onto a soldier’s learner profile, or portfolio. That profile can then serve as a comprehensive digital résumé of the soldier’s assessed and validated knowledge, skills, abilities, competencies and other learning outcomes, which colleges and universities could then use to award soldiers credit and properly place them in their academic programs.

Unlike academic transcripts, which have limited value outside of academe, the learner profile has the added benefit of being able to serve as a living document to which academic, military and industry learning achievements from training, education and experience alike can be added continuously throughout the learner’s lifetime. In this, it is similar to the work being done by the University of Texas System’s Institute for Transformational Learning, which, in conjunction with Salesforce, is working to establish a record of a “learner’s academic and professional accomplishments across multiple institutions and experiences, building a portfolio that includes credits, competencies, microcertificates, degrees and other records of achievement.”

In an era of limited resources, we will increasingly have no other option but to become more efficient in how we achieve our nation’s desired learning outcomes. While somewhat late to this problem, the Army’s demonstrated success in tackling big challenges and educating adults offers the potential for it to be a leading partner with academic, government and industry leaders when it comes to student outcomes. The fairly recent establishment of Army University has already led to the development of several meaningful relationships and collaborative efforts that have greatly aided the Army’s efforts in this area. For its part, the Army is able to bring value to these partnerships by sharing with its partners the Army’s vast experience and proven success in educating nontraditional learners. Recent shifts in college student demographics -- away from the traditional recent high school graduates and toward diverse and nontraditional adult learners -- mirrors what has long been the bulk of the Army’s own demographic. Colleges and universities without much experience dealing with the distinct needs and qualities of these learners would do well to study the Army’s approach to training and education that has led to so many successful results with them.

Although it is rarely recognized for its role as an educational organization, the Army has a long and distinguished track record in training and educating adults who have proven their ability to fight and think their way through all types of challenges. As such, the Army, along with academe and industry, has the undeniable ability to play a major contributing role in developing a method of measuring -- and, most important, improving -- learning outcomes that could prove to be of great value to our nation.

Steven Delvaux is vice provost for academic affairs at Army University in Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

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Helping first-generation students succeed in college (essay)

From the colorful regalia to the overwhelming sense of joy emanating from the graduating student body, commencement season is a special time in the academic year. It’s also a time to mark the thrilling transitions that students are about to embark upon: gap years, new careers or graduate school, to just name a few.

But as we all know, this season is not solely about the soon-to-be alum. It also brings families and extended support systems to campus to celebrate the graduates, their accomplishments and their distinct journey to completion -- some who are experiencing this type of event for the first time.

According to a 2013 report presented by the College Board, “first generation” or “first in family” are the terms that are often used to refer to those students who are the first in their immediate families to pursue a postsecondary degree. Graduation is special for any student. But for first-generation students and their families -- both traditional and otherwise -- graduation is a significant accomplishment in the face of tremendous odds that have too often prevented those students from earning an advanced degree.

Despite institutional resources being in place to assist first-generation students, the bureaucratic system remains geared toward students who already have the cultural capital necessary to navigate it. The result is that graduation rates remain low, especially for low-income, first-generation students. Other challenges facing first-generation students that are sometimes misunderstood include but are not limited to race, ethnicity, age and native language -- all of which greatly affect persistence rates. As in many fields, the data do not tell the complete story without thoughtful consideration of the mosaic of students’ experiences both on campuses and off.

And that leads me back to graduation ceremonies and the stories that I had the opportunity to hear, and overhear, during these culminating graduation events with first-generation students and their families. My advice for campus leaders comes with an unwavering admission of my own privilege: my position within the university, my socioeconomic status and my race. But I am also a woman who has had to navigate unknown and rather uncomfortable gendered spaces throughout my undergraduate academic experience and career in order to achieve my personal and professional goals.

While I was not a first-in-family student, here are three recommendations that I hope can inform and ultimately help students and those who support them have a clearer course in their higher education pursuits.

Share practical information. Happily, more students, first generation and others, can tell stories of having found adequate support on campuses that had a positive effect on their college experience. Most colleges and universities have student support and success centers like the one at Metropolitan State University of Denver, developed to help the entire student body navigate the university culture and adopt practices needed to excel. Resources found in such dedicated centers can include, for example, mentoring by administrators, faculty members and fellow students, as well as food assistance from organizations like the College and University Food Bank Alliance.

But sometimes the word about such opportunities does not reach students at the right time. As campus leaders, wherever we encounter students, we can help spread the word -- and potentially much sooner than the campus grapevine. It is often difficult to identify students’ needs, but we must create multiple opportunities for them to describe what they are encountering and what the university can provide to help them. We must make it easier for them to find staff and faculty members who are dedicated to listening and acting to improve such students’ chances of graduating.

Perhaps your students are parents, veterans or commuters from unusual distances. As a faculty member, you can mention resources you know are available or take a few minutes in class early in the term to ask whether students want to share information they found useful. Also, some programs, like one at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., cater to the burgeoning number of parents of nontraditional students. Such programs are not only tremendously useful in increasing persistence rates but can also attract a new population of students to your institution, students who otherwise could not have considered attending it.

Sharing practical information can also be symbolic of an understanding that our students take many paths to and through college. They need our support and consistent outreach if they are going to make it to graduation.

Acknowledge all the champions. The graduation stories of first-generation students reveal that they have experienced tension as well as triumph along the way. Having a student succeed in an arena in which her family has not ventured is a mixed experience for many people. We need to acknowledge that these are families or networks that have worked through -- or pushed through -- those tensions and that have continued to support students’ efforts toward academic achievement.

Usually, certain special champions have provided students timely encouragement and advice, even though they themselves did not attend college. I stumbled onto a way of saluting these mentors. In a seminar, I quoted one of my favorite American philosophers: my grandmother Simpson, who left her mountain school after eighth grade and spent the rest of her life wisely observing the world. Students immediately started talking about their grandmothers and other family members who had untraditional or informal education yet were so often hidden heroes of their graduation stories.

It’s important to recognize those supporters. First-generation students are often encouraged to see themselves as pioneers, overemphasizing the ways in which they are moving into situations that their families and community members find unfamiliar. Those students need to claim the strength of their many connections as they create networks for success. For some first-in-family students, affirming the sources they are listening to outside college makes it easier for them to trust advisers on campus. That is one reason why institutions like the University of California, Los Angeles, have resources and entire programs dedicated to parent and family involvement.

Celebrate all students’ strengths. Colleges and universities are increasingly emphasizing the idea of resilience and grit as important to success. While those traits may help students succeed in the academic environment and elsewhere, we cannot rely on such ideas to carry students to graduation.

Rather, we must turn the responsibility back onto ourselves -- campus leaders -- to provide resources and support mechanisms to help students navigate what can often be a biased and privileged system. This includes cultivating skills, grit and reliance included, that will benefit students long after their time on campus.

For example, at Franklin & Marshall College, scholars are developing “a model program that mobilizes these qualities and applies them to academic and professional settings,” after which the college plans to organize workshops to share lessons with the campus community.

Much of our current college narrative is about the middle-class norms and goals we associate with higher education. Again, the mirror must be turned onto us as faculty members and administrators and how we consciously and unconsciously perpetuate dated models that do not accurately reflect the diversity of our students. We can find support in that process through organizations such as the Center for Urban Education and their critical work on equity-mindedness for campus practitioners.

To continually examine and assess your own practices, ask yourself the following questions.

  • What can I change in my own work to make students feel heard and mattered?
  • Can I share more stories that would highlight the diversity among us and our various journeys?
  • Can I define success differently for each student?

The reality is that the process of completing a postsecondary degree can differ for each student, first generation or not, and their support networks. It is vital, therefore, that we provide students, and those who support them, many opportunities to celebrate their journeys and strengths, and affirm those whose hopes and risks saw them through to graduation. Let’s not just savor the tales of exceptional grit. Let’s make all their stories -- the trials as well as the triumphs -- part of a broad narrative about college success.

We must also recognize and embrace that it is the responsibility of higher education institutions to provide all students with the necessary supports that will enable their graduation. And as our student demographics change, we must all turn a critical eye to the structures that are thwarting access and reimagine what college will look like for our society in the years to come.

Judith S. White became president and executive director of HERS in 2005. HERS staff, alumnae and community members also contributed to this article. For more information on HERS, visit

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Survey finds regrets among most former college students but belief in quality of their education

Most former college students say they would change either their major, college attended or credential pursued if they could do it all over again, survey finds.

Determining which retention and graduation strategies are truly effective (essay)

Since January, some people have wondered what implications the selection of Betsy DeVos as the U.S. secretary of education may have for higher education. This discussion leads to an important practical question: In what ways can the government successfully increase college graduation rates? This issue is especially salient, as many college students are preparing to receive their degrees in the next few weeks.

In our recent extensive review of over 1,800 research studies on college students, we found that some of the most common approaches for promoting student success simply aren’t effective. For example, most states have moved to performance-based funding for supporting their public colleges. Instead of giving money based on how many students are enrolled, some funding is based on a measure of institutional performance, such the number of students who graduate or the number of courses completed.

Performance-based funding assumes that tying revenue to graduation or other measures will motivate colleges to work harder to improve desired outcomes. Unfortunately, lots of research shows that this approach doesn’t work at all.

In fact, higher education institutions have been working for decades to help students succeed. And they’re already motivated financially, since students who stay in college pay tuition and fees, buy books and other supplies, and sometimes pay room and board. Institutions are far better off retaining current students than recruiting new ones.

Performance-based funding can also have some negative side effects, since colleges are rewarded for recruiting and admitting only the students who are most likely to succeed. This approach hurts institutions that serve many students who are the first in their family to attend college or who have not been well prepared to succeed academically.

Another seemingly useful policy involves making articulation agreements among colleges within a state. Such agreements help students transfer credits successfully from one public college to another so that their previous credits count at their new institution. Since more than half of bachelor’s degree recipients attend more than one college, this policy aims to help students receive a degree more quickly and decrease their chances of dropping out along the way.

Having state articulation agreements probably does reduce the challenges of transferring credits. However, this approach also appears to have no noticeable effect on graduation or transferring from a two-year college to a four-year college.

So which approaches work? The main answer is perhaps not surprising: providing more money to support public colleges and universities increases degree attainment. This finding is notable, because states across America have substantially reduced their support for higher education. Some public research universities receive 10 percent or less of their revenue from the state.

The type of funding is also quite important. Spending on need-based aid is especially helpful, as it helps students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it attend college. Spending money on student services and instruction also appears to be an effective investment, since it directly improves student success.

In reaction to these reduced resources, many colleges are hiring more part-time or adjunct instructors, who are substantially underpaid. The strategy has negative results for students, since having more part-time or non-tenure-track faculty leads to reduced graduation rates. Even at the same institution, students who take more classes from part-time faculty are less likely to transfer or receive a degree. The problem probably occurs because part-time faculty often work at multiple colleges, so they are stretched too thin to do their jobs as well as their full-time counterparts.

Of course, many programs and institutions would like to receive more money from the government; why should public colleges and universities take priority?

Promoting college attainment results in clear benefits for society by increasing graduates’ earnings, which leads to greater revenue from payroll taxes, sales taxes and property taxes, as well as reduced spending on financial assistance. Such public financial gains outweigh public spending on college education.

Having a well-educated population also leads to many desired noneconomic outcomes. For example, college graduates have better health and well-being and greater civic engagement in their communities.

In light of the substantial benefits from promoting educational attainment, states need to muster the political will to support their public colleges and universities. These benefits occur slowly over time, and it’s hard to pinpoint the effects in the same way that one can point to a new football stadium. But investing in higher education is crucial in the long term, so states need to start acting in their own self-interest.

Nicholas A. Bowman (University of Iowa), Tricia A. Seifert (Montana State University), Gregory C. Wolniak (New York University), Matthew J. Mayhew (Ohio State University) and Alyssa N. Rockenbach (North Carolina State University) are authors of How College Affects Students (Volume 3): 21st Century Evidence That Higher Education Works (Jossey-Bass, 2016).

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Foundation to fund college partnerships on community college transfer

Unusual foundation grant will pay for community colleges and four-year institutions to improve their transfer pathways, with goal of 30 percent bump in four-year degrees earned by community college graduates.

More colleges look to replicate CUNY's accelerated two-year program

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Students who attend college full-time for even one semester are more likely to graduate

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In memoriam of Stan Jones

Stan Jones, founder and president of Complete College America, died this week. He spent his life helping needy students get an education.

I first met Stan in the mid-1990s, right out of graduate school, as an entry-level analyst at the Indiana State Budget Agency. The job involved keeping track of how various government agencies were spending their money. Most of the time, it was boring. The Legislature appropriated funds for something, and the relevant agency did that, more or less.

The exception was the Commission for Higher Education, which had historically left the state’s colleges and universities alone. Stan had recently been put in charge, and he had different ideas. Not-boring ideas. He was creating new committees and initiatives, inventing policies, cutting deals. It was not clear who had given him the authority to do any of those things. Some of them didn’t even seem to be about higher education.

So, every month or two, I found myself making the short walk from my cubicle in Indiana’s beautiful 19th-century statehouse to Stan’s office up the street, to ask some variation of: What, exactly, are you doing, and why are we just hearing about it now?

Stan would always welcome me with a smile and give me his full attention, nodding from time to time. He had roundish features, wore baggy suits and kept his hair in a perpetual undergraduate cut. In his even, friendly voice, he would explain why it all made perfect sense, and of course he wanted the budget agency’s full input -- my full input -- and he absolutely appreciated my ideas and looked forward to talking again.

I would leave and walk back to my cubicle with the vague feeling that he had put one over on me, although I could never explain exactly why. I don’t know if Stan Jones ever told me that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission, but that was, for him, something of a life philosophy.

A few years later, I was in his office again, this time for personal reasons. I had jumped over to the State Senate during a gubernatorial transition and then back to the executive branch as assistant state budget director. The next rung on the ladder was the governor’s office, as K-12 policy adviser, right down the hallway from the man himself. But the job went to someone else, with fewer policy chops, from the political side. It was my first real professional setback, and it seemed terribly unfair.

Stan sat for a while, listened and looked at me closely. Remember, he said, when one door closes, another one opens, with the assurance of someone who had lived long and well enough to understand that clichés exist because they’re true. The he told me a story about himself.

Stan began his political career at the ripe age of 24, when he won a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives as a Democrat during the post-Watergate election of 1974. He had been an engineering student at Purdue University and ran in the Lafayette district that included his fellow Boilermakers.

For the next 16 years, he cut a swath through the Indiana political scene, winning appointments to the Ways and Means Committee and then the Education Committee, learning the intricacies of politics and education finance while pushing a range of reforms. He often partnered with another young representative named Marilyn Schultz, a path-breaking legislator who would go on to become a senior administrator at Indiana State University. They called it the Stan and Marilyn Show.

Stan was ambitious, and by the late 1980s, political control of the House teetered on a knife’s edge. When the Democrats gained the upper hand, Stan gambled his career on an upstart campaign against a more seasoned pol to become Speaker of the House. He lost. As a man once said, if you come at the king, you best not miss. Support from the party melted, and Lafayette voters turned him out in the next election.

It was a huge setback. But Stan still had important friends, none more so than Evan Bayh, the senator’s son who had just been elected governor at age 33. Stan became a top adviser and soon began plotting a return to office. Indiana elects its top education official, the superintendent of public instruction, and the seat was open in 1992. Brimming with ideas and backed by a popular young governor, Stan mounted a fresh campaign. His opponent was a local education official from the small town of Rushville in east-central Indiana. The race was his to win.

But Suellen Reed turned out to be a better politician than anyone realized. Moderate and sensible with the look and demeanor of everyone’s favorite grade school teacher, she won the first of what would become four consecutive terms. Stan Jones would never leave his fate in the hands of voters again.

Political campaigns often make enemies. They rarely make friends. The obvious thing for Stan to do was return to his influential post as the governor’s adviser and legislative director and work to stymie his opponent’s agenda. But that’s not what happened at all. Instead, he secured his appointment as the state’s commissioner for higher education, a post he would ultimately hold for 12 years under four governors, Democrats and Republicans both. Then he went about implementing all the ideas he had run on in his failed campaign, with the full cooperation of the person who had beaten him -- Suellen Reed.

An Ever-Changing Agenda

For while Stan Jones was a lifelong Democrat, his true allegiance was to the party of Midwestern practicality. He knew that Hoosier politicians of all stripes were anxious about the future of their state. Indiana is home to many great colleges and universities, but its roots are in agriculture and manufacturing. The Rust Belt runs across the state’s northern regions, while the farming counties along the Ohio River had troubles of their own. At the time, the state ranked near the bottom in the percentage of adults with a college degree.

At every stage of the education pathway, students were falling away. Far too many were dropping out of high school. Of those who graduated, too few were taking college prep courses. Even the well-prepared students often had trouble paying tuition and finding spots in the right schools and degree programs.

Stan started by helping birth the state’s 21st-Century Scholars Program, which promised low-income eighth graders free tuition at a state university if they kept their grades up and graduated from high school. It was smart policy and a political bonanza for Evan Bayh, who had his sights set on the United States Senate and, he hoped then, the White House. (Because the eighth graders gathered in photo ops wouldn’t reach college for five more years, the bill for all that forgone tuition wouldn’t come due until after Bayh decamped for Congress.)

Stan then set to work creating a “Core 40” academic curriculum for Hoosier high schools, which would eventually be linked to the scholarship program. This was during the first wave of state enthusiasm for academic standards, testing and accountability systems -- before No Child Left Behind made them mandatory nationwide. The teachers’ unions were suspicious, and many conservatives were wary of infringement on local control.

In theory, the State Board of Education should have led the effort. But it was filled with political appointees who bickered over narrow agendas. So Stan began convening a private group of stakeholders from both parties, carefully balancing the interests of business and labor. Soon Governor Frank O’Bannon, Bayh’s successor, came on board, along with Superintendent Reed. The discussions proved so fruitful that the Indiana Education Roundtable was codified in law, with responsibility for building consensus around standards, testing and accountability.

Stymied by the existing Board of Education, Stan had essentially created an alternate version, composed of his friends and allies, with the power to set the policies that he cared about most.

The meetings and phone calls were endless. But Stan Jones didn’t see the work of building political coalitions as tiresome. That was the work. He never fell victim to the expert’s fallacy of believing that the world had some obligation to act on his ideas just because they were right and good. While other people spoke into microphones, he would stand to the side, arms folded, face impassive, watching. He gathered information from everywhere and released it only for good reason.

In the Senate, I worked for Stan’s West Lafayette counterpart, who had also ridden the ’74 wave into the statehouse. Stan, he told me, goes into every negotiation knowing exactly what he wants at the finish. He will concede literally anything else along the way. But he won’t budge an inch on what he cares about most.

In addition to leading K-12 reform, Stan also had his day job of running the higher education commission. Here again, his starting position seemed to be weak. The Commission on Higher Education had little real power. It would coordinate a joint budget proposal from the public universities every two years, a process the institutions submitted to grudgingly before immediately going around the executive to lobby the appropriators directly for their own individual items and needs. The commission had some authority to approve new buildings and academic programs, but most of the big decisions had been made long ago -- Indiana University got the law school, Purdue had engineering, and the medical school was located on a jointly administered campus in Indianapolis, equidistant between the two.

Stan’s approach was to simply talk and act like someone who had much more formal authority than he actually did. From his perspective, the state had made a wrong turn back in the 1960s, when, instead of building a robust community college system, it went with a combination of independent technical schools and regional campuses overseen by IU and Purdue. Communities loved having an IU branch nearby, but the local chancellors were like minor lords dreaming of promotion to the capital city or of building research empires of their own. Graduation rates at the regional campuses were often terrible and coordination with local industry was haphazard.

Stan began talking about restructuring the system, which earned a front-page rebuke from Myles Brand, the philosopher president of Indiana University who famously ran Bobby Knight out of town. Stan Jones, Brand said in a tone of accusation, saw himself as another Clark Kerr, the legendary architect of California’s higher education master plan. Stan took this as compliment. It was true.

Since Indiana didn’t have a community college system like California’s, Stan essentially willed one into being, by proclaiming that, hereafter, the technical college system was the community college system. The words “community college” began featuring prominently in branding, marketing and signage. New course sections were introduced. Skeptics doubted that enrollment would follow. It more than doubled over time. Stan Jones saw the world as it was, and as it should be, and moved it from one state to the other through sheer force of persuasion.

Of course, most of the money was still going to the traditional universities. One year, in advance of the budget process, I proposed that, in addition to describing how much money they wanted, universities should also include some information about how well they were doing their jobs. Federal performance data barely existed then, so we left it up to each campus to define success on their own terms. Stan said this was a great idea, and offered to let me take the lead in discussing it with university representatives.

I ended up in a conference room with a dozen grim-faced higher education lobbyists, each explaining through gritted teeth that their campus was so unique in its mission and particular in its needs that no mere numbers could adequately encompass their considerable, albeit ineffable, success. They were such nice people when picking up the bar tab or handing out choice tickets to football games. Stan stood to the side, arms folded, and may have smiled.

Not long after Stan told me about some doors closing and others opening, my wife and I left Indianapolis for a new life in Washington, D.C. A few years later, I found myself back in town for a conference. I walked downstairs to the hotel restaurant for lunch and ran into Stan and his deputy, Kent Weldon.

Stan could be hard to work for. He kept a list of his ever-changing agenda -- seldom with fewer than 20 items -- plastered to the wall in his office. There was never doubt about whose agenda it was. But he respected Kent, a professorial type with an entirely different yet somehow complementary personality. You would see them around, often in deep discussion. But I never saw them both after that day. Later that year, Kent was struck by a fast and brutal kind of cancer. I don’t know that Stan ever found someone he trusted in the same way again.

He continued to patiently chip away at the barriers that kept students from college. High schools, he realized, were drastically overestimating their graduation rates. Just getting them to report accurate numbers took months of careful work. Credits weren’t always transferring from the new community colleges to four-year schools. When the internet appeared, he launched an early web portal to help students choose colleges and a program to provide discount-price computers to low-income families. Past victories needed to be tended as new politicians came on the scene.

After more than a decade on the job, Stan finally stepped down from the commission. Surprisingly, his next move took him away from his home state, to the nation’s capital, where he would found and lead the national advocacy organization Complete College America. The plan was to take the lessons of Indiana’s success and seed them in other states where governors and legislators were willing to listen.

Part of me hoped our occasional conversations would recommence. But I didn’t seem him much, and one day he told me why: he and his wife were caring for a young child in Indianapolis whose mother was struggling. He was almost 60, his own children long since grown.

But I would still get phone calls from time to time. They always began the same way. “Kevin? It’s Stan.” No last name was needed. He was always working on something, a new argument or angle, another governor to convince, with patience and sensibility, that more students needed to go to college and surely could. They’re out there now, in the tens of thousands, diplomas in hand, the legacy of a life devoted to getting things done.

Kevin Carey directs the education policy program at New America.

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