Institutional administration

2018 NABCA Annual Conference

Wed, 04/11/2018 to Sat, 04/14/2018


Hershey Lodge
Hershey , Pennsylvania 17033
United States

Florida colleges take hit on remediation, veto cap on B.A. degrees

But avoid legislation that would cap bachelor’s degree programs and create new oversight board.

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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The key trends for all institutions embedded in the Purdue-Kaplan acquisition (essay)

In April Purdue University announced its acquisition of the for-profit Kaplan University -- a bold move, made bolder still by the partnership’s “Morrill Project” moniker. However, the frenzy over what’s most remarkable about the deal -- how much of Purdue will now be “online,” the fate of one of proprietary education’s biggest players, the odd coupling -- has distracted many people in higher education from the more important lessons embedded in the Purdue/Kaplan story. Even those colleges and universities without massive online ambitions should pay heed to five larger higher education trends represented by the Purdue/Kaplan acquisition, trends that are relevant to all institutions.

Trend No. 1: Traditional colleges and universities are renewing their interest in the bachelor’s degree completion market, but the market is not as large as many estimates indicate. The majority of Kaplan’s (now Purdue’s) students are bachelor’s degree completion students, a technical term that refers to adult students who have attained some college but not earned a bachelor’s degree. Unlike direct community college transfers, these students may have been away from higher education for years, earning a potpourri of credits on and off over many years and from a number of disparate institutions. Earlier this year, 80 percent of the continuing, professional and online education members of EAB, where I serve as an executive director, noted a high desire to learn new strategies for success in the degree completion market.

EAB, which works with more than 1,200 college and university members, has some words of caution for any institutions that believe the size of the market is such that degree completion will be the panacea to their revenue woes. Yes, there are 31 million people in America who have some college and no degree -- a number often cited to reflect the impressive size of the market. But the National Student Clearinghouse report (where the number comes from) actually sizes the population of “potential completers” -- or those who have at least two years’ worth of progress toward a degree -- as four million people, a far cry from 31 million.

To be sure, bachelor’s degree completion programs will be vital for achieving state and national access goals, and many institutions will see the financial benefit of increased enrollments. But colleges and universities will need to examine their regional markets and competitive environments, as well as whether they have or can build the recruiting and student success infrastructures needed -- and all those elements will differ from those for traditional students.

Trend No. 2: Different capabilities are increasingly needed to recruit and serve all alternative student segments. Those segments include degree completion students, international, fully online and working adults pursuing professional master’s and postbaccalaureate certificates.

For instance, a desire to meet the needs of adult degree completion students, and a realization that they could not easily build the infrastructure themselves, drove Purdue’s decision to acquire Kaplan. While not every college or university wants to expand in the bachelor’s degree completion market, almost all of them are turning to some alternative segment -- in other words, not first-time, full-time freshmen -- to boost enrollments.

Most prominent is the intensified focus EAB sees across our membership to double down on master’s and postbaccalaureate programs (i.e., certificates) to target working professionals looking to advance or change their careers. Yet many institutions have learned the hard way -- as their programs have missed enrollments or profitability targets -- that their undergraduate enrollment processes simply don’t work for a completely different audience. Since such markets require capabilities that are expensive and time-consuming to build, institutions often turn to external partners.

Purdue’s acquisition of Kaplan may have been headline grabbing, but the financial elements of the deal are similar to what many universities have found in working with online program management (OPM) vendors, such as 2U, that receive a revenue share for helping colleges and universities migrate traditional programs (typically master’s degrees) online. Under the conditions of Purdue’s deal, the Graham Holdings Company, parent of Kaplan Inc. and Kaplan University, will yield 12.5 percent of the new venture’s revenue, but only after the university has covered its operating costs and received $10 million in each of the first five years. It is a more favorable deal for Purdue certainly than many OPMs have historically offered their traditional higher education partners (up to 60 to 70 percent). But most OPM deals don’t include 32,000-plus students from the start, so the reduced percentage share doesn’t seem surprising.

The OPM market is predicted to become a $1.4 billion industry by 2020, and new players are emerging every day. Historically, OPMs have provided full turnkey service to traditional colleges and universities, including everything from up-front capital to marketing/recruiting to instructional design to student services. That is starting to change, as institutions demand unbundled services. For example, our recent national survey of deans of continuing, professional and online education found that institutions are much more interested in outsourcing marketing and market research than instructional design or academic advising.

What will be interesting to watch at Purdue is how the Kaplan capabilities end up being used not only for the traditional adult degree completion programs but also to support other programs at Purdue (such as their existing online master’s programs) that are outside the scope of the Kaplan deal but could probably benefit from certain unbundled elements of Kaplan’s infrastructure.

Trend No. 3: Colleges and universities are turning to creative models outside traditional governance structures in order to meet market needs more nimbly. Currently, higher ed institutions are often hampered in reaching new markets due to not only organizational and operational challenges but also the slow process of shared governance. Besides acquiring a new online and adult-serving infrastructure in Kaplan, Purdue also has created a separate governance structure in the “New U” represented by the partnership, with the New U’s chancellor reporting directly to Purdue’s president, Mitch Daniels. The time span between the initial conceptualization of this idea and trustee approval was five and a half months.

By contrast, under traditional university governance, single-degree programs can take years to gain approval. Given that many new professional master’s and certificate programs are designed to meet fast-changing work force needs, that long time frame can lead to severe competitive disadvantages.

Many colleges and universities have found ways of creating nimbler governance structures without an acquisition. That can include creating a separate for-profit subsidiary or 501(c)(3) to meet corporate education needs, as Cornell University and the University of Maryland Baltimore County did, respectively. Or they can spin off a separately accredited institution to meet military and adult learners, as Chapman University did with the creation of Brandman University.

Most commonly, institutions develop more agile approval, planning and pricing processes for market-oriented programs, often housed within a dedicated continuing, professional, online or extended education unit. These new types of organizational models and processes can be crucial for stimulating and supporting innovation.

Trend No. 4: Colleges and universities need to be ready as new competitors enter their markets -- whether through mergers and acquisitions, online ventures, or other methods of expansion. The number of college and university mergers and acquisitions in the United States that occurred from 2010 to 2015 was more than double those that took place during the prior five years -- jumping from around 15 to 20 deals to between 40 and 50, according to our preliminary research. Many of those deals represented rescues of institutions that could no longer survive on their own.

The number may seem relatively small, but institutions should pay heed even if they’re not buying, selling or being merged. For research universities, a competitor’s strategic acquisition of a graduate or professional school can boost its prestige and ranking. When Rutgers University acquired the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in 2012, for example, it increased its total research spending to surpass Harvard, Northwestern and Yale Universities. And in states with performance-based funding, the best-positioned institutions might acquire the students they need to satisfy requirements for the largest possible appropriations.

Purdue’s acquisition of Kaplan includes 15 campuses and learning centers. How Purdue chooses to use them may have competitive implications for nearby colleges and universities, even those that may never have considered Purdue a direct competitor.

The larger takeaway for all institutions is that what defines each college or university’s “competitive set” has been expanding over time, as more institutions grow their offerings and brand presence in secondary or tertiary locations. Other colleges and universities need to respond by firming up their ties to local employers and organizations in their region, carefully considering whether secondary locations make sense for them, and adapting marketing and recruiting techniques to reach a savvier student customer with more options.

Trend No. 5: Many of the lessons learned from failed mergers and acquisitions are relevant as colleges and universities expand intra- and inter-institutional partnerships more broadly. The conventional wisdom is that at least 50 percent of M&A partnerships across industries fail. Deals that appear to be no-brainers on paper flounder due to poor integration processes.

One example in higher education is DePaul University’s acquisition of Barat College for $6 million in 2001, with additional investments of about $18 million in upgrades. Enrollments never met their intended targets, ultimately leading to Barat’s closure. Marie Cini at University of Maryland University College has written a smart analysis of the different questions Purdue will need to consider in the integration process.

Most higher education institutions will never live through an M&A deal, but all are looking for more partnerships: state system collaboration and consolidation; self-organized consortia; multi-institutional combined bachelor’s and master’s programs (for example, 3+2s or 4+1s) and the like; and better articulation more broadly. Perhaps such agreements won’t require the kind of dramatic change in management as an acquisition. But, in all cases, the vision and strategy on paper often don’t take into account the complexities that come when trying to integrate different day-to-day systems, competing policies and conflicting cultures. Even with interdisciplinary degree programs within a university, students complain about the multiple processes, systems and policies crossing departments, schools or colleges on a single campus.

In short, partnerships -- within campuses, across campuses -- will be increasingly common. For all the time spent designing a strategy and forging the initial relationship, even more time (and probably dollars) will need to be invested in getting the integration right.

It goes without saying that few colleges and universities will pursue partnerships as large scale as Purdue and Kaplan’s. But as traditional demographics shift, financial pressures mount and funding needs for strategic ambitions continue to rise, few institutions will be able to afford not to pursue a new-to-them market in some way. In this increasingly competitive environment, they must take seriously Purdue’s lesson to determine the new -- and often less familiar -- capabilities, organizational structures and strategic partners required to succeed.

Melanie Ho is executive director of research and strategy at EAB, a research and technology company that serves more than 1,200 educational institutions.

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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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A community college creates a first-rate film production program, despite the odds against it (essay)

Over the last few years, I’ve presented at a number of regional and national conferences regarding Delta College’s advanced certificate in digital film production and its more recently developed two-year degree. Keep in mind that Delta is a midsize community college in the middle of Michigan, which is pretty far removed from the film centers of Los Angeles and New York City. Michigan’s tax incentives for out-of-state production companies have dried up so, as you can imagine, out-of-state production companies are seldom coming to the state anymore.

Regardless, Delta’s film program, which is geared toward independent filmmakers, continues to thrive. As a result, I continue to have opportunities to present at conferences about the evolution of the program.

My conference presentations tend to have titles like “Can a Community College Also Be a Film School?” What those who attend my presentations lack in number, they make up for in passion and interest. As I go through the development of Delta’s film program and subsequently illustrate the courses that it comprises, I see many of my attendees go slack-jawed. If the program’s scope doesn’t wow them, then ending by showing a couple of our student films usually does. None of this is bragging. For a community college, our program curriculum is extensive. If I may say so, our best student films are quite impressive, too.

When I finish, the attendees don’t file out to the next presentation. They stay. They have more specific questions about how our program came about. I ask them questions as well. Usually what I end up hearing about are the roadblocks that they’ve encountered. One gentleman told me, “I’ve been trying to develop an introductory screenwriting course at my college for the last six years. I always hear the same thing -- ‘We are a community college. We don’t do that here.’ I just can’t believe everything that Delta has done. How did you make that happen?”

I will admit that it wasn’t easy, especially the development of the two-year program. Our course offerings must look remarkable to someone who’s been trying to develop one course for six years. Courses in our program include: Introduction to Screenwriting, Advanced Screenwriting, Digital Cinematography for Film, Advanced Postproduction and Digital Film Capstone, in addition to many courses that already existed at Delta that make up the certificate and two-year degree.

The seed of the idea for a film program was planted years ago. While teaching my fiction-writing course, I continued to encounter students who really wanted to learn screenwriting, but Delta didn’t offer anything like that. Eventually, having heard students express the desire for a screenwriting course enough times, I went back and took courses in the genre. I used my experience to develop Introduction to Screenwriting. As I recall, it went through the curriculum process fairly quickly and was available to students in less than a year. As rationale, I had presented evidence of student desire for the course, and the evidence must have been accurate, because when the course was offered for the first time, it filled in six days. That was seven years ago, and since then, the course has run every fall and winter semester (and some spring semesters). Its sequel course, Advanced Screenwriting, runs at least once a year.

While I kept meeting fiction writers who really wanted to be screenwriters, a colleague of mine in the humanities was encountering broadcasting students who really wanted to be filmmakers. As a result, we sat down and cobbled together the advanced certificate in digital film production. To make it as easy as possible, we used existing courses and only later developed the more nuanced offerings mentioned above. After the certificate program existed for a few years, we began to hear from students who wanted more: the opportunity to earn a two-year degree in film production.

The endeavor of expanding into that kind of offering, admittedly, did take longer. In fact, it ended up taking about three years. We had to conduct a needs study and consult with our advisory board multiple times. We twice had to essentially start over due to administrative turnover, which meant bringing a new dean up to speed on the program. So, yes, there were hurdles and roadblocks, but never once did I have a chair, associate dean, dean, vice president or even a board member say, “A film production program? We are a community college. We don’t do that here.”

Instead, what I encountered sounded closer to, “A film production program? That sounds complicated and involved. It also sounds innovative and like a growth opportunity for the school. Proceed.” OK, nobody actually ever stated it quite like that, but that’s the vibe I felt as I worked through the process.

Had I been told “We don’t do that here” enough times, I probably would have backed down from the Introduction to Screenwriting course, which really got everything started in the first place. I have worked at other institutions where I heard “We don’t do that here.” It is the kiss of death to innovation, change and growth.

Had I heard “We don’t do that here” and listened, Delta College would not have an advanced certificate in digital film production or an associate’s degree. The college would not have all of the credit hours or the students the program generates. Many mid-Michigan students would not be able to pursue their dreams of film production, at least not at such a reasonable tuition.

Since we formed the program, our student films have begun to appear in regional film festivals. Some have won awards. One of our students recently landed a job in New York with the production company of a very well-known filmmaker. Why? Because the powers that be at Delta College didn’t say, “We don’t do that here.” Instead, they said, “Maybe we could do that here.” And that has made all the difference.

Jeff Vande Zande teaches fiction and screenwriting at Delta College. He has written screenplays that have been developed into short films and screened at regional and national film festivals. His novel American Poet won a Michigan Notable Book Award from the Library of Michigan. His most recent novel, Detroit Muscle, was influenced by his screenwriting knowledge.

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Five CUNY professors defend Linda Sarsour's right to speak at graduation (essay)

For the past few weeks, right-wing and conservative religious groups have protested the City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy’s invitation to Linda Sarsour, an Arab-American activist and co-organizer of the national Women’s March on Washington in January, to speak at its graduation next week. They are calling on New York's governor and the city's mayor to force the school to withdraw the invitation.

This is not the first time conservatives have tried to pressure CUNY to rescind an invitation to a speaker who disagreed with their views on Israel. In 2011, in response to outside pressure, some members of the CUNY Board sought to force John Jay College of Criminal Justice to disinvite Tony Kushner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. Fortunately, CUNY rejected that view. And in 2013, when Brooklyn College received strong criticism for co-sponsoring a panel discussion about the movement that calls for economic boycotts and sanctions against Israel, Mayor Michel R. Bloomberg observed, "If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea."

As Distinguished Professors in various disciplines at CUNY, most of us Jewish, we support the right of our colleges to select graduation speakers and of our students to hear the views of those who are bringing new voices into the nation’s political discourse.

In an era when free speech is under threat, we feel it is an essential task of the university to provide a space where diverse points of view can be aired and debated. What could be more central than this to the maintenance of our democracy? Right-wing critics are quick to complain when college students protest inviting speakers like Betsy DeVos, Milo Yiannopoulos or Charles Murray to speak on campus, but feel justified in calling for limits on free speech when they disagree with speakers, a double standard that fundamentally misunderstands the First Amendment.

Like other Americans, CUNY students and faculty disagree about Israeli -- and American -- politics, policies and leaders. In our classrooms, clubs, civic organizations and even at faculty gatherings, we take pride in these often difficult but always enlightening discussions. Such differences, and our willingness to hear multiple perspectives, highlight our strength as a crucible for democratic discourse. Colleges and universities should not establish rules about which political views can be discussed and debated and which cannot.

Why the School Chose Sarsour

The CUNY School of Public Health selected Linda Sarsour to deliver the keynote address June 1 because the selection committee believed she represents the new activism of young people, women, immigrants and others speaking out against discrimination and intolerance and in favor of democracy, solidarity and human rights. In 2012, President Barack Obama designated Sarsour a Champion of Change. The White House observed that “Linda’s strengths are in the areas of community development, youth empowerment, community organizing, civic engagement and immigrants’ rights advocacy.”

Time magazine recently named Sarsour one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2017 because of her work in organizing the Women’s March, and Fortune magazine also included her on their 2017 list of the world’s 50 greatest leaders.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has written that the Women’s March was “a lightning bolt of awakening for so many women and men who demanded to be heard … and it happened because four extraordinary women [including Sarsour] had the courage to take on something big, important and urgent … The images of Jan. 21, 2017, show a diverse, dynamic America -- striving for equality for all.”

That’s the person and message that the School of Public Health is honoring at its graduation. The others to be honored at the graduation ceremonies include Chirlane McCray, the first lady of New York City, for her work in promoting better access to mental-health services, and Mary Bassett, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, who has led municipal initiatives to reduce racial, ethnic and income inequalities in health in the city. In the view of the selection committee, these three women represent new voices for more inclusive activist approaches to improving public health and social justice.

The Opposition

In their opposition to inviting Sarsour, conservative and religious critics have cited her alleged connection to Arab militant organizations and her condemnation of Israeli policies and leaders. If American universities invited only graduation speakers whose every statement and tweet over their lifetime offended no one on the right or left or in any religious group, our graduation ceremonies would be dull and vacuous, inspiring no one and detached from the larger world.

Fortunately, other important voices in New York City support the School of Public Health’s right to decide whom to invite. An editorial in the New York Daily News chastised critics of the invitation for objecting to cancellation of right-wing speakers at other universities and asserted that “her right to deliver the address ought not be in question.” Two New York rabbis wrote a Daily News op-ed calling Sarsour “a friend to Jews.” CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken noted that, while he disagreed with Sarsour’s position on some issues, “difference of opinion provides no basis for action now. Taking action because critics object to the content of speech would conflict with the First Amendment and the principles of academic freedom.”

City University has long prided itself on providing a path for equitable access to higher education, a crucible for democracy, a place where faculty and students can hear and debate controversial ideas, and an institution that cherishes social justice and freedom of speech. In its selection of Sarsour, the School of Public Health graduation honors those principles.

Meena Alexander is Distinguished Professor of English and Women's Studies at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Michelle Fine is Distinguished Professor of Critical Psychology at the Graduate Center. Nicholas Freudenberg is Distinguished Professor of Public Health at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. Gerald Markowitz is Distinguished Professor of History at John Jay College and the Graduate Center. Rosalind Petchesky is Distinguished Professor Emerita of Political Science at Hunter College and the Graduate Center.

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Presidential contracts are becoming more complex and corporate (essay)

Employment agreements for presidents are becoming increasingly complex and bear little resemblance to the typical appointment letters for faculty leaders or other senior administrators, write James Finkelstein and Judith Wilde.

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Boards need to be more curious to be effective (essay)

Good boards ask good questions, and great boards ask great questions. The ability to ask meaningful questions is an important skill in the boardroom and fundamental to effective governance. Said the chairman of Bain & Company, Orit Gadiesh, in a 2009 Harvard Business Review interview, “The most distinguished board is useless and does a real disservice to the organization, in my view, if the people on it don’t ask the right questions. If you’re not asking questions, you’re not doing your job.”

Too many boards struggle with asking questions at all, let alone asking good or great questions. Statements, not questions, frequently carry the day. Why? They lack sufficient curiosity.

In some instances, boards develop a culture in which curiosity is perceived as an indication of ineptness. Advancing arguments or making statements, not inquiring, is rewarded and reinforced. In other boardrooms, presidents and staff don’t readily welcome questions from trustees; “let us explain to you what you need to know” is the modus operandi. And too often, boards just don’t have the proficiencies or the structures to foster curiosity.

Boards can particularly benefit from a collective curiosity because trustees come from a variety of sectors and industries. The questions that a successful leader of a local bank has learned to ask over her career are in some key ways different from those that are essential to a multinational manufacturing firm and from those asked by a successful tech entrepreneur. Yet boards can weave together these different ways of understanding and questioning to create a powerful approach to governing -- one that yields deep and broad insight into higher education’s complex issues. Boards are ripe for curiosity-driven work.

Boards are composed of accomplished people, many of whom have learned over time how to ask impactful questions. The ability to ask and answer meaningful questions is how they get ahead, challenge norms and find innovative pathways. Reportedly A. G. Lafley, two-time chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble, asks himself each week, “What am I going to be curious about?” as a reminder of the power that questions have to provide strategic insight.

Boards that lack sufficient curiosity risk:

  • Complacency and disengagement. It is too easy for the work of boards to become routine. Boards go through the motions of governance without the drive to really understand what they need to ask and discuss in order to govern well. When there is little investment in meaningful work, trustees -- particularly busy, accomplished individuals -- become disengaged.
  • Lost opportunities to add value. Boards that lack curiosity foreclose occasions for trustees to meaningfully contribute. What are the contributions of boards, beyond philanthropy? Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich once spoke publicly about his experience as a trustee, memorably noting, “We ate well.” Such statements don’t say much for the impact he felt the board gave to that institution.
  • Advocating answers to the wrong questions. Boards that don’t develop the capacity for curiosity risk applying solutions regardless of the problems. Without understanding the real challenges, boards may pursue the wrong solutions.
  • Falling short in their fiduciary duties. Boards that are not curious may be underperforming in their most fundamental responsibility: acting as a fiduciary. Without asking questions, boards cannot fulfill their duties of care, loyalty and obedience.

On the flip side, curiosity in the boardroom can deepen engagement, intensify observation among board members of important issues, add diverse and better informed perspectives to discussions, minimize trustee solutions in search of problems, and increase individual trustee fulfillment.

What Should Boards Be Curious About?

Boards have much about which to be curious these days, including demographic trends; changing faculty work; student learning and degree relevance; student persistence and success; the intersection of access, affordability and excellence; opportunities to grow revenue; the impacts of technology on higher education; and many other issues. However, what might be most important is not the topic itself, but the nature of the problem and the ability to grasp the complexities and opportunities behind the issues.

Leadership scholar Ron Heifetz argues that there are two types of problems: technical and adaptive challenges. Technical problems are those that are easy to spot and can be solved by applying current knowledge. They are well defined and widely understood. Adaptive challenges, in contrast, are difficult to identify (and easy to deny), do not have “right answers,” and are unsolvable with current skills and knowledge. The challenge, Heifetz argues, is that too often organizations treat adaptive challenges as technical problems, only to make matters worse.

In the table below, we provide some comparisons of technical versus adaptive challenges relevant today.


Technical Problems

Adaptive Challenges

Sexual assaults on campus

Compliance problems

Institution’s culture regarding risk and safety

Fund-raising down

Insufficient outreach

Mission no longer resonates

Lack of alumni and donor engagement

Website hits declining

Outdated website

Message no longer effective

High faculty turnover

Low faculty salaries

Low quality of work life

Excessive student drinking

Poor alcohol policies

Harmful student culture

Student protests over race

Lack of diversity

Lack of inclusion

Developing the capacity for curiosity can help boards move beyond what might be initially framed as a readily solvable technical problem to understand the situation as an adaptive challenge.

How to Increase Curiosity

Curiosity isn’t simply an innate talent. It can be developed intentionally among a collection of people if they:

Break routines. Too often board business is conducted in ways that eventually become routine, if not ossified. Routines are the enemy of curiosity. They create expected patterns of behavior that tend to elicit similar types of questions. If the board always conducts its business in one way, over time, it learns the types of questions to ask and not to ask within that framework. Expectations, not novelty, shape the work.

By creating new routines in board and committee meetings, boards can spark innovation and curiosity. Seating trustees in small groups, rather than around the typical large board table, can spur different types of interactions and conversations. As one trustee recently said of this format, “I can look the other trustees in the eye.” Holding board meetings off-site, such as at innovative corporate headquarters, a high school or a community center, can alter perspectives leading to new conversations. At one institution, a board “field trip” to the construction site of new campus drastically altered the conversation. Changing the order of reports and discussions or assigning different trustees to lead various sections of the agenda also can disrupt the commonplace.

Commit the time. Routine becomes curiosity killing unless it is to create opportunities that promote curiosity. Too often the agendas of board meetings are overly full, and therefore, overly scripted. Developing the time for reflection and discourse can encourage curiosity. Embedding board educational sessions as a continuing of board work can be powerful. Be judicious about the number of topics addressed in a board meeting and finding ways to “steal time” for probing questions are other strategies. Moving to consent agendas can help streamline routine board work. Limiting reports by staff members is another strategy to make time. Show-and-tell sessions with questions at the end don’t leave much room for exploring new ground.

Take a statement/question census. Some boards may believe that they are asking a significant number of questions. To check that assumption, charge someone with tallying the number of curiosity-driven questions asked over the course of a board meeting against the number of statements made and questions for clarification. The comparison will probably be telling. Some boards may need permission to be curious. Board leaders may need to not only “ask for questions,” but also demonstrate curiosity themselves by raising an initial set of good questions.

Relabel some challenges as puzzles. As scholar Spencer Harrison suggests in his work on curiosity in organizations, labels matter. He argues that issues framed as problems invoke a negative emotion and the search for solutions. Such work may foreclose curiosity. The same issue framed as a “puzzle” -- and using that word or related terms -- may lead to a mind-set geared toward exploration and divergent thinking. He argues that puzzles (and by extension, puzzling challenges) can be invigorating in ways that problems rarely are.

Craft agendas as questions. Too many board and retreat agendas are framed around a series of statements, when what the board really needs are questions. An agenda that is simply a list of topics -- enrollment, campaign update, risk -- as such doesn’t create the expectation for questions and curiosity. In contrast, agendas posed as questions, such as the following from a recent retreat lead to curious inquiry: What are the key trends in the regional economy and changing employment needs? How is the higher education marketplace changing in the region? What do we know about the next generation of students?

Adopt curiosity-invoking activities. Boards can leverage a set of small behavioral changes that can lead to new levels of curiosity. Practice matters. Before a particular agenda item, the board can engage in a 90-second brainstorm in which each trustee writes down a list of questions associated with the topic. Another powerful strategy is to ask trustees at the end of the board meeting to write down one question that they have when looking back at the board’s work of that day. One can make a second request asking each trustee to write down one question she or he had earlier in the day but didn’t ask for a variety of reasons. The responses are collected and read back to the group. The next-generation questions and the unanswered questions are ways to provoke and encourage curiosity.

Understand not all questions are curious ones. Boards often report that they are good at asking questions. And many are. The challenge is not the frequency of questions but the style and type of questioning. Some questions can lead to curiosity, while others are simply interrogations. The latter are rarely helpful in moving conversations ahead. Questions such as, “Why did you do that?” or “Didn’t you consider X?” seldom spawn anything but defensiveness.

Furthermore, some questions that trustees ask are merely rhetorical; others are posed not to expand the conversation but instead to place blame; others are intended to go unanswered because they are part of a soapbox or soliloquy by those who like to hear themselves talk.

Roger Schwartz suggests in a 2013 Harvard Business Review article the You Idiot test. He offers that the person ready to ask the question first ask themselves privately the question and add the phrase “you idiot” to the end. Why did the administration project the budget so poorly (you idiots)? Why did you not think students would protest (you idiot)? He says if the question sounds natural with that phrase at the end, it’s not constructive.

Strive for a culture of curiosity. Curiosity is contagious, and boards can create cultures where it flourishes. Developing the right culture that encourages constructive questions, that is defined by curious minds, that carefully and intentionally frames questions, and that appreciates the time and work required to engage this way will serve boards well. Look at patterns of engagement. Who speaks and with what effects is an artifact of culture, for instance. Do discussions end when certain board members speak? Does the board expect constructive “devil’s advocate” perspectives? Does it welcome devil’s inquisitors? When is a consensus that is too easily reached questioned as being too simplistic?

The End Result

Boards that are intentionally curious develop deep investments in the institution and its trajectory. They create more rewarding experiences for individual trustees, are better strategic partners with the administration, challenge well-worn assumptions that may block progress and bring their collective expertise to the problems (and puzzles) the institution faces.

Elon Musk was quoted in a recent Inc. magazine article saying, “A lot of times the question is harder than the answer. If you can properly phrase the question, then the answer is the easy part.” Boards need to continue to develop the curiosity to pose and pursue just such questions.

Peter Eckel is a senior fellow and the director of leadership programs at the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy in the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and a trustee at the University of La Verne. Cathy Trower is president of Trower & Trower Inc., a board governance consulting firm, and a trustee at Wheaton College, Mass.

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