Friday, November 11, 2011

Serving Our Nation's Finest

Charter Oak State College is dedicated to educating adults. All our services are designed with working adults in mind, and our success is measured by their ability to finish their degree and improve their workplace success. One important sub-set of that population is our nation's active military. These students are working to finish their degree while holding down a job and raising a family -- just like all our other adult students -- but they are often doing all of that while stationed overseas or at the frontlines.

With the 21st century military providing advanced communication capabilities, our active military students are able to continue working on their online courses while they are deployed. For me, someone who has been promoting distance learning as a major tool for increasing access to higher education, these stories about our soldier-students are tremendously compelling. We are truly transforming education from a location to an activity -- an activity that is available wherever the student finds herself or himself.

It is also true that our military members have always been at the forefront of distance education; in fact, they invented it. As a result, these students also expect us to provide a quality product. If increasing access was the first challenge for distance learning, improving quality is today's challenge. Our active military students serve as excellent evaluators for testing and improving our educational products.

For a student perspective, you can meet student and military mom Diana Jones who is featured in our "Community" video. Her video spotlights the tight virtual community that Charter Oak cultivates through its online classroom, and in her piece, Diana talks about the bond she has with her fellow students, which has fostered friendships beyond the classroom. She also expresses her appreciation for the loyalty of her admissions counselor, and the quick, positive feedback she receives when she has questions -- whether she is taking courses stateside or while stationed overseas.

Finally, I want to extend my gratitude to all of our military members who have served, or are now serving, our country.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Please join us!

Mark your calendars for October 27! The Charter Oak State College Foundation is sponsoring its annual Shea Lecture, which is FREE and open to the public. This yearly event is offered in memory of the College’s first President, Dr. Bernard Shea. The topic of this year’s lecture is a timely and fascinating one - the reliability of eyewitness testimony. The presentation will be delivered by Associate Professor of Psychology Jennifer Dysart of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who is an expert in eyewitness testimony. She will share her research into how we see and how we remember what we see. She is often asked to testify at major trials, and we are thrilled she can lend her expertise on this fascinating topic. Professor Dysart will be joined by a panel of police chiefs from Connecticut’s three largest cities.

We chose this topic for this year’s Shea Lecture because we believe it will resonate with our public safety students and alums. As many of you know, the College has a vibrant public safety program that has graduated nine Connecticut police chiefs. In fact, the panel of respondents includes Hartford Chief of Police Daryl K. Roberts, a COSC alum, and the recipient of the 2011 Charter Oak State College Foundation Innovation Award. This award will be given to the Chief, who recently announced his impending retirement at the end of the year, at the fundraising reception that will follow the Shea Lecture. Chief Roberts will be joined on the Shea panel by Bridgeport Chief of Police Joseph Gaudett , who is a current COSC public safety student, and New Haven Chief of Police Frank Limon. The lecture will be moderated by retired Branford Chief of Police and COSC alum John DeCarlo, PhD.

This thought-provoking event will be held at the Hartford Tower Auditorium, 22nd floor, 1 Hartford Plaza, Hartford, CT. This magnificent room is part of the Hartford Insurance Company’s building and the fun begins at 5:30 PM. We hope that those of you who live within driving distance of Hartford will come out for the lecture. In addition, we will be filming the talk so that it can be used in police training across the state. And if you would like to thank Chief Roberts for his 30 year career serving the citizens of Hartford, the fundraiser will give you a chance to shake his hand.

Our website has more information about the Shea Lecture. The staff and I are very excited about this event - will you be joining us?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Formula for Success

The best thing about these blog posts is that I have the opportunity to talk about whatever is on my mind. I have just finished reading the latest Thomas Friedman book, That Used to Be Us, which he wrote with leading foreign policy thinker Michael Mandelbaum. I confess that I am a huge Tom Friedman fan. He came to Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut to give a talk from his book on September 14th, and I managed to get myself a front row seat thanks to one of our alums who works there (Charter Oak alums are everywhere).

I tell you all this because I think Friedman has identified precisely what is ailing our economy and our country in his new book. His central argument is that we have built the largest and most successful economy in the world because we have had a formula for success and we have worked that formula for most of our history. According to Friedman, the five elements of that formula are: the best infrastructure in the world, the best educated population, government-sponsored research, laws and rules that permit the market economy to flourish but not explode, and an open immigration policy that attracts talent and energy from across the world.

It doesn’t take much thought to see that we are not working our formula now. Our infrastructure is old, budgets for basic research are down, the housing crash was caused by weak controls on the investment industry, and we are closing our doors to immigration. All of these are critical issues, but let’s take a moment to think about whether we are succeeding at having the best educated workforce in the world. Friedman argues that we have always educated our people “beyond the current level of technology whether it is the cotton gin or the supercomputer.” But are we doing that today?

The short answer is no. To begin, our educational system is not adapting itself to the existing technological reality of the world. Twenty-first century jobs are collaborative; technology intensive; driven by science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); and global. So are we systematically moving our children through a curriculum that is rich in STEM education, 21st century technologies, project-based learning (the educational version of workforce collaboration), and global culture (e.g. languages, studying abroad, and international school-to-school partnerships)? While I have seen places where the answer is yes, it is not universally true. It certainly is not yet part of the conscious and intended outcomes of our educational system.

The last time we intentionally drove our system to produce a systematic improvement in outcomes like these occurred in the 1960s in response to Sputnik, the Russian satellite that beat us into earth’s orbit. We called on our educational system to produce scientists and engineers, and it did. Clearly, we need that sort of clarion call again. And I would argue that we must point ourselves towards approaches that are already producing these results. In other words, we need to identify programs that successfully address these needs and reproduce them in quantity across the educational landscape.

I have argued before that online learning mirrors the 21st century workplace. Students must use communication technologies to produce projects, have discussions, and receive mentoring from their instructors and peers. This is precisely what is occurring today in the 21st century workplace. To its great benefit, the online classroom is diverse, open to those with ability challenges, and accessible from anywhere that has access to the Internet. It does not require enormous investments in new infrastructure and it is scalable. We can intentionally grow this approach to education and use it to increase the educational attainment of our people.

So as Charter Oak works to improve its programs, services, and systems, we take satisfaction in knowing that we are doing our part to keep one element of America’s formula for success vibrant: we are committed to providing a level of education that surpasses the technology of our day.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Delivering Measurable Results

Happy Spring! When I haven't been worrying about collapsing ceilings and wet basements, I have been watching the new pressures from Washington sweep over higher education. America's approach to higher education has created tremendous economic power for our country. We have opened our doors wider to potential students than any other country. After World War II, we welcomed home our returning servicemen and women and gave them unlimited access to higher education. My father took full advantage and ended up with a law degree from the University of Miami. In the seventies, we created and expanded our Community Colleges, offering second chance access to a whole range of students, including non-traditional students from our inner cities and our rural areas. The idea was to offer low cost, low frills education to as many Americans as possible.

Charter Oak was part of this expansion when it was created in 1973 to offer adult learners a way to bring their prior learning experience and college credits from almost anyplace to one institution that could help them shape those experiences into a degree. Our country has been brilliant at access to higher education.

For the past ten years, the Federal government has been increasing its financial support of higher education through Pell grants, which support our poorest students. That contribution has continued to grow, while state support for public higher education has remained flat or decreased. So it is not shocking that the Federal government is now asking us to report on the return on investment from its $150 billion dollars in financial aid support. Access, alone, is no longer enough; we have to deliver results.

So I have been working with a group of college Presidents collected by the Gates Foundation to find a set of performance metrics that colleges and universities can use to measure their educational accomplishments. These metrics include items like the six year graduation rate (how many students graduate in 150% of the normal time). In Charter Oak's case, we are at 63% on this scale, second only to UCONN in Connecticut’s public higher education system. And Charter Oak's number is up from last year’s result, which was an all time high.

We are also measuring our first-to-second-year retention and the workplace success of our graduates (our Connecticut grads improved their weekly income by $404 according to the Department of Labor). It is important for higher education institutions to know what their educational effects are and to report these widely and clearly. I am pleased to be part of the national work being done in this area, and proud of Charter Oak's success. But we can’t rest on our laurels. All of us will need to be reaching ever higher. So, expect to hear more about how higher education is succeeding at its educational mission, and how Charter Oak is doing in comparison to its peer institutions.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Serving Adults at a Distance? Join Transparency by Design

Dear Friends,

If you follow higher education coverage in the media, you will know that there is increasing pressure on us to produce and measure learning outcomes. Well, Charter Oak has been working on solutions to this need and our Capstone courses are part of our response. But Charter Oak is also a founding member of Transparency by Design (TbD), which has created an online presence that is offering institutions a way to publish their program-level outcomes for inspection and comparison by prospective students. We are very proud of that project, and as the current chair of the TbD executive committee, I was asked to write a blog entry about the College Choices for Adults website. Here is a link to that piece, which was published by WCET:

Serving Adults at a Distance? Join Transparency by Design, a guest blog post on WCET by Ed Klonoski


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Call to Action

I am sitting in my study watching the snow fall and figuring out when to release my staff for the snowy trip home. Presidents make lots of decisions, but none of them is as clearly right or wrong as the snow-closing call. In effect, these decisions represent a "call to action" for a leader, and they are both an opportunity to show that you care and a chance to be wrong. In the past few weeks, Connecticut has provided me lots of opportunities around this issue, so it has got me thinking about "calls to action."

Last night, President Obama talked about this generation's "Sputnik moment" and how it relates to the current economic recovery effort. He was making a call to action. Well, I am going to do the same — call you to action! America has long viewed higher education as a pathway to personal success AND the means by which the economy increases its competitiveness. That assumption is under assault from a variety of sources, not the least of which is the mounting cost of education.

On our end, we are working diligently to better measure the results of our educational programs. At Charter Oak we created the Capstone course so that students could reflect on their educational efforts and create ideas and products that showcase their skills and knowledge. We have also launched a Cornerstone course that will orient new students and refresh their writing skills. And finally, we have begun testing a "flagging system" that will give us early alerts so we can intervene in real time when students encounter academic problems. Implementation of these three concepts represent the College’s response to my call to action.

But you, as individuals, have a role to play as well. I challenge each of you to reflect on the value of the education you have completed or are currently pursuing. What was your call-to-action that sparked your interest to complete your degree? Put those thoughts into words. Share those thoughts with your family, friends, and co-workers. Send your thoughts to me via this blog. And eventually consider sharing those thoughts with the larger community in editorials, public forums and the like.

We all need to pay close attention to what our education providers are doing. At our end, we must be transparent and concrete about our outcomes. As our customers, you must help us understand where we are succeeding and where we must do better.

That is my call to action to all of us.