Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What Does the New Year Hold?

As I begin preparing for the New Year, there are a variety of items I want to share with you. The most important item has to do with the challenges facing the entire higher education landscape. As I have said before, things are getting harder for all of us. There is increasing pressure on colleges to improve our outcomes (both graduation rates and graduate employment), reduce our prices, and increase our enrollments. The world wants us to be faster, cheaper, and better.

As you read this, there are four national conversations that I will be participating in that bear on these demands. In early December, I will join the Council for Higher Education Accreditation's new Commission On Quality Assurance and Alternative Higher Education. My role will be talk about non-collegiate assessments (badges and CCAP). Then in January I have been asked to deliver a plenary session at CHEA's annual conference called Innovation, Disruption and the Status Quo: What Do We Want for Accreditation? My talk will be about Education Without College: What Is It? Is It Desirable? Can It Last? In mid-December I have been asked to participate in a conversation about the link between college and employers by the Aspen Institute. And in early February I will be on a panel at the EDUCAUSE conference in New Orleans to discuss Strategic Innovation and Institutional collaboration.

All of these engagements reflect two important themes: Higher Education is undergoing remarkable changes and Charter Oak has experience in those elements that are changing. I have told you that we are working to help the U.S Department of Education re-think its Title IV financial aid regulations, and we have just heard that the department is going to request ideas for experimental sites that can explore those new ideas. Charter Oak has been collaborating with the Lumina Foundation and a set of institutions that are interested in competency-based learning to create An Experiment in Hybrid, or Mixed-Modality, Programs Using Competency-Based Education. This work seems to be moving to the next level and we are excited about submitting an application to be an experimental site. If we are selected, our students would be able to use their financial aid for portfolios and tests as well as online courses.

And finally, there is a movement right here in Connecticut around our Going Back to Get Ahead initiative. President Gray is committed to moving this project forward. In early Spring we hope to release letters to 100,000 Connecticut residents with credits from ConnSCU institutions but no credential. Charter Oak will be responsible for moving these students forward toward successful degree completion.

You might ask, what does all this activity have to do with me? Well, it's all designed to keep Charter Oak at the leading edge of higher education, and in the minds of those who award grants for new initiatives and funding. These efforts are part of our commitment to making college available and affordable to as many adults as possible.

So you can see that there is a great deal of work ahead of us. If we perform as I know we can, you should see us in the news, our student enrollments should increase, and our approach to adult education should gain ground in Connecticut and across the nation. This is the work we were invented to do 40 years ago, and we are thrilled to be asked to do it.

How can we help make your 2014 more productive and rewarding?

Happy Holidays to all of you!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

More Feedback Please

This is a continuation of my previous blog that focused on your experiences with Charter Oak. We received some interesting and useful student feedback about courses, enrollment processes, and lots more. So I am encouraged.

I want to dig into your experience with our Fall 2013 courses. We have noticed that interest in our fifteen week courses is declining while our eight week offerings continue to grow in popularity. As a result, we are developing mostly eight week courses, leaving the longer format for those courses that require a longer learning curve. Please tell us why you are choosing the eight week format. How does this format serve your needs better than longer (or shorter) courses?

Next, we have also noticed that many of you were pre-registered for this semester, but at the deadline, you did not complete your paid registration. We know that adult students do not pay for their courses until the last minute, presumably because family money for your education must wait until the family expenses are covered. So we get that. But for those of you who did not finalize your Fall registrations, even at the very last minute, please let us know why not. What changed? What can we do to help?

And finally, we have been working hard throughout the entire College - Admissions, Advising, Registrar's office, and the Business Office - to better coordinate our outreach to you through the registration process. We have reviewed our outgoing messages, coordinated their content, and tweaked their timing; we have compiled "must call" lists and assigned those calls; and we have tracked the whole process. So now is a good moment to ask how we did with reminding you about registration, prompting you to meet deadlines, and working with you to make sure your course selections met your Plan of Study. Please let me know your thoughts about our process so we can do a better job of meeting your needs.

As always, I love hearing from you, even with criticisms. We are committed to being the best adult serving College out there, and only you can help us become that.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Distance Learning: Planning for a Disrupted Industry

Recently I had the pleasure of testifying before Connecticut's Higher Education Planning Commission. The topic was Distance Learning: Planning for a Disrupted Industry. I wanted to share my thoughts with you as they reflect much of what you are experiencing or have experienced in your own pursuit of a baccalaureate degree. This is over an hour of testimony and my contribution starts at the 10:10 mark:

Highlights of the discussion occur around and following these times: 41:00, 49:00, 1:16:45.

I continue to find great pleasure in telling the story of our adult students. If you have feedback or thoughts, please post them here!


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Charter Oak Receives Next Generation Grant

I have just returned from a wonderful three-day working meeting in Seattle held at the Gates Foundation headquarters. Charter Oak has been named a Next Generation Learning Challenge school, and we were funded to bring a team of 8 staff members representing senior administration, information technology, learning design, institutional effectiveness, and prior learning assessment to the working meeting. This is phase two of the Next Gen program funded by Gates, and they asked EDUCAUSE and the Innovation League to operate the program. Our eight-institution group is referred to as the Breakthrough Incubator Institutions. We are all pretty excited about both the honor and the work.

We were invited to apply for the funding by imagining a Breakthrough Project that we could manage if they gave us $100,000 in seed money. We proposed growing our competency-based learning initiatives -- testing, portfolios, and assessment of non-collegiate learning -- and increasing the amount of Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) credit on our graduates' transcripts from the current 13% to approximately 20%.

If we succeed in encouraging our adult students to implement more of our PLA choices, they will save money, graduate faster, and graduate at higher percentages. The Foundation was intrigued by this argument and our approach. So off to Seattle we flew for a series of 12 hour days. It was invigorating, creative, and we came to see our program more clearly. Our group will work toward a January launch date for our effort.

I write this just before I leave for a second trip related to this work. A group of us from Charter Oak (do you sense a pattern here?) have been funded to fly to Chicago for two days of conversation around how to get Federal Title IV financial aid to flow to competency-based learning programs. Currently, Title IV dollars (Pell grants) can be used to support courses but not tests or portfolios (even though these are less expensive options). So we have been part of a group of institutions fighting to get the Department of Education to allow either a Demonstration Program or a Pilot Program that makes competency-based programs eligible for federal financial aid. The Charter Oak vision for this is that the federal dollars should follow student choice not dictate it. If a student sees a test or a portfolio as the best choice for them, then their financial aid should empower this choice, not resist it.

So wish us luck. Higher Education is under real pressure to lower its cost while improving its outcomes. For our students, we believe we have the right approach to accomplish both of those goals, and prior learning assessment is the solution. And as always, I’d be interested in hearing from those of you that have used or are using some of these methods to gain college credit and what you thought of the value of that experience.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Charter Oak's First Effort at the Master's Level

We have been working toward our first Master's Degree in Organizational Effectiveness for a long time (a very long time). This week we actually launched our first effort at this level and how that occurred will surprise some of you.

I attended a press conference at the Connecticut Science Center on July 2nd to announce the launch of the Joyce D. and Andrew J. Mandell Academy for Teachers. The Science Center has created a program of hands on science learning for Connecticut's K-12 teachers, and at the launch they were lauded by the Governor, the Mayor of Hartford, and Stefan Pryor, Commissioner of Education, to name a few. In addition, they attracted the support of the Mandell family in the form of a major donation, so they are currently educating 50 teachers.

The piece of this story that speaks to Charter Oak is that we performed a CCAP evaluation of this educational program and found that it is deserving of nine graduate credits. You read that correctly. So this program is now Charter Oak's first graduate program. Notice that it involved our CCAP approach of using a team of faculty to assess training offered by someone else for College credit. This was the first time we used our master's level authority. Now, if the Science Center enrolls the 1500 teachers they are planning to serve, the number of graduate credits that will be placed on a Charter Oak transcript should be substantial.

When Matt Fleury, the Science Center CEO and our alum, brought me to the podium, I used my three minutes to comment on how Charter Oak is poised to build a bridge between corporate training and higher education that will make the trip to a credential shorter and less expensive for everyone who travels it. I took some pleasure in seeing several heads turn in surprise.

Happy Summer!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Weathering the Storm

We were proud to host our 2013 commencement ceremony on Sunday, June 2, in Welte Auditorium at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, CT. Below are some thoughts I shared with the Class of 2013.
Let me begin by congratulating all of you on your achievement.  Most of you have arrived at this moment along a non-traditional path, often after a number of false starts, and over far more than the usual number of years. 

But this graduating class has faced some extraordinary challenges because the past two years have been stormy—literally.  Connecticut experienced two hurricanes and two blizzards of historic consequences.  All of us know more about generators, storm tides, and snow removal than we ever thought possible.  But against that backdrop of extreme climate, this graduating class kept at it.  You persevered against not only the usual life events—sick kids, job loss, parental illness—but against the elements as well. 

During one of our storms, the generator that backs up the College data center ran for one week straight.  It kept our servers and our software running.  But it did not power up your houses or the computers of our faculty and staff.  Still, you persevered. 

It is not unusual at graduations featuring adults like you to talk about how “Life Happens.”  But never before has that phrase had quite so much natural disaster woven into it. 

But the same might be said for both our state and national economies.  They too are laboring through a storm.  The long, slow recovery from the recession of 2008 has been a hallmark of the years that you have been working toward your degree here at Charter Oak.  Your determination to finish your degree, even with the unemployment rate and the under employment rate so high, gives those of us who work in higher education both hope and inspiration.  You may not have realized this, while you were taking courses, passing tests, and working on your portfolios, but higher education has been under assault.  The value of a bachelor’s degree is no longer assumed.  Providers of such degrees, like Charter Oak, must defend its value.  Our success is measured in graduation rates, retention, and the employment success of our graduates.

So your participation in our program, your insistence that the degree you sought was worth the price you were paying, your honesty in critiquing our processes and our courses, all these reminded us that the degree path we are providing has value—to you.  And your seriousness, your persistence, your ability to weather the storms—both falling snow and falling stock prices—showed us the value of a Charter Oak degree. 

In every one of my graduation addresses, I take a moment to acknowledge the folks around you who supported your dream: the spouse who took on extra family responsibilities so you could write that paper; the kids who stayed quiet so you could read, and even the parents who babysat so you could go to library.  And this year, let me add the brother-in-law who loaned you a generator.  Graduates, give your support circle a hand…

Today I would like to close by thanking all of you for not surrendering your dream of a college degree.  Not when it snowed 3 feet, not when the wind blew, the rain fell, and the tides came in, and not when the snow broke all the trees in your yard.  Your fierce determination to finish what you started gives us the encouragement we need to keep improving, keep building new programs, to keep working to make you, our newest alums, proud.

Congratulations class of 2013.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Lowering the cost of a college degree: Charter Oak expands exam-for-credit offerings

We recently made the following announcement:

Charter Oak State College has partnered with the non-profit Excelsior College to expand credit-by-examination options for Charter Oak students.  Through an agreement reached with Excelsior College, Charter Oak will offer registration for Excelsior College Examinations on its website CharterOak.edu.  Students who register for exams will take them at a secure Pearson VUE testing center (www.pearsonvue.com).   Students can review the new exam offerings and register online at www.CharterOak.edu/examreg.

What this means is that we are working to expand the available tests that our students can take for credit.  Testing for credit is the lowest-cost approach to building your transcript.  It is possible to meet every Charter Oak requirement—except the Cornerstone and the Capstone courses—through testing.  We have even had students who accomplished their entire bachelor’s degree this way.  The key point here is that a test costs on average $150, which is approximately $600 LESS than a course.

The process for taking a test is very simple.  For the Excelsior exams, you sign up and purchase their test preparation packet.  This set of materials contains exactly what you need to know to pass the test.  It also includes sample questions so you can prepare for the type of test you will be taking.  When you feel you are ready, you sign up for the test itself, schedule at a test center near you, and take the exam in a proctored setting (which just means you are supervised as you take the test). The other national credit-by-exam organizations have similar processes.

That’s it.  Just choose a subject, register, purchase the test preparations materials, study at your own pace, and then take the test.

Yes, I know that most of our adult students hate tests.  But we also know that most of you get A’s and B’s in all your courses.  In other words, you are all good test-takers.  So here’s my proposition: try one.  It’s a $150 investment.  If you hate it, then you never have to do another one.  But if you pass the test, think of all the money and time you can save by testing for credit.  I am not imagining that you will do your whole degree this way, but if you did even five tests, that would be a savings of $3,000.  And that is real money.

America is looking for a way to lower the cost of a college education, and Charter Oak is committed to providing the solution.  I am traveling to Washington, D.C. every month trying to get federal financial aid extended to include testing (and portfolios as well).  Together we can show America the way.

If you decide to pursue taking an exam for credit, I would be interested in hearing about your experience here, or feel free to email me at eklonoski@charteroak.edu.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Thank you for your feedback!

Two weeks ago, I asked students to share with me what was working for you as a Charter Oak student – and what was not working. I was extremely pleased by the large turnout of responses I received. Your feedback is integral in shaping future plans for the College, and I thank you very much for taking the time to write such thoughtful and honest responses. I plan to share your thoughts with my staff as we work towards making your experience as a Charter Oak student the best it can possibly be. Below, I share with you a small sampling of the emails I received.
I tell everyone I meet that's considering on online school to check out COSC. I am proud to be graduating from COSC.
I spoke with Allison the first time I called.  She was very pleasant and helpful.  The best was when she called me back to let me know she had the paperwork needed and I didn't have to do anything. She took an extra step and the time to look through my file, which I believe she didn't have to do. That effort made such an impression on me that I just had to share. Going back to school as an adult can be somewhat intimidating. It’s reassuring to know that there are people available to help with guidance and understanding.

It is a significant drawback that COSC does not, at least, offer master's programs in Education, Political Science and some other fields. I have several friends that are interested in graduate studies at COSC based on my positive experience, but they were disappointed to learn that the school does not offer any master's programs. am finishing my Bachelor’s soon, and I would have liked to pursue my education here at COSC, had the school offered master's programs.

If it weren't for my advisor at COSC, I would have continued to take college courses, but would never have obtained a degree in anything.  I started taking classes at MCC many years ago, but never really knew anything about matriculation.  In 2009 when I first started inquiring at COSC, it was an advisor that told me about matriculation, transferred credits that were transferrable and I received my Associates degree with 100 credits!  I can't say enough about my advisor, Karen Schultz. She has changed my life.
I understand the difficulties inherent in the online experience – I’m an IT professional.  But the challenges at COSC are daunting.  Some classes work well apart from classmates and instructor, but other require that you be able to communicate with them in more immediate ways than email.  I didn’t mind registering for my own conference line, but a student who was not aware of that option would be trapped. 
2013 will hopefully be my last year as I plan to graduate. I actually am so proud of myself that I am going to put on a cap and gown. I have two classes, and two capstones to complete. I have not dropped out or given up partly due to my counselor, Doris Cassiday. When frustrated that I would never get done, she told me that I have gone too far to turn back now.
I never would have finished up my degree if I'd had to attend traditional classes.  I really enjoyed the pace of learning and doing assignments at any time of day, or while away on business or vacation.

I will be reaching out to you again in the fall to see how things are going for you, and I hope you will consider sharing your thoughts again.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Charter Oak needs your feedback

Every time I make a purchase, the merchant wants to know about my experience. Repair persons and installers ask for a high rating when the inevitable survey arrives. Stores put surveys on the back of receipts and offer prizes for turning them in. Even my auto repair shop asks for my feedback, and offers me comfortable seats, evening hours, and WiFi to boot. So now it is my turn. I want to know how you are doing.

My first question concerns the current crop of Charter Oak Spring courses. I would like to know how those courses are going for those of you who are enrolled. This question begins with the enrollment process and includes instruction, content, technical systems, and advising. And I am not just looking for complaints or problems, although I welcome the opportunity to improve. I am also looking for insights into what works well for you.

My next question is for those of you who have not registered for Spring courses. Why not? All the research is clear: the closer a student's course load is to full-time enrollment, the higher the rate of degree completion. In other words, the more coursework you can handle, the better the chances are that you will finish your degree. So it is very important to know why our students -- you -- are not enrolling.

And here is my favorite question: Why haven't you dropped out? Seriously, when we ask students why they drop out (and most of you have dropped out from somewhere before you arrived at Charter Oak), they all say, "life happens." But when we ask our graduates if life happened to them while they were working on their degree, they all say "yes." So what is it that keeps you going? Why haven't you quit? How do you get through the tough spots —- sick kids, job pressures, jobless pressures, threaded discussion burnout, or just plain fatigue?

Send your thoughts and answers to me at eklonoski@charteroak.edu or post in comments. I promise to give each of you a response, and truly appreciate your feedback.