Friday, December 17, 2010

Season's Greetings

I would like to take a moment to wish our students, staff, faculty, alumni, and friends a happy and healthy holiday. Personally, I have a great deal to be grateful for, not the least of which is the creativity and support our staff and faculty offer to every one of our students. We have been very gratified to see our student enrollment grow to an historic high this year, so there are even more of you to support and appreciate.

This is traditionally a time for New Year's resolutions, and the College has made several. These begin with our very first Master's degree in Organizational Effectiveness which we are planning to launch in September. The program will begin and end with a face to face meeting with the cohort, but all the coursework will be offered online.

In order to improve the learning outcomes for our online students, we are deploying software in every course that will help our faculty and advisors understand when our students are struggling. This will enable us to offer timely and appropriate support. Think of this as the educational equivalent of Amazon knowing what sorts of books you might like from the ones you have already purchased. Part of the power of online education is that we can provide customized learning support to each student based on need, and the College is working toward this goal.

So, during this season of sharing and giving, I wish you all a peaceful and loving holiday. The College looks forward to serving you even better in the coming year.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Degree Completion: The New Center

Thirty-seven years ago, Charter Oak State College was created to help adults return to college and finish their degrees. The founding idea of the College was that a degree represented a set of learning outcomes and abilities—like being able to write an argumentative essay or to analyze a set of data—and there are a variety of ways to demonstrate those competencies. So the College validated learning using formal tests, portfolios, courses from other accredited colleges and even learning that occurred at work.

Colleges like Charter Oak that specialized in degree completion -- and there were only three such institutions at the time -- were called college credit aggregators.

Today, America is at the threshold of a post-secondary education revolution. It is becoming clear that the global economy requires its workforce to attain skills and learning beyond high school. That is true for the plumber, the computer programmer, the financial analyst. It is true for everyone. If America wants to keep up with its competitor nations, it must produce one million more adults with bachelor's degrees each year for the next 20 years. In other words, Charter Oak would be required to increase its graduate output by about 1600%. Clearly, that is not likely.

So the Lumina Foundation -- an organization dedicated to helping people achieve their potential through success in education beyond high school -- has funded a series of proposals across the higher education landscape that will try to move degree completion from a singular challenge involving one student and one special institution to an assembly line. One funded initiative involves the state of Minnesota which maintains a database of 150,000 Minnesota residents with some college credit but no degree. The initiative was funded by Lumina to move as many of these people as possible into the degreed column.

I tell you all this as a way of pointing out that Charter Oak is no longer an outlier with an unusual or esoteric mission. Adult degree completion has become the new center. It is an absolutely critical part of the higher education landscape as America works to develop all of its intellectual talent. In effect, we have to find ways to support everyone's learning. We cannot afford to waste a single human talent set.

So it will not surprise you that Charter Oak is growing. We just passed our all-time, highest enrollment, and we show no signs of slowing down. Nor should you be surprised that we are working diligently to improve our efficiencies so we can do our part in converting more "adults with some credits" into "adults with degrees."

What may surprise you is that we are not alone. All across the country, there is a new focus on serving adults who have earned college credits but not their degrees. We are proud to be an institution that has worked on this challenge every day in all of our 37 year history.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New Programming for the Nation's Workforce

As the economy continues to struggle, we are focusing more than ever on our new Vision statement, particularly one line of that goal:

Charter Oak State College: A community of online learners advancing the nation's workforce one graduate at a time.

We see our new master's degree in Organizational Effectiveness as an important part of meeting current workforce need. If the College is any indicator of what other businesses are doing, then improving organizational efficiency, effectiveness, and measures of that effectiveness are more important than ever. The content of this online master's degree, as well as its method of delivery, will provide exactly the preparation required for today's business leaders. We hope to launch our program in the Fall of 2011.

But there is more we are doing to advance the nation's workforce. We are also undertaking a substantive research effort to identify the skills and knowledge that the new economy will require in order to develop academic programs that will help working adults meet those emerging needs. As I have mentioned before, this recession is not just temporarily displacing workers, it is also permanently displacing workers. That means that new employment opportunities will require both new knowledge and new skills. We have collected data on where the emerging jobs will be, and we are now working to identify which of these possibilities will work for our adult, online students and which skills we should emphasize in our programs.

We will certainly build on the strong foundation that already exists, as we have growing programs in public safety, early childhood education, and healthcare administration. We will also develop programs that are module in nature. While the College's primary goal is degree attainment for adult learners, as we design new programs, beginning with the master's degree, we will build these in such a way that pieces of them can be used to build specific content and/or skill sets that are particularly relevant in the emerging workplace. For example, our master's degree will have a non-profit focus, and that group of courses could be taken as a unit to enrich individuals looking to improve their understanding of the non-profit sector.

We understand that the American workforce is challenged to improve itself to stay relevant in the post-recession workplace, and we are actively working to create programs that provide degrees and skills relevant to that economy. Not only are we seeking to provide flexible approaches to those new skills, but in the process we are participating in growing and sustaining a new economic workforce in America.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

2010 Commencement Speech: Life Happens

Charter Oak State College was created to serve adult students, second chance learners, who were balancing work and family while they worked to complete their degree. As I look out at your happy faces, I can see that we were founded on solid ground.

Let me begin by congratulating each and every one of you on the successful completion of your degree program. As you know better than I do, today did not happen by accident. It most likely began a number of years ago... in a few cases, more years than you care to admit... and I suspect it didn’t go smoothly. Things happened that derailed your first efforts at college. Life happened.

In some cases it was money—it ran out. In others, children. In a few others, it was bad grades or doubt about what major to choose. Maybe you got married or enlisted. Lots of you have moved around, collecting credits from a variety of institutions, but a degree from none. Some of you soured on higher education and others just got too busy.

In other words, life happened, and your degree hopes were put aside. But that dream of a degree didn’t die when you turned 25. It is true that many of you had your education derailed by life events, but it is equally true that each of you is here because some other life event drove you to start back up and persevere until you finished.

That life event might have been a missed promotion. Or the sight of your kid graduating from high school. It might have been an inheritance that put some extra money in your pocket, or more likely a pink slip that put more time into your hands. Maybe you finally picked your major or the graduate program that you want to pursue. Maybe you just stumbled across Charter Oak. Life happened.

And I bet that your decision to reconnect with college wasn’t made alone. Look around this auditorium, listen for a moment: Our students come to us a part of a family package. When you began to make your plans to finish your degree, I bet there were other people at the table. How many of you graduates have children in college? How many of you in the audience took on extra responsibilities so your significant other could study?

Well these are all examples of life happening as well. It is certainly true that life can interrupt us, but it is equally true that it can set up back on our path. And each of you is here today because your life happened—both the good stuff and the bad, and it all led you here.

So what words of wisdom do I have for you? Just this: Never doubt that you can accomplish great things. You have. And never doubt that life will happen while you are trying. It did and it does. But today you graduates are proof to yourselves and to the rest of us, that we can all achieve great things not in spite of what life throws at us but because life happens.

So I send you out into the world, Charter Oak State College graduates, life tested, degree in hand, confident that you will find new goals and that you will achieve them. And I ask one thing of you: The next time you hear someone say, Life Happens, you answer that it sure does. And it led you to this special moment.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Charter Oak's Vision Statement

As part of its ongoing strategic planning process, the College has created something we call The Visioning Team whose mission is to keep all entities within the institution focused on achieving the strategic goals we've established for ourselves. Creating a vision for an organization, then linking subsequent decisions and strategies to its realization, is much more difficult than corporate management textbooks make it sound. Often, vision falls victim to daily pressures, sudden crises, and a variety of other pressing concerns. But in reality, nothing is more important to the health of an organization than a shared vision and the feeling, by each participant, that he or she is making a key contribution to achieving it.

So we created a visioning team comprised of a nucleus of staffers who were already spending time on activities related to the strategic goals of the College. These were the folks who were measuring progress and then imagining what needs to be done next. The Charter Oak Visioning Team is comprised of four executives and three key directors. Those three directors selected a faculty representative and an additional staffer to bring our total number to nine. We meet every two weeks.

The team's initial challenge was creation of a vision statement. I was more than a little nervous about this. I worried that we wouldn't agree on content, or that we might not be able to find the proper language to clearly express the vision. Well, my worries were for naught. After only two meetings the group created this insightful statement:

Charter Oak State College: A dynamic community of online learners, advancing the nation's workforce one graduate at a time.

This statement is both internally and externally directed. It is aspirational, which means it is meant to be a reach; and it is specific, which means we are trying to grow along a specified path. That is why the team used the word "workforce." If we were a liberal arts college, we would have used a word like "citizenry." But as an adult-serving, degree completion institution, the best descriptor we could find for our audience and for our niche in the world of higher education is WORKFORCE.

We have shared this phrase with students, alums, staff and our faculty. We shared it with the Board at the May meeting, and we will begin using it in our communication. As you receive more of these communications, you will see that we are trying to organize our efforts to make this vision a reality. For example, we have just chosen a company to help us research academic programs so that we can develop new programming that really does "advance the nation's workforce." And the new document scanning system we are purchasing will move more of our work online, making our goal of becoming a "dynamic community of online learners" more accurate within our administrative walls.

You will hear more about both the Visioning Team and our progress in achieving our vision in future posts.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Micro-credentials: The Next Frontier

Charter Oak State College prepares working adults to advance their careers by completing their degrees.  We have spent the past 37 years helping over 10,500 such adults finish their Associate or Bachelor’s degrees, and that need is increasing.  But I think there is a shift coming in the way that working adults approach credentials.  My prediction is that many of you will become interested in partial credentials—certificates—that I call micro-credentialing.

By micro-credentials I mean a cluster of courses around a core expertise.  In addition to finishing a whole degree, I predict that working adults are going to be demanding that higher education help them add specific skills to their resume.  Imagine a recently promoted worker who needs to better understand HR or Finance or Exporting or Tax Law.  What they need is 6-12 credits of coursework that quickly and specifically advance their functionality in these areas.  And I believe these demands will be coming primarily from adults who already have degrees.  Let me explain.

The first driver for this change is the nature of our current underemployment problem.  Not only is the current recession reducing jobs in fields that often suffer from periodic unemployment (e.g.  retail or home improvement or real estate to name three areas that are slow right now), but we have a variety of industries that have shed jobs that will never come back in their previous form.  The best example of that is the auto industry.  As the car manufacturers retool their product lines, they have closed plants, laid off a variety of workers, and they have no plans to re-hire most of these workers if their sales pick up.

The second driver, which will emerge over the next several years, is the baby boomer retirements.  When the stock market collapsed, my 401K retirement plan shrank to a 201K plan.  That same shrinkage occurred to millions of retirement age workers, who were forced to delay their retirement until their funds recovered.  Well the market is slowly recovering (it’s back over 11,000).  That growth has put my funds back to where they were when the collapse occurred, and as that recovery begins to work for workers in their mid-sixties, we will see large numbers of baby boomers retiring.  But we will not just lose the cohort that turns 66; we will also lose the cohorts that turned 66 over the past several years and who have been waiting.  These are very big cohorts—that why they are called boomers.  There aren’t enough trained workers prepared to replace all these boomers, particularly those working in positions of responsibility.

These retirements will be a real opportunity for many of our alums. You finished your degree by making a commitment to lifelong learning.  You will be fully prepared for the rapid approach to gaining missing credentials that I am predicting.  The workforce left behind will need to fill gaps in its experience as quickly as possible (probably at the same time as they take on new responsibilities abandoned by retirees) and higher education will need to be ready to provide these micro-credentials.

I find this encouraging because the only way to integrate this rapid learning with on-going and increasing work responsibilities is to provide that learning to the students where they work…in other words, online. I also believe that much of the micro-credentialing will occur at the graduate level, and Charter Oak is preparing to be an online provider at this level.  So if I am right, the adult workforce will be even more interested in credentialing than they are now, but they may view that education through the prism of skills rather than degrees.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Remaining Relevant

Welcome to my first official blog post for Charter Oak State College.  When I asked the staff what the best way to communicate with our students and alums might be, I was curious about the approach they would recommend.  I was ready for live chats, threaded discussions, even tweets, but their suggestion that I write a blog seems perfect to me because it takes me back to my roots.  I taught college writing for over 20 years—perhaps the most dreaded course after college math—and during those years I often wrote and published op-ed pieces, the blogs of that time.  Back then I was trying to practice what I was preaching to my students.  Today, I am trying to create a sense of community with our students.  So here I go again, sharing my thoughts and trying to do it with a little style.

The cover story of the September 21, 2009 issue of TIME focuses on America’s unemployment crisis.  In the story entitled “Unemployment Nation” Joshua Cooper Ramo references research by Lawrence Summers, director of the President’s National Economic Council and former president of Harvard (see how I worked another college president in there).  Summers writes about a concept called hysteresis, which refers to changes in the economy that are permanent.  We hear a great deal about economic cycles that move the market up and down and are all part of the business cycle, but hysteresis is the unpleasant idea that some changes in the marketplace are not part of a continuum; some changes are permanent.  The most famous example is the farming jobs that disappeared during the Great Depression and never returned.  Another is the large steel furnaces that formed one of the major industries in this country but that were replaced by mini furnaces decimating the economy of steel cities like Pittsburgh.

There is concern on a number of fronts that many of the American jobs that are disappearing in today’s recession will never return.  The auto industry may be one example, and another is mass manufacturing.  The answer will be clear in a few years, but in the meantime we have almost ten percent of the population looking for work.  So what is the country to do?

In a word, the answer is re-tool.  But it is not our technology that needs to be upgraded, it is our workforce.  We need to offer displaced workers training that prepares them for the employment that is available, and even more importantly, for the employment that WILL become available.  “But wait,” the discerning reader cries, “how can anyone know what jobs will be important in the emerging new economy.”

That’s a good question.  I, for one, don’t think it is impossible to see what those jobs will be like.  First, they will not be low knowledge, high touch jobs.  The new jobs will involve the following elements: creativity, independent initiative, critical thinking, quantitative analysis, information literacy, and adaptability.  They will be more like consulting jobs, where you are offering yourself as a key component in larger projects.  Work will be team based, and each of us will function on multiple teams simultaneously, sometimes in a leadership role and other times in a supporting role.

Does anything like that exist now? Well if you are a Charter Oak student, you know that your online courses require all of these traits. They require working in teams, communicating using internet technologies, self-direction (no boss looking over your shoulder), and multi-tasking (I am writing the first draft of this while babysitting for the neighbors kids). You can do your work from a variety of places, and your team consists of people from all over. Could it be that these online courses provide the model for what these new jobs will be like?

I will have more to say about preparing for the next economy in future blog posts, but if you are learning online you are already participating in the best model for that economy that higher education has developed. You might even say that your online courses are a simulation exercise that is preparing you for the jobs that WILL become available. So don’t complain about those team projects and don’t feel guilty for reading your favorite blog in between class assignments; you are just practicing for one of those 21st century jobs.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Connections, February 2010

Welcome to 2010. The past year has been a real challenge for many of our students and our alums. Let me begin this message by wishing you all a much better new year.

For Charter Oak, the weak economy has been increasing both the number of students entering the College and the number of students applying for and accepting financial aid. At this point in the academic year, the College has already surpassed the total number of students who received financial aid in Fiscal Year 2009; and the numbers continue to grow. So we are growing, but it is pretty clear that our growth is being driven by economic disruption and the need for adults to improve their workforce credentials. The good news is that helping adults attain degrees is exactly what Charter Oak was created to do. So with every graduate, with every course enrollment, with every certificate we issue, we are helping families cope with the economic turmoil. You can help us serve our most financially challenged students. The Annual Appeal Campaign for the Charter Oak State College Foundation is in full swing. The Foundation is providing $30,000 in grants, this academic year, to Charter Oak students in need. This generosity is made possible by the support we receive from Alums and Friends of the College. We hope you are one of them. You can donate by visiting

One of the new developments at the College is our tuition fee waiver for Connecticut’s military veterans. Charter Oak State College has not been named under the Connecticut State Statutes requiring public institutions to provide tuition waivers for Connecticut veterans because the College does not have “tuition.” Instead, it has fees. However, the staff and Board of Trustees agree it is important that the College does its fair share to support our veterans. So, in November, the Board approved a tuition waiver policy, following one instituted at the Connecticut State University System. Our new policy allows a 50% course fee waiver for Connecticut veterans who matriculate at Charter Oak. We are also reviewing our fee structure for active members of the military in order to align it more closely with those of other military-serving institutions.

In another area, the marketing staff is tracking how the College’s media efforts performed in enticing potential students to the College. These tracking reports enabled staff to make better-informed decisions regarding our spring, 2010 marketing efforts. For example, staff found that of six radio stations used last fall, three performed well while three underperformed in terms of luring students to the College’s website. That tracking information allowed us to improve the efficiency of our radio buy for the College’s spring enrollment campaign. In addition, research has shown that although the median age of Charter Oak students remains at 40, one of the College’s fastest growing demographic segments is in the 25-and-under age group. So it won’t surprise you that we are advancing the College’s efforts in the area of social networking. Our staff is blogging on Facebook and LinkedIn, and the College has observed that more and more alumni are using the social networking blogs. Check us out on these sites, and let us know what you think.

As always, feel free to send your thoughts directly to me at, leave a message at 860-832-3876, or comment here.