Dr. Karen A. Stout Named One of 16 Most Innovative People in Higher Education

Washington Monthly highlighted Dr. Karen Stout as one of the 16 most innovative people in higher education who are working to make college more accessible, affordable, and effective in its September/October 2016 issue.  Except below.

Last year, we profiled ten college and university presidents who, in our judgment, were doing things differently, and better, than their peers. Instead of using their positions to increase their endowments and recruit a “better” sort of student in order to move their schools up the U.S. News & World Report rankings, these leaders were turning their institutions into laboratories of innovation in a hunt for better ways to deliver higher ed—providing quality degrees at lower cost, getting more students to graduate, and so on. One of those presidents, Michael Sorrell of Paul Quinn College, is the subject of a longer feature in this issue.

But, of course, even the best college presidents, like the most successful company CEOs, aren’t necessarily the ones dreaming up the actual new ideas. Those tend to come from lower down the chain of command—administrators, faculty members, even grad students—or from people outside these institutions, in government, nonprofits, and the private sector.

These front-line innovators don’t always have a lot of power. So when they try to advocate for new and better ways of serving students, they are typically pushing against resistant leadership, indifferent or threatened colleagues, and a general institutional inertia that makes progress painfully slow.

The good news is that the atmosphere for innovation is beginning to change. As more and more students and parents grow frustrated with the rising cost and uncertain quality of a college education; as employers and policymakers bemoan the negative economic effects of a lack of college-educated workers; and as voters turn angry about how the higher education system seems to perpetuate inequality rather than alleviate it, politicians are putting pressure on institutions to improve. Conditions are becoming ripe, in other words, for the innovators to take charge.

One of the best ways we can think of to empower those still struggling to create change is to publicize the work of those who are already succeeding. So we set out to find innovators from all corners of the higher education map. This list isn’t a ranking, and it’s by no means exhaustive. Consider it a snapshot of the various overlapping ways in which creative, passionate people around the country are working to make higher education more accessible, affordable, and effective.


Achieving the Dream

As the president of Montgomery County Community College for fourteen years, Stout developed a reputation for the kinds of unsexy institutional reforms that drive student success. She put together an executive team to map out all the points where student attrition happens, from application to graduation. Then she initiated a host of changes to how faculty and staff interact with students, including an overhaul of the college’s student-advising system and a minority mentorship program. In 2014, the White House praised MCCC’s work to improve graduation and retention, and last year, Stout became president and CEO of Achieving the Dream, an initiative founded in 2004 to support community colleges around the country. Stout aims to build ATD into something analogous to the University Innovation Alliance... —providing guidance, resources, and a forum for collaboration to drive large-scale innovation—but for a network of more than 200 colleges serving more than four million students. This fall, ATD will lead an effort at thirty-eight colleges, in thirteen states, to offer full degree programs using open education resources (OER)—free course materials instead of textbooks—which could save students thousands of dollars each. As important, in Stout’s view, is that moving away from textbooks will prompt faculty to get more involved in thinking about how to most effectively design their courses. And they won’t be going it alone. “In the past, any of the OER work on our campuses was typically done by one faculty member, one course at a time,” Stout says. “That approach won’t scale.”

Read the full article here.

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