Developing human+ skills in students so they can thrive in workplace

From The New England Journal of Higher Education (NEJHE), a service of The New England Board of Higher Education (

“The world will need more agile and resilient thinkers with a serious handle on various technologies and digital literacies.”

Michelle Weise is senior vice president for workforce strategies and chief innovation officer at Strada Education Network. Weise is a higher education expert who specializes in innovation and connections between higher education and the workforce. She built and led Sandbox ColLABorative at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and the higher education practice of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. With Christensen, she co-authored Hire Education: Mastery, Modularization, and the Workforce Revolution, a book that focuses on how to align online competency-based education with changing labor market needs.

In the following Q&A, NEJHE Executive Editor John O. Harney asks Weise about her insights on connecting postsecondary education to the world of work.

Harney: The relationship between education and employability seems widely understood now. What’s truly new in this area?

Weise: What’s different today is that with all the trending conversations about the future of work, the new narrative is that the most valuable workers now and in the future will be those who can combine technical knowledge with uniquely human skills. Over the last few decades, students have moved in large numbers to career-oriented majors, such as business, health and engineering—clearly hearing that the surest path to a meaningful, financially stable career is also the most straightforward one. Those pursuing liberal arts degrees, on the other hand, are on the decline. Policymakers have been particularly down on the outcomes of liberal arts, questioning the value of these majors as relevant to the challenges ahead.

But it’s not either/or; it’s both/and. Human skills alone are not enough and neither are technical skills on their own. This runs somewhat counter to the rallying cries in the 2000s, warning of a dearth of STEM majors to meet the demands of the emerging tech-enabled knowledge economy. But not all of the jobs will require STEM majors or data science wizards or people who fully grasp the technicalities of artificial intelligence. There are differing levels of depth and shallowness of that technical expertise needed alongside human skills that are in high demand.

With that nuance comes the need for real-time labor market data. Fortunately, with partners like Emsi, we can now extract the skills from job postings from businesses (demand-side data) and social profiles and resumes from people (supply-side data), and begin to look underneath traditional occupational classification schemes to observe how specific knowledge and skills cluster with one another. By doing this, we can more clearly diagnose the realities of work, education and skills requirements, and how skills develop and morph across regions and industries. This is essential because it gives learning providers insights that are more current and certainly more accurate, so that they may develop and refine curriculum and advise learners for a rapidly changing workplace.

Harney: Strada’s work regarding “On-ramps to Good Jobs” explicitly references “working class Americans”? Who are they and what are some of the learn-earn-learn strategies with the best traction?

Weise: We use the term “working class” to refer to people who represent the lowest quartile of adults in terms of educational attainment, earnings, and income (26%). We estimate that there are approximately 44 million working-class adults who are of working age (25- to 64-years-old) earning less than $35,000 annually and with less than $70,000 of family income.

What we call on-ramps to good jobs are programs designed, tailored and targeted for these learners with significant barriers to educational and economic success. Some of the most interesting models we found leveraged a “try-before-you-buy” outsourced apprenticeship model. Unlike in traditional apprenticeship models, the employer of record is the on-ramp, and the hiring employer acts as a client to the on-ramp. Apprentices are paid by the on-ramp but work on projects for client firms that are testing out that particular apprentice as a future job candidate. These models are great ways of building steady revenue streams that are sustainable, so that on-ramps reduce dependence on philanthropic or government dollars.

LaunchCode, a St. Louis-based tech bootcamp, hires and manages apprentices from its own program and, in turn, charges businesses $35 an hour for services. If, at program’s end, the employer hires an apprentice, the employer does not have to pay a placement fee, as LaunchCode’s overhead costs have been covered by the hourly service charge paid by employers during the training and pre-hire apprenticeship period.

As another example, Techtonic, a software development company based in Denver, has implemented an outsourced apprenticeship, now certified by the U.S. Department of Labor. Candidates are screened and then put through 12 weeks of training, akin to a coding bootcamp. After learners finish their training, Techtonic “hires” the apprentices, pays them entry-level wages, and pairs them with senior developers to work on projects for its clients. Not only do apprentices get paid for work, but they also simultaneously develop and hone the skills they will need for long-term career success. At the same time, Techtonic’s client firms have a seamless, low-stakes way of evaluating a candidate’s work before committing to full-time employment.

Harney: You also reference “good/decent jobs” … what do these entail?

Weise: We’re talking about jobs that have strong starting salaries that can move a person out of low-wage work to be able to thrive in the labor market by making at least $35k per year as an individual, and a lot more than that in many cases. This is critical for the bottom quartile of working-age adults in terms of educational attainment, earnings and income. We now have 44 million Americans who are jobless or lacking the skills, credentials and networks they need to earn enough income to support themselves and their families. We need better solutions for our most vulnerable citizens.

So when we talk about a good job, we’re not just talking about a well-paying, dead-end job; we’re looking at jobs that have mobility built into them. We want to focus on jobs with promise, or the ability to advance and move up.

Harney: What is the role of non-degree credentials in our understanding of education and employability?

Weise: We know that when people pursue postsecondary education, their main motivation is around work and career outcomes. If they can get there without a degree, is that enough for some? And what about folks who already have degrees who want to advance with just a little bit more training? More college or more graduate school will not be the answer. Flexibility, convenience, relevance … these may be attributes that are much more alluring than the package of a degree.

The business of skills-building is mostly occurring within the confines of federal financial aid models and the credit hour, but there’s an even wider range of opportunities to dream up innovative funding models and partnerships with employers. I’m eager to see more solutions that tie in with the training and development \or learning and development sides of a business rather than through the human resources side of tuition-reimbursement benefits. Where are the employers innovating new forms of on-the-job training?

This, by the way, is a huge opportunity for competency-based education (CBE) providers to serve, but everyone’s busy creating new CBE degreeprograms. What makes CBE disruptive, which is what Clayton Christensen and I pointed to in Hire Education, is that when learning is broken down into competencies—not by courses or subject matter—online competency-based providers can easily arrange modules of learning and package them into different, scalable programs for very different industries. For newer fields such as data science, logistics or design thinking that do not necessarily exist at traditional institutions, online competency-based education providers can leverage modularization and advanced technologies and build tailored programs on demand that match the needs of the labor market.

Harney: Can an employability focus go too far in terms of turning education into a purely vocational endeavor? As an English major and expert in literature and arts, what are your concerns about how steps such as gainful employment guidelines could discourage students from going into such fields and teacher prep, for example?

Weise: That was actually one of the motivations for clarifying the outcomes of liberal arts grads in the labor market. Current views on the liberal arts are often polarizing and oversimplified, and so we wrote “Robot-Ready: Human+ Skills for the Future of Work.” This paper was designed to bring more nuance and rigor to the conversation. Liberal arts graduates are neither doomed to underemployment, nor are they prepared to do anything they want. The liberal arts can give us the agile thinkers of tomorrow, but to live up to their potential, they must evolve. The liberal arts are teaching high-demand skills that can help people transfer from domain to domain, but they do not provide students with enough insight into the pathways available and the practical grounding to acquire before they graduate. In this analysis, we show precisely the kinds of hybrid skills needed in the top 10 pathways that liberal arts grads tend to pursue.

As a quick example, if we have learners considering journalism, they need to know that the roles available now resemble those in IT fields. Not only must journalists report, write or develop stories, but they must also demonstrate metrics-based interpretive skills, fluency in analytics capabilities like search engine optimization (SEO), JavaScript, CSS and HTML, and experience using Google Analytics to better understand who is accessing their content.

A liberal arts education can, in fact, enable learners to learn for a lifetime, but it’s not some magical phenomenon. It takes work, effort and awareness to identify the skills that enable learners to make themselves more marketable and break down barriers to entry.

Harney: What will future workers need to work effectively alongside artificial intelligence?

Weise: The literature on the future of work points us to the more human side of work. The research underscores the growing need for human skills such as flexibility, mental agility, ethics, resilience, systems thinking, communication and critical thinking. The idea is that with the rapid developments in machine learning, robotics and computing, humans will have to relinquish certain activities to computers because there’s simply no way to compete. But things like emotional intelligence or creativity will become increasingly critical for coordinating with computers and robots and ensuring that we are indispensable.

The question then becomes: What are we doing in a deliberate way within our learning experiences—at schools, colleges, companies, government—to cultivate these uniquely human skills? I think we can be doing a whole lot more in terms of building robot-ready learners of the future through project-based learning. It’s nothing new; It occurs in pockets but is not nearly widespread enough. Ultimately, it gets us those nimble thinkers of the future.

Real-world human problem-solving is transdisciplinary by nature, tapping into varied skills and knowledge—and yet, our postsecondary system remains stubbornly stovepiped. Students must learn—and be taught—to connect one domain of knowledge to another through what is known as “far transfer.”

But again, human skills alone are not enough: It’s human+. The world will need more agile and resilient thinkers with a serious handle on various technologies and digital literacies. Those workers will need both human and technical skills. With stronger problem-based models, it’ll be easier for education providers to stay ahead of the curve and build in new and emerging skill sets in data analytics, blockchain, web development or digital marketing that students will need in order to be successful in the job market. The integration of more project-based learning into the classroom would bring more clarity to how human+ skills translate into real-world problem solving and workplace dexterity.


John O. Harney: Atlantis in New England and other topics

Athanasius Kircher   's map of Atlantis, placing it in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, from  Mundus Subterraneus  (1669), published in Amsterdam. The map is oriented with    south at the top   .

Athanasius Kircher's map of Atlantis, placing it in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, from Mundus Subterraneus (1669), published in Amsterdam. The map is oriented with south at the top.

Ruminations from John O. Harney, executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education, a service of The New England Board of Higher Education (

Unvites. I recently enjoyed a fascinating panel discussion on Protesting the Podium: Campus Disinvitations sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center. The panelists were former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, Harvard professor Harvey C. Mansfield, Middlebury College professor Matthew J. Dickinson and Wesleyan University President Michael S. Roth. They all had some kind of run-in with once-again radioactive speech issues on campus … and they were all smart as whips. Dickinson said he prefaces his classes now by telling students they are not in a “safe space,” but rather in a place where issues will be discussed using intellectual debate and that all students must be heard, especially marginalized students. Kerrey, also former president of the New School, worried that amidst the clamor of so much social media, people have to resort to insult to be heard. Roth, who acknowledges a certain “affirmative action” for conservative ideas, noted that students are suspicious of free speech to advance certain agendas, particularly when it is “weaponized” by money and technology.

Diversifying study-abroad. Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) enroll over 25% of all U.S. college students, but accounted for just 11% of all U.S. study-abroad students in the 2016-17 academic year, according to a report by the Center for Minority Serving Institutions and the Council on International Educational Exchange. The report focuses on the obstacles that discourage students from studying abroad, including barriers of cost, culture and curriculum, which may be worse at MSIs. A small step forward: The report highlights the Frederick Douglass Global Fellowship created by the two organizations to cover costs for 10 outstanding MSI students to participate in a four-week study-abroad program focused on intercultural communication and leadership.

Batten down the hatches. The U.S faces more than $400 billion in costs over the next 20 years to defend coastal communities from inevitable sea-level rise, according to a study done by the Center for Climate Integrity in partnership with the engineering firm, Resilient Analytics. The study looked at thousands of miles of coastline to determine areas that are at risk of being at least 15% underwater by 2040 due to rising seas and land-based ice melts. In New England, the study forecast that seawalls needed by 2040 would cost about $19 billion for Massachusetts, $11 billion for Maine, $5 billion for Connecticut, $3 billion for Rhode Island and $1 billion for New Hampshire. What does this have to do with higher ed? Of course, climate change has to do with everything. But more specifically, see NEJHE’s A Modest Proposal to Save the Planet.

Watched pot. Clark University in Worcester, Mass., this fall will launch America’s first Certificate in Regulatory Affairs for Cannabis Control, a three-course online graduate certificate program designed to help professionals, ranging from police to pot vendors, to understand the complications, opportunities and risks associated with the industry. Worcester will also be the future headquarters of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission—and incidentally, the new home of the Pawtucket Red Sox, Exhibit A (along with GE) in the building case of New England’s not-quite team spirit in site planning.

Benefits. A MAVY poll on behalf of the American Institute of CPAs asked “young adult job seekers” to name the employees benefits that would most help them achieve their financial goals. The top choices were: 1) health insurance, 2) paid time off, 3) student loan forgiveness and 4) working remotely. The CPA group played up the high ranking of student loan debt, and indeed, 2020 presidential candidates are energized by the issue. MAVY polls are developed by the University of Florida and partners and focused on millennials. This one defined “young adult job seekers” as millennials who graduated from college in the past 24 months or will graduate in the next 12 months and are currently looking for employment.

John O. Harney is executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education.

John L. Lahey: Make curricula faster, cheaper and better

Quinnipiac University’s Arnold Bernhard Library and clock tower, the focus of main campus quadrangle, in Hamden, Conn. Sleeping Giant Mountain is in the background. The author of this essay is a former president of the university.

Quinnipiac University’s Arnold Bernhard Library and clock tower, the focus of main campus quadrangle, in Hamden, Conn. Sleeping Giant Mountain is in the background. The author of this essay is a former president of the university.

From The New England Journal of Higher Education, a service of The New England Board of Higher Education (

During my 40-plus years working in higher education I have witnessed a remarkable transformation in a wide range of industries – telecommunications, computing, transportation, media, publishing, manufacturing and retailing, to name a few. In almost every case these transformations have resulted in an improved product and/or service that is more responsive to consumer needs, more efficient and effectively produced, and offered at lower and lower cost to the consumer. The most obvious exception to all of these industry transformations is higher education.

Every year for the past 10 years I’ve made it a point to attend a futuristic conference in Silicon Valley having nothing to do with higher education. I was more interested in learning how high-tech Silicon Valley entrepreneurs viewed the world and the culture that attracted and produced these innovators and their startup companies. I was truly amazed at the extent to which these Silicon Valley entrepreneurs believed they were just one algorithm away from radically changing a long-established industry, its product or services, or creating an entirely new one. The mantra for these entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley generally is: faster, cheaper, better.

Using these same standards of faster, cheaper, better, let’s apply them to higher education and the changes that it has witnessed over my 50-plus years dating back to 1964. For starters: The bachelor’s degree that I earned in 1968 took me 120 credit hours, eight semesters, and four years to achieve. The per-credit-hour charge back then was $21. That same degree today costs about $1,200 per credit (both based on private university tuition costs). With respect to “better,” I’m willing to accept that today’s undergraduate education is at least as good as it was when I was a student, although frankly I’m hard-pressed to say that it is significantly better. And with respect to “faster,” the same bachelor’s degree that I earned in 1968 still today takes 120 credit hours, eight semesters, and four years to complete.

In short, the degrees that higher education awards today versus 50 years ago are neither faster nor better and certainly not cheaper. Earning a degree today costs about 57 times more than what it did five decades ago. All of which leads me to an opportunity for efficiency which has largely been overlooked in higher education, namely the curriculum. And the beauty of this opportunity is that it offers the best if not the only hope for higher education to satisfy all three of the Silicon Valley goals of faster, cheaper and better.

Seven years ago, at my urging, Quinnipiac University developed a number of accelerated dual-degree bachelor’s/master’s programs (originally called 3-plus-1 programs). The first one we developed was a bachelor’s in business combined with an MBA. The second was a bachelor’s in communications combined with a master’s degree in communications/journalism. These two combined offerings already existed at Quinnipiac as separate degree programs that required five years or 10 semesters to complete at the cost of five years or 10 semesters of tuition.

Our newly developed accelerated dual-degree programs offered these same two degrees in four years or eight semesters at a cost of four years or eight semesters of tuition. This accelerated program reduced by one full year both the time of completion and the cost of tuition yielding a savings or cost reduction of 20% or approximately $40,000. In addition, shortening the time of completion by one year allowed the graduates of these programs to enter the workforce one year earlier, offsetting the cost even further depending on the salary earned that first year after graduation. For example, a net income from a first-year take-home salary of $60,000 combined with $40,000 in reduced tuition effectively reduces the cost of dual degrees by 50% from $200,000 for the traditional five years of tuition to $100,000 with four years of tuition payments of $160,000 reduced to $100,000 by earning $60,000 net income in the fifth year.

These accelerated dual-degree programs have been expanded to other schools and colleges at Quinnipiac and now include additional 3-plus-1 programs, as well as 3-plus-2 programs and 3-plus-3 programs for dual degrees that traditionally required six or seven years to complete at a cost of six or seven years of tuition.

The common thread for all of these dual-degree programs is that they shorten the traditional amount of time required by one year, reduce the cost of the dual degrees by one year’s tuition and allow the graduate to enter the workforce one year earlier, earning an extra year’s salary. The popularity of these programs has grown such that over 20% of the Quinnipiac freshmen entering in the fall of 2018 were enrolled in one of these dual-degree programs.

The key element in the success of these programs both academically and financially is the curriculum and specifically the elimination of duplication within the curriculum for a bachelor’s and a master’s in the same program, such as business or communication. Most people believe the cost of higher education has gone up dramatically in large part because we are a personnel intensive industry. But I submit that the reason we need so many faculty and other personnel is because the curriculum has expanded and expanded over the years with little effort to eliminate unnecessary duplication of content among many bachelor’s degrees and their corresponding graduate degrees.

To end on a positive note: If we do indeed expand our focus on the curricula and eliminate unnecessary duplication within degree programs, we will not only lower the cost of higher education, but unlike with traditional cost reduction efforts, we will not compromise quality. Reasonable class sizes and full-time faculty-to-student ratios can be maintained for optimal learning. At the same time, more efficient curricula will more effectively engage and challenge today’s students who are far ahead of educators in their desire for all things faster, cheaper, better.

John L. Lahey is president emeritus and professor of logic and philosophy at Quinnipiac University, in Hamden and North Haven, Conn.. He served as president from 1987 to 2018.

Review of the mid-term elections in New England


From The New England Journal of Higher Education, a service of The England Board of Higher Education (

Editor’s Note: New England and the nation have long suffered from an underrepresentation of women and people of color in higher elected offices. In the 2018 midterms, that began to change. Below, Carolyn Morwick, director of government and community relations at NEBHE and former director of the Caucus of New England State Legislatures, takes a state-by-state look at New England elections and some key issues. Also see From the Corner Office: New England Governors Budgets and Turning Points: Reflections on What the Historic 2018 Midterm Elections Could Mean for New England and Electing a Reflection of America. — John O. Harney


Four of Connecticut’s five U.S. House members easily won re-election in their respective districts, while voters in Connecticut’s 5th congressional district elected Jahana Hayes, a 2016 “Teacher of the Year” award recipient to replace Elizabeth Esty who resigned last year. Hayes is the first African-American to represent Connecticut in the U.S. House. A native of Waterbury, she enrolled at Naugatuck Valley Community College, earned her four-year degree at Southern Connecticut State University and eventually her masters’ and advanced degrees from the University of Saint Joseph and University of Bridgeport while working to support her young family.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat, easily won his second six-year term.

Under Connecticut law, there is no term limit on the office of governor. Outgoing Gov. Dannel Malloy was eligible to run for a third term but chose not to. Malloy will be succeeded by Democrat Ned Lamont who edged out Republican Robert Stefanowski by 40,000 votes.

In the Connecticut General Assembly, the balance of power has shifted slightly with House Democrats gaining seats in the November elections. Democrats control the House with a 92-59 margin. In the Senate, Democrats now have a 23-13 majority. House and Senate leaders are in agreement that the agenda for 2019 will likely address paid family medical leave, an increase in the minimum wage and implementing tolls including a proposal by Lamont to impose a toll on out-of-state trucks.

In other election news, William Tong became the first Asian-American elected to serve as attorney general. Tong is a native of Connecticut, born to Chinese immigrant parents. He served in the Connecticut House and was House chair of the Judiciary Committee. He is the first Asian-American elected to a statewide office.

Democrat Shawn Wooden was elected state treasurer. He will replace Denise Napier who served for 20 years in that post. Wooden is a partner in the law firm of Pitney Day and heads the firm’s public pension plan investment practice.

In the Legislature, the Senate re-elected Martin Looney as Senate president and Bob Duff as Senate majority leader, while the House re-elected Rep. Joseph Aresmowicz speaker and Rep. Matthew Ritter as House majority leader. Republicans re-elected Len Fasano the post of Senate minority leader and House Republicans chose Rep. Themis Klarides as House minority leader

Connecticut voters approved two amendments to the state constitution by wide margins. In Connecticut, the only way voters can ask the state to do something is by amending the state constitution. One amendment would create a transportation “lockbox,” which would protect funds for highway and mass transit. The other amendment would protect public lands.


In Maine’s 1st congressional district, Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree easily won re-election with 59% of the vote. In the 2nd congressional district, Jared Golden, also a Democrat, won a very close race. For the first time in Maine, “rank choice voting” determined the outcome of this election, giving the edge to Golden.

So far, Maine is the only state in the U.S. to use rank choice voting. If one candidate receives an outright majority of the votes, he or she wins. Ranked choice voting lets voters rank their choices based on individual preference. First choices are counted, and if no candidate has a majority of the vote, an “instant runoff” occurs in which the candidate with the least support is eliminated. Voters that picked the eliminated candidate as their first choice have their vote counted for their next choice. In a three-person race, the winner is the candidate with the majority of support in the final round of tabulation. In a race with more than three candidates, the process is repeated until one candidate has a majority.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, an Independent, won re-election with 54% of the vote.

Former Attorney General Janet Mills defeated Republican Shawn Moody to become Maine’s first woman governor with 51% of the vote. In addition, Democrats swept both branches of the Maine state Legislature. A record 60 women will now serve in the 151-member House of Representatives.

Lawmakers re-elected Rep. Sara Gideon to a second term as speaker of the House. Rep. Matt Moonen was elected House Majority Leader and Rep. Kathleen Dillingham was elected House Minority Leader. In the Senate, where Democrats now outnumber Republicans 21 to 14, Troy Jackson was elected Senate president with Sen. Nate Libby chosen to be majority leader. Sen. Dana Dow was elected to be Senate minority leader.

With a new Democratic governor in place, Jackson and Gideon are optimistic about bipartisan support for rural broadband network initiatives, finding ways to allow local communities to pursue a local option sales tax and increasing ways to work together on the opioid crisis. Jackson is interested in addressing student debt reform by establishing incentives for out-of-state students to attend one of Maine’s public higher education institutions. Students would receive student debt relief by staying in Maine and becoming part of Maine’s workforce.

Jackson would also like to see a Medicaid buy-in option to provide low-income Mainers with access to affordable health care. He also wants to build a prescription drug importation plan to give Mainers and local pharmacies the ability to purchase

Among ballot questions, Maine voters defeated a question to adopt payroll and non-wage income taxes for home care program initiative.

Voters passed a wastewater infrastructure bond issue for $30 million general obligation bonds, a transportation bond issue for $106 million in general obligation bonds, a University of Maine System bond issue for $49 million in general obligation bonds for construction and remodeling of existing and new facilities within the University of Maine System, and a Maine Community College System bond issue for $15 million renovation and expansion of instructional laboratories, information technology infrastructure, and heating and ventilating systems at Maine’s seven community colleges.


While all members of the Massachusetts delegation to the U.S. House easily won re-election, the big news was the election of the first African-American from Massachusetts to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the September primary election, Ayanna Pressley, a Democrat and former member of the Boston City Council, defeated long-time Democratic Congressman Michael Capuano of Somerville. Next year will be the first time that Massachusetts will send three women to the U.S. House of Representatives.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, cruised to a big win with 60% of the vote, defeating Republican state Rep. Geoff Diehl. Warren also declared herself a candidate for the 2020 presidential election, along with another New Englander, Independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Voters gave Gov. Charlie Baker the nod for a second term by a margin of 67% in defeating his Democratic challenger, Jay Gonzalez, former secretary of administration and finance to former Gov. Deval Patrick.

The Massachusetts Legislature continues to have a supermajority with Democrats in control. Women made some gains in the midterm elections and hold 29% or 57 of the 200 seats in the House and Senate. Prior to the November election, members of the Massachusetts state Senate elected Democratic Sen. Karen Spilka to be Senate president. Robert DeLeo was re-elected House speaker.

Massachusetts voters defeated a question to change patient-to-nurse limits. Voters approved a question establishing a 15-member citizens’ commission to advocate for certain amendments to the U.S. Constitution regarding political spending and corporate personhood and approved a question prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in public places.

New Hampshire

In New Hampshire’s 2nd congressional district, Rep. Annie Kuster easily won re-election for a fourth term with 55% of the vote. In the 1st congressional district, voters elected their first LGBTQ representative, Democrat Christopher Pappas, who beat Republican Eddie Edwards 54% to 45%. Pappas replaces Carol Shea Porter who decided not to seek re-election. He formerly served three terms as an executive councilor.

Despite the strong showing of Democrats in down-ballot races, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu was easily re-elected for a second term, besting state Sen. Molly Kelly, 52% to 45%.

In addition to the Blue wave that upended the majority in both the House and Senate, the race that generated the most interest was the election of secretary of state. Bill Gardner eventually won his 22nd term in office by just four votes. Both Gardner and his opponent, Colin Van Ostern, are Democrats. Van Ostern, a former gubernatorial candidate, ran a campaign based on modernizing the Secretary of State’s Office. The nation’s longest secretary of state, Gardner will begin his 42nd year overseeing New Hampshire elections.

Democrats swept out Republicans in the House and Senate. Democrats hold a 233 to 167 majority. Rep. Steve Shurtleff was elected to be the new speaker. Rep. Douglas Ley is the new house majority leader and Rep. Dick Hinch is the new house minority leader. In the Senate where Democrats now have a 14-10 majority, Sen. Donna Soucy was chosen to be the new Senate president. Sen. Dan Feltes was elected Senate majority leader and former Senate President Chuck Morse was chosen as the new Senate minority leader.

Shurtleff’s top priority as speaker is the opioid crisis. His other priorities include aid for school construction, preventing downshifting to local property taxpayers and strengthening the state’s mental health system. He also says he wants to work with the governor on passing a paid family medical leave bill.

Senate President Soucy’s priorities are part of her “Opportunity Agenda” which includes property tax relief, mental health, behavioral health, the opioid crisis and making sure people have the skills they need. She also mentioned a state version of pre-existing conditions, a new bill for paid family leave and a Senate redistricting bill.

New Hampshire voters approved a question, authorizing residents to sue their state, county or local governments, including their school boards, and another authorizing individuals to live free from governmental intrusion regarding private or personal information.

Rhode Island.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse won a third term, beating back a challenge from Republican Robert Flanders. Both Democratic congressmen, David Cicilline and James Langevin, won their re-election bids. Cicilline holds among the highest positions on the Democrats leadership team.

Gov. Gina Raimondo easily won re-election with a decisive 53% of the vote. She beat her opponent Cranston Mayor Alan Fung for the second time with a well-organized get-out-the- vote effort. She is also the new chair of the Democratic Governors Association for 2019. Her leadership was key in establishing tuition-free access at Rhode Island Community College.

In the Rhode Island General Assembly, Democrats picked up four more seats in the House while the Senate essentially stayed the same. Speaker Nicholas Mattiello was re-elected speaker and Sen. Dominick Ruggerio was re-elected as Senate president. Peter Neronha, a former U.S. attorney in Rhode Island, is the new attorney general.

Rhode Island voters approved a school buildings bond measure.


The state’s sole member of Congress, U.S. Democratic Rep. Peter Welch, also coasted to victory. Independent U.S. Sen. Sanders easily won re-election for another six-year year term.

In the race for governor, Phil Scott earned a second term, beating Democratic challenger Christine Halquist, who became the first transgender woman to win the primary.

Despite Scott’s win, Republicans in the Vermont General Assembly took a big hit. They lost 10 seats in the House and, as a result, lost their ability to uphold the governor’s veto. Republicans now have 43 seats in the House, while Democrats and Progressives hold 102 seats. In the Senate where Democrats and Progressives already held a big majority, they now hold 24 of the 30 seats.

The veto-proof majorities of Democrats and Progressives in both branches bode well for their legislative agenda, which includes paid family medical leave, a $15 minimum wage and funding for clean-water projects. Up for debate will be forced mergers in Vermont’s school districts and a pro-choice amendment to the state constitution and establishing a state cannabis market.

Diana Senechal: A review of 'On Liberty' in today’s context

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).

From The New England Journal of Higher Education, a service of the New England Board of Higher Education (

When teaching political philosophy to high school juniors in New York City, I would spend evening hours pondering John Stuart Mill’s treatise On Liberty, asking myself how to help students through the difficult syntax and even more difficult ideas. Often, students would say at the outset that they agreed with Mill, but when I pressed them further, I found more differences of thought. Indeed, the principles of liberty that Mill articulates—first, that all opinions have a place in public discussion, and second, that people should be allowed to live as they wish, as long as they do not impinge on others’ rights—are so far from general acceptance today that liberty itself, or at least Mill’s conception of it, remains a distant aspiration. Building it would require not only great dedication but also fear of the alternatives.

We eagerly shut out certain opinions, if only because we believe they have been disproven; we likewise take offense at others’ “wrong” words, movements and gestures. Both the political left and the political right seek out the like-minded and disparage the others. Many of those involved in identity politics—particularly but not only on the left—insist that people do damage not only through overt action, but through microagressions and implicit bias: that they hurt others through tiny gestures, slips of tongue and even hidden thoughts. On the right, conspiracy theories have taken hold, thanks in great part to the ravings of President Trump: for example, the media are full of lies, George Soros has been paying political protesters, and Jews are aiding immigrants who will destroy the white race. On the personal level, public online shaming, even for trivial offenses or private matters, has become quotidian.

But what did Mill say, and why is it difficult? Recognizing the pitfalls of reducing his ideas, I will focus here on two sentences, one about liberty of expression and the other about individuality.

In the second chapter of On Liberty, Mill sets forth a prickly proposition: “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” He goes on to explain that we can learn from an opinion whether it is right or wrong; if it is right, then we benefit from its truth; if wrong, we come to understand why. But who embraces this idea today? Most of us consider certain opinions a waste of time, if not a threat to humanity. Must we really deal with climate-change deniers, white supremacists, flat-Earthers? Should we not focus on ideas worth considering? Perhaps Mill did not mean this; perhaps he did not foresee such profusion of baseless notions. Yet it is also possible that Mill’s proposition must be taken in its sheer difficulty: that its implementation requires conscience, vigilance and searching.

When it comes to individual freedom, Mill takes an even more provocative stance. After conceding that people should not make themselves a nuisance to others, Mill continues, “But if he refrains from molesting others in what concerns them, and merely acts according to his own inclination and judgment in things which concern himself, the same reasons which show that opinion should be free, prove also that he should be allowed, without molestation, to carry his opinions into practice at his own cost.” Anything short of this, according to Mill, would result in imitation; to have a free mind, one must be able to choose how to live. He goes on to examine the “despotism of Custom”—so strong and overarching, in his view, that liberty is in peril.

Individual liberty is in even greater danger today than in Mill’s time, since people now display their lives online for social approval and censure. It takes discipline and strength of character to keep something to yourself; instead, people continually test the digital waters and adjust their images and lives accordingly. Sometimes online judgments are brutal; a nasty personal comment, made on a Facebook page or comment section, can hurt more than words spoken in person—because it does not go away, because it grows in the imagination, and because it brings humiliation. It takes little effort to ridicule someone online, and for what? Usually for things that the perpetrator has not bothered to understand. People judge each other not for who they are, but for their tokens of social approval, which are imitative and coercive by nature. Gone is the respect for the unknown.

What would it take to reclaim and strengthen liberty as a principle of American life? One must recognize, first of all, the consequences of not doing so. Without liberty and the willingness to strive for it, America has no more reason for existence other than sheer physical survival; the same can be said for other democratic nations. Survival itself would be at risk; without counterbalance and self-questioning, extremist views would harden, and hate rallies and mass shootings would increase. Second, to defend liberty, one would have to recognize its difficulty—which is perhaps Mill’s underlying point. Liberty does not come glibly; it often goes against what we consider necessary or right. It has complications, inconveniences and open questions. Where is the line between private and public life, between opinion and action? How can we listen to all opinions without getting bogged in redundancy? These questions have no final, definite answers; they must be taken up again and again. To reclaim liberty, then, we must wrestle with questions, in our personal lives, writings, schools, political structures and online forums. Finally, while taking personal responsibility for liberty, while building it into our lives, we must come together to elect leaders who support and exemplify this work.

Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2011) and Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018) as well as numerous articles. She teaches English, American civilization and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, in Szolnok, Hungary.

Bruce Mallory/Quixada Moore-Vissing/Michele Holt-Shannon: Fueling civic engagement in N.H. through listening

1938 first edition cover from the Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the classic play set in a small New Hampshire town, perhaps based on Peterboro.

1938 first edition cover from the Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the classic play set in a small New Hampshire town, perhaps based on Peterboro.

From The New England Journal of Higher Education, a service of the New England Board of Higher Education (

New Hampshire is known not only for its rugged mountains, rocky 19-mile shoreline, one of the largest legislative bodies in the world and its in-your-face Live Free or Die license plate motto. It is also home to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, the Free State Movement, more voters who register as “unaffiliated” (independent) than either Republican or Democrat, one of the highest income and educational attainment levels in the country, one of the lowest child poverty rates, the second-highest opioid overdose death rate, and in recent years, the fastest growing rate of income inequality, according to federal data.

New Hampshire is one of five states with a median age greater than 42. The rate of population growth among immigrants matched the U.S. average of 9% from 2010 to 2016, according to a Migration Policy Institute analysis of U.S. census data. If New Hampshire had an official state dinosaur, it would be Barney, reflecting the purple nature of our political culture. We currently have a solidly Democratic Congressional delegation and a solidly Republican Legislature and governor. With no sales or income tax and 234 discrete municipal entities, New Hampshire is a highly decentralized state with a long tradition of local control, reliance on local property taxes to fund public services and suspicion of those who are “from away.”

As we have reported in the Civic Health Index, the state ranks relatively high in civic participation, although patterns of inequity are evident with respect to gender, social class, educational level and age. The tradition of annual town meetings to set municipal and school district budgets continues in smaller communities, but the number of residents who attend and the participatory nature of the meetings have declined significantly in recent years thanks to their increasingly contentious nature and changes in state laws that have incentivized written balloting over deliberation and voice votes.

In short, New Hampshire is a place of both traditions and contradictions. Though historically New Hampshire’s demographics have been primarily white, the state is becoming increasingly diverse with respect to racial and ethnic identities.

There are communities with significant wealth adjacent to towns with widespread poverty and devastating rates of addiction. As a report from the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies described it, there are increasingly “two New Hampshires,” one made up of rural communities with scarce public infrastructure, aging populations and shrinking employment opportunities, and one comprising more densely populated areas characterized as more diverse, metropolitan, economically vibrant and attractive to millennials and their young families.

About New Hampshire Listens

These distinctions and contradictions have provided fertile ground for New Hampshire Listens, which we founded in 2009 in response to the growing polarization of political and civic discourse, the severe economic challenges of the Great Recession that were causing disruption and strife in many communities across the state, and a growing consensus among community leaders and activists that new approaches to community problem-solving were sorely needed. Inspired by the success of Portsmouth Listens, our predecessor and prototype established in 1998, the mission of NH Listens is to help people talk and act together to create communities that work for everyone.

New Hampshire Listens is a civic-engagement program within the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy, but derives its funding primarily through grants or contracts with organizations and municipalities in exchange for engagement support. Since 2010, we have hosted conversations in more than 85 towns and cities, engaging some 4,500 New Hampshire residents in small groups for facilitated dialogue on a wide range of issues (including land use, community-police relations, public school reform, youth engagement and substance-use disorders, as well as other topics).

We support a growing group of Local Listens affiliate organizations led by community leaders in diverse locations across the state. Local Listens affiliates are locally run public engagement groups that are independent of NH Listens but commit to following our core principles, which include bringing people together from all walks of life; providing time for in-depth, informed conversations; respecting differences as well as seeking common ground; and achieving outcomes that lead to informed community solutions. Local Listens groups work within their communities to address regional and statewide challenges and create their own public engagement approaches or draw from NH Listens open-source online tools and templates.

NH Listens is “issue agnostic” and committed to impartial facilitation as a third-party convener whose role is to help others have productive, civil and inclusive conversations. NH Listens collects data on key research interests in the participatory democracy field reflected by our three main goals: engaged and equitable communities, increased participation in public life (especially for those who have historically been disenfranchised), and improved community problem-solving.

As a civic-engagement resource located in a university, we also work with students and faculty through on-campus dialogue to address such complex issues as free speech, gender and racial discrimination, behavioral health, postsecondary admissions policies and the challenge of affordability. For example, in the 2017-18 academic year, we designed and conducted a series of dialogues for the faculty and staff of the College of Health and Human Services at the University of New Hampshire focused on creating an equitable and just community, in classrooms, department offices, internship sites and research centers. We are now partnering with the Department of Communication’s Civil Discourse Lab to support undergraduate curriculum and train students in facilitation for public conversations. For the past several years, we have worked closely with the associate vice president for community, equity, and diversity to design campus-wide dialogues around inclusion and equity, both as a proactive strategy and in response to specific incidents of identity-based harassment or threat.

Conceptual frameworks and core values

We have been inspired by two particular frameworks articulated by colleagues at Harvard’s Kennedy School and MIT’s School of Urban Studies and Planning. Archon Fung, dean of the Kennedy School, in his 2015 article on rationales for increased participation in governance, emphasized the importance of legitimacy, effectiveness and social justice. Fung argues that, “the strongest driver of participatory innovations has been the quest to enhance legitimacy. The hope is that such innovations can increase legitimacy by injecting forms of direct citizen participation into the policymaking process because such participation elevates perspectives that are more closely aligned with those of the general public and because that participation offsets democratic failures in the conventional representative policymaking process.”

Likewise, effectiveness is enhanced when more, and more diverse, voices are engaged in the processes of community problem-solving. Fung claims that, “By reorganizing themselves to incorporate greater citizen participation, public agencies can increase their effectiveness by drawing on more information and the distinctive capabilities and resources of citizens.” Finally, social justice aims are approximated, “when participatory governance reforms successfully incorporate people or views that were previously excluded, [thus increasing] equality by enabling them to advocate more effectively for goods and services, rights, status, and authority.”

NH Listens has increasingly placed equity at the center of our design strategies and community organizing as we work with local and state leaders on specific initiatives. We cultivate approaches to racially equitable engagement in partnership with Everyday Democracy, based in Hartford, Conn. Everyday Democracy works nationally to conduct dialogue and engagement with an explicit “racial equity lens” that acknowledges how effective community policy and practice must pay careful attention to the ways in which historic and contemporary racism affect decisions, and to design engagement to ensure people of color have voice and power at the decision-making table. As New Hampshire has seen increased income inequality and become more ethnically and racially diverse, we have explicitly emphasized the value of racial equity in our work.

To this end, we have established a statewide network of “NH Listens Fellows” who have expanded the range of social identities, geographic representation and expert capacities of our staff. These Fellows work on specific projects depending on topic, availability and funding sources. We have also partnered with the Endowment for Health in New Hampshire, a foundation concerned with health and health disparities, over the past several years to offer intensive workshops for leaders across the state and across sectors who are in positions to create more equitable and inclusive communities and organizations. Understanding their own identities, the effects of implicit bias and structural racism, and their responsibilities and opportunities as leaders who hold power and privilege is at the core of this ongoing effort.

The second framework that affirms our commitments to more equitable and robust civic engagement comes from Ceasar McDowell at the Civic Design Lab at MIT. McDowell identifies six types of “conversations essential for democracy.” These include:

1. Framing, or creating a shared understanding among stakeholders of the definition and elements of the problems or challenges to be addressed;

2. Ideation, or the generation of possible solutions to those challenges;

3. Prioritizing, in which value choices are deliberated and weighed;

4. Selecting, which requires finding some common ground among participants to agree on a path forward;

5. Implementing, when talk becomes action and participants work with decision-makers and those in authority to put recommendations in place; and

6. Monitoring, to be sure that those who are implementing the outcomes of engagement processes are held accountable.

We have found that these essential elements mirror the arc of the engagement and public conversation processes developed by NH Listens over the years. The majority of effort we put into achieving our mission looks more like community organizing and mobilizing than face-to-face deliberation per se. Bringing people together for meaningful and inclusive deliberation requires intensive work with community partners over time. From the first conversation with potential partners, our purpose is to facilitate, not prescribe, possible solutions or ultimate selection of a path forward. We bring an array of tools; community partners select the ones that make the most sense for their specific circumstances. In the past few years, we have increased attention to coalition-building among diverse local partners and organizations as a necessary condition for meaningful and effective engagement. We have found that it is especially important for a third-party convener to support coalition-building processes in order to avoid territorial and competitive behavior that often is associated with well-meaning efforts led by an existing community organization or municipal entity.

All this is not meant to imply that we are neutral about our work. Being impartial about means and ends is not the same as being neutral about the essence of engagement and deliberation. We are deeply committed to democratic practices that include all voices and amplify those that have been traditionally ignored or suppressed. It is not unusual for local organizers to overlook the importance of bringing diverse and previously disenfranchised voices to the table, not due to willful neglect but more often due to a lack of experience and a certain degree of myopia when it comes to taking seriously the views and experiences of those with whom they are unfamiliar.

NH Listens / Concord

We have found that democratic practices that emphasize equity in both input and outcomes lead to more legitimate and effective solutions for everyone. For example, beginning in 2018, NH Listens has been working with a city in the northern reaches of the state (“north of the notches”) to support broad community engagement regarding the future of the community’s public schools. The district is fast approaching a significant funding crisis, as enrollments decline (typical of economically challenged rural communities) and the state’s education appropriations continue to decline.

The situation strikes several deep nerves related to community identity, local taxes, educating and retaining the next generation, and core values rooted in the past and present as well as hopes for the future. It is imperative that all voices be heard in the engagement processes being used to find a path forward. Elderly people on fixed incomes, employers, students and their parents, educators, newcomers as well as multi-generation residents, those with low incomes as well as the wealthy all have a stake in the conversation and its outcomes. On the output side, solutions will need to address the needs and interests of all stakeholders, especially those residents who depend most on public education to open doors to greater economic and social opportunity.

As impartial conveners, we must set aside our own biases about preferred solutions and work to be sure that all voices are heard, especially those that have historically been silenced because of weak economic power or low social standing. And we must work to frame the conversations in collaboration with our local partners to ensure that recommendations for action take into consideration the needs of all members of the community.

Is NH Listens making a difference?

Skeptics could point out that the degree of polarization and uncivil discourse in New Hampshire (like other places) has only increased since we began nine years ago. Incidents of racial harassment among both youth and adults have increased, particularly since November 2016. We have witnessed a significant increase in requests from schools and communities for assistance in organizing difficult conversations about race and racism over the past two years. According to a recent report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, New Hampshire’s opioid crisis has gotten worse, with overdose deaths tripling from 2013 to 2016. Public schools in smaller cities and many rural communities face constant threats to their fiscal survival as property tax payers fight over teacher contracts and addressing capital expenses.

At the same time, in a range of efforts we have supported, we can document qualitative improvements in the willingness of community leaders to take on the most pressing challenges, including: the need to provide affordable and safe housing; the critical importance of engaging youth in ways that make them feel respected and valued; the benefits of providing accessible and high-quality early education to all young children; the need to strengthen collaborations among schools, families and community leaders; and the urgency of ensuring respectful relationships between local police forces and everyday citizens, especially youth, residents of color and New Americans. These are examples of topics we have worked on at the local, regional, and state level in recent years. In each case, we have seen that carefully framed and facilitated inclusive deliberation can lead to changes in practice and policy.

In the community of Pittsfield, N.H., NH Listens worked with the school and community to create a series of dialogues about school improvement. Pittsfield had been ranked one of the lowest-performing schools in the state in 2010, and there was low community pride and disengagement about its schools. In 2011, NH Listens trained local facilitators who then engaged over 100 Pittsfield stakeholders, including students, parents, community members, teachers, school administrators, municipal and business leaders about how we can make Pittsfield a better place for everyone to live, learn, work and play. From these community conversations and other engagement activities, school leaders compiled recommendations for school change into a grant application to the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, and Pittsfield was awarded $2 million to undergo a shift toward student-centered learning.

What resulted were school policy changes such as restorative justice as a disciplinary measure, a formal school-funded position of “school-community liaison,” who works to connect the schools and the community, and a new middle and high school governance body that works to shape school policy alongside the school board. There were also measurable shifts within the community. The Pittsfield Youth Workshop, an afterschool drop-in center for local youth, created a program called Pittsfield Listens, which was an affiliate of NH Listens and committed specifically to engaging youth, parents, community members about education and youth issues in Pittsfield.

Pittsfield Listens established a civic-education series to inform community members about how to use local government structures such as the school board and town select board, and worked with the Chamber of Commerce to encourage candidates running for local office to engage in small group dialogue with community members about their stance on issues in Pittsfield, rather than delivering their stump speeches on a microphone at the community. Pittsfield has recently been written about by the Atlantic and other news outlets of a national model of school transformation. The U.S. Department of Education sent staff to Pittsfield to observe its success and the NH Education commissioner and governor also paid visits to learn from the Pittsfield schools. What Pittsfield exemplifies is that when communities and institutions are willing to dive into deep, deliberative engagement processes, such processes can stimulate community change at multiple levels.

Such changes in practice and policy typically reflect the common ground that emerges when people come together to solve the problems they face. When community members use deliberative tools to explore values, data and alternative pathways, solutions are generated that reflect concrete needs and circumstances, not ideological positions or the influence of special interests. These findings corroborate the emerging national conversation advanced by James and Deborah Fallows in Our Towns and the concept of Constitutional localism described recently by Mike Hais, Doug Ross and Morley Winograd in Healing American Democracy: Going Local, and advanced by Thomas Friedman, David Brooks and others on both the right and left who see that bottom-up approaches are critical at a time when faith in top-down solutions has gone missing.

We also have seen that the call for civic and civil engagement through deliberative democratic processes is being advanced by leaders in New Hampshire who are aligned with philanthropic, nonprofit, corporate and government sectors. Through participation in various NH Listens initiatives, these leaders are more likely to prioritize civil discourse, strengthened civic infrastructure and the enfranchisement of those whose voices have often not been heard. We don’t take credit for these shifts, but we do know that when everyday citizens, stakeholders and local and state leaders together experience authentic and sustained dialogue, they consistently ask for more opportunities such as those we design and regularly cite the value of this approach to strengthening public life.

Looking to the future

Given the nature of our mission, NH Listens is more responsive than proactive in deciding what community challenges to address. We do not decide what is ailing communities nor what communities need in order to do better by way of public life. We help communities respond to the challenges they identify and define. In that sense, it is not easy to predict which issues or topics we might engage with in the coming years. However, we can see some constant threads that are likely to run through the work in the future.

We place value in youth and schools for several key reasons. Other than public libraries, public schools are one of the few open public spaces in many communities, particularly in the more rural locations our state. It is critically important to all communities, and to the preservation of democracy in general, for youth and young adults to feel they belong and that their voices count. Efforts to support youth and young adult engagement as volunteers, members of governance boards, voters and leaders will be core to the work of deliberation and community development. Second, public schools are very likely to continue to be contested spaces, whether the issue is what should be taught, how it should be taught, who should teach, what kinds of facilities are needed and how (and how much) to pay for public education. We expect to be active in helping schools and their communities form effective, close partnerships for the foreseeable future. Much of this work will be about weighing the need for expert judgment on the part of educators with the values and priorities of everyday citizens who have the biggest stake in what their children learn and how they learn it.

There is interest in taking the NH Listens experience to neighboring states. We are now exploring what that could look like with colleagues in Maine and Vermont and perhaps the wider New England region. Each New England state is certainly unique in its culture and politics; for instance, as Harvard sociologists Kaufman and Kaliner argue in their 2011 Theory and Society article, New Hampshire’s low taxation and small government has attracted hunters, fishers, Boston commuters and motorcyclists, whereas Vermont’s progressive experimental colleges have impacted its left-leaning political activism ethos. Since the NH Listens approach encourages listening to communities and responding to the issues communities identify, such flexibility could be helpful in cultivating engagement networks in other New England states. However, marked similarities across northern New England (decentralized governance, changing demographics, economic struggles, predominantly rural population patterns, uneven access to infrastructure) suggest that the lessons we have learned in New Hampshire would be useful to others in similar contexts. Concerns about youth, public education, substance-use disorders, housing, economic dislocation, welcoming immigrants and transportation, for example, are shared across the region. Authentic and inclusive engagement emphasizing participatory democratic practices can be one way to address these concerns.

Finally, we expect that the need for continued attention to racial, social and political equity will be at the heart of our work. Inequality in income and opportunity are likely to increase in the years ahead, fueling the polarization, fear and resentment that has grown in recent years. We believe that face-to-face conversations that are locally framed and focused on finding a pragmatic common ground will be key to creating communities that work for everyone. Civic engagement practices that reflect local values and democratic ideals will be an important part of both healing past wounds and designing more inclusive futures. The answers lie within us and our communities. We just have to ask the right questions and be willing to have the courageous conversations necessary to find our way forward.

Bruce Mallory is professor emeritus, former provost/executive vice president of UNH and co-founder of NH Listens. He is currently senior adviser to NH Listens. Quixada Moore-Vissing is project manager, Everyday Democracy and NH Listens Fellow. Michele Holt-Shannon is co-founder and director of NH Listens.

Tradition and transformation in N.E., higher education

Lake Winnipesaukee, from the top of Mt. Major.

Lake Winnipesaukee, from the top of Mt. Major.

From the New England Board of Higher Education (

NEBHE convened its Annual Fall Board Meeting near Lake Winnipesaukee, in New Hampshire, in September on the overarching themes of “Tradition, Transition and Transformation: Sustaining New England’s Higher Education Industry and Advantage.”

Over two days, NEBHE delegates explored the impact of changing demography, declining enrollments and opportunities for “demand cultivation” and strategies to sustain higher education’s financial sustainability in the region.

NEBHE has examined these issues in recent years as part of its Higher Education Innovation Challenge (HEIC). These challenges continue to come into sharper focus, as state and federal investment in higher education lags, public perceptions of higher ed change, and enrollment projections increase the focus at many higher education institutions on financial sustainability and new ways of doing business. Many institutions are considering opportunities with new student segments, including adults, and international students (the latter made more challenging by the current climate of global politics and immigration). Other institutions are exploring new program models such as shortened time to degrees, badges and other credentials.

At Winnipesaukee, delegates focused on opportunity. They charged NEBHE with supporting regional efforts to provide data on nontraditional, underserved, immigrant, adult students in New England, and developing a clearinghouse of best practices and policies to drive enrollment and completion. They called on NEBHE to develop strategies to engage with PK-12, including career and technical education, to reduce barriers to matriculation, specifically in urban and rural areas via early college, dual enrollment and college readiness initiatives. NEBHE delegates also urged examining the return on investment (ROI) of postsecondary credentials to adult students and the institutions serving them.

NEBHE staff developed various short documents to inform the board's discussion, including "Projecting Higher Education Supply and Demand." This report examines the projected decline in high school graduates and its impact on higher education enrollment.

During a session focused on "Policy, Regulation and Accreditation," attendees spoke of pursuing shared marketing and recruitment strategies to support growth in demand and participation in postsecondary education in the region. Among the favored options: expanded use of credit for prior learning to bolster student markets and improved transfer of prior credits and other credentials. Delegates also endorsed engaging employers and policymakers to review student debt forgiveness policies and expanding targeted student aid programs (and 529 plans) to retain college-going students who are currently being tempted away from New England by less expensive institutions, especially in the South.

Other key recommendations that emerged from the discussions included: increase the minimum wage (which one presenter noted as the past year's most important policy move enhancing college-going and completion for working learners) and explore paid work and internship options for adult students.

The NEBHE delegates also urged development of new models of cost savings across institutions and sectors, including Open Education Resources (OER) and additional strategic alliances to support the shared provision of academic and other activities among multiple institutions.

NEBHE delegates continued their review of a “Call to Action,” which cites the need for new models to address challenges and opportunities facing the New England higher education sector. After a productive group drafting process, delegates agreed to revisit such a communique for sharing with stakeholders in education, business, policy and other relevant sectors.

A meeting of NEBHE's Legislative Advisory Committee (LAC) focused on higher education cost drivers, as well as issues ranging from funding early childhood education to addressing teacher shortages to free college plans to ensuring civility in the halls of government in an age of term limits.

NEBHE also took the opportunity to present Excellence Awards to former New Hampshire Director of Higher Education and University System of New Hampshire (USNH) Chancellor Edward MacKay and Nashua Community College President Lucille Jordan. MacKay and Jordan were joined by a large group of invited guests, including a notable number of presidents and leaders of New Hampshire’s public and independent higher education institutions.

John O. Harney: Some interesting New England facts and figures


From The New England Board of Higher Education ( as compiled by its executive editor, John O. Harney:

“From time to time, we revive the collection of facts and figures called ‘Data Connection’ that we had published quarterly for nearly 20 years in the print editions of The New England Journal of Higher Education (formerly Connection).

The latest ...

Inflation-adjusted increase in household incomes for the bottom quarter of Maine workers between 2016 and 2017 after the state's voter-approved minimum wage increase: 10%, according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

Reduction in number of Maine children living in poverty between 2016 and 2017 after the minimum wage increase: 10,000 according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

Percentage of respondents to the University of New Hampshire Carsey School of Public Policy's Upper Valley Child Care Survey who reported that child care is necessary in order for them to work: 96%. (The Upper {Connecticut River} Valley includes Orange and Windsor Counties in Vermont and Grafton and Sullivan Counties in New Hampshire.)

Number of children under age 5 in the Upper Valley Census who live in fully employed families (two working parents if they live with two and one working parent if they live with one): 7,300, according to the Carsey School of Public Policy.

Number of licensed slots available for children in this age group: 4,995, according to the Carsey School of Public Policy.

Number of reported hate crimes per 100,000 people in 2016 in Massachusetts: 5.9. (Data reported to the FBI from agencies—reportedly the highest rate of any state, but also drawn from more agencies than some states, including 70 communities, several colleges and the MBTA.)

U.S. ranks of Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut among "healthiest" U.S. states, according to United Health Foundation: 1, 3, 5 America's Health Rankings, according to the United Health Foundation.

U.S. rank of South Burlington. Vt., among WalletHub's 2018’s Best & Worst Cities for People with Disabilities, based on 31 indicators of disability-friendliness, ranging from wheelchair-accessible facilities per capita to rate of workers with disabilities to quality of public hospital system: 2 ,according to WalletHub

U.S. rank of New Haven, Conn.: 182, according to WalletHub.

Kathleen A. D'Alessio/Dorothy A. Osterholt: Teaching self-advocacy to students with learning disabilities


From the New England Board of Higher Education (


Over the past year, an increasing number of students have come forward to speak out against school violence. And there has been increased attention placed on helping students seeking support if an incident occurs and exercising their right to speak out against those who may perpetuate such behaviors. With high-profile cases of sexual assault, such as Brock Turner from Stanford University in 2015 and Brandon Vandenburg of Vanderbilt University in 2016, students are awakening to the existing inequities. The student response to these cases was swift and loud. Advocating for changes in attitudes and policies, the students invigorated the public to take notice and colleges and universities to institute changes.

The skill of self-advocacy is not only useful for supporting changes that students want to see in their institutions and beyond: It may be the most important foundational skill behind success in college. In general, students who thrive in college do so as they mature and find their place on campus. It can seem like a natural process for an emerging adult as they grow intellectually. But this is not the experience of all college students. By looking at the experiences of students who are struggling in college, we can have a better understanding of the importance of self-advocacy and its impact on the college experience.

The struggling student

Landmark College is designed for students who learn differently, including students with learning disabilities (such as dyslexia), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and autism spectrum disorder. These students are no strangers to the term “self-advocacy.” From the time they are in high school until they reach college, they have heard the term in various settings. Defining self-advocacy includes getting what one needs in an educational setting, as well as, understanding one’s diagnosis, knowing the legislation surrounding individuals with learning disabilities, requesting appropriate accommodations, providing documentation and knowing how to take effective action if difficulties arise. In other words, it means being able to work within a system, knowing how and when it is necessary to challenge that system, while demonstrating independence. Students with learning disabilities still get derailed by obstacles as a manifestation of their own learning difference, or by commonly perceived opinions of others regarding disabilities.

We assert that students with learning differences need direct instruction individualized to their learning to educate them regarding their strengths, challenges and effective learning strategies. Even when practiced in a postsecondary environment of inclusivity, accessibility, approachability and collaboration, students who learn differently struggle with self-advocacy. Landmark College has designed support that addresses the unique needs of these students through the explicit teaching the skill of self-advocacy and the various settings in which self-advocacy is taught. What we have learned may help other colleges that are grappling with the inherent challenges of their diverse student population.

Success attributes linked to self-advocacy

As any professional would attest, the goal of self-advocacy for students who learn differently is to help them become successful adults and to transition to adulthood with the skills necessary to navigate their chosen career. A firm understanding of success attributes is a starting point for working with students.

In the 1990s, Paul J. Gerber, Henry B. Reiff and Rick Ginsberg conducted interviews with successful high-achieving adults with learning disabilities. Seven attributes for success were gleaned from this study. These seven attributes are interactive in nature; and they work best when they are supported by one another.

1) Desire: having a supportive system to help with motivation.

2) Goal orientation: being able to manage one’s time, to stay organized and to establish study routines.

3) Reframing: changing one’s perception of oneself and emphasizing positive traits.

4) Persistence: coping with failure and starting over in order to succeed.

5) Goodness of fit: maximizing strengths and minimizing weaknesses, and aligning these characteristics with choosing classes, a job or a career.

6) Learned creativity: finding creative ways to overcome challenges.

7) Positive social network: having a support system of family, friends, significant others or coworkers. This foundational work can help inform how colleges provide support for this group of students.

Landmark’s approach

Well before self-advocacy became a staple of freshmen orientation programs for students with learning disabilities who are entering into college, Charles Drake, founder of Landmark College in Putney, Vt., framed the concept in 1985 using the simple verbiage: “Don’t do for the student what the student can do for him/herself.”

At the core of Landmark’s philosophy is the belief that each student will be able to become their own strong self-advocate given the proper tools. Learning how to self-advocate permeates every aspect of the student’s program. It begins with explicit instruction in a student’s first year and is reinforced throughout the student’s time at the college.

Beginning with self-understanding, students are given ample time and frequent opportunities to practice self-reflection. The college’s student-centered approach to teaching enables students to access professors and advisors. Self-understanding begins with an individual being able to know what their diagnosis is, but more importantly what the implications are for education and career choices. This includes an understanding of one’s strengths, the knowledge of accommodations that may be needed, and the ability to self-appraise and adjust one’s behavior when necessary.

The college has defined self-advocacy skills as the student’s ability to not only understand general definitions of learning disabilities, but to understand the legislation in order to know one’s rights to request accommodations or services. In addition, self-advocacy includes the ability to provide appropriate documentation for the specific requested accommodations, and to be able to deliver and present this information with strong interpersonal communication skills.

Today’s student

This is a tall order for some students given their challenges, lack of experience and, in some cases, the effect of well-meaning parents doing for the student. Jean M. Twenge advances this position in her 2017 book, iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us. She says that the students of the igeneration are comfortable having a parent speak for them, rather than taking on this responsibility.

While taking the position of advocate may not be always necessary for all students, those parents of children with disabilities are often forced into this position in order to ensure their child receives an appropriate education. Advocating for their student can linger through high school and overlooks opportunities to foster the ability in their child before they enter college. Likewise, this makes the job of teaching and fostering self-advocacy sometimes an uphill battle for faculty as parents are reluctant to step aside. Through explicitly designed support embedded within first year seminar courses and advising, students gradually learn about themselves at a deeper educational and emotional level and become more comfortable in getting support. Other colleges may offer similar support through their institution’s existing programs for incoming students.

Self-advocacy skills are introduced within the curriculum of the advising program as one of 10 advising student-learning outcomes for first-year students. The value of this specific learning outcome to students is to recognize the benefits of self-advocacy in a college setting. Advisors facilitate knowledge acquisition by: working with the student to define self-advocacy and to differentiate between entitlement and self-advocacy; assessing the student’s knowledge of basic email systems, grading systems and intranet tools; informing students of college policies, such as course drop/add, withdrawal periods; discussing and sometimes role-playing how to communicate with faculty regarding coursework concerns; fostering student development of effective self-advocacy with parents; and helping students understand the benefits of accessing college resources.

Addressing the whole student

The work of the advising program is underscored in the student’s first semester particularly in the first year course entitled: Perspectives in Learning. It is within the curriculum of this course that self-advocacy is embedded. The curriculum is holistically presented through Four Domains of Learning: self-regulation, motivation, social/emotional influences and academic skills.

The four domains offer a simple framework to understand the complexity involved in learning. The fact that the learner must have adequate control over each area in order to perceive, process and express their understanding of new information more effectively is also underscored. The goal is to help students develop a more robust understanding of the interconnectedness of influences that affect learning. The World of Learners Wheel, as shown below, leads students toward self-discovery of their strengths as well as their challenges with specific strategies that encourage movement from areas of challenge toward positive success attributes in order to improve academic success.

The World of Learners Wheel

Landmark students will first understand the Four Domains as a whole. Having a common language within the classroom when talking about strengths and challenges proves to be useful as they build their self-advocacy skills.

Next, they learn how each domain is interdependent. Having deficits in one area can have a negative impact on another, and building skills in one domain can also have a positive impact on other domains.

Within the first year seminar, it is important to introduce the success attributes (Outer Circle) first to allow students to identify areas of strength that may not have been apparent to them. Then they can see how the positive attributes will appear if they become barriers (Inner Circle). In identifying their challenges, students are asked to focus primarily on those areas that pose a significant negative impact and impede academic success. Lastly, they will come to understand that there are individual strategies (Middle Circle) that will help them strengthen their areas of challenge.

Once students are familiar with the Four Domains framework, they will be asked to set relevant, sustainable and attainable personal goals that are reflected in the wheel. Deepening their understanding of how to develop new habits and break old habits will encourage greater success and a process for assessing their progress. Taking the time to self-reflect on their progress every few weeks is also important so they can make adjustments when necessary.

When students begin discovering and using their own strategies they learn about the distinction between strategies they implement themselves and accommodations provided for them by the teacher or institution. It is important for students to not only understand the distinction between strategies and accommodations, but they must also be able to express their needs to others in a clear and comprehensive way.

At the end of the semester a final advocacy portfolio is comprised of a compilation of documents that display their self-understanding gained through assessing and addressing their own learning processes. The portfolio includes a display of strengths and weaknesses identified, lifestyle habits that impact their academic performance, personal reflections and how their disabilities impact their academic progress. Students are also asked to compose a written statement disclosing their disability that may be use at their discretion for college or the work place. The Final Advocacy Fair at the end of the semester gives them an opportunity to present their portfolio orally to visitors.

The conceptual framework and direct instruction around self-advocacy are specifically presented in a holistic manner to reflect the link between the academic and the non-academic components of learning.

Challenges remain

Even within a small structured program with a student-to-faculty ratio of 6:1 and direct instruction in self-advocacy skills, some students will struggle to achieve the skill of self-advocacy. Reasons vary as do students, but a general hypothesis may be attributed to a developmental lag in students who learn differently. In addition, faculty and staff are observing some millennial and Igen students who are more underprepared for college than in previous generations and are more dependent on parents and others. We put forth the assertion that students with a learning disability need direct instruction in learning how to self-advocate. We outlined the holistic nature of this approach and the ways in which self-advocacy is integrated into the advising program and into the curriculum of the first year course. We discussed the communication between advisors and professors of first year students, who are the major stakeholders in this process of self-advocacy. The final product produced by the student in their first semester represents an entire semester’s worth of learning and self-discovery as it pertains to self-advocacy. Students then have the opportunity to practice self-advocacy, with room to make errors and to learn from those errors.

The population of students who learn differently attend all different kinds of colleges in all states, and while their voices might not be taking center stage with those, for example, addressing violence on campus, this current climate of speaking out can ignite greater support for a sometimes-overlooked group of students. It is through their self-advocacy efforts that they can create greater success for themselves and become the consistent whisper in the background for future students. Providing a supportive and instructive environment that fosters greater self-advocacy is an admirable first step.

Kathleen A. D’Alessio is an associate professor and academic adviser at Landmark College. Dorothy A. Osterholt is an associate professor of education at Landmark.

In downtown Putney. The town, in southern Vermont, is also well know for its "progressive'' prep school The Putney School and lots of well-heeled summer folks. In nearby Brattleboro is the Experiment in International Living, another well known educational institution. The area was a favorite for Hippies back in the '70s and late '60s./   

In downtown Putney. The town, in southern Vermont, is also well know for its "progressive'' prep school The Putney School and lots of well-heeled summer folks. In nearby Brattleboro is the Experiment in International Living, another well known educational institution. The area was a favorite for Hippies back in the '70s and late '60s./




John O. Harney: Comings & goings in New England academia

Via The New England Board of Higher Education (

Judy D. Olian, dean and John E. Anderson Chair in Management at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, was named the first woman president of Quinnipiac University, succeeding John L. Lahey.

University of Maine at Farmington President Kathryn A. “Kate” Foster was appointed the next president of The College of New Jersey, beginning July 1.

Mount Holyoke College appointed its first vice president for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer: Kijua Sanders-McMurtry, who is currently vice president and dean for community diversity at Agnes Scott College in Georgia.

The University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth appointed Smith College Vice President for Alumnae Relations Jennifer Chrisler, formerly executive director of the nonprofit Family Equality Council, to be the university's vice chancellor for advancement.

The New England Aquarium named Vikki Spruill, currently leader of the Council on Foundations, to be the new president and CEO of the aquarium, which hosted 1.4 million visitors last year, but also closed several times recently due to coastal flooding at its Boston waterfront location.

John O. Harney is executive editor of the England Journal of Higher Education, part of the New England Board of Higher Education.




Linda F. Nathan: When grit isn't enough

Everyone knows money is important. For those privileged to have enough of it, money is not an obstacle for living a decent life or for college access. My husband and I frequently say,

Money isn’t everything,” but only the freedom of having money allows us to say such a thing. We didn’t want our own children restricted in their college choices. Of course, we hoped that they would consider attending Tufts University, where my husband is a professor, so that, if admitted, they would be eligible for tuition remission. But we didn’t want to limit their explorations or plans. Many of my friends will espouse similar statements: “We will take out loans if we have to” or, “I’ll be working to pay this tuition off for another 20 years.” Many of our friends began a college fund when their children were born. I know of many families who enlist the help of a grandparent to pay for a grandchild’s tuition. So, for the children of the “haves,” the cost of college is a consideration, perhaps, but it doesn’t predetermine the future.

However, within the urban public school arena where I have worked for four decades, the assumption that “money isn’t everything” is patently false. We hope our students will receive adequate scholarships or federal loans. We urge students to go to state colleges and universities where tuition might be more affordable. We counsel kids against taking on too much debt. But no matter what approach we take, cost is a huge obstacle in accessing quality higher education.

A recent study reports that state funding for higher education has fallen by 18% since 2008. Money, or the lack of it, can easily determine the kind of future a young person will have. Some families have the good fortune to assume that no matter the monetary demands, college is accessible. But that is just not true if you are poor or don’t have the social or cultural capital to navigate the system of higher education. The data are incontrovertible: Elite colleges and flagship universities enroll more students from the top 1% of the income distribution than from the bottom half.

Kevin remembers being encouraged to dream big about college. He knew he was talented. He had excellent grades in both visual arts and academics. “We had heard since we came here [to Boston Arts Academy] as freshmen, even in freshman orientation, that we could all go to college. It was part of the curriculum.” Kevin recalls the intensity of senior year with his peers. Classes revolved around writing college essays and preparing portfolios as well as practicing for interviews. “‘Where are you applying? Is your portfolio finished?’ That’s all we talked about. Everyone was going to go somewhere.” In this case, the assumption was, there is a college for everyone.

Kevin received a full scholarship to the nearby Massachusetts College of Art and Design, a four-year, public arts college, but he desperately wanted what he called the “full college experience” of going away from home and being around a diverse mix of kids. “I’d been doing art so intensely for four years in high school. I just wanted to see what else was out there.” So instead of going to MassArt, where he had a full scholarship, he went to another state school: the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where he would need financial aid. Pell grants wouldn’t cover the cost of in-state tuition with room and board. Kevin qualifying for financial aid, and he understood that he would have to repay some loans when he graduated.

During freshman and sophomore year, Kevin had a great adviser who made sure that he did all his financial-aid paperwork on time. But junior year, he was assigned a new advisor in his major. That advisor didn’t know Kevin well, and he wasn’t as methodical about checking in with Kevin about issues such as aid deadlines. Kevin recalls when his life began to unravel. “I was so busy at the end of sophomore year. I was working for Unity House [for students of color], and I was performing and deejaying all over to earn money for books and everything. I was also working 30 hours a week in the cafeteria. Of course, I had a full load of classes too.”

When he returned in September of his junior year, he discovered he didn’t have housing. “Alarm bells should have gone off. I should have realized right away something was wrong. But I just thought it was a housing thing and it would work out. Lots of my friends had had housing issues. So I stayed on a friend’s couch for September, waiting for housing to come through. That wasn’t so unusual with my friends. But when I went to the housing office to find out when I’d get a room, they just laughed and said I wasn’t even enrolled. There was a hold on my account. I was so confused. How could that be? I was like big man on campus. Everyone knew me and loved me. I was involved in everything. Why would I have a hold?” Too late, Kevin realized that he had neglected to apply for financial aid for his junior year.

It was already mid-October and he was too embarrassed to tell his mother that he actually wasn’t a student. “She just wouldn’t have understood. She had sacrificed her whole life for me to get here.” He stayed involved with all his college activities. He kept his on-campus job and even kept going to classes, but slowly things began to catch up with him, and he realized that now he had all this debt and he didn’t know what to do. He dropped out of college and worked two jobs trying to pay off some of the loans, but he couldn’t make much of a dent in the debt he was accumulating while also paying for rent and food. “The debt just went higher and higher with the interest. At some point I think I realized that I owed $42,000 and there was literally no way I could be paying that off and live.”

Kevin didn’t want to acknowledge that his dreams of a college degree had vanished. He was working 40 hours a week cooking in a diner and also making money on the weekends performing and deejaying, but he still couldn’t see how he’d ever be able to return to school.

He knows that he should have been responsible for understanding when and how to reapply for financial aid, but he also recognizes the role that his first adviser had played in helping him keep track of the paperwork. “I shouldn’t have relied on my advisor, but, you know, if you don’t grow up knowing all about financial aid and the deadlines, and you don’t have a parent to remind you, it’s really important that someone at college can help with that. I’m not the only one who missed deadlines. Sometimes I think colleges should be measured on how many students actually graduate rather than how many enroll. And if a lot drop out, like what happened to me, maybe tuition and loans should be even less. Why isn’t the college held responsible at all?”

I’m intrigued by Kevin’s last comment. Why, indeed, don’t we hold colleges responsible for graduation rates? And how are graduation rates tied to money? There is a direct correlation between the ability to access financial aid and graduation rates. At UMass–Dartmouth, graduation rates are under 50%. How much of that attrition is due to the fact that money is an obstacle for too many students? I don’t think this disappointing graduation rate means that UMass Dartmouth is a bad school. Many of my Boston Arts Academy students who have gone there, whether or not they have graduated, have spoken in positive terms about their classes and the education they received. Even though many students commute, Arts Academy graduates have found that UMass Dartmouth has a strong community of color, but offers few programs that adequately help first-generation students, especially with respect to financing. There are no required meetings for these students. There are no regular check-ins. Kevin was lucky to be assigned such an attentive advisor his first few semesters. But luck should not be the reason students graduate or not.

My students desperately want to believe what we have taught them: They can go to college. Money isn’t everything. They will get scholarships. They can even take out loans. Kevin and so many students like him realize too late that money, in fact, is everything. They also realize that making one small mistake means the difference between securing a future that they dreamed of in high school and a future that may not be better than their parents’. Money, white privilege and the ethos of meritocracy have created extraordinary barriers for too many. We have created a two-tiered system that seems to have no end in sight.

Again, relative privilege ensures this will not happen with my own children. I have been able to help them with college and even graduate school. My son, a medical school student, will be able to make a choice about whether he wants to become a primary care physician and he will not have to enter a more lucrative specialty field just to pay back loans. This kind of freedom shouldn’t be available only to the affluent.

Could we imagine a more holistic conversation between higher education leaders, high school principals, guidance counselors, nonprofit leaders and funders—both private and governmental—about the kind of supports necessary to ensure that money is not an obstacle for success in college? Students across the country are engaging in protests about the tiny numbers of students of color attending many of our private and more elite colleges. These Black Lives Matter protests are laudable. They harken back to the student movement of the 1960s. But I fear that the students are missing the point by focusing solely on the percentages of students admitted. Colleges must also be accountable for graduating those students they accept. The real question is how all institutions of higher education can ensure that the Kevins of this country are afforded access to finishing college and earning a degree. If we believe that college access for poor and working-class youth and adults is an important vehicle for democracy to continue to regenerate itself, the entire nation must commit to changing our policies so that money does not continue to be an obstacle.

When my book came out and I had the opportunity to be interviewed on the radio and in the press. Some of my alumni heard me or read the interviews. I received a stunning email from one of them: “Thank you, Ms. Nathan, for giving voice to what I ‘ve been feeling all these years. I have felt like such a failure for my inability to finish college. I have been paying off those loans forever. There just hasn’t been a way back to school. I know I’m smarter than the job I have now, but without loan forgiveness, this is my life now.”

Another, Laura, told me that she could have been Kevin if it hadn’t been for an administrator on campus who intervened and made sure that she got housing after helping her get rid of the “hold” on her account. Laura had missed an email about needing to waive health insurance and so she was locked out of housing or enrolling in the next semester classes. The administrator wasn’t just any administrator, but a vice president. “They had to listen to her at the housing and enrollment offices.” But these issues of missing an email shouldn’t create such potentially devastating situations for students and yet they are all too common.

I have been asked: What can be done? What are the steps forward for creating better outcomes?

I write about many of the ways high schools could be strengthened to provide more support for their students. However, I am convinced that higher education institutions have a responsibility to find solutions to alleviate the financial constraints for low-income students, first-generation students and students of color. Here are my suggestions:

Release of transcripts. All college leaders could agree to release transcripts for courses that students already paid for. In this way, students would be able to hold on to some of the credits they had earned and not forfeit everything. In Kevin’s case, this would mean that he would have two years toward his college degree. I can already hear the protests from many higher education circles about how this enables young people. However, I can imagine a system where credits are released and then students are required to pay a little back each year over a period of time. But, holding all credits back ensures that the student will NEVER be able to return to college unless, like another of my alumni, they literally hit the jackpot and win the lottery. When I have asked college administrators about the rationale for not releasing credits already paid for, they return to the issue of students still owing money. They seem unable to separate money paid and money owed.

Success Offices. Colleges could commit to robust Success Offices with clear and continuous communication to students about deadlines and upcoming opportunities. The goal of these offices would be to ensure college completion of enrolled students. Imagine if during the regular orientation, students had the chance to work with trained personnel about financial aid deadlines, what you can choose to waive (like health insurance) and myriad other issues that crop up constantly for which many students are unprepared. Imagine if these offices were staffed with students who understand the invisible web that can trap low-income students too easily. Since finishing my book, I’ve learned about an organization called Persistence Plus that sends text messages to students asking them where they are planning on studying since finals are coming up, or whether they have checked in at the tutoring center. I’m intrigued by these online applications, and impressed with the positive data reported by the organization. Nevertheless, I argue in my book, that while individual effort is clearly important in college success, we should not let colleges off the hook. They too have a responsibility to help students persist and graduate.

Additional orientation sessions for first-generation students. As countless students told me, “the Success Office can only do so much.” My alumni explained that people in the financial aid office, student accounts, health … “all those places where we have to interact, also need to know that their job is to help us and not prevent us from graduating.” I was told over and over again that these offices need to hold regular and required meetings for their students—and that these offices and individuals need to communicate with one another.

Professional development in supporting low-income population. Colleges could collaborate on professional development focused on working with first-gen students for all employees who work in student accounts, financial aid and other areas. In addition to having good accounting skills, these employees could benefit from broad training in how to support low-income students in their college going years, including sensitivity training around poverty and immigration status. (An alum just called to tell me that the financial aid person on her campus as recently as last month referred to “illegal aliens” instead of undocumented students, or students without official papers. Terms such as “illegal alien” are actually hurtful to my students.)

Rethinking accountability for success in rating colleges. All colleges and universities should be required to publish data that reports graduate rates by “subgroups.” (“Subgroups” is the term used by the state to define non-white students, special education students, or students in poverty.) All pre-K-12 public schools’ test scores are reported annually in the newspaper and by the Massachusetts state Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education using such “subgroups.” Why is it that higher education institutions are not obligated to play by the same rules? A professor friend of mine at a four-year “second tier” private college tells me her president doesn’t want to release the scores of graduation rates for African-American students because they are so abysmal. This lack of transparency renders the crisis difficult to analyze and address.

Debt forgiveness. Higher education institutions could lobby the federal government so that loan forgiveness programs are widely adopted. Student debt continues to be one of the most serious ways in which low-income young people are trapped. Just recently, a Boston Globe article headlined, “Debt load hits black students hardest,” noted that “African-American students who started college in 2003-04 typically owed 113 percent of their student loan 12 years later. … By contrast white borrowers had paid down their debt and owed only 65 percent of the original amount, and Hispanic borrowers had knocked down their debt to 83 percent of the initial loan.”

Rethinking the role of Accuplacer tests in community colleges. It is clear to me that these tests are serving a harmful role in the advancement of young people. I would like to see community colleges eliminate them and use GPA, recommendations and transcripts for placement. In so doing, students can take “co-requisite” work alongside their college-level classes.

More investment in community colleges. As I have noted in my book, per-pupil expenditures in Massachusetts are abysmal. It is difficult to provide the necessary supports to the myriad students who attend community college. I would like to see community colleges offering more online, self-paced courses with more extensive supports for students than currently offered. I would also like to see financial aid cover developmental courses.

Competency-based college degrees. In my book, I discuss a program that College for America at Southern New Hampshire University is working on with Match Inc., the Boston-based public charter school. I think these programs need more analysis on outcomes for participants; otherwise, I fear that we are developing a two-tiered system. College for America programs began with a focus on providing bachelor degrees for employees at companies like Panera Bread, who wanted to move up in the ranks. But I am not convinced about the quality or depth of the coursework as compared with more traditional four-year degrees. Nevertheless, I would be intrigued by a pilot program that allows careful analysis of how students do in a non-time-based or credit-based system as compared with a more traditional one. For some students, I believe the results will be strong. Currently, I’m supporting a former colleague to matriculate and gain his bachelor’s degree after working for 30 years in the performing arts field. I believe that he makes a strong candidate for a competency-based degree.

If we implement some of these suggestions, we may have better chances of graduating students like Kevin. As Kevin reminded me, “We are sort of like the America dream. We are what this country is made from. And if we don’t make it, I can’t help but wonder if the whole country will make it.”

I couldn’t agree more. And looking at the current tax bills before Congress, I cynically wonder if we want more Kevins to graduate from college.

Linda F. Nathan is executive director of the Center for Artistry and Scholarship and teaches at Harvard University and University of Massachusetts, Boston. She was the founding Headmaster of Boston Arts Academy. This piece includes excerpts from her recent book, When Grit Isn’t Enough: A High School Principal Examines How Poverty and Inequality Thwart the College-for-All Promise (Beacon Press, 2017). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.


John O. Harney: June update on the condition of New England


New England’s unemployment rate stood at 4.4% in April, compared with 5% nationwide, according to the spring 2016 outlook delivered last week by the New England Economic Partnership (NEEP) to 50 or so economists and others gathered at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

New Hampshire posted the second lowest unemployment rate in the U.S., at 2.6%. But all New England states are projected to have lower annual employment growth than the U.S. average through 2018, partly due to the region’s aging population.

Economist Barry Bluestone, of Northeastern University's School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, projected that New England’s population will grow by only 5.5% from 14.7 million in 2015 to 15.5 million in 2025.

Turning to the spring 2016 NEEP theme of New England’s special relationship with Canada, Bluestone noted that 6% of jobs in New England depend on trade with Canada. New England’s No. 1 export to Canada is aircraft and aircraft parts, partly from GE and Pratt & Whitney. In some instances, the interdependence is striking: One growing export from New England to Canada is live Maine lobsters.

One major import from Canada back to New England is processed and frozen lobster, much of it for casinos and cruise ships.

The conference was sponsored by Brandeis International Business School’s Perlmutter Institute, the Canadian Consulate General and TD Bank—the Toronto bank that now markets itself as America's Most Convenient Bank and has naming rights to the arena that is home of the Boston Bruins, NHL archrival of the Montreal Canadians.

Bluestone added that New England output is forecast to grow nearly 13% by 2025. At the same time, ISO New England reports that the region’s power-generating capacity will decline by at least 13%, due to nuclear, coal and oil plants going offline. That means more natural gas, including via controversial means such as pipelines carrying fracked gas from Pennsylvania and ships carrying LNG from Yemen. Wind and solar power can supplement that, but cannot provide reliable, 24/7 energy for New England. And there is the question of how to get energy from the hydropower resources of Canada to the markets of New England. People in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont don’t want to see big power lines. One solution is the power lines currently approved to run under Lake Champlain in Vermont.

Bluestone added that as international flights to Boston's Logan Airport have grown considerably, it may be time for New Englanders to think of Halifax, Nova Scotia, as another viable international airport. It’s closer to Europe than Boston is.

In one of the surprisingly rare references to education and talent at the NEEP conference, Bluestone warned that New England needs more engineers to innovates in areas such as harnessing the region’s high tides for energy and desalinizing seawater for drinking.

State of the states

The Canadian theme is engaging, for sure. But for me, NEEP’s gold comes in its colorful state-specific forecasts, this time down to four state forecasters from the usual six or more. (NEEP mourned the death of stalwart New Hampshire forecaster Dennis Delay, who died in December; Fairfield University professor emeritus Edward Deak, who historically watched ups and downs in Connecticut, retired from NEEP. Ross Gittell, the NEEP vice president who usually delivers the New England regional forecast, could not attend the spring conference because of his duties as chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire.)

Independent economist Jeff Carr of Vermont reminded the audience that his last forecast was clouded by Keurig’s launch of its cold-beverage line (which the coffee-brewing company ultimately discontinued) and Global Foundries buying IBM microelectronics facilities in the Northeast (which changed the company’s semiconductor export picture).

In January 2015, Vermont reached full recovery from the Great Recession—a benchmark whose significance is still lost on some who didn’t understand the full trauma of that downturn. Carr noted that, for the first time in years, the decrease in Vermont unemployment is actually due to increasing employment, not declining labor force. He added that the craft food industry (as he said, everything you need for vacation: Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Cabot cheese and craft beers) has been a key part of Vermont economic resilience, despite hits in overall manufacturing..

Most Vermont exports are integrated circuits from the former IBM plant in Essex Junction and engine blades from Rutland. On the Canada theme, Vermont approved the transmission under Lake Champlain to bring in electricity from Quebec. Carr pointed out that Canadian hydro initially was not considered “renewable” because of an existing large carbon footprint and environmental implications for the Cree Indian Nation.

In a tribute to Delay, who gave a regular “Segway report” based on the motorized scooter invented by New Hampshire’s Dean Kamen, Carr noted the irony that Segway tours have become a top tourist activity in Burlington, Vt.

Charles Colgan, professor emeritus at the University of Southern Maine, who also spends much of the year at the Center for the Blue Economy in Monterey, Calif., returned to NEEP for the Maine forecast. Portland unemployment is extremely low, he said, yet it does not increase in-migration.

Also five paper mills in Maine have closed since 2008, claiming 7,500 total jobs.

On the conference theme, Colgan noted that Canada is Maine’s #1 trading partner, followed by China and Malaysia. Also, Maine still attracts many Canadian tourists to Old Orchard Beach and other coastal spots on the “Quebec Riviera.”

Maine also has led New England in renewable electricity. Colgan told of how a shortage of oil power threatened the Great Northern Paper mill in Millinocket, Maine. Then-Maine Gov. Ken Curtis contacted New Brunswick Premier Richard Hatfleld to nudge Irving Oil of St. John to help keep the mill running. New England governors began meeting with Eastern Canadian premiers to discuss energy issues at that time, and Irving remains a major presence in Northern New England.

Now, many Mainers and others worry about tar sands being transported through a Maine pipeline for later redistribution.

Maine has installed significant wind power and has more planned for Aroostook County, which historically has been connected only to the Canadian grid. Meanwhile, offshore wind may help solidify Maine’s potential in the middle of a rapidly developing energy market from Maine to the ”Boston States.”

Bryant University economist Edinaldo Tebaldi displayed a slide, showing the Rhode Island economy is improving but not as fast as New England or U.S. The Ocean State suffers from very little population growth, and its labor force is actually shrinking. Rhode Island’s unemployment rate is almost back to pre-recession levels, but not quite, partly because of sluggish job growth in manufacturing and construction.

Economist Adam Clayton-Matthews of Northeastern University spoke about high confidence in Massachusetts. Unemployment is now below pre-recession levels, but demography is making it impossible for many employers to replace workers.

Asked about the crisis in creating homes for middle-income households, Carr of Vermont noted that it’s not as cool for millennials to live in Burlington, Vt., as it is to live in booming Boston. People go to Vermont to get educated, then move away, then come back with three kids, Carr quipped. He add that the milestones people used to reach in their twenties—marrying, having kids and buying a home—they now do in their thirties, partly because of the pressure of student loan debt. In Maine, the state with the highest median age in the U.S., the housing problem is a lack of affordable senior housing.

A TD Bank official pointed out that not wanting to lose that enormous body of aging talent, the bank has no mandatory retirement. Many older workers can work one or two days a week. If other companies would do it, she noted, that would help an aging New England.

If the trade data weren't enough to convince the audience of the "special relationship,"  panelists on Canadian innovation may have drove the point home.  TD senior economist Michael Dolega pointed out that no banking crises has occurred in Canada since 1840, compared with 12 in the U.S. (though housing markets are overheating in cities like Toronto and Vancouver and oil-producing regions of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland & Labrador are in recession). François-Philippe Champagne, a member of parliament from Québec, and parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance, told the audience that looming Canadian infrastructure investment will emphasize public transportation, water and wastewater treatment, and affordable housing—priorities that perhaps should, but may not, straddle the border.

John O. Harney is executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education, where this piece originated. It is part of the New England Board of Higher Education (