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Binders Full of Women

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Mitt Romney’s now infamous comment at last night’s debate  has opened a new line into our nation’s ongoing discussion about affirmative action. When he was Governor of Massachusetts, Romney says he had to reach outside the usual application process to ensure that men weren’t the only ones applying for his cabinet positions. Luckily, he was in a state ranked first among all 50 in higher education attainment, where more than 50% of the population hold at least a 2-year degree (Lumina Foundation, 2010). So with a little outreach, the Governor easily found plenty of qualified female applicants. If he’d been governor of Alabama, though, his task would have been much more difficult, since that state’s percentage of folks with any college is only 31%. And if he’d been leading a state with a large Hispanic population, that number would also be low. According to the 2010 Census, just 19 percent of Latinos between 25 and 64 years old had at least a two-year college degree. For whites, the figure is 43 percent.

One of the keys to our economic success as a nation has been ensuring that All Americans, including newer immigrants and women, get access to higher education. My own all-girls school was founded by a woman, Jesse Moon Holton, who was a leader in educating young women, and  created the best school motto I’ve ever heard “I shall find a way or make one.”  That motto reminds me daily of brave little MalalaYousafzai of Pakistan, who risked her life just to go to school. Thankfully we don’t live in a society where extremists mount school buses to shoot kids trying to get an education.

But we do put far too many obstacles in the way of people who want this path to economic inclusion.  As a society, we should do everything possible—affirmative action in higher education, The Dream Act,  funding early childhood education (and yes, a few bucks to Big Bird)–to ensure that every corporate CEO and government leader who wants to hire talent has available to her binders full of qualified and well-educated African-Americans, Hispanics and women of all ethnicities ready and able to succeed.

The UVA Battle and the Struggle Between Nonprofit and Corporate Leadership Models

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Concentric circles of leadershipThe Sullivan vs. Dragas battle at UVA is a classic case of nonprofit versus corporate leadership styles. UVA president Teresa Sullivan’s approach–getting to know the university’s key constituencies–is best suited to nonprofits, in which shouting “Follow Me!” rarely gets you more than a sore throat. But Helen Dragas, Chair of UVA’s Board of Visitors, is known for her no-nonsense business style. She expected the newly minted (18 months IS recent in NST–Nonprofit Standard Time) university president  to “stop listening and lead.” (If you haven’t been following, the Chronicle of Higher Ed helpfully summarizes the battle here.) Particularly in a university setting, where you have power centers including tenured faculty who frankly don’t have to follow anyone thank you very much, as well as a constant stream of new students and important donors, Sullivan’s style of taking the time to “listen and learn” before launching major change initiatives will likely win the day.

This battle comes at an interesting time. As nonprofits have been moving steadily to adopt a “more corporate” model of governance, corporations have been embracing social sector models of getting things done. (And hey, after the Wall Street meltdown, my money is on the nonprofit sector so to speak.) In her recent letter to shareholders, Calvert Investments CEO Barbara Krumsiek (disclaimer–Barbara and I know one another through a nonprofit board) noted the increase of sustainability proposals at shareholder meetings, and the implementation by more than 400 business sector CEOs of the United Nation’s Women’s Empowerment Principles, which were adapted from Calvert’s own Women’s Principles in 2010. In their new white paper subtitled “Is Your Board Prepared?”, Ernst & Young point out that social and environmental issues accounted for 40% of shareholder proposals on corporate proxy ballots last year–up one-third from 2010.

That trend away from business models to social sector models is addressed by Jim Collins in his recent monograph “Good to Great in the Social Sectors,” a follow-up to his famed book on high-functioning businesses. In the new book he questions the implementation of business practices in the social sector, saying”we must reject the idea…thgat the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become ‘more like a business.'”  In fact, the metrics for success in a mission-based operation are very different than those in the for-profit. Delivery on the mission is primary. Lowering cost-per-delivery, while essential to good accounting, is not a measurement of success. Neither is efficiency in certain areas. Sometimes nonprofits need to spend a lot of time listening to their “customers” in order to deliver better services, and this listening is often done by social workers or nurses or pastors–professional listeners, but not folks in a marketing setting. The way they may evolve a solution to a particular customer problem may not be the most cost-efficient delivery of service, but it might create the best outcomes in the community served.

The same can be said of effective nonprofit leadership styles. Someone who understands how to harness the different concentric circles of supporters–from staff to donors to volunteers (and students and faculty, in the case of an educational institution) are going to be more successful in moving a strategic plan forward to get the mission accomplished.

So my bet is on Sullivan. What about yours?

Santorum Accidentally Boosts Higher Ed Brand

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Mr. Santorum’s “snob” remark about higher education is getting push back from surprising quarters.  That’s because millions of Americans look to higher education as a way to pull their families forward both economically, and in increased job satisfaction. While fewer than one third of Americans hold a B.A. or higher, 75% of Americans polled believe that a college education is “very important” in today’s economy. And 92 percent of public school parents believe that their children will go to college. (Both stats from Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll, September 2010) That’s because they know intuitively the what many of us in my region show students through a program called Achievement Counts (AC), created by the  Maryland Business Roundtable for Education (yup, a group of business executives). That is, that with every year of schooling you get beyond high school, your job opportunities and income level increase. Despite his rhetoric, Mr. Santorum knows this, given the millions he’s made as a Washington, D.C. consultant with his B.A., J.D. and M.B.A.  When I’ve led these brief AC classes at my local high schools, I always poll the kids about what they want to be when they graduate. Many of them plan to play in the NBA or NFL.  “What if you get injured?” I ask, knowing it’s hopeless to make the case that a tiny fraction of American athletes could ever even qualify.  That’s when a light-bulb goes off for a few of the kids. If you like the science of the body and athletics, I say, consider getting trained in Physical Therapy, one of the fastest-growing careers in the country. (This requires a minimum Associates Dgree to be an Assistant, and a full B.A. and post-graduate work to become a PT.) Maybe it’s worth getting an accounting degree (B.A. and CPA license required), so you could help those NFL guys manage their millions. Maybe you might even want to go into business for yourself—so you could buy your own team one day!

Mr. Santorum’s father was an Italian immigrant. My dad’s grandparents immigrated from Italy a generation earlier.  And while my grandmother completed junior high and my grandfather elementary school, it was a point of great pride that they were able to send their son to college. He worked the entire time he attended Fordham University (run by the Jesuits, hardly the bastion of radicalism Santorum paints for campus life), driving a laundry truck to deliver linens to the fancy yachts at the docks on the river.  He told me once that while it was tough to get up so early to make his deliveries and still stay awake for classes, the job reminded him of the tedium he could avoid by getting that college degree. He went on to get a graduate degree from Columbia in Economics and worked as an economist his entire life.

The road through high school is hard for many kids. College is not for everyone. But getting a foothold in 21st century life requires more training than a high school degree can offer. Mr. Santorum knows it. And those of us who care about and work in the education field need to keep reminding Americans that higher education is a brand worth celebrating.

What I Learned in College

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The debate rages on as to whether all students should go to college. Graduation rates vary widely by state, from an abysmal 22% (Alaska) to a more promising 69% (Massachusetts) [NCHEMS]. So that means somewhere between one third and three quarters of college attendees don’t graduate with a degree.  As The New York Times recently pointed out in the article “Plan B: Skip College,” that’s a lot of money to end up without a degree. College isn’t for everyone. More vocational training and 2-year degrees should be available.

That said, I’m still a fan of college.  And since my 25th Reunion is fast approaching, I’ve ruminated on several reasons why.

  1. Time to Grow Up.  College gives you wide berth and time to mature. Honestly, who is ready for a career at 17? ‘Nuf said.
  2. Roommates.  Dealing with strangers up close and personal is a serious challenge, especially for those of us who grew up without siblings. But it’s an ideal course in inter-personal relations and negotiation. Not to mention setting boundaries.
  3. Professors. Learning how to navigate the power relationship of professor-student, particular in the smaller courses where one sees them as individuals, is an excellent primer in dealing with clients or bosses in the future.
  4. Lack of Sleep. Surmounting an often self-induced lack of sleep to deliver a term paper or passing exam grade is excellent preparation for working motherhood or fatherhood. There is nothing like a baby with an ear ache all night to make participating in a morning meeting a serious feat of super-human strength.
  5. Friendships. There are some friends you just know are there, no matter what, and many of these bonds are fired in the furnace of collegiate life.
  6. Extra-Curriculars. There’s nothing more extravagant and wonderful than the smorgasbord of activities offered at college. From the college radio station and newspaper to the medieval club and frisbee team, these choices offer lifelong memories, friendships, and ongoing interests.
  7. Connections. OK, for those of you who yearn for me to cover some “practical” side of college life: I have thousands of connections at my fingertips through my college alumni office as well as my own friends. And yes, connections help in life and work.
  8. Research.  If you don’t know how to learn something new, then you’re stuck recycling the old. It’s amazing how many people don’t know how to find out something, even with the crutch of Google and Wikis. College teaches you how to research information, and more importantly, how to assess the veracity and biases of your sources.
  9. Ideas.  College is not just about book learning or a list of facts to absorb or “career preparation.” It is about the world of ideas and the people who have them, including you. Engaging in the world of ideas is important preparation for life, promoting civic participation and a richer life, regardless of career.
  10. I couldn’t think of a 10th benefit of college, but I’ll bet you can!