From Starter to Closer, BIF 2016 Storytellers Show Good Stuff


Every September, I get a new fix of inspiration at the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) summit of innovators. Last week, I was at BIF’s 12th summit, my sixth. My main inspiration this year came from Dave Gray. The founder of the strategic design consultancy XPLANE, co-founder of Boardthing and author of Liminal Thinking gave a simple message: Shut off autopilot. As he said, the only place we can make change is in the now. Problem is we don’t often think about now because we’re on autopilot. First piece of advice then: Shut off autopilot and do something different. In an organization, he added, one cog shutting off the dance can change everything. We all talk about disruption a lot, he said, but we don’t disrupt ourselves.

Well, it’s hardly a disruption (a word you hear a bit too much in innovation circles), but I vowed to do one thing different from the past, and not write exhaustively about every speaker I heard. For the ones I left out, it’s not them, it’s me. Happens that the stories that really hit me included the starter and the closer.

The starter was Bill Taylor, founder of Fast Company. He researched his new book by seeking out extraordinary stories in ordinary places—not Silicon Valley or Kendall Square, but retail banks, insurance companies, even parking garages. He told, for example, of the “Megabus effect” that had replaced up-to-then drab bus experiences with modernized double-decker busses complete with big windows, GPS so it would be easy to avoid traffic backups, wifi for device-beholden passengers, seatbelts so riders felt safe and smooth ticketing via the internet.

Taylor also spoke of Lincoln Electric, an Ohio company founded in 1895 that makes welding systems and thinks progressively. In 1948, company leaders said Lincoln will never lay off an employee and it never has, not even during the Great Recession. A sign over the factory gate says, “The actual is limited; the possible is immense.” A sort of BIFy take on the proud, “Through these gates pass the best shipbuilders in the world” motto at Bath Iron Works (which by the way, can’t claim Lincoln’s no-layoff promise).

The closer was Ross Szabo. On the outside, everything looked fine for the class president, varsity basketball player with a 3.8 GPA. But he was hardwired for mental health problems. At age 11, he visited his older brother in the hospital after the sibling had a manic episode. Ross himself was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 16. Over the jokes of classmates, he started to talk about his disorder … and classmates started listening. But in his 20s, he attempted suicide, began heavy drinking and experienced psychotic episodes. He dropped out of American College, then returned four years later and earned a degree in psychology. He recently developed a mental health curriculum for college that is now used in campus Greek life, orientation and athletics programs. We need to normalize mental health, he said. “Mental health isn’t for when things go wrong. It’s something you build, like physical health.”

Videos of the storytellers will begin to be released starting in mid-October at Jessica Esch did telling sketches of the BIF proceedings.

Among tidbits between Taylor and Szabo, Matt Cottam, co-founder and chief design officer at the Providence-based design firm Tellart, spoke of Tellart’s exhibit at the “Museum of the Future: Machinic Life” in Dubai showing how robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) will augment human experience. One example: replacing the uncomfortable aspects of airport security with soothing warm towels that can immediately be scanned for pathogens and other threats. Or automatically adding vitamin C to drinks when a certain number of office workers come down with a cold. Or building a game in the Dubai arcade that requires people to be active and delivers biometric information. Or building an algorithm that takes a 1,000-year view on environment risks, rather then the current shortsighted focus on just a few generations. As machines become better at reading our emotions, Cottam asked, will we naturally employ them to take better care of us? Will we trust AI enough to have avatars be our nannies?

New demographics

Joseph Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab, noted that around the year 1900, life expectancy was 47. But half of American babies born in 2007 will live to 104. Coughlin credits the gains not only to doctors, but also to civil engineers, noting that clean water has done more than anything else to add to life expectancy. In Japan, more people are buying adult diapers than kids’ diapers. Coughlin pointed out that the fastest-growing part of the population is the 85 and over group. Gen Z people should prepare not just for five to eight jobs, but for five to eight careers. Your kitchen will be able to monitor what food you’re running low on. Smart toilets will tell you whether you took your medicine. Smaller grocery stores with lower shelves and more compact parking lots will cater to the aging, childless shoppers.

Longevity could mean a lot of time for retirement. And perhaps for loneliness? Kavita Patel, a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital Community Physicians and healthcare policy adviser, said loneliness is the single most preventable public health epidemic today. People often feel alone, she said, but loneliness is a feeling that no one cares about you. And loneliness worsens other diseases, she said. She told of a study in Australia finding that 37% of early teenagers and young children say they only feel more alone when they get on social media. She cited the longitudinal Framingham health research, famous for its heart study, which also studied loneliness and found lonely people tend to affiliate with other lonely people. And people who are not lonely would actually become lonely if their networks were made up of lonely people. What can we do? Screen for the condition, for starters, she said. And change views. Hospital chiefs brag about private rooms, but such rooms are very isolating and presumably make people lonelier, according to Patel. Also reach out and touch people! (To be sure, that’s a tall order in a society poisoned by political correctness, fear of lawsuits, fear of infection and fear of condescension.)

Out of this world

Kava Newman, deputy administrator at NASA, said she expects to see humans within the orbit of Mars in the 2030s. She believes that if Mars had life 3.5 billion years ago, then something went terribly wrong, that could teach lessons about life on Earth. (I had seen her a few years earlier at BIF when she was a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems at MIT, talking about the pressurized, skin-tight Bio-Suit she developed that gives astronauts unprecedented flexibility in space.)

Irwin Kula, a rabbi who talks about disruptive innovation, is president of Clal–The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership described as a “do-tank” committed to making Judaism a public good. Kula noted that “nones” are the fastest-growing religion. As disruption guru Clayton Christensen would put it, the “incumbents” are in trouble. True, 40% of Americans say they go to church, but observers found it’s more like 23%. A lot of people think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, Kula said. We need an innovation ecosystem in area of religion, suggested the rabbi. (I had also seen Kula a few years earlier at BIF with his moving Jewish chants set to voice messages from people about to die in the 9/11 attacks.)

Stowe Boyd is a “work futurist” who coined the term hashtag. He said ism’s are holding us back. Anywhereism is about mandating work anywhere, Boyd said. But most companies are actually decreasing square footage of offices to save money, even if many people are less happy and less productive in open spaces. Airspace, he noted, bring similar open plans, glass walls, communal table-desks, high ceilings and artisan touches not only to offices, but also to cafes, hotels and home. Workism and the cult of leadership go back to the fact that organizations are not democratic. Horizontalism suggests that a bossless organizational model would seem to liberate us, but, Boyd suggested, moving away from hierarchy without making other changes is like a mob tearing down a dictator’s statue, but not ousting dictator himself. It’s just a new business model where we become managers and the managed. Techism tells us that using more tools, we’ll be more productive, but we’re actually less productive.

Darden Smith, an Austin, Texas-based singer, is the founder and creative director of SongwritingWith:Soldiers. He sang and played guitar at the BIF summit. Folky, he made references to hearing Bruce Springsteen as a kid, being influenced by Dylan and Elvis Costello. But he said (repeatedly) that he doesn’t believe in cynicism anymore; he believes in love. (Never mind that smart cynicism empowered those musical heroes!)

New starts

Coss Marte started selling pot at 13, then other drugs. He said he came up with a different way to sell drugs. He and his 20 or so assistants all started wearing suits, and the operation grew to be a multimillion-dollar business. Then he got busted and ended up jailed in a 9’x6’ cell. Told by doctors that he was dangerously overweight, he started working out and lost 70 pounds in six months. After his release, he developed a unique fitness program based on the one that had worked for him in prison. With that program, he launched a prison-style fitness bootcamp on the Lower East Side of Manhattan called ConBody. He built his own gym to look like a prison cell and staffed the operation with other formerly incarcerated people. To scale up, he then began offering online videos, where he said, exercisers can feel safe learning from a convict who’s not physically there.

Roberto Rivera, president and “lead change agent” of The Good Life Alliance, spoke of how he went from being a dope dealer to being a hope dealer. He found out he was learning disabled, which he came to see as learning differently. Rivera started his own clothing line. Did a rap: I know you love it/freestyle here at the storyteller summit. He created his own major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison called “Social Change, Youth Culture, and the Arts.” “And this person who was told he was LD is now getting his Ph.D in education.” As he noted, “Standard educational goals can produce high-achievers who go to Ivy League schools, earn their MBAs, join blue-chip corporations, and devise brilliant financial schemes that build immense wealth for the few on Wall Street, and chaos for everyone else. … We want all kids on both sides of the gap to have a moral compass, to think critically, and to make the institutions that they’re a part of and the communities that they serve to be more just and more humane.”

Kare Anderson was diagnosed as “phobically shy” as a child. Classmates prevailed on her to run for student body president in fourth grade. She said she won because students had less positive views about the two other contenders (a cautionary tale?). She is a “synesthete”—a person who sees colors when she hears sounds and that she has no sense of direction. She felt out of sync in many situations and was overly sensitive to stimuli. The upside is that the way her brain works has allowed her to help others go “lower and slower” as they become accessible to those around them and ask lot of questions. That questioning habit led her to a successful job as a reporter with the Wall Street Journal.

BIF chief catalyst Saul Kaplan reminded attendees that storytelling is a superpower you must have for innovation. After two days (and six years) of great stories, I suffered from what Kaplan termed BIF-induced insomnia. Here are some of my pieces on past BIF conferences …

BIF and the Brains

No. 9 … No. 9 … No. 9 (Rebels, Rabbis and Stories on Innovation from BIF-9)

Tales from the BIF

Tell Me Another One: More Stories from the Business Innovation Factory

Tell Me a Story: Reporting from the BIF-6 Conference in Providence 

(Cross-published on by John O. Harney.)

Painting of “Tuning the Fisherman’s Toy Piano” by Montserrat College professor Timothy Harney

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Labor Day and Some Crumbs from the NEJHE Beat


Fruits of our labor. With terms like task creeping back into the language (as both a verb and a noun), the true origins of Labor Day may be as remote to today’s students as Lupercalia. The day, of course, is meant not simply to mark the end of summer by gorging on hotdogs, but to honor workers … including faculty and staff in and out of higher education and, by extension, the millions of undergraduates chasing that higher ed earnings premium they’ve been promised. Are they just so much human capital? The School of the Arts in North Carolina last year began holding all classes on Labor Day, attributing the decision to federal and system guidelines that mandate a specific number of classroom hours each semester. Same with a handful of other universities, including Notre Dame and Radford.

Speaking of endangered species? Less than two years ago, the University of Southern Maine (USM) was a frequent character in NEBHE’s tracking of vulnerable New England higher ed institutions. Eventually, USM cut 50 faculty positions, jettisoned whole academic programs and hired new leadership. Now, USM is proclaiming a victory of sorts, with applications for this academic year up 14% over the previous year and enrolled students up 3%, including a 23% increase in higher-paying out-of-state students. President Glenn Cummings recently announced an injection of funds for nursing scholarships and a new exchange program with a university in Iceland.

Another new agreement allows Southern Maine Community College students who pass a Connected Pathways requirements to enroll at USM without going through the normal admissions process. To be sure, not all the cases we watched closely through NEBHE’s Higher Education Innovation Challenge project have rebounded so well. Vermont’s Burlington College closed its doors after failing to attract students and drowning in debt.

State support and tuition. Data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities show that since the Great Recession, state spending on higher education in the U.S. has dropped by 17%, while tuition has risen by 33%. The New York Times ran a major piece comparing how states have responded to this new calculus by seeking out-of-state students, who pay higher tuition.

The Times findings on inflows and outflows of students generally match those of NEBHE’s Regional Student Program (RSP), which offers students a discount on out-of-state tuition. But interestingly, the findings diverge in two cases. The Times reported a net balance of residents leaving Massachusetts for other states, while the RSP data show more students going into Massachusetts. This may be attributed to the number of Bay State colleges near state borders and the significant number of programs available through the RSP. For New Hampshire, the Times reported a net balance of students going into the Granite State, while the RSP data showed a net balance of students leaving. This may be attributed to the number of programs available to New Hampshire residents out of state with a discount through the RSP.

Meanwhile, the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system allowed Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield to offer in-state rates to Massachusetts residents, and Western Connecticut State University to offer in-state rates to residents of seven New York counties.

Spending on education.  A chart in Governing magazine using U.S. Census Bureau data shows all six New England states among the top 15 nationally in public elementary-secondary school spending per pupil in FY 2014. Run those numbers for higher ed and New England will be mostly at the other end of the spectrum, with Vermont and New Hampshire famously trading 49th and 50th places and all but Connecticut below the U.S. average.

Golden anniversary. One strategy to address the challenges buffeting higher ed is for institutions to work together. NEBHE has been pleased to post links to New England consortia at And one of the key players is the NH College and University Council (NHCUC), which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary. The nonprofit founded in 1966 is a rare higher ed consortium insofar as it represents both public and private institutions. Among other things, NHCUC is a key supporter of the New Hampshire Forum of the Future, which holds events that look at emerging issues confronting industries, and of New Hampshire Scholars, which encourages students to take more rigorous courses in high school.

More comic relief. The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt., is collaborating with the local VA Medical Center, where more than 70,000 military veterans from Vermont and New Hampshire go for healthcare. Students and faculty at the college are working with veterans to tell their stories via comic books.

The back-to-college marketing rush is on. I recently received a pitch from a global provider of health and wellness products, headlined: “How Essential Oils Ease the Stress and Strain of College Life.” The products it was plugging as “main items students pack with them to hit the books and the mixers once again” included peppermint, eucalyptus and lemon oils to “invigorate the senses, helping bring focus” and a protective blend “for dealing with especially unhygienic roommates.”

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

Painting of “The View from Andrew’s Room Series IXX #2” by Montserrat College professor Timothy Harney.

(Cross-published on by John O. Harney.)

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Pecking Orders, Guns, Tracking and More from the NEJHE Beat



Pecking orders. Harvard and Cornell recently tied for the U.S. higher ed institutions that educate the most CEOs who run U.S. companies listed by Forbes in the top 100. We would often pore over such lists of where top CEOs went to college and meticulously note how many graduated from New England colleges. The predictable story was how many went to Harvard, Yale and MIT and how few went to New England’s public higher institutions. It was a picture of the pecking order. Hard to imagine such pedigree has standing in an age marked by higher ed disruption and the proliferation of new pathways and providers.

Still, such “listicles” do tell stories. The innovation-oriented local news platform BostInno listed the wealthiest tech executives in Massachusetts and found the richest woman—Mary Nadella, CEO of Continental Resources—to rank No. 72 among the 283 with a net worth of $10 million or more, including only 20 women total. Coincidentally, Massachusetts legislators this week were expected to vote on “An Act to Establish Equal Pay” to close a gap in which women in Massachusetts who work full-time, year-round earn on average only 82 cents on the dollar men earn.

Non-degree credentials. Perhaps no development threatens the old pecking order more than the rise of non-degree “credentials.” Millennial survey respondents prefer certifications to bachelor’s degrees, according to a study sponsored by (perhaps not surprisingly given funding biases) the University Professional and Continuing Education Association, the Center for Online Innovation in Learning at Penn State University and Acclaim, Pearson.

Credentials with justice? Bootcamps and coding will be among the concepts covered as NEBHE explores credentials at its upcoming summit on Talent 4.0: How Employable Are New England’s College Graduates and What Can Higher Education Do About It? And there’s still room for smart moves by revered HEIs. Exhibit A: MIT recently announced a weeklong intensive bootcamp on cryptocurrency concepts for women and under-represented people of color in August 2016.

Guns. It has puzzled me for a long time how the issue of gun violence could not be considered a top priority in higher education policy. The shooting massacres at Virginia Tech and Umpqua Community College were national stories. The more recent attack on Dallas police brought gunfire to El Centro College. And the murders that precipitated it all exacerbate an overlooked but profound threat to higher education: the loss of future applicants. Meanwhile, several colleges have been beefing up the arsenals of their campus police departments. Three-quarters of America’s campus police forces were armed with some type of gun in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

As we wrote a dozen years ago in a piece about college presidents in NEJHE’s predecessor Connection, higher education remains sufficiently at the center of public life for college presidents to exercise their moral authority on a range of issues. “War comes to mind, for its gravity,” I suggested then, “but also for its potential to wreak havoc with applicant pools, particularly among the under-represented groups that colleges profess to want to reach. Same goes for issues related to AIDS, guns in the community and impoverished public schools.”

Along these lines, as organizations like NEBHE explore “talent pipelines” for crucial occupations, let’s not leave out police. They need more than sensitivity training to tame police brutality and avert the next racial crisis. The culture needs to change from punishment and power to something informed by understanding and … dare, I say … humanities?

Think tanks. The Connecticut Mirror, the excellent nonpartisan news outlet launched by the Connecticut News Project Inc., recently lamented that while the Land of Steady Habits has entities that do policy research, it does not have a central, general-purpose research center or “think tank.” NEJHE (Connection) made a similar lament but on a regional level. Our assertion at the time was that “New England’s public policy ‘think tanks’ will rise in stature as government responsibilities devolve from Washington, D.C., to state capitals.” Today, we list dozens of New England public policy research centers among resources at But it’s not always clear which fit the definition as a “central, general-purpose” think tank.

Early tracking. The Beverly (MA) Heritage Project ran a Facebook post on the “Home to the nation’s first school for ‘gypsy’ children” along with a photo and Associated Press caption, reading: “Members of a class of 12 gypsy children who are to attend in Beverly, Massachusetts, Jan. 26, 1937, what is believed to be the nation’s first school exclusively for gypsy children. The school board decided on the special class after hearing teachers’ reports that the children were so much below normal in education that they retarded other pupils in the regular classes.” An early interesting early example of the “tracking” and segregation that still dogs schools.

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

Painting of “A Glimpse of the Positive Divide” by Montserrat College professor Timothy Harney.

(Cross-published on by John O. Harney.)

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Creating Classes … and More Bits from the NEJHE Beat


More Underrepresented Groups. Even before Americans began retreating from educational equity amid the recent backlash against “political correctness,” our empathy was directed at a fairly traditional set of underrepresented populations: African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans and students with disabilities (many of whom are being reminded only now that their student loans can be forgiven). If anything, we need to widen that net to include at least: Muslims, the LBGTQA community, rural (not just urban) students, convicts (who can be denied admission and student financial aid due to their past criminal records) and the children of convicts. One in 14 Americans will grow up with a parent in prison, according to a 2015 study by the Maryland-based research center Child Trends. Among African Americans, 1 in 9 has had a father in prison by age 14. That’s not a level playing field.

Creative Accounting. Many commentators have evangelized about the verve brought to cities by the “Creative Class,” but few have as many disciples as Richard Florida, the author of The Rise of the Creative Class. Florida’s premise is eloquently dissed by Carolyn Zelikow of the Aspen Institute’s Future of Work Initiative. “As far as I can tell, the Creative Class is just a new name for rich people,” she writes in Market Urbanism. “They might come in every color of the rainbow, but the most obvious shared trait of this Creative Class is that they are loaded. Florida’s typical character sails through life in the most extravagantly expensive neighborhoods on the planet.” She adds: “Florida’s tacit preference for bike lanes over food stamps, and urban density over more affordable suburban sprawl is especially insidious, because it appeals to precisely the type of people who plan cities, themselves members of the class that Florida so flatteringly describes.” These are sentiments evident in my Editor’s Memo titled “Artists Only” though I didn’t describe them as eloquently as Zelikow.

NE Pharma. NEBHE has been very proud over the years of New England’s public pharmacy education programs that offer tuition discounts through NEBHE’s Regional Student Program. Now, one of the recent private-sector entrants in the field deserves some kudos. The independent University of New England College of Pharmacy, based in Biddeford, Maine, was recently awarded $20,000 by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) Foundation to address the prescription drug abuse epidemic and health consequences in Maine by creating a continuing education curriculum for prescribers and pharmacists that increases the appropriate use of the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program.

Sexual Assault. The issue of sexual assault is too complex to do justice in a higher education journal, though we’ve looked at it from time to time, beginning with our Emotional Rescue edition that explored various pathologies facing today’s students, including date rape. The topic recently reared its head nationally when a Brigham Young University student who reported being sexually assaulted to local police was found in violation of the college’s “honor code” and denied services. Now, the Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence in Marblehead, Mass., pitches us the story of a free smartphone app as “the ONLY resource available to the 85% of victims who are not ready to report what happened to the appropriate authorities. By giving these victims a tool to record what happened and preserve their options about when the authorities get involved, the app helps victims deal with their ongoing trauma.” The app inventors plan to let us know when the first New England campus signs on.

Indebted Students. The University of Connecticut newspaper recently reported on a Higher One news release showing that 90% of students “feel they do not have all the information necessary to pay off their college loans.” It’s a murky world. Higher One recently sold its division that disburses financial aid to students through a special debit card scheme that has come under government scrutiny. As the New Haven Independent reported, “The company that symbolized New Haven’s and Connecticut’s efforts to create new-economy jobs of the future is becoming one more local division of an out-of-state bank, struggling to stay alive after years of scandal.”

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

Painting of “Still Life with Old Sunflowers” by Montserrat College professor Timothy Harney.

(Cross-published on by John O. Harney.)

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Poaching, Jocks, Creds and Other News from the NEJHE Beat


Poaching. Florida Gov. Rick Scott invited Yale University to bring its $25 billion endowment to his state after Connecticut legislators proposed taxing Yale to address the state’s budget shortfall. Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (who incidentally was just named winner of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for his decision to publicly welcome a Syrian refugee family to Connecticut) rejected the tax Yale proposal. As a Malloy spokesman explained: “We don’t believe that new taxes should be part of our solution as Connecticut adjusts to a new economic reality. Instead, we should make the spending reductions necessary for living within our means.” The impoverished neighbors outside rich university gates and underpaid staff inside the gates might disagree, but well-endowed universities argue that if they draw on the endowments to cover operating expenses, never mind pay taxes, they’d hardly be able to pay for the perpetual upkeep of their great old buildings, rare books and other capital. Jorge Klor de Alva, the president of Nexus Research and Policy Center and former president of the University of Phoenix, weighed in on the endowment tax issue, noting that “Many of the richest universities in the country, sitting on billions of dollars in tax-exempt endowments, receive through the tax laws government subsidies that greatly eclipse the appropriations received by public colleges.” He suggested that the tax-exempt status generates over $69,000 per student each year in taxpayer subsidies at Yale, compared with $23,300 per student at the University of Connecticut and $6,200 per student at Tunxis Community College. Meanwhile, a columnist named Ira Stoll, editor of, also coaxed Yale, with tongue partly in cheek, to follow GE to Boston, which recently moved its headquarters from Fairfield, Conn. to the Boston waterfront. Interestingly, a new proposal in Connecticut would turn the old GE headquarters in Fairfield into a high-tech hub.

Jocks. Speaking of Connecticut, just as the UConn women’s basketball team was preparing for its fourth straight title match, an article in Aeon argued that football should be offered as a college major, since college football players spend more than 40 hours a week on the field, in the weight room and so on. David V. Johnson, opinion editor at Al Jazeera America, argues in the piece that majors in art practice, dance and performance studies and theater combine educational requirements of practice and theory, but focus on practice, so provide good models for a sports major. The football major, for example, would consist of the practicum, the many hours of physical training, practice, film study and meetings. Courses would also be required in the history, science, criticism and business of the discipline, as well as in the related fields of physiology, nutrition, journalism and sports management. Indeed, all of these fields of study already exist. A graduate of the football major could claim some expertise in the field, and be someone with the potential for significant impact, as an athlete, coach, trainer, agent, commentator, consultant, or team member in a complex organization.” Meanwhile, our friends at New England’s biggest newspaper flashed a front-page feature recently about Boston College lamenting that “the sorry state of the school’s showcase sports has depleted morale, sapped attendance, diminished BC’s national athletic stature, and prompted calls for action.” The story slammed BC president, the Rev. William P. Leahy. “Leahy is seen by many alumni as less exuberant about building elite sports programs than advancing the school’s academic excellence.” Wait, isn’t that a good thing?

Stinkin’ Badges and Other Credentials. NEBHE is exploring how a range of new “credentials” from all manner of purveyors of “badges” as well as employers and the military promise implications for traditional higher education institutions and the region’s knowledge-based economy. Most recently, higher ed leaders are pondering how “micro-credentials” can offer “bite-sized,” low-cost learning opportunities to students, including working adults who don’t need an entire degree program to learn different skills and change jobs, but do need a flexible way to earn credentials recognized by employers. Recently, the University of Massachusetts Medical School unveiled a collaboration with six Massachusetts community colleges and the state Department of Higher Education to offer a uniform curriculum for state schools that will create “stackables.” To be sure, we’ve been broaching these “new models” for some time. The new curriculum could help address the language barriers that divide patients and healthcare professionals. And stackables mean credit-bearing courses that may start with certificates for basic assistance could lead to additional career options, such as nursing or becoming doctors.

Second Childhood. There’s not much news in college presidents writing books. But frequent NEJHE contributor and former president of Southern Vermont College Karen Gross has written a children’s book. From the plug: “Lady Lucy’s Quest is the story of a feisty young girl who wants to be a Knight in the Middle Ages. She confronts many hurdles but ultimately finds success because she is able to solve problems in unique and unexpected ways. Through her actions and words, she demonstrates the importance of pursuing one’s dreams and the power of the possible for children everywhere.” Karen Gross adds: “And yes, I have an adult book forthcoming from Columbia Teachers College Press.”

ROI. Bentley College is the latest to boast about how many of its graduates have jobs soon after graduation. To judge from my son’s high school class, many of the ones who chose Bentley are testing the ladders in Boston’s Financial District. “But measuring a graduate’s success goes far beyond job placement. Whether they are engaged and thriving in their work and personal life post-graduation is another key metric that is now being measured by Gallup,” notes Bentley in its news release. Among the Class of 2015, Bentley contends its graduates outperform the Gallup-Purdue national average across the board, in social well-being, community well-being and physical well-being.

John O. Harney is executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education. (Some readers have encouraged me to offer thoughts akin to my former Editor’s Memo columns; this and the recent Spring Training: Some Catches from the NEJHE Beat are gestures in that direction.)

Painting of “Still Life with Wong’s Pot and Dead Flowers” by Montserrat College professor Timothy Harney.

(Cross-published on by John O. Harney.)

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Home at the Shipping Controls

A harbor control tower from Rotterdam harbor cruiseOf all the fascinating sights on my recent trip to Holland and Belgium, this control tower in Rotterdam harbor stands out. Several of these towers control traffic in and out of the busiest harbor in Europe.

Imagining a job in one of these structures brought back the memory of standing over a warm air register in my house as a child as I watched out the window, fingered the controls of a wall-mounted drying rack and mouthed instructions as if directing trains in and out of a busy railyard.

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Spring Training: Some Catches from the New England Higher Ed and Economy Beat …

qGsuPxAwzZnds5ntSpring Has Sprung? You’d never know by the snow on the ground in many parts of New England, but the announcements of spring commencement speakers at the region’s higher education institutions have begun. Capt. Richard Phillips will deliver the commencement address at Vermont’s Castleton University in May. The former captain of the Maersk Alabama was enrolled at Castleton as an art major when he was kidnapped by Somali pirates. His was an inspiring story that made it to the silver screen, though my son, who is wise beyond his years and worked with resettled Somalis in Burlington, Vt., worried the hit movie could spur a backlash. … Northeastern University announced its speaker will be U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. … Should anyone doubt the impact of college commencements on the area, a website called BostonZest carries a list of Spring 2016 graduations that “helps visitors to Boston understand why hotel rooms are so expensive and restaurant reservations so scarce on some dates in May.”

Dangerous Places. We recently tweeted about the University of Hartford’s announcement that it’s the first higher ed institution in New England to equip public safety officers with “stop the bleed” kits to save lives during mass casualty events. We’ve also had the pleasure of publishing pieces about “hyperlocal smartphone alerts” to notify students of local events, weather advisories and deals from nearby merchants, but also to protect them from campus shooters and prove compliance with the Clery Act that requires campuses to report on crime and safety. Innovative technologies have always been spawned by the region’s higher ed. And now these are sadly required by today’s campuses. So are semi-automatic rifles for campus police if you believe Northeastern and Boston University.

Closing Generation Gaps. Programs that bring together senior citizens and young people seem a no-brainer for a region that is aging fast and depends economically on talent of all ages. Latest exhibit: Quinsigamond Community College and Marlboro, Mass. city officials began a partnership offering senior citizens healthy lunches cooked by college culinary students. Quinsigamond officials noted that co-op students receive hands-on experience in food preparation and menu planning, while earning a certificate in Hospitality and Dietary Management.

Lend Me Your Ear … and More. The Boston Globe recently reported on the increasing number of companies offering a new employee benefit to help pay off college loans. Natixis Global Asset Management S.A. and Fidelity Investments were the main examples, offering to pay up to $10,000 in federal student loans of employees of at least five years. Diane Saunders, then a VP at Nellie Mae, shared the concept with NEJHE (then called Connection) 20 years ago. Years later, the Maine Compact for Higher Education tried to enlist Maine companies to provide tuition remission and other forward-looking workforce education policies, but got few takers.

Out of State. The Washington Post and others recently stated the obvious (again): “America’s most prominent public universities were founded to serve the people of their states, but they are enrolling record numbers of students from elsewhere to maximize tuition revenue as state support for higher education withers.” Indeed, we reported a decade ago on higher ed access guru Tom Mortenson’s assertion: “Public four-year colleges and universities in 28 states, including three New England states, have been dealing with their budget problems by increasing enrollment of out-of-state residents and decreasing their share of enrollment of lower-income Pell Grant recipients since the early 1990s.” He called it “enrollment management at its worst.” … A more recent report by the American Council on Education reveals that most incoming freshmen attending public four-year colleges and universities enroll within 50 miles of their home. For more than a half century, NEBHE’s Regional Student Program Tuition Break has stretched that sense of home, enabling residents of the six New England states to pay a reduced tuition rate when they enroll at out-of-state public colleges and universities within the six-state region and pursue approved degree programs not offered by their home-state public institutions. In some cases, students may be eligible when their home is closer to an out-of-state college than to an in-state college. … Meanwhile, the national think tank New America’s report, “Starting From Scratch,” would replace the current federal higher education financing system, which it characterizes as a voucher program “where aid follows students” to one based on formula-funded grants made to states.

Or Regional? Speaking of coveting your neighbor’s goods, Massachusetts recently celebrated luring General Electric’s headquarters to Boston. The Hub is sparkling and thriving, and the city wants to enhance its reputation as a magnet for innovation. But somehow it’s a little less satisfying when the booty is coaxed from another New England state; GE had been bringing good things to life from headquarters in Fairfield, Conn. Never mind that the company has the reputation of being a notorious tax-avoider.

Over the Piscataqua. The population of New Hampshire surpassed that of Maine for the first time in 200 years according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, analyzed by Kenneth Johnson, senior demographer at the Carsey School at the University of New Hampshire. Since mid-2010, New Hampshire added about 14,000 residents, while Maine added fewer than 1,000. Maine recorded what traditional economists consider a grim demographic equation: More people died than were born.

The Other Training. New England’s railroads are an overlooked asset in the region’s education and economic future. MassLive reports that planning is in the early stages for frequent north-south passenger trains on the “Knowledge Corridor” from Springfield, Mass., stopping in Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield. Recently, freight trains began carrying the first shipping containers loaded on the Portland, Maine waterfront to connect with freight customers throughout North America. It’s cheaper to move heavy cargo by train than truck, because more can be moved at once with less fuel and fewer workers. In the Boston area, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is revisiting an idea first proposed in 2014 to sell large quantities of discounted passes to colleges and universities. Railroads already offers convenient passenger service to Bridgewater State University and the University of New Hampshire, as well as Greater Boston campuses.

Green(Mountain)Peace. Vermont once again was the top-ranked state in per-capita Peace Corps volunteers. (Vermont has also suffered disproportionately more deaths in the Iraq War than any other state.)

Town-Gown Is Back in Fashion. Colby College is buying distressed properties on Main Street in Waterville, Maine, planning to build a dormitory there and create a fund to provide loans and grants to small businesses. The city of 16,000 has the advantages of the 810-seat Opera House, the Maine Film Center and the Colby College Museum of Art.

Do You Speak Code-ish? Interesting to read of the “A100” 12-week bootcamp in New Haven that sharpens the skills of recent computer science graduates to be software developers across the state. The weekly New Haven Independent notes that a fleet of young software developers around the city will “create a true tech scene in New Haven,” already including two new startups, one a chauffeur service called I Drive Your Car, the other a healthcare service called Patient Wisdom. As the weekly quotes A100 founder Derek Koch: “It’s part of generating a successful startup ecosystem.” Now, whether high school students should be allowed to substitute computer coding classes for foreign language requirements as Florida legislators have considered is a bit less less clear.

The Weakest Among Us. Massachusetts has the highest rate of abused children in the nation. There could be no more ominous stat for a state’s and a region’s social and economic future. Meanwhile, Georgetown University economists reported that African Americans are overrepresented in majors that lead to low-paying jobs. But they are critical jobs: early childhood education, human service organization, social work and theology. Is it too naive to suggest that the reward system of the labor market may be the problem?

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

Painting of “Still Life with Lime” by Montserrat College professor Timothy Harney.

(Cross-published on by John O. Harney.)

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