NAICU Washington Update

Adrian President Docking Tells House Committee How Independent Colleges are Innovating

September 20, 2013

Innovations at independent colleges were front and center as the House Committee on Education and the Workforce continued its busy hearing schedule on September 18, with a look at the transformations going on within higher education, with a particular focus on partnerships among businesses and colleges.

In the hearing, Jeff Docking, president of Adrian College in Michigan, told the Committee members how Adrian was able to “skip the Great Recession” and grow from a college of less than 900 students in 2005 with an annual operating deficit of $1.3 million to an institution of more than 1,700 students and an operating budget that has more than doubled.

In his testimony, Docking said that Adrian’s efforts were focused on developing a “unique business model that relies on strategic investments, measurable results, and accountability that responds to the needs of students and the job market in Michigan.” Adrian sought out innovative partnerships with businesses that could advance the College’s educational mission while cultivating talent needs in their business community – located just 60 miles southwest of Detroit. Those partnerships, which include micro-research studies with local business leaders and environmental studies with the Michigan International Speedway, among others have given Adrian the resources to expand its financial aid offerings and provide greater access to higher education for many young adults.

Docking also highlighted a new Adrian loan repayment assistance initiative which offers to pay all or part of its student’s loans if they are unable to secure a well-paying job post graduation.

Committee members also heard about efforts at Rice University from witness Rich Baraniuk, director of OpenStax College at Rice, to make college textbooks on the most expensive and widely used subjects freely available to all colleges. Other witnesses on the panel included Charles Isbell, professor and senior associate dean for the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, who talked about their efforts with MOOCs, and Paula Singer, CEO of Global Products and Services at Laureate Education.

In her opening statement Subcommittee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) also highlighted the transformation that has taken place at two other NAICU member institutions. Partnerships with local institutions at Grace College in Indiana were first presented to the House Committee at an earlier hearing in 2011, and was one of the reasons the Committee chose to explore campus innovations further. Rep. Foxx also mentioned how Emmanuel College in Boston worked with Merck Pharmaceutical to launch a new biomedical focus that has revolutionized the institution.

As the hearing finished, several members of the Subcommittee declared they found the topic among the most interesting the Committee had explored to date. Clearly, the impression witnesses left was that higher education was indeed innovating and changing, contrary to the image in recent media reports.