Download PDF Version
 
Foreword
 
Introduction
 
Part I:
 
    Introduction
 
    Respondents
 
    Chapter One:
    The Experience
    of the Grant
    Recipients
 
    Chapter Two:
    The Insider
    Perspective
 
Part II:
 
    Positioning FIPSE
 
    Breadth
    and Inclusiveness
 
    FIPSE Personnel
 
    Soliciting
    Proposals
 
    Project
    Directors
    Meetings
 
    Project
    Ownership
 
    Change Agents
    and Change
    Networks
 
    Risk Taking
 
    The FIPSE
    Environment
 
    Conclusion
 
About the Authors
 
The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education
 

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Page 13 of 18

CHANGE AGENTS AND CHANGE NETWORKS


In its evaluation of the first five years of FIPSE, the NTS Research Corporation covered many areas of FIPSE's work, but it did not include one element that FIPSE staff members would themselves have used to determine success: Did FIPSE actually help develop change, and did it help institutions of postsecondary education to broaden their ability to serve new learners and new purposes? No independent study has been undertaken to determine success on these criteria, but substantial anecdotal information could help to shed light on these issues.

In retrospect, FIPSE's change strategy evolved early on, and it did motivate people to become agents for change. This strategy featured selecting innovative projects created by entrepreneurial people, giving them financial support and some visibility, and linking them with like-minded people and other resources to strengthen their contribution to the project and to encourage the spread of good ideas. John Immerwahr's interviews with project directors suggest that this strategy succeeded: "They produced a whole cadre of leaders at all levels," one project director said. In many cases the subsequent careers of these leaders bear testimony to their commitment to the ideas for which FIPSE supported them.

Herman Blake typifies the change agent who brought fresh ideas into existing institutions. An African-American sociologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Blake established Oakes College as a means of supporting students with disadvantaged backgrounds, using what one program officer has described as a "revolutionary curriculum." FIPSE supported a project led by Blake to enhance incentives for faculty to invest in teaching in addition to research. He recalled, "I can offer myself as one whose career was significantly impacted by an early FIPSE grant." In addition to this early work at Oakes College, he has continued to bring institutional focus to supporting students who normally do not succeed in higher education, at such sites as Indiana University and Iowa State University.

In a few cases, change agents supported by FIPSE used their leadership roles to transform an entire institution's approach to education. Under President Joel Reed, Alverno College in Milwaukee created a college-wide effort to invigorate liberal education through methods which came to be known as ability-based education and assessment techniques that form an integral part of the learning program. Alverno annual hosts workshops and consultations with visitors from both the United States and many other nations to help others learn about this approach.

Others, such as Audrey Cohen and Steve Sunderland, brought a new vision to an entire professional domain. As founders of the College for Human Services (now called the Audrey Cohen College, in New York), Cohen and Sunderland set forth a new vision of education for human services, in which people on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum could learn the skills to be effective contributors to and beneficiaries of society.

Still other change agents sought to expand the boundaries of postsecondary education. Dennis Keller, for instance, saw himself as promoting two new ideas: the need for a "clinical program" in business education-a program for practitioners by practitioners-and a role for private venture capital in higher education. He started the Keller Graduate School, one of the first for-profit business schools in the country. He and a partner then bought the DeVry Institute, which offers a bachelor's degree, where he is presently chairman of the board. DeVry now enrolls 47,000 students on 21 campuses in the United States and Canada.

Not all agents for change were practitioners. FIPSE consciously sought to cross-fertilize fields of practice by bringing in scholars as resources. These scholars made a contribution to emerging areas of practice, and their involvement with FIPSE often had a profound impact on their subsequent careers. Zelda Gamson, for example, is a sociologist of higher education who was attracted to FIPSE because "it gave me a way to pursue scholarly interests and apply my arm-chair theories about change, to learn from practice." She said that FIPSE "stumbled onto a way of identifying people and funding projects that really worked. They found interesting campus people, brought them together with practitioners to share ideas, energy, and creativity. . . . It was very powerful." Gamson became a resource for a FIPSE "National Project" on liberal education, which resulted in her book Liberating Education. She recalled, "The FIPSE experience with teams of people working on educational practice and theory gave me the tools to set up my own projects and then finally the U. Mass Center [for Research on Higher Education]."

FIPSE's commitment to practice-based research also resulted in a grant to Laurent Daloz, enabling him to research and write a book on mentoring that brought two national awards in adult education. "It totally changed my life professionally," Daloz said. He also remembered the program officer who told him, according to Daloz: "I really hope this works, Larry, we went out on a limb for this one."

FIPSE Staff Members as Change Agents

It was common for FIPSE staff members to follow their instincts about significant initiatives and go to bat for them. And FIPSE staff encouraged project directors to take risks by providing role models for this behavior. Summarizing the main lessons from his interviews with several project directors, John Immerwahr wrote:

    Our respondents were unanimous in mentioning FIPSE's willingness to take risks and to support innovation. Projects were funded that no other funding source would touch and several of the respondents reported that they themselves had been shocked by FIPSE's willingness to support them, given their lack of usual credentials.
The proactive role that staff played in selecting change agents and building networks of support was significant. For example, in FIPSE's first year it gave support to a cluster of nearly a dozen women's projects. According to one former staff member:
    Virginia [Smith] was a change agent there. At a time when there were relatively few adult women going to college, we were major entrepreneurs in that area. We looked at credit for life experiences and ways for women to get into law, medicine, and administrative roles in higher education. . . . We started with projects about access-adult women and minority women getting into higher education. We moved from there into an era of women's studies, women's leadership. . . . It seems absurd now but in the mid-1970s there were so few women college presidents, and most of them at women's colleges.
With examples like this in mind, Immerwahr wrote that FIPSE was a "breeder reactor," training staff members who then took the FIPSE philosophy to other organizations. In contrast to staff members in other federal agencies, whom project directors perceived to be bureaucratic "lifers," FIPSE staff members were professionally mobile. Many went on to professional associations and foundations where they were in a position to exercise policy influence. For example, Russell Edgerton headed the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) for many years. Charles I. Bunting became the chancellor of the Vermont State College System and now, as vice president for A. T. Kearney, he works on higher education leadership recruitment. Russell Garth became vice president at the Council of Independent Colleges. Alison Bernstein became vice president at The Ford Foundation. Carol Stoel worked for the American Association for University Women and AAHE, and later became vice president at the Council for Basic Education. David O. Justice became the dean at the School for New Learning at DePaul University, and then was appointed vice president for lifelong learning at DePaul. Richard Hendrix became a dean of the Empire State College, one of the nation's most innovative colleges, and Ray Lewis and Grady McGonagill both started their own consulting agencies.

Legitimizing Change

A grant from FIPSE provided more than support; it also legitimized change as a purpose. From the project directors' point of view, receiving a FIPSE grant was seen as a kind of "Red Badge of Courage"; it was a symbolic admission to an elite underground movement of change agents. Several project directors report that this was the most important consequence of receiving a FIPSE grant. One recalled:

    Nothing would have happened without the imprimatur of FIPSE, that they were willing to back this kind of idea. That gave it substance and credibility. It wasn't just the money that was important. The money was incidental, and it wasn't enough anyway.
Many grant recipients noted that having a FIPSE grant gave them credibility within their own institutions, with other federal agencies, and with foundations. Perhaps most importantly, FIPSE support gave project directors and staff members a sense of deeper legitimacy in their own minds. Blake said, "As Oakes College faculty began to talk about what we [FIPSE projects] were doing around the country, they also began to talk themselves into the significance of what they were doing."

Developing Networks for Change

The conversations Blake referred to as happening "around the country" resulted from a conscious FIPSE strategy to create support networks. FIPSE used the annual project directors meetings to foster connections among like-minded people and projects. One project director recalled:

    The conferences were very important; there was a big effort to get us together with others from whom we would benefit. For example, there was a school that was doing the same kind of thing we were, but had a different focus. They made sure we got a chance to interact with that institution, and the interaction really helped our project.
Although these meetings were structured, they also had some of the flavor of the "open space" meetings that have evolved since (in which anyone with an idea or interest can wave a flag and attract others of similar interest). According to one participant:
    The conferences were amazing. I would be very interested in the people in my area, which was reading, but then I would wander into a discussion of math anxiety. It was enormously stimulating.
These contacts had long-term consequences. Another participant said, "There was a group of us [who] stayed up all night talking. That is how we got to meet. . . . With FIPSE support the organization I am now with was founded." These networks brought change agents together to teach each other and share moral support, thereby strengthening their capacity for local impact.

FIPSE consciously created what are now referred to as "communities of practice." Staff members were on the alert for ideas in one project that could be useful to others. FIPSE sought to cross-pollinate ideas from one institution to another. Russell Garth said that FIPSE's role was to "spot patterns of improvement among these various real-life projects, lift up underlying ideas for scrutiny, shape those ideas so that others might find them useful, and then share the ideas widely." In practice, this meant that FIPSE made grants to individual projects through the Comprehensive Program, and when there were significant similarities among projects, FIPSE staff found additional money for project leaders to get together, share and compare their ideas, and document their findings. Sometimes this took the form of $5,000 for travel money; in other cases it required hiring a person or organization to support the collectivity. For example, FIPSE supported a network on writing by providing resources through a coordinator (Richard Sterling at CUNY). Several other colleges became interested in this issue, and many cited the early work of CUNY as helpful in getting the movement started.

Sometimes these networks remained informal clusters, but occasionally they overlapped with other groups and eventually led to books, such as Women's Ways of Knowing and Learning in Groups. These books were not funded by FIPSE, but some of those involved have reported that their connections trace back to early informal networks formed through FIPSE.

In other cases, the arrangements were more formal. In FIPSE's second year, during the review process, the staff noticed four separate applications seeking grants to develop new general education programs. The staff believed that the proposed projects would be stronger, and more meaningful to the institutions, if the project directors could interact with each other during the development process. The project directors could, perhaps, gain perspective on their own situation by learning how similar questions and issues were being handled in other settings. The applicants were spread across the country from California to North Carolina: a major research university, a small religious college, a performing arts school, and a comprehensive university. Before making the grants, FIPSE, with the agreement of the applicants, formed these projects into a mega-project in which the participants visited each other's sites and shared information with colleagues struggling with similar problems in different settings. This mega-project, later dubbed National Project I, was sufficiently successful to lead the FIPSE staff to solicit groups of applications in subsequent years to be handled as national projects. Subsequent national projects focused on better information for student choice, alternatives to the revolving door, and elevating the importance of teaching.

These networks were, according to one FIPSE staff member, "launching pads for individuals that played leadership roles over time." In some cases the groups bonded to an unusual degree. Zelda Gamson said of one of these projects, "The project ended in 1983-84. But if any of those people were to call me, and say, 'I'm in trouble, I need you,' I would have an instant response."

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