Washington Monthly - September/October 2015 - 44

AMERICA'S TEN MOST INNOVATIVE COLLEGE PRESIDENTS Higher ed in the future may look a lot like what these leaders are doing right now. By Matt Connolly 44 September/October 2015 implemented specific, innovative programs in areas like affordability, diversity, research, and service. They're the ones who, whether well known or not, are shaping the future of America's schools. MARK BECKER Georgia State University Becker has embraced big data as the president of Georgia State, using statistical analysis to greatly increase success for students who are racial minorities, low income, first in the family to attend college, or from other backgrounds historically associated with lower college achievement- which make up the vast majority of a campus population that's getting less white and less rich. Becker's program increased the six-year graduation rate from 32 percent all the way up to 53 percent and basically eliminated the graduation rate gap between students of different racial backgrounds. And that's despite a drop in state funding for higher ed. The school models Mark Becker how students' grades can predict later performance, as well as when financial issues are likely to crop up. When students do particularly well (or particularly poorly) in one class, advisers are ready to help them find similar (or different) classes they can excel in. And when a student is facing money trouble, there's a "micro grant" program to get them the money to stay enrolled. Ninety percent of the 2013 freshmen who received Courtesy of Georgia State University C ollege presidents don't generally factor into the choices students make about where to apply. No high schooler calls her mother after a campus tour to breathlessly say, "Dr. Stevenson has a great ten-year capital projects fund-raising plan!" While some presidents are closer to the spotlight than others, they mostly do their work, from an individual student's perspective, behind the scenes, whether it's making administrative hires, speaking at conferences, or sweet-talking deeppocketed alumni. But for students and higher ed as a whole, college presidents are hugely important actors, because their visions for their institutions-and their ability to carry out those visions-determine whose interests really get served. Unfortunately, most of them, like most humans, tend to accept whatever definition of success their tribe and surroundings tell them. If everyone says that to be an outstanding college president you have to keep the university just the way it is other than to raise and spend more money than your predecessor, well, that's what you'll do. Some presidents, however, resist doing things the same old way for the same wrong reasons. These are innovators who treat their schools like laboratories, devising new and better ways of serving their students while providing potential road maps to success for peer institutions. With that in mind, we've compiled a list of ten college presidents who are changing higher ed for the better. This is not a traditional ranking of which presidents are "best"; no credit is given for increasing the endowment, raising selectivity, or growing a school's brand. And while you'll find college rankings elsewhere in these pages, simply taking over a good school and keeping it good does not an exceptional leader make. Rather, these presidents have

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