At Goodwin College, Scheinberg stresses careers and reshapes lives
By Laurence D. Cohen
October 03, 2011
Ah, the university life. Professors in tweed jackets, smoking pipes and spouting Descartes, as they stroll along the leafy paths, waving as students pass by, mulling the latest in post-modern theory.
Eventually, the kids will graduate and, if dad has his way, will be selling tax-free bonds to their college friends, or, in the alternative, will continue on to get a doctorate in art history and work at the lovely art museum across town from the five-bedroom, 5,000-square-foot house where they grew up.
Of course, for many millions of college students, the scenario is a bit different.
I have to get a better job, which means I need some higher education credentials. But, college is so expensive and I’m working and I have kids to look after and, frankly, I don’t give a damn what the whale in “Moby Dick” actually represents.
And in the chaotic higher education marketplace, there are consumers in between as well, who want enough liberal arts to be engaging at cocktail parties, but also want their ticket stamped for fame and fortune in the business world.
The competition is fierce, with everything from the snobby Ivy League to smallish, high-end liberal arts colleges; to second-tier colleges; to state research universities, to state colleges that used to crank out teachers and call it a day; to junior colleges, nee, community colleges, that hint at occupational therapy; to private for-profit and non-profit institutions that dip their toes in the market and see what the hell folks actually want.
And then, of course, there is a small, but growing, band of dissidents who insist that the dream of every kid should not be a college education; that some folks aren’t up to it, that some don’t need it; that it can be a dangerous diversion from a productive life. As a Harvard study questioning “college for all” put it earlier this year, “The American system for preparing young people to lead productive and prosperous lives as adults is clearly badly broken.”
Through this pedagogical minefield, through the rambunctious marketplace that is higher education, Mark Scheinberg emerged from the depths of the Connecticut River, shook off the water and toxic waste, and slapped us all around a bit with a higher education experiment that seems to be right on track.
Scheinberg is founder, president and chief cheerleader of Goodwin College, a nonprofit school that will find out what you want to be when you grow up, plop you down in a two-year or four-year program; and discourages any excuses about you not finishing what you started.
“Higher education, like any field, needs someone to drive change,” says Michael Meotti, president of the Board of Regents of Higher Education in Connecticut. “Mark saw opportunity and has grabbed it by the horn.”
Goodwin College emerged from the old Data Institute Business School in East Hartford, a traditional “career training” enterprise that Scheinberg wanted to transform into an accredited college with enough bells and whistles to be a “college” – and enough hard-nosed career objectives to get its students through the day. Scheinberg had bought the Data Institute in 1981, when he was in the 20s.
“I’ve always been an entrepreneur; I grew up fairly poor; entrepreneurial thinking was second nature to me. Education and my tendencies to be a businessman? It was a pretty dynamic mix of two things.”
With a carefully crafted mix of social service cha-cha, educational sermons, and political agility, Scheinberg and the Town of East Hartford and the State of Connecticut came together in a big, group hug to claim a dismal, polluted stretch of the Connecticut River as the new home for Goodwin, with about 500 acres and 2.5 miles on the river.
“The school is an unbelievable asset,” explains Ron Pugliese, president of the East Hartford Chamber of Commerce. “East Hartford wouldn’t be the same without it.”
Goodwin offers East Hartford Chamber members a tuition discount – “and many of our members take advantage of it,” says Pugliese. “Goodwin is a great organization, attributable to Mark’s leadership. He sets such a tone — real competence.”
Scheinberg is unromantic about his marketing vision — and his consumer base. Of the more than 2,800 full and part-time students enrolled, almost half are minority, the vast majority of them are women, the average age is the late 20s, and almost all of them live in Connecticut. He sees Goodwin’s job as getting the students jobs, or better jobs, or promotions that require the kind of credential that Goodwin can provide.
Enrollment is up 30-35 percent this year — and Scheinberg says the students represent a special kind of challenge, even as they walk in the door as motivated as any students on Earth.
“”These are people in transition, struggling, having difficulties; many of them need special services.”
Goodwin accepts no excuses. The campus offers “convenience housing,” an emergency domicile if you lose your home or apartment during the semester. There is a food pantry, there is even a “diaper pantry,” and there is a concierge service to help with some of the domestic emergency chores the predominantly female student body has to handle while going to school and, often working as well.
In the past five years, Goodwin has produced more nursing graduates than any other college in Connecticut. Engineering technology programs are tied to particular employers — if that’s what it takes to get the job done.
While there is certainly some residual “learning for learning sake” going on at Goodwin, “we are very much market driven,” Scheinberg insists. “Our students are going to school to get a job.”
Scheinberg has served as president of the East Hartford Chamber and in a number of higher education governance posts, including the Executive Board of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges and the Board of Governors of the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education.
Would he be interested at taking a stab at a traditional university president slot, complete with Shakespeare seminars and French literature professors? “I would not be able to be in that kind of environment,” he says. “If I were in that kind of environment, I would have a hard time.”
Back to work...and he means it.
snapshot: Mark Scheinberg
Name of organization: Goodwin College
Size of organization: 450 employees/$50 million budget
Education: BA, Vassar College
Previous job(s): Been here since I was 24. Before that time, two years at Morse School of Business, and prior to that, founded a child day care center.
On the job
Guiding business principle: Do the right thing and the money will follow.
Best way to keep your competitive edge: Always focus on the vision. How to get there is really only a matter of logistics.
Proudest accomplishment: Helping create a college that has transformed lives and families.
Goal yet to be achieved: Completing an economic renaissance in our community.
Favorite part of the job: Graduation, hands down! It is humbling to see what our students overcome to succeed. It helps to keep perspective about who the real heroes are in the process.
Least favorite part of the job: Feeling helpless to prevent some students from failing despite our best efforts.
Most influential business book: “Good to Great” by Jim Collins
Personal touch in your office: As many pictures of my wife, kids and children as will fit!
Best business decision: Two: Having the confidence to pursue building a river campus out of a discarded brownfield, and being able to find really special staff members who possess enthusiasm, genuine human caring and the competence to do their jobs well.
Worst business decision: Never hire people because they are family or because it might give you political connections. If it doesn’t work out (as is often the case), the ripples can be huge.
Biggest missed opportunity: I labored on this question, and asked my senior staff. They replied that they wish I would miss one now and then!
Best place to network: Metro Hartford Alliance has been the best regional hub – large and small organizations who come together in great spirit and mentorship. Locally, the East Hartford Chamber of Commerce.
Best way to spot trends: Keep a really open mind as we are not the norm.
Next big thing: In academia, the complete blurring of lines – we will be able to self-direct an education that will include online/handheld, project-based or in-person delivery from the best source for any subjects — colleges and companies alike, and fusing these elements into a formalized degree based on outcomes.
Your pet peeve: Bureaucracy and pettiness. Worst of all, when you find both at the same time.
City of residence: Haddam Neck
Favorite way to relax: Playing bass or piano
Last vacation: February, at an ashram in India
Favorite movie: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
The car you drive: 2007 Lexus 470
Favorite communication device: My I-Pad, but nothing compares to face-to-face conversation.
Currently reading: That Used to be Us, by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum — a book about how we’ve lost our way in terms of innovation in this country and what we need to do to regain it.
Favorite cause: Children’s homelessness and support for school-based health centers -- we don’t pick where we’re born and to what circumstances.
Second choice career: Go back to playing in a band