One of the most impressive success stories along the banks of the Connecticut isn't one of those big taxpayer-financed buildings in downtown Hartford.
It's across the river at upstart Goodwin College, where big-thinking businessman Mark Scheinberg is conducting a lesson in economic development and higher education.
Most of our elected leaders are ignoring the coming crisis in our workforce. Scheinberg isn't.
Where there were polluting oil tanks, a college serving thousands now sits on the riverbank. There are hundreds of new jobs. Students, most of them women and many of whom couldn't make it in traditional colleges, are graduating with careers. And Scheinberg, a man who grew wealthy running a trade school, is sitting in the corner office of our newest four-year college talking about educating some of the state's neediest college students.
Figuring there had to be something I could learn — or investigate — at the still-under-construction campus, I spent a few hours with Scheinberg in the college's just-finished $38 million home recently. At first, he's a little hard to believe.
"I owned an asset that was worth lots and lots of money. I always said I'd give the thing away," Scheinberg told me. "It seemed like the right thing to do."
Call people about Scheinberg and you get effusive praise or a long pause. As in, can you believe what this Scheinberg has accomplished? Or, what on earth is this trade school dude really up to?
Sure, one answer is that he is paid well to sit in his waterfront office that overlooks Hartford — about $270,000 plus generous benefits. But the reality is that he has turned the old Data Institute into a college on the Connecticut that is training state residents for jobs that are actually out there.
Talk with Scheinberg and he's all over the map. He tells you about a planned sculpture garden stocked with borrowed artwork, bike paths along the river and a vision to turn a nearby housing project into a learning community. A river research vessel will cruise the Connecticut.
He makes no secret that the school made him wealthy or that a third of students pay nothing to attend. His school is more expensive than community colleges — tuition is nearly $16,000 — but Scheinberg argues that is deceptive because Goodwin isn't backed by the subsidies that his competitors, the community colleges, receive.
Goodwin is a mix of public and private initiatives. Most of the new main building was built with private money, but the school has received about $2 million in state bond money, another $3 million in development assistance, plus about $600,000 in federal money for environmental cleanup. It's a private college, but there are plans for at least two public schools on the property. It's a commuter school, but Goodwin is buying up nearby apartments for students and faculty.
Students study for jobs in water treatment plants. They will work in hospitals after preparing in Goodwin's histology, phlebotomy and medical billing programs. There are four-year programs in early childhood education, health sciences and nursing. If the school sees a need — histology, the study of the microscopic anatomy of cells and tissues, is a good example — it moves to create a program whose graduates can feed into employers looking for skilled workers.
"A private school only gets paid if we have students. It does focus your thinking," Scheinberg told me. The number of inquiries from students is up more than 200 percent over last year, he said.
Two-thirds of the 2,500 students who attend during the college's three-semester school year have attended other schools first. About seven in 10 finish the programs they sign up for at Goodwin. More than 60 percent are single parents. Most are working, and half are minorities.
Significantly, these are also the students who have remained in Connecticut and who will be part of our future workforce.
"We can double in size in the next three years," Scheinberg said. Goodwin "has the ability, used right, to be a huge part of the resurgent economic engine. We are able to be whatever you want us to be."
We could all use more of this man's optimism, ideas and entrepreneurial spirit. Finally, a business leader who is doing more than talking.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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