Larry Daloz

Coordinator of Learning Services, CCV 1972 – 1976

Reinventing College from Scratch

I think it probably began with Steve Hochschild. He and I had known each other at Harvard, and on my return from doctoral work in New Guinea we got together. He explained that he was working as a Planner for a new “open college” in Vermont and proceeded to describe a system that had no campus, no paid faculty, and no credits. And it was free! The president was a “really cool guy” named Peter Smith, at 27 said to be the youngest college president in the country. “We’re inventing higher education from scratch,” Steve told me, “but we need someone who can help us organize our learning systems.” Was I interested?

It was the fall of 1971. Vermont was feeling the first twinges of a back-to-the-land movement that would dramatically reshape the state—and in many ways the nation’s culture as well. As one who was building a geodesic dome in the middle of a Northeast Kingdom hayfield, reinventing higher education sounded pretty good to me.

Influenced by the emerging “open university” movement, elaborated by Peter Smith’s remarkable vision, and saddled with the lamentable moniker, the “Vermont Regional Community College Commission” (how it became CCV rather than “Justin Morgan College” is another story), this fledgling experimental proposition had just received a hotly contested Title III grant from the federal Office of Economic Opportunity. It was convened to bring people who wanted to learn together with those who had the knowledge they sought. Period. That was the deep purpose of the institution—if it could be called an institution at all. We referred to it, rather darkly I thought, as a “learning delivery system.” And the strategy? Well, there were caveats. It was to be student-centered: courses were to be designed in collaboration with the learners themselves. There were to be no time-based credits: learning would be evaluated in terms of outcomes. Credentials for faculty? Naturally, but it was to be the credentials of earned experience, not mere book learning, that mattered. Want to learn community organizing? We’ll hire you a community organizer, not a sociologist. There were some on the staff at the time who were convinced that an advanced degree was a severe handicap. Would there be a degree? Of course, but how it would be determined lay before us, a trackless wilderness. It was thrilling.

So I signed on with a six-month contract as a consultant to design a learning system for the place. The system was to include “student support” on the one hand, and “teacher support” on the other. At the time, in addition to a small central office located on Langdon St. in Montpelier, there were sites in Montpelier, Brattleboro, and St. Johnsbury, each with its own Coordinator and support staff for students. Shortly after that, a “teacher support” person was hired at each site. For the next six months I worked with each site team to come up with a “learning support system” that delineated each person’s roles and the relationships among them. I drew diagrams and maps, typed bullet-points and caveats, spoke of “competencies,” “interventions,” and “evaluation criteria.” Peter thought it was great, Steve was duly impressed, our resident radical, John Chater, and the site Coordinators rolled their eyes, staff shrugged, and I was hired under a fresh Carnegie grant at $12,000 a year to become “Learning Services Coordinator” for the college, its first…um…academic dean.

My recollection of those early days features above all else the boistrous and testosterone-soaked Wednesday morning “Management Team” meetings. At one end of the table Peter, wearing his signature leather vest, leans back in his chair, feet defiantly on the table, and exuberantly shreds this or that academic evildoer; beside him Planner Steve Hochschild, necktied and trimly pressed, pleads for a coherent management plan, while Chuck Parker, the Finance Guy, throws out a stream of pecuniary and scatological jargon and warns darkly of fiscal disaster. Meanwhile, as the Site Coordinators argue fiercely for local control, I doodle in my notes my emerging “wagon wheel theory” of administrative order: everyone at the hub wants the spokes to be identical while each spoke, its outer end regularly ground into the mud, demands autonomy. And at the other end of the table sits John Holden, elder statesman planted among us by unseen wiser powers to provide something like common sense. Proving his sagacity, he rarely says a thing. What he was thinking amidst all that cacophony was anyone’s guess, but his presence must have reminded us when we took the time to glance in his direction, that we were about something more important than our own thrashing impact on the tiny world of higher education in Vermont.

By late 1972, we had lots of courses running, but still no degree program. Community Colleges conventionally offer Associates Degrees, so that was a given. But we had declared credits to be the baggage of a moribund system. How, then, did you know when a person merited the degree? “When they are competent, of course,” roared the competency-based ideology, but how competent, how do you know that, and at what? What’s more, although we were committed to recognizing prior experiential learning, almost every other college who did that (and there were a scant handful at the time) also gave credits. Yet since credits were based on time spent in a classroom, how would we assess the educational value of experience out of the classroom without some academic reference point?

As it happened, Peter had wrangled his way into a coalition of non-traditional colleges under the auspices of the Educational Testing Service to create principles of good practice for assessing experiential learning. Its acronym, CAEL, stood at the time for “Council for the Assessment of Experiential Learning,” and, headed by Antioch’s venerable Morris Keaton, it was to remain a vital force in non-traditional education for decades. I became the college’s academic representative, and over the next several years—we are talking the early ‘70’s here—under steady fire from our fellow state colleges and their nettled faculties, we wrestled with tough and very real questions: what’s the difference between teaching and learning? what is the interplay among assessment, documentation and certification? how do we establish evaluation criteria and assess achievement against standards? The College worked hard to shape a rigorous process of planning, implementing, and evaluating a quality degree program without sacrificing vital student engagement in setting learning outcomes.

The “competency-based” education movement was in ascendance at the time (as it appears to be again today), and it quickly became evident why “credits” were far simpler. Colleges turned themselves and their students into pretzels trying to specify in advance and in excruciating detail precisely what behaviors their students should exhibit. While I liked the idea of being clear about what had been learned, I found the effort to base a curriculum, much less an educational philosophy on so mechanistic and prescriptive an approach, repugnant. Art Chickering, who, with his wife, Joanne, was profoundly helpful to us in those years, put it succinctly. “The goal of a training program is that everyone should come out the same,” he told us once. “But the ideal of a good education is that each student emerge unique.” Out of all this, we became convinced that our curriculum would develop competence but not enumerate “competencies.” And then the Big Question reared its ugly head. I even later used it as the title of a journal article: Now They are Competent, So What? in which I argued forcefully for the primacy of deep reflection on the purpose of learning over the mere “technique” of assessment technology.

What, then, was the ultimate purpose of learning at CCV? Peter used to joke that in the early days if we were busted, we’d all be found pockets bulging with dog-eared copies of John Holt, Ivan Illich, Jonathan Kozol, Paulo Freire, and Neil Postman. These were primary texts in our formation, and it showed. The purpose of education was clearly to help people learn how to learn, and the aim of education (Kohlberg’s mighty eponymous essay and Chickering’s powerful Goddard-born book notwithstanding), was autonomy. Echoing a good New England tradition, we called it “education for self-reliance.” I sharply recall Margery Walker, Montpelier’s doughty Coordinator and the only female on the Management Team, raising a Quakerly eyebrow at the individualistic tone of the epithet. “Don’t you think learning happens best in community?” she asked archly. But she was politely ignored and it was only decades later that I came to recognize how right she was.

What kinds of competence would make for self-reliant learners? After a year of painstaking conversation with students, teachers, staff, employers, and the public, I proudly presented Peter with a list of several dozen clusters of competence. “You’ve got to be kidding!” he bellowed. “No more than ten—at the most!” I knew he was right, the clusters hit the shredder, and we went back to the scissors and paste. What finally emerged were ten “Areas of Competence”: Self-awareness, Communication, Cultural Awareness, Community Relations, Interpersonal Relationships, Creative Competence, Manual and Physical Competence, Environmental Awareness, Analytical Competence, and [oh yes!] Knowledge. Looking back, I recognize it as clearly a committee scramble, but hey, we were trying to re-invent higher education, weren’t we? You could do worse.

So there was one more challenge. How would we decide when a person was ready to graduate? And who would decide? What we came up with is not unlike the portfolio process used today in widely diverse educational settings: students developed a “learning contract” complete with learning goals developed in consultation with CCV staff; they assessed their prior learning against those goals, took courses and independent studies to meet them, and throughout the process met with a “Local Review Committee” made up minimally of a community member, college staff, a fellow student, and faculty. Upon approval, the portfolio went to a college-wide committee for final review.

All of this and more I wrote up in a document for CAEL and the College. It remains, frankly, one of my proudest achievements though surely long forgotten and unread. Titled Standard Setting by Students and Community: How Much Is Enough?, it became the founding framework for the CCV Associate’s Degree and a model for a number of other non-traditional institutions seeking to be a part of a truly student-centered, community-based approach to promoting educational quality grounded not in hours spent in a classroom or degrees held by faculty but by the relevance and appropriateness, the goodness of fit with both local and global constraints. It was a bid, I still believe, for a more rooted, integrated, and connected vision of education, but a bid too tender to stand.

Like the CAEL report, much of the founding charism of CCV was far too heady to last. Many of those early dreams were simply the stuff of any initial start-up, bound to take more substantial form in the rub of the world. And much of it was sheer youthful idealism, some avowedly misguided, an outgrowth of our own 60’s counter-dependence. We knew what we were against, but were less adept at creating something that would reliably replace it. Clearly the free tuition and unpaid faculty impulse was unsustainable; tuition and teacher pay rapidly returned, as did the practice of paying for instructional space. And, with accumulating experience, it made sense to hire the same excellent teachers over and over, thus establishing a kind of permanent faculty. Then, several years after our inclusion in the State College system, credits swept back in. A purely competence-based system was too radical an assault on institutional collaboration, too wrenching a demand for the larger system to accommodate. Myrna Miller, who as President in the early eighties consolidated much of this retrenchment, deserves great credit for bringing about changes that were undeniably essential for the college’s long-term survival. And she did so while continuing to nourish the deep commitment to students that has remained at the heart of the college and that ultimately enabled it to thrive.

More than four decades later, I look back on those years, at once appalled by our arrogance, gratified by the courage of our aspirations, astonished by our achievement, and deeply proud of what CCV has become. I leaf through the handsome publications, scan the inspiring diversity of course offerings across the state, see the strength and pride on the faces of the graduates, and am filled with gratitude that we were given the opportunity to lay the groundwork in those early years for what has become such an extraordinary, inspiring, and truly excellent educational institution.

August 11, 2015

Gabrielle Dietzel

Coordinator of Instruction and Advisement at CCV 1982-2004; Director of the Office of External Programs, Prior Learning Assessment, until 2015.

I started working at CCV as a Coordinator of Academic Services in 1982. I stayed in this role until 2004, when I took over the Vermont State Colleges’ Prior Learning Assessment program which is located at CCV. In the summer of 2015, I retired after being part of CCV for 33 years.

In 1982, the CCV Central Office was located above the Howard Bank building in Montpelier, and the Central Vermont Site of CCV was located in Barre, above the old “Lash Furniture” store. (Every time Lash turned its carpet rolling machine on, all conversation had to cease since we wouldn’t be able to understand our students’, teachers’, or our own words.)

On my second day on the job, I got a call from Nancy Chard, who was at that time the Regional Director of the southern region of CCV. The Regional Director of the northern region was Nancy Severance. Nancy Chard told Gabrielleme that: a) I was on the “Curriculum Committee”, b) the meeting was the next day, and c) to bring scissors. Scissors?!? I soon found out. The next day, five or so of my new colleagues gathered around a table, scissors in hand, and we all started cutting up the CCV course lists.

At that time, each CCV site had their own course schedule, and although the course titles were pretty much the same, each site had their own description and version of what e.g. “Applied Math” was all about. So here was the curriculum committee, armed with small machetes, cutting out the nine different versions of “English Comp”, placing them next to one another, comparing, contrasting, and coming up with one ‘blurb’ that everyone in the college would use. Nowadays, that would be called Cut and Paste. And that’s what we did – cutting and pasting the curriculum together. Therefore, on day three of my CCV career, I understood that if something needed to get done, we’d roll up our sleeves and just figure out how to do it, whichever way would work. And that is exactly the way it was, for 33 years. Only the means changed. But the approach was the same.

At this time, CCV did not have a president. There was a Dean, Myrna Miller, and she was about to leave CCV for another job. As an interim leader, Richard Bjork (the VSC Chancellor) oversaw us. The college then began a search for a president, and Ken Kalb was hired in 1983. Ken was our leader for over a decade, and many things came together during that time. The college expanded; the Burlington site, now the CCV Winooski center, was opened in Chittenden County under loud protest by the other area colleges who believed that CCV would take away students from their institutions.

This turned out to be both true and not true. CCV attracted students who were not interested in the other colleges, who had not applied to other schools, who could only go to school part time, who were the first in their family to attend college, who did not want to pursue a degree but learn new skills (especially computer skills), who could not afford the cost of other colleges, who wanted to try out college without making a long-term commitment, and who were working adults with professional schedules and family responsibilities. For those students, CCV was perfect as the other schools were not able to respond to those needs the way CCV could through its built-in flexibility and open door policy.

As CCV became more established in Chittenden County, students began to vote with their feet. CCV had so much to offer any non-traditional student. Slowly, traditional age student began arriving at the door. For CCV, this was a switch. I remember a CCV staff training day in the mid-eighties for the sole purpose of discussing the impact the young students would have on the college, and how to best advise, integrate, and teach these students. In the rest of the country, colleges held staff training days that focused on how to deal with non-traditional age students.

More and more young students came to CCV, especially in Burlington. Student numbers grew every semester. The growth of the college was astonishing and rewarding. Burlington CCV staff began, in the nineties, to work on transfer agreements with area colleges. An agreement with UVM’s College of Arts and Sciences would allow students graduating with a certain GPA to have automatic admission into their junior and senior year at UVM. This was huge. Also, it was beneficial for both schools.

Demographics were changing. When I began working at CCV in the eighties, 60% of our students were ‘life-long learners”, not interested in a degree. 75% were female. About 85% were adult students. All of this changed significantly over the next two decades. The college grew and grew. More CCV centers were opened, until there were 12 CCV sites. Then, on-line course began to appear, and the college had its 13th site – the virtual CCV site, now called the Center for Online Learning.

CCV has come a long way. It was exciting, challenging, fun, and required huge commitments from staff. We all worked hard. We did the most amazing things – they are hard to imagine now.

When the new course list came from the printer, CCV staff would drive around in their area and hand deliver the course lists in person, to stores, laundromats, community agencies, companies, local libraries, and so on. This gave CCV staff the opportunity to interact with the community in person, answer questions, entice potential students to take a course, and sometimes receive requests for new courses. It was the kind of public relations effort that no one would be able to make time for. Later, a marketing unit was established that was able to develop statewide advertising campaign and developed a new look, materials, and a visual presence.

Student registration, before computers, was managed by a system of 5×7 cards in a metal box. Students who were officially registered and had paid were noted on the card in pen. Students who had expressed an interest but had not actually paid were written in pencil. Registration forms were filled out in quadruplicate – one for the student, one for the site, one for the financial aid office, and one for the central registrar’s office in Waterbury.

We drove the new technology – VCRs! – to CCV classrooms which were all over the place. We took the leftover soup from one teacher night (the dinner before the semester started) to the next teacher night at another CCV site. Staff often prepared the food. Sometimes, teachers (at that time our instructors were still called teachers, not faculty) prepared food. Materials were transported from site to site or class to class – such as sharing three art history slide sets between everyone in the college, or transporting the one computer, the BLUE EGG, to be used for the brand new “Introduction to Computers” class from the CCV business office, which was by then located in Waterbury, to Montpelier and back the next morning. The joke was that when a new academic coordinator was interviewed: “Yes, she’s nice, but does she have a station wagon?”

Ken Kalb began the tradition of the annual all-college meeting, convocation. Nancy Chard became the first CCV Academic Dean. CCV staff had a “computer training” day at VTC, where we got to touch those machines and print out word processed documents on green-and-white striped paper. It’s hard to imagine now that we all worked on yellow pads and sent around Academic Review Board Minutes, sharing one copy per site. Slowly, computers started to arrive; first for administrative tasks, then for all staff. CCV sites needed to have computer labs. CCV hired a Computer Guru.

Degree Planning Seminar (DPS), a 1-credit course each degree student had to take, required students to design their own programs by meeting nine competencies. Students were often frustrated by this task – they wanted to know what exactly they had to take and which class would fulfill what requirement. Consequently, the first “Red Book” was created – laying out the degree programs (about 10) and specifying required courses. The development of the Red Book was huge and consequential. Advisors exhaled a common sigh of relief, and students were screaming for their copy. Slowly, the nine competencies were adapted and changed. Degree planning became a much more opaque process. President Ken Kalb secretly enrolled in the Degree Planning Seminar and created a degree plan for the fictitious “Thelma Spieler” so he could understand the process better – and Thelma’s plan was sent through the Academic Review Board (ARB). During those days, all student degree plans were reviewed in a two-day marathon meeting of the ARB at the Waterbury Central CCV office. They were chaired by Nancy Chard, clutching her famous coffee mug that said “I’d rather be having a beer!” All students received direct feedback from the ARB. It was a cumbersome but thorough process that is unthinkable today – student numbers were so much lower than today.

The grading system in the 1980s was pass/fail. Students received a written, narrative evaluation of their learning, based on common “essential” objectives that were slowly designed by the curriculum committee with the help of teachers, using Bloom’s Taxonomy. This was a huge undertaking but very successful as it clearly delineated student learning expectations/outcomes common for all CCV courses. CCV academic staff believed strongly in the usefulness of these narrative evaluations. Students, however, felt differently. They wanted grades. CCV staff lost that battle, and pass/fail remained the automatic option but grades could be requested by filling out forms with signatures, etc. In the 90’s, this changed to numerical grades becoming the default.

While not preserving the significance and value (as many advisors felt) of the narrative approach, this made student transfer easier as more and more CCV students started continuing on to other colleges as CCV transcripts had become increasingly accepted in Vermont.

Advisors/coordinators, at that time, served also as financial aid counselors, until in the late 80s specialized Financial Aid counselors were hired, much to the relief of the academic advisors. In some CCV sites, academic staff at CCV was divided into specialized coordinators – those working with teachers, and those working with students. In the mid-80s, this changed through the creation of a more comprehensive role for coordinators – they became the “CIAs” – Coordinators of Instruction and Advisement.

In the late 80s, CCV started to establish a library. This development came in response to concerns by the regional accreditation teams. How could a college exist without a library? Students had had to mainly rely on their local libraries. Under the guidance of Eileen Chalfoun, a distinctive, decentralized library system was developed: each CCV site had a dedicated, small library with common titles that would hopefully meet the resource needs for students writing lower level undergraduate research papers. At the same time, students were able to call a 1-800 telephone number, free of charge, to get help in designing research papers and accessing resources. Library staff wrote the first CCV library manual – “Bibliothec”. Several librarians were hired and located at various sites. It was a unique and creative system that was continuously adapted as technology changed.

Staff meetings were often held at the homes of staff. Regional course lists were planned and hashed out over pizza on someone’s back porch. Everyone knew one another. Relationships at work turned into lifelong friendships. There were few ‘bosses’ – the governance structure was quite flat, and it was easy to access anyone in charge of something, and to suggest and create changes. I believe that is one reason for many staff to stay as long at CCV as they do.

There was, and still is, a lot of work to be done by CCV staff. But CCV was a very mission driven institution, and the mission was shared. I am not suggesting that everyone was always happy; but there was a shared belief in the ‘big picture’ of the significance CCV had in our communities. There was lots and lots of discussion between staff and many projects were tried out (some failed, some changed the college forever, for the better). New staff either stayed on for a year or two and left, or basically stayed forever.

In the 80’s, a lot of staff was hired due to the colleges’ growth and expansion. There was a large group of staff, especially among coordinators, who had come to the college with an ethic of personal engagement and certain political beliefs resulting from growing into young adulthood in the 1970s, and time of societal change, upheavals, and new ideas about community and individual responsibility as being part of common community responsibilities. Problems were addressed and worked out until there was some kind of smart solution to the issues. Long-time CCV staff Dee Steffan used to say: “CCV staff is less polite, but more respectful”.

Much of this is still true at CCV to this day. But the college is so much larger now that it’s hard to know everyone the way we used to. However, if you put the entire group of coordinators in one room, and I expect the same is true for a college-wide group of administrative staff, there is a ‘hum’ and excitement in the air that is palpable. Colleagues are glad to see one another. Staff actually likes to be on committees. There are still silly skits, jokes, wild costumes, lots of tongue-in-cheek performances, sassy and funny comments, and various types of sanctioned outrageous behavior. There is also shared grief and caring for one another during difficult times. CCV has grown into a mature and established organization that affects the life of thousands of Vermonters in a positive way.

It has been a pleasure and privilege to be able to contribute to this institution’s success.