Ability to partner effectively is core to leadership in academia and enterpreneurial ventures, says David Finegold

university higher education innovation international

Dr. David Finegold, Chief Academic Officer, Quad Learning
Dr. Finegold is a leading expert on skill development systems and their application to economic performance in the global marketplace. In his last role, he served as Senior Vice President for Lifelong Learning and Strategic Growth at Rutgers University, spearheading efforts to build a workforce development system for New Jersey’s bioscience sector. He was also a professor at the Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences in Claremont, California. David graduated summa cum laude with a BA in Social Studies from Harvard University, and earned his Ph.D. in Politics as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in England.

Rahul- You have extensive experience as a faculty member and academic leader in university setting. Now you are working in an entrepreneurial and innovative environment at American Honors. What are couple of key leadership lessons for future academic entrepreneurs to succeed in a non-university settings?

David- I believe you can be entrepreneurial in academia as well as the private sector. I’ve been fortunate to have the chance to be part of starting new institutions, as one of the founding faculty members of the newest of the Claremont Colleges, the Keck Graduate Institute. And also to innovate within large public universities, creating the first interdisciplinary new degree program, the Master of Business and Science, that involved more than a dozen schools across all 3 Rutgers campuses. And to forge new public-private partnerships, bringing educators, from K-12 through universities, together with the pharmaceutical and biotech industry to form Bio-1, a life science workforce and economic development regional cluster in Central New Jersey.

The most exciting parts of being a leader in a double bottom-line private start-up company like Quad Learning, which works was the chance to build your own team of bright, highly motivated young people all focused on the same objective, without some of the internal politics and bureaucracy that can sometimes stifle promising initiatives in traditional higher education institutions. Another great feature of leading in the private sector is the knowledge that if you can demonstrate the success of your business model, that you have the opportunity to scale and continue to improve your innovation without worrying it may fall victim to state budget cuts or a grant running out.

The biggest leadership challenges are coping with the pace of change and need to wear multiple hats in a start-up environment. American Honors has grown faster than any new initiative I’ve been part of in higher education, from a pilot of 50 students to over 1000 students spread across 15 campuses in 5 states in just 3 years. And in a lean start-up, each leader has to take on a range of responsibilities without many of the established systems and support staff available in a large university.

The key leadership capability that appears to be common to both academia and entrepreneurial education ventures is the ability to partner effectively. This is particularly true for American Honors, where we are not an accredited institution, but rather an enabler of a national transfer network and strong honors programs built in collaboration with faculty and staff at our partner colleges.

Rahul- Please provide a brief background on American Honors (AH). What is the gap in the market it is addressing? What are the opportunities for international students?

David- A growing number of talented US and international students want to get a top US degree, but don’t have the resources to pay for 4 years at a leading university. In addition, many students have the underlying ability to graduate from these top institutions, but lack the academic preparation, English fluency and/or confidence to go straight to these highly competitive environments directly from high school.

American Honors offers a new, more affordable 2 + 2 path to obtaining a degree from the top public and private colleges and universities. Students spend their first two years in the American Honors program at one of our partner community colleges, and then can transfer to complete the final two years of their bachelor’s degree at a leading university, including our growing network of more than 55 partners, which include 5 top 100 universities offering assured admission places to our graduates.

Rahul- What are couple of strategic goals/initiatives you are looking forward to achieving in next three years?

David- Our primary goal is to expand access for first generation and lower and middle-income students to the best U.S. colleges and universities by continuing to build the first national network which connects honors programs at community colleges to the leading four-year institutions. We already have the most honors students of any community college program in the U.S. and eventually hope to have more seats for talented students during the first two years of colleges than the Ivy League and the top 10 liberal arts colleges combined.

To further expand access globally we are establishing partnerships with educational institutions in different countries. This includes identifying strong partner high schools that we work closely with to prepare a group of students each year to come to American Honors as a first step toward obtaining a top U.S. degree. And working with colleges and universities to offer an American Honors Foundation program that features English as a Second Language (if needed) and a set of the first-year courses so that students can begin their college studies at home and then come to American Honors and our partner universities to complete their degree. We are beginning with partners in Sri Lanka and South Korea, and have discussions underway with other institutions around the world.