Featured Interview with Dr. Mark David Milliron

Dr. Mark David Milliron
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

About Our Feature Interviewee:

Dr. Mark David Milliron serves as the Deputy Director for Postsecondary Improvement with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, leading efforts to increase student success in the US postsecondary education sector. He is an award-winning leader, author, speaker, and consultant well known for exploring leadership development, future trends, learning strategies, and the human side of technology change. Mark works with universities, community colleges, K-12 schools, corporations, associations, and government agencies across the country and around the world. In addition, he serves on numerous other corporate, nonprofit, and education boards and advisory groups; guest lectures for educational institutions nationally and internationally; and authors and moderates the Catalytic Conversations Blog.

Mark brings broad experience to this work. He founded and served as CEO for the private consulting and service group, Catalyze Learning International (CLI). In addition, he previously served as an Endowed Fellow, Senior Lecturer, and Director of the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin; Vice President for Education andMedical Practice with SAS, the world’s largest private software company; and President and CEO of the League for Innovation in the Community College.

While teaching at Arizona State, Mark received the International Communication Association’s Teaching Excellence Award. More recently, the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education honored Mark as a Distinguished Graduate for his service to the education field. In 2005, PBS named Mark the recipient of its annual O’Banion Prize for transformational work in support of teaching and learning. And in 2007, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) presented Mark with its National Leadership Award for his outstanding accomplishments, contributions, and leadership.

Regardless of all of these activities and accomplishments, he will quickly tell you that the most important job and the greatest blessing in his life is serving as Julia’s husband, and as father to Alexandra, Richard, Marcus, and Max.    Phone: 206.770.2123;    Email:mark.milliron@gatesfoundation.org

The Journal for Civic Commitment is an outlet for practitioners. It publishes articles from faculty, staff, administrators, and community partners about how best to build civic engagement into the learning environment. But while The Journal has this specific focus, its goal is much larger–to use service learning as a tool to improve higher education, and particularly community colleges, so they can more effectively improve the lives of their students and their communities.

This month’s interview with Dr. Mark Milliron, Deputy Director for Postsecondary Improvement at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, focuses on The Journal for Civic Commitment‘s big goal. In it we ask Dr. Milliron both about the Gates Foundation’s approach to postsecondary education, and about how service learning practitioners can be engaged in the effort to improve the quality of life for all.

Questions for our Interviewee

Mark Milliron
Deputy Director for Postsecondary Improvement
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

  1. Much of the Gates Foundation’s work focuses on the developing world. Why focus also on postsecondary education in the United States? More specifically, why focus on access and completion?
    As you note, the Gates Foundation has powerful programs in global health and global development – working to save lives and open doorways to opportunity for millions around the world. This work is driven by our core belief–everyone should have the chance to live a healthy and productive life. The short version of that statement is “all lives have equal value.” In the US Program, our work is grounded in the same belief, but the strategy has been different. We have focused on education as the pathway to possibilities, and we have granted more than $5 billion in the last decade to improve internet/information access in public libraries, to focus public schools on helping more students graduate college ready, and to give new choices to diverse students through the Gates Millennial Scholars Program. You can learn about all of this work–and get involved in our social media networks!–by visiting www.gatesfoundation.org.Education will continue to be a driver for our work in the US going forward. We’re targeting more than $3 billion in the next 5 years, but have expanded our focus to include postsecondary credential completion. Put simply, our research shows that in the US, it’s a postsecondary certification or degree that is the game changer for low-income populations. Increasing, the road to the American dream runs right through postsecondary education programs–particularly community colleges. But it’s not good enough for students to go to college–they have to complete. Low-income students in particular face real challenges in completing college–under-preparedness, complicated lives, financial barriers–and as a result graduate at half the rate of the top three income quartiles. If we want to make the American dream real for low-income populations, we need to take completion seriously. That’s the heart of our postsecondary education strategy.
  2. What role do community colleges play in the Foundation’s postsecondary strategy? What do you see as the particular strengths and weaknesses of community college systems in the United States?
    Community colleges are central to our strategy, primarily because they are the major gateway to postsecondary education for our target population: low income young adults. They touch more than 6 million students a year in credit programs and almost an equal number of students in non-credit programs. And, while diverse in governance and operational strategy, there is a core commitment in the community college world to access an opportunity. Indeed, community colleges are at the heart of the radical success this country has had in opening up the doors of higher education to diverse populations. However, now is the time to not just focus on access and quality programs, but also on completion. While there is value in going to a community college, the real game-changer in terms of income, quality of life, and opportunity for students is in completing credentials. We are supporting those community college leaders–administrators, faculty, students–that are championing taking their commitment to completion as seriously as their commitment to access.
  3. With a few notable exceptions, service-learning and civic engagement have improved learning and completion at the course or program level, but not at the campus or system level. Why is that? How can faculty and staff practitioners take advantage of the strengths of service-learning and civic engagement to bring about broad-based change? Are there approaches that have been particularly effective at the community college level?
    Student engagement matters. As you well know, connecting our students to their communities helps them find purpose, understand context, and put their learning to work. Moreover, there is a real need for students to organize and inform each other about the best pathways to completion. We need them to get involved in this work in a big way!So, my short answer to your question is that we need to think bigger. The course and program level is important, but it may be time to think bigger about how we challenge students to connect with their community colleges, their communities, and the students that will soon follow in their footsteps. If we can instill the importance of their role in shaping a legacy as a part of their completion journey, we might be able to take your great success to the next level. As simple a strategy as “each one, reach one” can work. If we can challenge each community college graduate–particularly those from low-income backgrounds–to reach back and take personal responsibility for mentoring, supporting, or encouraging someone in their family, friend set, or maybe even a current student to run the postsecondary race and cross the finish line, we can make a powerful difference.The leaders in service learning and civic engagement understand the magic of their work–giving leads to powerful living. We need to challenge more and more of our students to embrace this maxim.

Community College National Center for Community Engagement (CCNCCE) sunsetted October 1, 2015. Mesa Community College hosts content from The Journal for Civic Commitment, published by the CCNCCE, to ensure it remains publicly available.

The important work of the CCNCCE was made possible through the financial support from many civic-minded foundations and organizations, including the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Learn and Serve America-Higher Education program, the Kettering Foundation, Campus Compact (through funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), Arizona Community Foundation, Arizona Foundation for Women, Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold Foundation, and The Teagle Foundation.