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Thursday, February 9, 2017
Opening Doors

This Monday morning at 10:00 a.m., as several of us rushed to fill our coffee mugs before our weekly staff meeting, we noticed that the door to our office was standing wide open. I had been the last one in, but I was certain I had shut the door behind me. “It must have been a ghost” I joked.

We wouldn’t find out until two hours later, but at that precise moment, our president and founder Stan Jones breathed his last breath.

It is tempting for me to construe this as a supernatural occurrence, that Stan himself opened that door. Certainly, if anyone were to take a detour en route to the afterlife to check in at the office, it was Stan Jones. His work was an extension of himself and he never deviated his focus from it, even as he battled a cruel illness that robbed him of his energy, then his speech, and eventually his life. I find comfort in the idea that he came back for one last strategy session, one last opportunity to smirk and roll his eyes at a dumb idea or a bad joke, one last time to tell a story we’ve heard before but wanted to hear again, one last vigorous debate with his old friend Tom.

But realistically, I probably just didn’t latch the door properly. So I make sense of this moment – a door unexpectedly open at 10:00 am this Monday morning – by thinking of it as a metaphor, not a mystic occurrence.

Stan Jones opened doors.

The doors of our colleges and universities in the past required a special key to get in – wealthy, well-educated parents and a well-resourced high school. Stan Jones removed the lock and threw away the key. He opened higher education’s doors to poor students, to first-generation students, to Black and Hispanic students, to immigrants, to those so often kept out by discriminatory policies and practices. In Indiana, he made tuition free for these students as long as they did their part in high school to be prepared. At least 30,000 students have graduated thanks to the 21st Century Scholars program since he created it 25 years ago.

When there weren’t enough doors to open, Stan Jones created them.

When Indiana needed more high-quality associate degrees and workforce credentials for its economy and citizens, Stan Jones built a community college system, full of open doors in the both the urban centers and rural pockets of the state. Ivy Tech Community College now serves more than 170,000 students per year in 75 communities and with Stan’s urging, continues to focus more sharply on improving the graduation rates and workforce outcomes of its students.

When doors were boarded back up, Stan Jones came in with a battering ram.

An increased focus on college access meant our at-risk students could get in the door, but once inside they still faced policies and practices that essentially boarded up the door to graduation. While many rested on the laurels of increased access, Stan Jones refused to claim victory until students had college degrees in hand. Stan demanded that higher education do more than just tinker with marginal change. He insisted that the entire game change.

But he was also clear on how to do it, because in Stan’s words, “people need things to be concrete and specific.” As a result, once novel concepts – guided pathways in higher education, college students starting in college-level courses, redefining full-time as 15 credits – are now becoming commonplace in the field. True to Stan’s plan, these ideas didn’t stay within the walls of Complete College America. They became viral.

Before we knew it, the doors of higher education were more open than ever and the promise of college access began to be matched with the promise of college completion. Those countless students who benefitted will likely never know Stan’s name. But that’s okay. Stan didn’t care about their gratitude. He only cared about them.

So, did Stan Jones open the CCA office door this Monday at 10:00 a.m.? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that he opened all the doors before that.

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posted by Sarah Ancel

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