Notes from the Field: The Central Ohio Compact … and the Leadership that Makes it Possible

The breakout media coverage of Columbus State Community College’s President, Dr. David Harrison, is distinguished from other reporting on education and workforce development leaders because the story is about success instead of aspiration.

Fairfield Index first worked with Dr. Harrison when he served as Vice Provost of The University of Central Florida, America’s second largest university. He was championing alignment of curriculum, communications, and data between some of the largest school districts in the nation, including many outstanding community colleges. The Direct Connect program pushed the envelope, and we think pushed the national agenda, on how colleges could align with and commit to a bachelor’s degree for its students with an outstanding university. As is his style, Harrison ensured superintendents, school boards, college presidents, and expert staffs called the shots and set the standard for collaborative targets. In short order, one of the largest regions in the U.S. began to think in terms of a market of 5 million instead of discrete districts, counties, and courses. At the same time, there was new capacity to “drill down” to better understand barriers to college access and completion.

Now, Dr. Harrison is being singled out for leaps in cooperation and funding in Columbus, Ohio. View related article in The Atlantic article. Once again, the special Harrison style cleared the path for success instead of languishing over theory and themes. He considered the recessionary forces at the time of his appointment to become President of the very large college, and the powerful manufacturing and innovation legacy of his region. He asked for help from the presidents of universities that impact the future of the region. He deployed staff to work with superintendents in dozens of school districts, and he asked his own team of expert leaders to think carefully about how to bridge campus infrastructure and resources to the community-at-large.

There are 10 hallmarks of Harrison's“special style”:

  1. A bias for data-driven decision making and results
  2. A recognition that community colleges have a special place in regional conversations about talent competitiveness – this role encompasses ombudsmanship, actual execution, and convening
  3. A driving commitment to get all sectors (public, private, and independent) to the table and engage all leaders in clear, winnable projects
  4. A willingness to adjust language to meet the needs of economic development and form a 21st century reputation for Central Ohio
  5. Enthusiastic outreach to and requests for help from state level agencies and officials
  6. A recognition that great ideas and reforms must be started at some point, in some way – This allowed for specific employers and industries to articulate training, degree, and certificate requirements in a very direct manner, and then share in accountabilities and measures
  7. Ensuring multiple pathways for multi-sector investments
  8. Recurring, milestone summits, where collective successes are held out and new objectives are tested
  9. Calling out applied successes and ensuring that impact and progress are visible across a highly diversified community
  10. Demonstrating pride and enthusiasm for the work and the region it supports

Several years ago, Dr. Harrison “suggested” a unified, regional objective for college success, credits, and credentials would be the breakthrough event for the people who call Central Ohio “home”. By pairing regional consensus for a singular goal with action (and “mind-blowing” scale), Central Ohio is leading the way in the “skills movement” and inspiring new rounds of expansions, research, and capital project commitments. For Dr. Harrison and staff, this no doubt translates to the creation of community, family, and individual wealth.


Fairfield Index’s Ongoing Roles in Central Ohio:

  • Summit Consultant and Liaison to Experts, Philanthropists, and Agencies

  • Coordinator of Cross-functional Task Groups
  • Strategic Consultant to Columbus State’s Community and Workforce Strategies
  • Moderator of Milestone Regional Events and Progress Reports