FAQs on recent appointment of President Karen Gross as Senior Policy Advisor to U.S. Department of Education, effective Jan. 17, 2012 – Jan. 16, 2013

  1. How did this all come about?

See my latest blog post for a detailed version. In a nutshell, SVC has focused on student collegiate success through a set of initiatives and our work has gotten attention, including from the Department of Education (DOE). Because of our efforts and creative initiatives, I was asked to serve the DOE as a Senior Policy Advisor, working on the very issues that SVC has been exploring and developing for five years.

  1. Why now?

This is an opportunity to set the agenda for our nation for the next four years, and I believe that education is an issue on which there can be bi-partisan support. Education is, after all, at the heart of our prosperity; it is an issue that affects ALL Americans. Also, the Higher Education Act faces reauthorization; it expires at the end of 2013, and much of the thinking about needed changes must occur in 2012.

  1. What are some of the key initiatives SVC has employed that have garnered national attention?

SVC’s Pipelines for Partnerships initiative, which launched successfully last year,  (USA Today Hechingers) has shown much promise by creating a working pipeline through which at-risk students can progress to and through college, including with affordable pricing. Other initiatives written about in national press are The Campus Community Dinner Series, the Anatomy & Physiology Stretch Program, Quest for Success, including a course on DNA where students explore their roots under the guidance of our Provost and Dr. Henry Louis Gates, and our Student Philanthropy course.

  1. What role will you have to the College while away in Washington, DC for a year?

Since I will be a government employee, I am required by law to dedicate 100% of my time to serving the Department of Education. However, I have been given permission to answer questions that arise at SVC as needed and to attend selected events in my personal capacity (not as an SVC president nor as a government employee). I plan to follow the College’s progress in my absence, including listening to and watching SVC athletic events on the radio and through online streaming video. I plan to return to our home in Bennington with some frequency too.

I will be doing considerable writing and speaking while in the employ of the government, and many of those documents/speeches will be in the public domain and as such, can be posted on the SVC Web site. My SVC blog will be suspended for the year although some of my public writing/speeches could be posted there.

  1. What does a special policy advisor to the Department of Education, working in the Office of the Undersecretary, do?

Here is a brief overview of some of my duties:

  • Advise the Department of Education with regard to strategic planning and execution of college access initiatives targeted across various segments of students – early learning, elementary and secondary, postsecondary, and adult – in support of the 2020 College Completion goal. 

  • Advise key program offices on the design of grant solicitations and intra and interagency collaborations to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the Department’s financial resources to states and institutions aligned to increasing college access, quality and completion.

  • Advise on outreach and engagement activities designed to raise public awareness and engagement on higher education initiatives; represent the Department of Education in speaking engagements, briefings, and work sessions with various to various governmental and private sector organizations.

  • Conduct high-priority special assignments at the direction of the Undersecretary involving subjects of critical importance to the Department and the higher education community.


  • Research and analyze leadership challenges, opportunities and trends that will best position institutions of higher education and contribute to the nation’s knowledge base on access to higher education with innovative and transformational transparency preparedness beyond the next decade.

  1. What are some keys things you hope to accomplish in one year?

I appreciate that one year is a short time period and so I want to be realistic about what can be accomplished during my 12-month stay in DC. At the most general level, I want to foster an appreciation for the possibility of innovation in higher education. This means paying attention to how we can make positive changes through and with the help of government.

In terms of key substantive topics, there are three on which I hope to focus considerable attention: (1) college affordability, a key issue in higher education today; (2) the pipeline between K – 16 – to insure alignment and preparedness, a real challenge; and (3) increasing the number of diverse students who can become ready for and succeed in college.

I also hope to garner a good deal of learning that I can bring back to SVC. With exposure to some of the nation’s educational leaders, I can return to campus with ways to enhance the educational experiences we offer our students.

  1. What is the one thing you hope to do above all?

Can I mention two things?

First, I hope to showcase the need to make education a key priority for our nation --- in terms of our focus, our resources, our efforts to innovate. Until we do that, our individual and collective attention will be diverted to other issues.

Second, I hope to learn a great deal from others engaged in higher education so that, when I return, I can share a range of promising and best practices with the SVC community, helping us flourish and grow.

  1. How do we contact you?

I can be reached through SVC Special Assistant/Data Coordinator Colleen Little (clittle@svc.edu) and Director of Communications Sue Biggs(sbiggs@svc.edu).

  1. What if the DOE wants you to stay?

I would be honored if I were asked to stay but my work at SVC is not done. I plan to return to the College in Jan. 2013, to continue the work we have begun together. SVC and Vermont are my home.