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Autonomy and Innovation: Systemic Change in a Decentralized State

Tom Hilliard

Around the country, efforts to improve college completion rates tend to combine college-level innovation with supports and incentives at the state level to accelerate diffusion of strategies that work. Some observers believe that states with centralized community college and higher education systems have an advantage in bringing change faster and more cost-effectively. However, several “non-system” states—including Michigan—are making significant progress by aggregating college efforts and approaches through statewide organizations called Student Success Centers.

Autonomy and Innovation, by higher education and workforce development expert Tom Hilliard, describes Michigan’s participation in Achieving the Dream, detailing how college-level reform initiatives highlight the need and build momentum for collective, state-level action to foster collaboration, spread innovation, and make effective use of student outcome data. The Michigan Center for Student Success was created by the Michigan Association of Community Colleges to fill that need. The Center is building a culture of student success across the state’s community colleges and providing them with state-level infrastructure to support their reforms while respecting their tradition and culture of operating autonomously.  

Michigan’s experience is being watched with great interest by other states, most of which have college systems that have some degree of decentralized, local governance.