Robert W. Briggs named president of the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education

R-C Staff Report Published:

Robert W. Briggs, past chairman of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the former president of the GAR Foundation of Akron, has accepted the position of president of the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education, a nonprofit organization that has worked across business and education boundaries for 64 years.

Briggs replaces Ann Womer Benjamin, who left NOCHE in December after being elected mayor of Aurora.

"Rob's appointment as president marks a time of transition in NOCHE's history," said Robert P. Reffner, chairman of NOCHE's Board of Trustees and FirstEnergy's vice president and general counsel. "While higher education will remain a critical focus, NOCHE now looks to expand its role supporting educational attainment across all levels. No one is more prepared or better able to lead us in this transformation than Rob." 

Briggs is a co-founder of the Fund For Our Economic Future, a collaboration of public and private organizations that had never before come together to work for the common good of the region. To date, it has raised about $100 million to support various economic development initiatives.

Briggs said he believes the same type of collaboration must happen now with education.

Under Briggs' leadership, NOCHE will broaden its focus to include students in preschool through the entire education pipeline. The aim of the expanded mission is to improve student academic success leading to college graduates entering rewarding careers in Ohio. Numerous studies show that availability of college-educated talent is among the most important factors of successful economic development programs.

The work will occur in phases building upon NOCHE's successful Talent Dividend and NEOintern programs.

NOCHE promotes internship opportunities through NEOintern, which includes a free online database and total internship management training. Internships are increasingly important links between Northeast Ohio's college students and local jobs.

Since 2009, dozens of schools and community organizations have been working together to increase college completion through the Northeast Ohio Talent Dividend. Northeast Ohio has gained 58,000 college degree holders in that time. This marks a two-percentage point increase in college attainment, which is now 30.7 percent.

Even with these impressive gains, Northeast Ohio lags talent magnets such as Washington, San Francisco, Boston, Raleigh, N.C., and Austin, Texas, which have college attainment rates of 40 percent or more.

Briggs said part of solution involves leveraging advances in technology.

NOCHE, which serves a 16-county area, could partner with a variety of organizations to harness technology that helps teachers and parents do a better job of helping students learn. Briggs said adaptive learning where algorithms and performance data analysis can individualize online learning might be attractive to schools and community organizations that have otherwise struggled to make substantial gains in student learning outcomes.

Briggs looks to connect many of his relationships with NOCHE, including OneCommunity, which is expanding ultra-fast broadband and high-speed internet services in Northeast Ohio. OneCommunity has invested $200 million in laying broadband fiber in Ohio, creating one of the most expansive networks of its kind. NOCHE and OneCommunity could improve technological capacities of educational institutions, providing access to curricular content in whole new ways, according to Briggs.

Briggs said he believes Northeast Ohio can become a world leader for educational attainment. His hope is that NOCHE will be able to reach all 205 public school districts, 290 private schools and more than 200,000 college students.

"If we think big and think differently, I believe there is no limit to what we can accomplish," Briggs said.

Briggs is among the region's most distinguished leaders in law and philanthropy. He is chairman emeritus and former CEO of Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs, LLC, where he specializes in corporate, business, and foundation matters. His numerous accolades from community organizations include the first Team NEO Peter Burg Regional Vision Award. He earned a B.A. from Duke University and a J.D. from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

Briggs joins a staff of talented and seasoned professionals.

Shawn Brown, associate director since 2010, was promoted to vice president with Briggs' appointment. Brown has 15 years of education and nonprofit experience in technology, academic and student services, and public relations. He holds a doctorate in education from Northeastern University in Boston. He previously served as as spokesman for Hiram College.

Julie Lawrence joined the staff earlier this year as operations manager. She has 15 years of progressively responsible accounting and financial management experience, most recently with Aleris International, Inc., in Beachwood.

Brenda Davis Smith is program manager and responsible for overseeing NEOintern, which she helped create as a staff member at John Carroll University in 2006 when it was known as ClevelandIntern.net.

Patrick Britton has been with NOCHE since 2011, and serves as a program manager for NEOintern and the Talent Dividend. Britton frequently speaks on internship management and has collaborated with Northeast Ohio stakeholders on data and strategies for increasing college completion

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