Michael Goldstein, Managing Director and Co-Creator, Center for Higher Education Transformation, Tyton Partners

Mike Goldstein is a Managing Director at Tyton Partners, a strategy consulting and investment banking firm focused on the education vertical. He serves as chair of the Board of Trustees of Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a Board member and past chair of Fielding Graduate University. He is a Director of the University of the District of Columbia Foundation, The Washington Center, The Washington Ballet, where he is a former vice chair, the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Foundation, and a member and past president of the Friendship Fire Association, as well as formerly a Director of the American Association for Higher Education and a Trustee of Mount Vernon College, as well as a long-time. He is a member of the Cornell University External Education Advisory Council, and he has served as Chair of the Committee on Legal Education of the National Association of College and University Attorneys, Co-chair of the Education Grants Committee of the Federal Bar Association and Chair of the Education Law Committee of the American Bar Association.

Mike is a recipient of the WICHE/WCET Richard Jonsen Award for leadership and service to the e-learning community, the CAEL Morris Keeton Award for his contributions to experiential learning, the President’s Medal for exemplary service to adult learners from Excelsior College, the Hall of Fame Award from the United States Distance Learning Association, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Fielding Graduate University in recognition of his contributions to the advancement and institutionalization of online learning.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with Higher Education Digest, Michael shared his professional trajectory in the field of education, the mission and vision of Tyton Partners, significant career milestones, future plans, words of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Hi Michael. What attracted you to your chosen field and profession?

My field is education. How I got here is a matter of pure happenstance. Going back to my very early years, I was always a tinkerer. I was fixing radios, and then televisions (back in the days when they could be fixed by replacing a tube or a resistor) when I was in my very early teens.  Everyone said I was destined to be an electrical engineer.  I went to Stuyvesant, NYC’s elite science high school, and then to Cornell as an electrical engineering student.

I was an engineering student, so I signed up to work at a student-run commercial radio station, WVBR, where I naturally worked in the control room.

I was always snooping around the United Press International (UPI) teletype machine, clattering away in a closet across from where I was seated.  One day, the News Director asked if anyone could cover a campus event – I volunteered, wrote a passable story, and I was hooked.

At about the same time, I realized the last thing I really wanted to do was play with numbers – the life of an electrical engineer – but I loved words and writing.  I transferred to Liberal Arts as a government major and in due time I myself became WVBR’s News Director.

I discovered that with that title came the job of Finger Lakes Region “stringer” for UPI, a stringer being an on-call, paid by the word, reporter.  I got a few stories on the wire and then, by another exceptional bit of good fortune I was selected for a Wall Street Journal Newspaper Fund internship.  Now, most of those were with small regional papers – I grabbed the gold ring: the UPI New York City bureau.

To say the journalism hook was set is an understatement.  I loved the work and as a (very) young reporter I seemed to do pretty well.  I covered a lot of stories, including the Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant civil disturbances.  One of my stories even made the front page of Scripps-Howard newspapers across the country, including the World-Telegram in New York.  I was on top of the world.

For a variety of reasons, some of which seemed persuasive at the time, I also decided to go to law school.  I attended NYU, all the while continuing to work for UPI.

Meanwhile, New York politics were going through an upheaval.  Tammany Hall, the old political machine, was in its death throes, and a new breed of young leaders with new ideas for the future of the City were emerging, none more attractive than John V Lindsay, a liberal Republican (yes, there were those in the day) member of Congress representing the Upper East Side of Manhattan, called the “Silk Stocking District.”  Lindsay had ideas for dramatically changing the City, and he was surrounded by a whole lot of very smart people.  I wanted to be a part of that movement.

However, I had no idea how to get a meaningful role in his campaign.  Then I learned that he had tapped a professor at NYU’s graduate business school, Timothy Costello, to be his running mate for City Council President.  I had done some survey work for Costello (my college roommate was a student of his) and I decided to reach out to his campaign.  When I said I was working as a UPI reporter, I was introduced to his campaign press secretary, Phil Finkelstein. Presto: I became Deputy Press Secretary!  Which said a lot about the campaign.

I did one thing that turned out to be of importance to me and I must admit, the City.  I wrote a speech for Dr. Costello for delivery at Barnard College, in which he decried the fact that young people were becoming estranged from their city.  “I propose an Urban Corps,” the speech read, “in which young people can become connected to this great City.”

The speech received a few inches of favorable press and come November Lindsay won election. Sadly (if not unexpectedly) Dr. Costello did not.  So much for my career in politics, or so I thought.  I returned to my law school studies.

In February, I got a call from Phil Finkelstein, now press secretary to Tim Costello, recently appointed by newly minted New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay to serve as his Deputy Mayor-City Administrator.  “Hi, Mike,” Phil said. “The Mayor loves your Urban Corp idea. He wants Tim to do it.”  “Great,” I said, feeling grateful for the credit but wondering why the call. Then the question: “What’s an Urban Corps?” asked Phil. “I have no idea,” I said. “Get down here,” he replied.

And so, it happened.  A brilliant Yale doctoral student, Andy Glassberg, and I were charged with “making an urban corps,” which four months later emerged as the nation’s largest urban college student intern program.  But that is another story.  I was hooked on higher education.

What does education mean to you? And what message do you have for those young men and women around the world who are struggling to get access to it or perhaps don’t have access to education at all?

I am a child of middle-class privilege. I assumed, as my parents fervently did, that a good education was – and is – the ticket to a good life.  The driving idea behind the NYC Urban Corps was in fact access: what made the program unique was that every participant had to be a college student who needed to work to go to school.  The program was funded through what was then called “College Work Study” (now known as Federal Work Study) that was available only to students with demonstrated financial need – what we define today as “Pell-eligible.”  Even then, in the 1960s, there were lots of experiential programs for young men and women who could volunteer their time – but if your family was poor, you didn’t have that luxury: you had to work to go to school, and likely also help support your siblings and perhaps parents.  Until the Urban Corps, virtually all of the CWS money was used on campus to pay students to shelve books in the library or clean up the cafeteria.  For thousands of students, Urban Corps changed that – their internships were required to be learning experiences within city agencies and non-profits: valuable to them and to the agencies for which they worked.  A good education is essential, but it is without value if one cannot access it.

With limited funding, where do you think countries should prioritize their higher education investments?

There is no one answer.  It is also a question that cannot be answered in a vacuum.  If a country does not have an effective public primary and secondary education system, higher education becomes the province of the upper classes.  Social mobility becomes a dream rather than a reality.  Investment must be in ensuring a quality educational system that ensures a pipeline of students capable of benefiting from higher education.  From there it becomes a function of what each nation, indeed each community, needs to fulfill its future, as well as to provide its young people with the opportunity to reach their full potential.  What is becoming clear is the importance of experiential learning – going beyond the classroom to make the learning experience real and relevant.

How should the research community convey the importance of increased and targeted higher education investments?

Outcomes, outcomes, outcomes.  What works, and why.  What is not only effective but efficient.  What is not only efficient but socially productive.  Everyone does not need to have a four-year college degree.  Indeed, college doesn’t need to take four years.  Higher education needs to be faster, better and cheaper. Nearly everyone agrees on that premise: now we have to find ways to achieve it.

Can you please brief us about Tyton Partners? What is its mission and vision?

Tyton Partners is different in design. As the only financial and strategy advisory dedicated exclusively to the rapidly evolving Global Knowledge Sector, Tyton Partners consists of a team of investment bankers, education strategy consultants, principal investors, operators, and educators to deliver industry-defining insights to power critical decisions by those who run education enterprises – from Pre-K to graduate study and beyond – and those who provide the resources to make those enterprises, public, non-profit and for-profit, possible.  Its mission, “from Cradle to Career(s),” is to be a thought leader as well as a practical resource, to develop new approaches for the most effective and efficient delivery of education at all levels, and to collaborate with educators, executives and those who provide the resources to drive positive change toward quality, access and equity.

What person, opportunity, or game-changing moment had the biggest impact on your career?

Probably writing the Urban Corps speech for the Lindsay mayoral campaign of 1965.  I had no idea of the impact of those few words on the future leaders of the nation’s largest city, or on the tens of thousands of college students who benefited from the program that emerged from them.

What tools or tactics do you rely on being a more effective leader and team member?

My first priority is surrounding myself with people who are better than I am, most particularly in those areas that are not my strengths.  Then challenge them to be problem-solvers, to find answers.  No one wants to pay someone to be told they cannot accomplish what they are seeking.  The job of a lawyer, consultant or indeed any manager is to find a way to “yes” and to inculcate in their team the visceral desire to accomplish that goal.

What is your proudest achievement?

Professionally, the creation of the New York City Urban Corps and then working with dozens of cities across the US to enable them to create their own Urban Corps programs. Also being a part of the design team that helped create Western Governors University, a truly game-changing institution. Personally, of course, it is in having helped raise a remarkable son.

How do you wind down or rejuvenate after a long week or day?

To our great joy our son and his family live 12 minutes away, so our three grandbabies do a pretty good job of providing rejuvenation. My spouse is also very active in the theater scene in Washington, DC, which is in fact the #2 theater city in the US, exceeded only by NYC, so we get a chance to see a lot of terrific plays of all sorts.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

After about a decade in (and working with) city governments, and about the same period as a university senior administrator and faculty member, and then four decades as an attorney leading one of the nation’s largest higher education practices, early in the pandemic I decided to do something new. I joined Tyton Partners as a Managing Director and to help create its Center for Higher Education Transformation.  I have been at the cutting edge of higher education innovation for nearly 60 years, from co-creator and then director of the Urban Corps to being a part of many of the most creative developments in higher education, including the inception of online learning and the creation of entirely new educational enterprises.

My work at Tyton Partners is a natural extension of that effort. I see today’s colleges as puzzle pieces. They can stand alone, but increasingly they are more likely to prosper, let alone survive, by being a part of a larger picture. I am thus focused on helping institutions identify creative solutions to their unique needs, whether it be a university that seeks to expand its scope and capabilities, or a school that is challenged by a narrowing enrollment base, lack of economies of scale or the absence of resources to build out its learning enterprise, particularly through the use of technology. I like to think of this as creative partnering, with a wide variety of structures that can maintain various levels of institutional autonomy, capitalizing on the unique circumstances of each participant. And I am helping non-profit and public institutions acquire well-run trade and technical schools to allow them to expand to serve what are often described as “non-traditional” student populations, but who in reality represent a very large proportion high school graduates who will benefit from well-provided skills training, and perhaps ultimately a standard academic degree. A key here is making compatible marriages, and through our sophisticated banking practice, in finding the ways non-profit and public institutions can secure the capital they need to enter into such acquisitions. All challenging work, but very rewarding, and entirely consistent with what I have been doing across my career in higher education.

What safeguards would you recommend to ensure the pursuit of cost efficiency doesn’t undermine equity in higher education?

This is an inadequate, if not false, equation.  The essential elements of education are access for all (shorthand, “equity”) to education that affords every individual the opportunity to follow their interests and desires to the fullest extent of their capabilities.  If “cost efficiency” means making higher education more efficient – that is, less costly – in the pursuit of that goal, it is a benefit, not a risk.  Money, most particularly public money, is finite.  It is essential that higher education be cost-efficient; the challenge is to combine cost efficiency with quality and accessibility.  Once again, the answer has to be outcomes.  Not what does it cost, but what does it achieve.

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