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My Friend, Glenn Jones

July 7, 2019

Today, July 7,  is the fourth anniversary of the death of Glenn Jones, a trailblazer in the use of the Internet for higher education, and founder of a cable television empire.

In the 1980s, I lived in an area serviced by Jones’ cable television company and noticed that during “light” viewing hours, I could watch teachers with their backs to the camera writing with chalk on blackboards. That was something that Jones dubbed “Mind Extension University.”

On one trip to Washington, DC, Glenn Jones stopped by the Vietnam War Memorial on his return to Centennial, Colorado and saw individuals and families of Vietnam War veterans visit the wall of names of Americans killed in that war. Jones told me that he was moved to “do something” for these vets and founded Jones International University.

That solely Internet based institution attained “regional” accreditation in 1999 and inspired me to found my own Internet University–Yorktown University. It wasn’t as simple as that because academic “accreditation” was founded in 1885 when existing colleges formed an association of something called “regionally” accredited institutions. Regionally accredited colleges and universities began to divide the higher education market into what became six geographic regions. The purpose was to protect the higher education market from fraudulent companies “selling” college degrees.

One of the distinguishing features of “regional accreditation” is a requirement that all “member” institutions offer courses and degree programs from campuses.

By the 1980s, the Internet, a proliferating market in Personal Computers (PCs) and Web browsers made it feasible to disseminate information and educational “products” via the Internet. That meant that a requirement that a college operate from a physical campus was a barrier to entry into the higher education market by Internet-based companies.

Glenn Jones tried to circumvent that barrier by founding his own accreditation agency, but ran into a peculiar feature of higher education. College teachers are self-interested, non-entrepreneurial and focused solely on their own interests, not service to education consumers. But, somehow, Glenn Jones “cracked” the higher education Cartel in 1999 by attaining regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission, sometimes called “Northcentral,” because its “region” extends from West Virginia to Colorado.

In that year, 1999, I had the bright idea to found a solely Internet-based university that offered traditional courses and degree programs absent the dominant Leftist-bias of the American higher education Establishment. Glenn Jones’ achievement of regional accreditation inspired me to believe that my company, Yorktown University, could become regionally accredited. That would permit our graduates to apply for admission to postgraduate degree programs offered by a national network of regionally accredited institutions.

In other words, if you sought a college “education” and wanted to gain access to the professions or merely earn an advanced degree, you had to earn your undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited college or university. I was only able to attain something called in the trade “national” accreditation, a classification applied to “terminal” or “technical” degree programs.

Glenn’s office in Centennial, Colorado was near my office in Denver and I visited him at his headquarters where, as my host, Glenn asked if I’d like something to drink. I said “coffee would be great” and Glenn buzzed for his chef who took our orders for coffee.

I had seldom seen cut flowers in administrative offices and never was I served by a “chef.”

All went well for Glenn’s Jones International University from 1999 until political changes in higher education policy came with the Obama Administration in 2009, and changes in Colorado politics as the State leaned to the political Left, which led to restrictions on both our companies. After one rancorous meeting of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE) that was being politicized by Colorado’s Lt. Governor, Joe Garcia–who was president of CCHE and Lt. Governor–I excoriated Joe Garcia. Glenn was not at that meeting and asked for a recording I had made of that event.

We met for coffee at Starbucks in fashionable Cherry Creek and Glenn invited me to his apartment for a glass of wine. I had been in some fancy apartments in Manhattan with Arthur Finkelstein and the sisters of Bill Buckley, Priscilla and Carole, so I understood that the elevator to Glenn’s “apartment” would open into his foyer.

Still, I was impressed.

Those were very difficult times for for-profit colleges and universities and in 2012 Yorktown University’s national accreditation was withdrawn and Glenn closed down Jones International University.

In July of 2015 when Glenn had traveled to Washington, DC, Glenn asked me to meet him because Glenn was curious about courses we had designed as “Massive Open Online Courses” (MOOCs). These were non-accredited college level courses that enrolled large numbers of students and priced at $19.95 each.  We met in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton in Georgetown and repaired to the hotel restaurant for lunch.

I remember our conversation, because we talked about “age.”  I was 73 in 2015 and one of my key shareholders had told me that I was too old to run Yorktown University. At 85, Glenn said that some were suggesting the same of him.  We both laughed and talked about the difficulty of hiring qualified people.

I knew what Glenn meant about finding qualified staff because he was a businessman and was not intensely conscious of the political bias of persons attracted to higher education. “They” consider themselves to be well-educated and committed to advancing “Social Justice.”

And they understood how to use political power to achieve those ends while wrapping themselves in the mantle of “education.”

Glenn Jones had not fought the wars that we political conservatives had fought, many of whom were compelled to abandon university teaching in the face of hostility toward our political views. He needed instructors he could trust and probably sensed that I knew how to find then.  As I sipped a glass of Cabernet, I spotted an old, sepia toned, photo of Glenn in a U.S. Army uniform and realized that the twelve years difference in our ages did make a difference.

Indeed, I began to suspect that Glenn was older than 85.

Glenn Jones died several weeks after that lunch in DC, but, regrettably, I learned of his death only several months later and was unable to attend his funeral.

If Glenn Jones and I had met when I was 53, and Glenn was 65, we might have worked together and shattered the higher education Cartel responsible for the high cost of a college education. Instead, President Obama’s hostility to for-profit education compelled Glenn to shut down Jones International University and Joe Garcia made life difficult for Yorktown University and many for-profit colleges authorized by CCHE.

I miss Glenn Jones very much, but not the “university business” that brought us together.

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