Public Agenda Alert -- Thursday, January 9, 2014
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Remembering Deborah Wadsworth
Keeping Students First in Higher Ed
Engaging Ideas
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Deborah Wadsworth, Longtime Leader of 

Public Agenda, Has Died

It's with heavy hearts that we share the news of the passing of Deborah Wadsworth. Deborah was formerly the President of Public Agenda and served as a Board Member and adviser until her death on December 24th.


Deborah is something of a Public Agenda icon and architect, having been with the organization since its early days. She served as Executive Director from 1986 to 1999 and President from 1999 until 2003. Her contributions to our work began even before she joined Public Agenda. As a program officer at the John and Mary R. Markle Foundation in the 1990s, Deborah introduced Public Agenda founder Daniel Yankelovich to Kettering Foundation President David Mathews. This introduction set in motion an institutional partnership that has endured for decades and bolstered our common mission of engaging citizens in addressing national and local challenges.


Deborah was a woman of astonishing warmth, intelligence, integrity and commitment.  She touched the lives of many, stewarding the careers of a number of current and former Public Agenda team members. She will be dearly missed.


"Since Deborah hired me in 1994, I've benefited more than I can say from being in the orbit of her powerful intellect, warm heart, humor and fierce integrity," said Will Friedman, President. "She was a great mentor and friend, a leader with profound impacts on Public Agenda and someone to whom we will always be grateful."


"I am deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and fellow board member, Deborah Wadsworth. I know that Deborah made a long and valiant struggle against her illness, and I was actually much encouraged that her health had improved the last time that I saw her at a Public Agenda board meeting," said Mitchel Wallerstein, Chairman of our Board of Directors. "I will miss greatly her wisdom, her intelligence and her humor. Deborah played a vital role in building and sustaining Public Agenda, and her passing is indeed a loss for the entire organization. I offer my sincere condolences to her family and friends and to all who had the privilege of knowing her."


In addition to working with Public Agenda and at the Markle Foundation, Deborah was Executive Director of the Smart Family Foundation and Director of Admissions at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Purchase. She served as a member of the board of directors of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education as well as chair of the board of trustees of Bennington College. She was a trustee and adviser for EDC since 1996. Wadsworth held degrees from Wellesley College and Columbia University.


We will announce details about a New York City memorial service for Deborah when they are available. In the meantime, we invite those of you who knew and worked with Deborah over the years to share your remembrances and condolences on our blog.

In Case You Missed It: 

Keeping Students First in Higher Ed

If you were unable to attend our December webinars focused on keeping students first in higher education, they are available on demand on our website. 


First Things First: Helping Adult Learners Make Better College Decisions


Based on newest research, "Is College Worth it For Me? How Adults Without Degrees Think About Going (Back) to School," in this webinar we discuss: 

  • The main concerns and priorities of adult prospective students when it comes to choosing a program and a school.
  • Why existing resources and information are failing to reach them.
  • How education leaders can better engage these adults and improve their chances for success.  

Based on our recent report, "Not Yet Sold: What Employers and Community College Students Think About Online Education," in this webinar we discuss:
  • The rapidly shifting landscape of technology in higher education, and its potential for serving students.
  • How some students and employers view online education today.
  • What their view may mean for efforts to improve online education in the future. 

Engaging Ideas

Rethinking Civic Engagement on Campus: The Overarching Potential of the Deliberative Process
In the Kettering Foundation's annual Higher Education Exchange, Martin Carcasson writes on how current civic engagement programs fail to diagnose the nature of 21st century problems, leaving citizens and communities insufficiently equipped.

The Atlantic's Ann Hulbert looks at the success of CUNY's rigorous Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) as a fix to dangerously low graduation rates at community colleges. 

Next week we'll be releasing a report on public attitudes towards approaches to curb health care costs. As such, we've had our eye on this issue and really like this article from WBUR. In it, a physician explains why familiarizing medical students with and training them on health care policy issues can help curb spending. The piece also explores how to overcome the difficulties in implementing such practices.
As part of the Education and Health Initiative, the VCU Center on Society and Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation created this whiteboard animation to illustrate how education can affect how long and well you live. 
Ashley Trim, the assistant director of the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine University, explains her optimism for technological innovation in government with the help of a new-found openness to input and collaboration. 
After reviewing some 390 submissions on how to improve the White House's College Scorecard, two winners have been chosen. Check out our own recommendations for improving the site to better serve adult prospective college students here.
About Us
Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate complex, divisive issues. Through nonpartisan research and engagement, it provides people with the insights and support they need to arrive at workable solutions on critical issues, regardless of their differences. Since 1975, Public Agenda has helped foster progress on K-12 and higher education reform, health care, federal and local budgets, energy and immigration. Find Public Agenda online at

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