By Hartford Business Journal Staff Writer John Stearns
In hindsight, Ed Klonoski’s decision to exploit the Internet and pursue a career in online learning was prescient.
“I bet my career on the Internet back in 1990—then that was a risk,” said Klonoski, president of Charter Oak State College, Connecticut’s only public online college.
Today, he’s a respected leader in distance education. Klonoski, 61, also happens to be a voracious reader, presidential politics junkie and weightlifter.
Goodwin College President Mark Scheinberg described Klonoski as the kind of person that breaks conventions and barriers, a fun and humorous guy who doesn’t fit the vision of the staid, dour college president.
“He’s a visionary that is able to not only run his own institution but understands the bigger picture on how his institution fits in with what’s happening in the country and what’s happening for the future of the country,” Scheinberg said.
A RESOURCE, NOT A COMPETITOR
“Here you have an institution that in some states is treated almost competitively with other schools in state, and yet in Charter Oak’s case, Ed is seen as a resource to other schools, he’s seen nationally as trying to find new methods to make learning easier for students,” Scheinberg said.
Higher ed is going through disruptive change, Klonoski said from his office at the Central Connecticut State University campus in New Britain.
“I’ve had a career in what I call the higher-ed chaos zone,” he said. “I did things for which there were no credentials.”
Klonoski’s focus on integrating technology and education started when he was teaching at the University of Hartford, where he worked computers into his writing classes and created a learning center doing technology training for faculty—all before anybody really knew how to do it.
When he took over the first computer lab at UHart, a Mac lab, he had never seen a Mac or a computer, “but I volunteered to do that because I thought, ‘Cool, nobody else knows how to do it either.’ So by consistently taking on challenges for which there really were no credentials, it was a willingness to deal with what I call chaos.”
He joined Charter Oak in 1997 to build a consortium in distance learning the school was trying to organize, knowing it would be huge. In 1998, he became president of the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium, a division of Charter Oak that helps educators deliver technology-enhanced learning opportunities; in 2008 he was named Charter Oak’s president. The school caters to busy adults and makes it easy to transfer college credits and get credit for job-based training.
Klonoski is proud of implementing the Go Back to Get Ahead program introduced by Gov. Dannel Malloy in 2014 to incentivize adult learners with some college to finish their degree. Charter Oak launched the $6 million program in just 120 days and generated 1,500 enrollments across the Connecticut State University System in nine months, many for Charter Oak.
Charter Oak offers degrees in high-profile workforce specialties like health-information management, cyber security and is rolling out a master’s degree in organizational effectiveness and leadership. It works with business partners on rapid degree paths for employees and plans a hospitality degree in partnership with Marriott.
Klonoski grew up in Torrington and was the first of four children his parents adopted, all different ethnicities.
READER AND WEIGHT LIFTER
An eclectic reader and quick learner his whole life, his diet includes five newspapers a day. Klonoski is remarried with six children ages 16 to 29 in the combined family, including two with special needs.
He’s weightlifting again after lifting competitively until he was 50. He was a former state champion and in his 20s, he set his clean and jerk record, 352 pounds, and his snatch best, 275 pounds.
Weight training helped ground him, giving him a place to burn off energy and roar outside his quieter work in higher ed. Weightlifting, he said, didn’t come as easy as learning, “so it taught me what you could do with just hard work alone.”