Retiring from his career in higher ed, Ken Brauchle says his passion for providing quality online learning is driven by personally experiencing how life-changing education can be — especially for adult learners.
Dean Kenneth Brauchle is retiring from Indiana State after leading Extended Learning for the past eight years. It marks the second time he’s retired from a leadership position that has made an impact in the lives of others.
After “not focusing on academics,” he said, Brauchle dropped out of college in upstate New York and enlisted in the Air Force. He spent the next 23 years as part of a specialized unit that monitored compliance with nuclear treaties.
“It was fascinating work that allowed me to literally travel the world,” Brauchle said. He was also able to complete both a bachelor’s and master’s in business management while serving in the military. “The availability of education programs intended to serve returning adults made a big difference in my life and was the catalyst for my passion for serving adult learners.”
After retiring from the Air Force as a Chief Master Sergeant in 1992, Brauchle and his wife, Mary, moved back to Fairbanks, Alaska, where they owned a home. He was then hired in a staff position at the University of Alaska. “While not directly involved with academics, I was learning much about higher education, its culture, language and processes,” he said.
A few months later, Brauchle was invited to apply for a job with the University of La Verne managing its off-campus master’s degree program on two Alaska military bases. “Within a few months of taking the job, I realized I loved what I was doing and had found my second vocation,” Brauchle said. He was accepted into a Ph.D. program at the University of Alaska. “Over the next four years, I juggled working full-time and studying full-time.”
After stops at two more institutions of higher ed, Brauchle was offered a position at State.
“In April 2010, I received a phone call from Provost Jack Maynard offering me what I perceived as my dream job, Dean of Extended Learning at Indiana State University,” he said.
Brauchle said Maynard gave him a charge to increase outreach, especially online. In meeting that charge, Brauchle said he has had the honor of working closely with countless department chairs, faculty members and offices outside of Academic Affairs. “I’ve found them dedicated to student success and amazingly committed to the outreach mission that I serve,” he said. “Over the past eight years, my portfolio has grown, as has my staff, but one thing stayed the same: It has been my dream job.”
That dream also presented some challenges. When Brauchle arrived at Indiana State, the university — like most institutions of higher education — looked at online education suspiciously, at best. He set out to change that perspective.
“I think my biggest achievement has been in changing the culture of the institution from one that was suspicious of online education to one that now embraces it as another modality to deliver education,” Brauchle said. “We have been able to do that by providing support to faculty and students involved in distance education and getting some of our best faculty to teach online.
“In the past calendar year, nearly one-quarter of all the credit hours delivered by Indiana State were delivered online.”
Part of that success, he said, is students now seeking different structures for learning that allow flexibility. “The anytime, anywhere nature of online education certainly plays into that desire,” Brauchle said. “Today’s students expect 24-seven access to education and student services. It is truly a challenge to keep up and meet their expectations. “We’re not judged against the Ivy League but against the convenience of Amazon.”
Brauchle said demand will only continue to grow in the future.
“Demographically, what we once thought of as a non-traditional student — older, with families, working full-time, etc. — has become the majority,” he said. “While we have long advocated for lifelong learning, the rapidly changing technology and workforce needs require that people reinvent themselves one or more times during their working lives. Distance education provides the opportunity to build new knowledge and skills without totally disrupting people’s lives. There are still challenges in providing some hands-on experiences, but technology is helping us overcome those challenges.”
For his retirement, Brauchle plans to move back to the mountains of the American West, where he will be closer to his grandsons, who live in Alaska.
“Indiana State has been the pinnacle of my second career. I retired from the USAF while serving in the best job I had had, doing something I loved. Now I get to do that again. My superiors, colleagues and staff have been great to work with. We have had common goals and significant successes. That has been very satisfying professionally and personally. I feel like I’m going out at the top of my game.
“I’m going to miss it, but it is time to let someone else take it to the next level. Indiana State has come a long way, but I think there is much more potential still there.”
Brauchle said so many people at State have helped him that it would be difficult to single out specific names without missing someone.
“Certainly, I need to acknowledge the support and freedom of action I’ve enjoyed from all three provosts under whom I have served — Jack Maynard, Biff Williams and Mike Licari,” he said. “And the one group that deserves most of the credit for any success we have had is my staff. I have been blessed with an incredible staff of hard-working, bright and dedicated people who have embraced our mission of serving students and faculty.”