06/05/2014 12:36 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2014

Two Michigan College Titans Leave Their Field, and Their Mark

Gratitude for the college options we have in Michigan always comes to mind this time of year, as high school students move on to college, and college students move on to what's next. This is especially true this year, as two leaders in Michigan's college community move on to new opportunities of their own. Their names may not be familiar to you, but it is not an exaggeration to say that the college prospects of every Michigan student have been significantly expanded, thanks to the tireless commitments these gentlemen have demonstrated to our state, our young people, and the college admissions profession.

Theodore Spencer's title is Associate Vice Provost and Executive Director, Office of Undergraduate Admissions, University of Michigan, but every high school counselor in the state, and most in the country, knows him as Ted--and when I say they know him, I mean they have personally met him, in most cases several times. Rarely content to stay in his office, Ted will go anywhere and everywhere to talk with students, parents, and school counselors about U-M, college admissions, and life. Ted's warm, high-energy message of setting strong goals and sticking to them in daily living helps young people build college dreams; more important, it inspires them to develop the skills, discipline, and communication skills needed to make them come true.

Ted's impact is just as strong on school counselors and college admissions officers. Ted is usually the first to appear at professional events and always the last to leave, greeting familiar colleagues, welcoming those new to the profession, and convening impromptu training sessions that leave participants smarter, wiser, and with a greater sense of possibility. Ted has mentored an army of young college admissions officers who are now admissions directors at their own colleges. Since many of these directors are admissions officers of color, it is fair to say Ted is responsible for the expansion of college opportunity for students and professionals in very important ways.

This commitment to expanding possibility played a key role in U-M's defense of its affirmative action and college access efforts in front of the US Supreme Court, not once, but twice. It's one thing to explain your college's admission policy to an eager group of high school families; sharing those same policies in front of the highest court in the land is something quite different. Ted didn't get a chance to address SCOTUS, but the sentiment of the oral argument was familiar to anyone who knows Ted. His thoughts on expanding college opportunity have silenced critics, and given everyone new viewpoints to consider, as society considers the best way for us all to move forward. For Ted Spencer, the only way forward is together.

John Carroll has successfully moved every Michigan student's college plans forward in a way that has changed college counseling in Michigan forever. A former dean of admissions at Kalamazoo College, John became the Michigan representative for ACT when the state decided to offer this important college admissions test to every public school student for free. If this effort was even going to come close to realizing its potential, it had to be led by someone who was respected and trusted by school counselors from every county--and that was John.

As he drove from one end of the state to the other and back again, John talked to counselors and school officials about the goals and logistics of the statewide testing with the same student-centered approach that made him a highly respected, down-to-earth college admissions officer. Working out every last-minute challenge that came along, John took the unprecedented step of partnering with the Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling to offer related training in ACT test interpretation after the first year of statewide test administration. This partnership helped counselors develop plans that brought ACT scores to life for students who would have never considered college before taking this free exam.

After the testing program was established, John used the test results to work with teachers, principals, and curriculum specialists to conduct school-based reviews of student performance on the test. This deep drilling went beyond the scores, and showed what specific skills students needed to improve, not to get a better test score, but to get a better education. Today, Michigan's legislature is engaged in a heated debate over student assessment, but when it comes to the test used to measure eleventh grade proficiency, there is no argument; the ACT is here to stay, thanks in large part to John's ability to bring its efficacy as a change agent to life.

Ted moves on to another position at The University of Michigan, while John's new schedule gives him more time to pursue his lifelong passion of mountain climbing. They have both scaled more than their share of the peaks and valleys in college admissions, creating a wider, richer field of opportunity for all. That is something students and parents should keep in mind in this graduation season; for those of us in counseling and college admissions, it is something we will never forget.