Sally Johnstone

Sally M. Johnstone

Hall of Fame Class of 2019

Sally M. Johnstone has focused on improving the quality, accessibility, and affordability of post-secondary education for adults throughout her career. Her research into how institutions can successfully implement distance learning include both technological and organizational formats, enabling many thousands of adult learners to gain access to quality higher education programs.

Among her best known contributions to the field are her services as the founding executive director of the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), whose work has been instrumental in opening up federal financial aid for distance learners, establishing multi-state college and university collaborations, and supporting the establishment of a national system for state reciprocity of distance learning.

In the early 1990s, Johnstone authored the first set of common principles adopted by the American regional accreditors in their 100-year history, establishing good practices for distance learning for all post-secondary institutions, regardless of their state. In the early 2000s, she presided over the UNESCO meeting establishing Open Educational Resources (OER), which help to reduce costs for adult distance learners worldwide. In 2009, she was the Rapporteur for the UNESCO Higher Education World Conference that reflected the value of OER.

Johnstone was a primary member of the design team that created Western Governors University, which uses a competency-based education (CBE) model allowing adult students to take advantage of the knowledge they already have to decrease the time it takes them to earn a degree.  It is the model for multiple CBE programs around the U.S.

She served on the Council on Academic Management at eArmyU, an online program for U.S. Army soldiers that provided best-in-class providers of online educational programs/services, technology components, and program management to active-duty servicemembers. This was the first fully online program for members of the U.S. military, regardless of  their location, and it demonstrated the scale and scope for learning both nationally and internationally.

As president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, she is helping multiple states as they face budget reductions and shifts in demographics to enable them to continue to serve students. She is also the executive director of the Foundation for Student Success, working with 28 colleges and universities across the U.S. to reduce equity gaps in the success of American Indian, Black, and Latinx students.

She has worked to develop costing tools for higher education institutions to help with the management of colleges and universities to allow them to be affordable, helped states within the U.S. design systems to serve working adults in ways that allow them to have access to learning at times and places that work for them, and assisted one large U.S. state develop an institution that will effectively serve working adults whose jobs are expected to end due to automation in the next 10 years.

Johnstone has published dozens of books, articles, and reports relating to aspects of educating adults via distance learning. She has given over 100 presentations across the U.S. and world relating to topics critical for high quality, affordable adult education.