Rick Staisloff is the founder and senior partner of rpk GROUP, a leading national consulting firm supporting colleges, universities, and other non-profits with their growth and reallocation strategies. rpk GROUP is an outgrowth of Rick’s two decades of leadership positions in the higher education sector, where he developed his expertise in finance and higher education from the perspective of public and private, two- and four-year institutions, higher education commissions, and state legislatures.
Rick has worked with institutions nationwide, helping them to utilize his firm’s mission, market, and margin approach in strategic planning and business development. He has been a leading voice in the development of new business models for higher education, working closely with the Association of Governing Boards, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, NACUBO, and others to develop a new language and new metrics around cost, price, and finance issues for the higher education sector.
Rick joined College of Notre Dame of Maryland (now Notre Dame of Maryland University) in 1998 as Vice President for Finance and Administration. Prior to that, he served for four years at Carroll Community College, where he helped lead the creation of this college. From 1992 to 1994, Rick was a Finance Policy Analyst for the Maryland Higher Education Commission. He also staffed the Maryland General Assembly (including the House Committee on Ways and Means) from 1989 to 1992, focusing on education and taxation issues.
Rick serves on the Plant Committee for St. Mary’s Seminary and University, and is a member of the Greater Baltimore Committee’s Leadership Program. He has taught in the Executive Doctorate Program for Higher Education Management at the University of Pennsylvania, and with the Academy for Innovative Higher Education Leadership (Arizona State University and Georgetown University).
Rick holds a B.A. from Loyola College in Maryland (now Loyola University Maryland), and an M.A. from The American University.
Bryan Setser serves as a principal at rpk GROUP, supporting colleges, universities, and other non-profits with their reallocation, business model, and innovation strategies. Bryan partners with the team to develop the overall firm strategy and lends his expertise to education sector expansion, strategic partner development, and emerging technology solutions for the industry. Bryan’s work in higher education includes leading the higher education practice at 2Revolutions, a national design firm where his portfolio included multiple foundations, universities, HBCUs, membership organizations, and community colleges. Bryan holds an Ed.D. in Leadership from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, a Masters in Leadership from Winthrop University and a B.S. in English from East Carolina University.
Bryan's entrepreneurial models work serves clients such as the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, Davidson College and Edx, Building a Culture of Innovation for Higher Ed with EDUCAUSE, Change and Innovation Labs for the American Council on Education, and a Breakthrough Models Incubator with NGLC. Bryan has also launched a statewide virtual school, a consulting practice, and helped multiple organizations navigate through merger and acquisition of their companies.
In his third decade of innovative leadership for results in the education sector, Bryan has served as a Chief Quality Officer, a Chief Design Officer, and CEO of the nation’s 2nd largest virtual school in the k-12 sector as well. Dr. Setser is also a national Baldrige examiner for the United States Department of Commerce, and his award winning career has included being selected by three different Governors for e-learning and school technology commissions. He was instrumental in the development of North Carolina's Learn and Earn Early College efforts online, and has served as an adjunct professor to masters and doctoral students in e-leadership theory and practice at North Carolina State University.
Lisa Clarke brings more than 20 years of experience developed from a range of leadership positions in the areas of business development/strategy, finance, and decision support for two Baltimore-area hospitals and subsidiaries. While serving as a key director for board committees, joint ventures, and the executive council, Lisa was instrumental in the development and ultimate board approval of a multi-year, master facilities plans, providing market analysis, financial modeling, and collaboration services between internal stakeholders and outside business partners.
Lisa’s current consulting experience with rpk GROUP includes implementation of strategic finance and cost accounting models for colleges and universities, and other area nonprofits. She has also served at client sites as the acting Operations Officer and Associate Vice President for Finance to assist with implementation of rpk GROUP recommendations.
Previously, she was with a Big Four international accounting firm, providing attestation and consulting services to a diverse group of non-profit organizations, including the State of Maryland, various charitable foundations, and health care institutions across Maryland.
Lisa’s professional career includes serving as guest instructor for strategy-related graduate classes at Loyola University Maryland and Towson University, and as a mentor for health care administration graduate student interns. She is also a member of the Healthcare Financial Management Association, and has served on multiple committees, including a term as Membership Chairperson.
Lisa holds a dual B.B.A. in Accounting and Management Information Systems from Loyola College in Maryland (now Loyola University Maryland) and an M.S. in Health Science from The Johns Hopkins University.
Donna Desrochers has analyzed contemporary issues in education and the economy for nearly 20 years, with a primary focus on higher education finance and the economic importance of postsecondary education. She is an authority on higher education finance data, and analyses and reports on changes in higher education spending, revenues, and outcomes.
She brings to rpk GROUP a wealth of experience translating complex financial patterns and trends to public audiences, and her work has been featured in major media outlets including the The New York Times, USA Today, and National Public Radio.
Before joining rpk GROUP, Donna was Director, Delta Cost Project at American Institutes for Research (AIR) and also a Principal Researcher at AIR; she was previously Deputy Director of the Delta Cost Project. Donna managed the production of the Delta Cost Project IPEDS Database, which contains more than 25 years of data from postsecondary institutions, as well as an interactive website that provides institution-level financial information. She is a coauthor of the Trends in College Spending report series and has also reported on college athletic spending, and staffing and compensation changes in higher education.
Previously, Donna served as Vice President and Director of Education Studies at the Committee for Economic Development, where she led work on the economic benefits of preschool. As a Senior Economist at Educational Testing Service, Donna authored numerous reports examining the impact of economic change on education, skill requirements, and education reform efforts. Early in her career, she served as an economist at the Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of Commerce, where she co-produced long-term regional employment and economic projections.
Donna holds a M.A. degree in Economics with a concentration in Labor Economics from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, and a B.A. degree in Economics from The University of Maine.
Alisa Federico Cunningham, independent education research consultant, has nearly 20 years of experience in managing and conducting research and evaluation projects on a broad array of topics, including higher education financing, financial aid, measures of college success, and risk factors for student access and attainment. She has extensive experience with large federal and other datasets, in addition to survey development, program evaluation, and qualitative analyses.
She has published articles in various journals and magazines, and is the author or co-author of many research reports and policy briefs, most recently, Educational Attainment: Understanding the Data, and an essay in The Rising Costs of Higher Education: A Reference Handbook. Alisa also co-authored several studies for the National Center for Education Statistics, including Study of College Costs and Prices, 1988-89 to 1997-98.
Previously, Alisa served the Institute for Higher Education Policy in Washington, D.C. for 15 years as Vice President for Research where she oversaw all of the organization’s research and programmatic work and was responsible for the strategic direction of the department. She was appointed to the Department of Education’s Committee on Measures of Student Success for 2010-2011, and was a member of the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative (NPEC) for 2011-2013.
Alisa holds an M.A. in European studies from The George Washington University, and a B.A. in Political Science from Villanova University.
Natalie M. “Nikki” Krawitz served as Vice President for Finance and Administration for the University of Missouri System. Under Nikki’s direction, the university achieved millions of dollars in cost savings through administrative streamlining, including implementation of system wide e-procurement, an online automated travel reimbursement system, and revenue generation through investment management. Her system of debt financing and securing an Aa1 credit rating enabled new construction and renovation of facilities on all four campuses and the health system.
Nikki presents workshops on higher education budgeting and finance for the American Council on Education, and has authored papers on higher education budgeting, business process redesign, and administrative streamlining. She has held leadership positions in the Association for Public and Land Grant Universities and the Council on Government Relations. In 2010, she received the National Association of College and University Business Officers Distinguished Business Officer Award. She serves on the Landmark Bank Board, Stephens College Board of Trustees, Ragtag Cinema Board, and the Columbia, Missouri, TIF Commission.
Nikki holds a B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis, an M.A. from the Columbia University Teachers College, and an M.A. in Accounting from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Lee Bullock Schwentker specializes in strategic planning, program management, curriculum development, organizational change, data analysis, and report writing and editing. For 12 years, Lee worked at American University’s School of International Service, serving as the school’s Director of Academic Affairs from 2008 to 2017.
Lee’s recent projects include co-leading the development of a new MA in international affairs, helping to lead and implement a major revision of the school’s undergraduate program, and helping to implement a data-informed system for curricular planning and course scheduling for the school’s annual offering of 650 courses. During her time at American University, Lee was recognized with two outstanding performance awards, and served on the University’s staff council and other campus-wide committees focused on supporting student success and institutional effectiveness. During her final year at American University, Lee was selected to participate in a university-wide leadership program.
Earlier in her career, Lee coordinated an undergraduate research program at the University of Maryland at College Park and served as an analyst on NIH-funded research at Massachusetts General Hospital and Duke University.
Lee holds an MA in Education Policy & Leadership with a focus on higher education from the University of Maryland at College Park and a BA from Duke University, Phi Beta Kappa.
Jeanne Contardo, Ph.D., is a higher education expert specializing in strategic planning, cross sector partnership development with a focus on the business sector, research and policy analysis, and workforce development. Most recently she served as the Vice President of Regional Operations for Excelsior College, where she managed the current and emerging units and activities in the Washington, DC Region. Under her leadership, Excelsior grew its regional presence through innovative partnerships with both the Federal and local governments, the launch of a comprehensive branding initiative to serve working adults, and on-going collaboration with military and veteran offices and underserved adult students in the DC Region.
Prior to her work with Excelsior serving adult students, she spent 15 years in a variety of higher education and non-profit settings. From 2008-2013, she was the director of programs and policy analysis at the Business-Higher Education Forum, overseeing the organization’s research agenda and its College Readiness, Access, and Success Initiative. While there, she collaborated with university presidents and Fortune 500 CEOs to increase high-demand career pipelines and focused on building the research and policy materials needed to drive action around improving student interest and proficiency, especially in STEM fields.
Before BHEF, she was a research fellow at the National Defense University, focusing in part on the changing workforce needs in the United States. Dr. Contardo also worked at the Institute for Higher Education Policy, where she collaborated on studies targeting underserved populations in higher education, including prisoners and foster youth; the University of Maryland, where she worked with a group of women engineers to address issues around STEM undergraduate education; and the University of Washington Honors Program in Seattle, where she helped design and implement policy to increase access and success in higher education. Since 2011-2012, Dr. Contardo has also taught courses on higher education finance, cross sector partnerships, and research theory at The George Washington University.
Dr. Contardo earned her Ph.D. in higher education policy at the University of Maryland, College Park, a master’s degree in higher and postsecondary education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and her bachelor’s degree (cum laude ) in English from the University of Washington.
Raven Moody has more than 10 years of budget development and data analysis experience in higher education. As an analyst at rpk GROUP, she supports the team in the collection, analysis and presentation of data necessary to complete project deliverables. Raven also plays a key role in providing research support on industry benchmarking and best practice for academic, student-support, and administrative services.
Before joining rpk Group, Raven worked for a regional university where she held leadership roles in the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Budget and Financial Planning, and Resource Analysis (a division of Planning and Decision Support). Over that time, she served on various university-wide committees including a Budget Process Committee and Budget Advisory Committee. Both were focused on transitioning the university to an inclusive and transparent budget process that aligned resources with strategic priorities. Raven also managed the budget and daily operations for the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, which consisted of six colleges and various administrative and student support units. Most recently, she was responsible for data collection and analysis supporting the development of unit level dashboards that allow unit-heads to understand their resources, how best to deploy those resources to achieve student and university success, and how they impact the strategic direction of the institution.
Raven received both her B.B.A in Accounting and her Master of Accountancy degree from East Tennessee State University – where she was recognized as Outstanding Accounting Student for Accounting Information Systems and Outstanding Master of Accountancy Student.
Jamie Watson is the executive assistant at rpk GROUP, where she primarily supports the firm’s two principals, overseeing their schedules as well as helping to manage the nuts and bolts of the organization, including travel, billing, and company retreat coordination.
Jamie received a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., as well as a master’s degree in journalism for public affairs reporting from the University of Maryland, College Park. After using her journalism skills working for East Coast companies such as Washingtonian magazine and Donning Company Publishers, she transitioned into more logistical roles at companies such as Sunset magazine (formerly a Time Inc. company) and National Geographic School Publishing on the West Coast.