Lee Friedman to step down from College Now Greater Cleveland

After four decades of service to Cleveland nonprofits, Friedman prepares to transition

Lee Friedman, a distinguished and well-known figure in Cleveland’s nonprofit sector, has announced her retirement as CEO from College Now Greater Cleveland at the end of this year. Friedman, who is credited with propelling College Now to unprecedented achievements, has a long and noteworthy record of transforming and restructuring many critical Cleveland nonprofits for the betterment of the community. 

Michael Cogan, chair of College Now’s board of directors and president, Ohio, Northern Trust, expressed gratitude for Friedman’s transformative leadership and said she has positioned the organization well for success under new leadership. 

“So much has been accomplished during Lee’s 14 years of visionary leadership, which enriched the lives of thousands of students who otherwise may not have received a postsecondary education,” said Cogan. “She has grown the organization’s staff and budget, expanded its mission and tirelessly advocated on behalf of students – many of whom are from marginalized communities and were the first in their families to attend college. She is leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of education in Northeast Ohio.”

Cogan said the board has been aware of Friedman’s intentions for some time. A transition committee has been in place and has had ample time to plan and find Friedman’s successor.

During Friedman’s tenure, College Now experienced remarkable growth, with its budget expanding from $4 million to over $35 million. This growth enabled the organization to annually assist over 33,000 individuals across six Northeast Ohio counties. To accommodate this increased service and demand, College Now’s staff expanded from 40 to 175. It is the largest comprehensive postsecondary access organization in the country.

Friedman, who has led College Now since 2010, said the time is right to pass the reins to a new leader later this year.  

“When I joined College Now, my vision was to transform it from primarily a college advising and scholarship program into one that provided comprehensive college and career advising, financial and postsecondary completion support for students of all ages,” she said. “We have realized that vision. The state of the organization is stable and strong. I am proud of the work our team has accomplished in the last 14 years.

“I continue to believe that one the best ways to ensure our region thrives is by having an educated and prepared workforce,” she added.

Among Friedman’s most notable accomplishments is her pivotal role – along with leaders at the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Cleveland Foundation, Gund Foundation, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, United Way and other large corporate partners – in bringing Say Yes to Education to Cleveland, a measure that secured $100 million in postsecondary education scholarships for CMSD students.

A legacy of leadership and service

Civic leaders reflected on the profound impact she’s made to Cleveland over her years of leading multiple community nonprofits.

“Lee Friedman has had a profound impact on the entire Cleveland community. Her enduring legacy is evident in how she modeled and sustained a robust system of partners all focused and committed to supporting our young people through every step in their college journey,” said Lillian Kuri, president and CEO of The Cleveland Foundation.

Prior to her joining College Now, Friedman:

  • Served as the inaugural president and CEO of the Cleveland Leadership Center from 2005 to 2010. Friedman was asked by civic and business leaders to take on merging the community’s top leadership programs, including Leadership Cleveland.
  • Served from 1996 to 2005 as president and CEO for the Downtown Cleveland Partnership, the predecessor to Downtown Cleveland Inc. Friedman helped create a shared vision and land use plan among more than 100 property owners for lower Euclid Avenue, which saw more than a $1 billion investment in that area of downtown.
  • Was executive director for Clean-Land, Ohio (now part of LAND Studio) from 1991 through 1996. The award-winning organization was responsible for creating and managing a citywide urban reforestation and environmental education program.

Prior to that, Friedman served in a number of government positions including as assistant director of personnel under then-Cleveland mayor George Voinovich. Prior to that, she had a two-year appointment as a Presidential Fellow in President Jimmy Carter’s administration. Friedman has been on the boards of various nonprofit organizations, including serving as president of the City Club of Cleveland.  

She says meeting the challenges of her career assignments required participation on everyone’s part.

“It has been an incredible privilege to serve in all of these roles,” she said. “They were each tough but fulfilling jobs. My approach has been to collaborate with the right partners and hire the right team, empower them and trust them.” 

Whats next?

While Friedman says she is winding up her run at College Now, it would be a mistake to assume she is riding off into the sunset. 

“I’m not sure what lies ahead but I can’t imagine not being engaged civically. I’m not ready to retire. I see this as a transition toward something new. I’d like to continue contributing to Cleveland’s progress but also hopefully spend less time in meetings and have more time to enjoy life.”