Peter Smith is currently serving as Senior Vice President for Academic Strategies and Development at Kaplan Higher Education Corporation, a global education company owned by the Graham Holding Company. At KHE, he has spearheaded efforts to personalize degree programs and learning support systems, while strengthening their outcomes-based pedagogy at the program and course level. Smith is also developing new market positions and services for the adult postsecondary education market.
Smith was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and was raised in Burlington, Vermont. He is the son of Burlington banker and Vermont State Senator Frederick P. Smith. He graduated from Phillips Academy in 1964 and received a B.A. in history from Princeton University in 1968. In 1970 he received a master of arts in teaching,from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In 1983 he received his Ed.D. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in administration, planning, and social policy.
Smith served one year as an assistant to the Vermont Commissioner of Education. In 1970, he became the founding president of the Community College of Vermont, a Vermont State College. He first ran for office in 1978, defeating incumbent Lieutenant Governor of Vermont T. Garry Buckley in the Republican primary but losing the general election to Democrat Madeleine M. Kunin. Between 1981 and 1983, he served as a Vermont State Senator representing a district in Washington County. After Kunin chose not to run for re-election in 1982, Smith was elected to succeed her. He served two, two-year terms. He ran for Governor of Vermont in 1986 but was defeated by Kunin. After two years as Vice President of Development at Norwich University he was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1988 for Vermont's at-large congressional district with 41.2% of the vote. In 1990, he was defeated in his bid for re-election by Independent Bernie Sanders. In post-election polls, 35 percent of those who voted for Sanders indicated Smith's support for an assault weapons ban that year as a major reason in their decision to vote against him.
Funded by a Mina Shaughnessy Fellowship, Smith wrote Your Hidden Credentials: The Value of Personal Learning Outside College, a 1986, Acropolis Books, Ltd. The book, now out-of-print, promotes college credit for life experience. Smith is also the author of The Quiet Crisis: How Higher Education Is Failing America, 2004, Anker Publishing Company, Inc. which received juried acclaim from the American Association of Continuing Education. His third book, "Harnessing America's Wasted Talent: New Dimensions for Higher Education" (Jossey-Bass, 2010) was published in early 2010.
From 1991 to 1994, Smith served as dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University. In 1991, he also served as executive director of the U.S. Commission on Responsibilities for Financing Postsecondary Education. In 1994, due in part to his work in assessment at GWU, the California State University recruited Smith as founding president of California State University, Monterey Bay, a post that he vacated in 2005. Beginning June 20, 2005, Smith served as assistant director general for education of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
At UNESCO, Smith's education experience was expressed by his concern for the wellbeing of learners: "Quality is an issue," says Smith. "UNESCO has long encouraged the internationalization of education and the involvement of a range of partners, but we must also protect students from inadequate learning resources, low-quality provisions, degree mills and bogus institutions."
After assuming the post of Assistant Director General (ADG) for Education of UNESCO, Smith made several moves based on his mandate from UNESCO's General Conference and from its Director General in an attempt to reform the Education Sector of the institution. These included developing UNESS, a simplified national education support strategy; a Global Action Plan; involvement with the G8 and the World Economic Forum; restructuring the headquarter's governance structure; and implementing a de-centralization plan for UNESCO's Education Sector. After an intensive one-year study contracted out to Navigant Consulting, all but three of over 50 recommendations were approved for implementation by the Director General in June, 2006.
Political fallout to the approved reforms led to anonoymous charges of financial improprieties in the awarding of contracts totaling USD $2.2 million to Navigant Consulting without proper UNESCO oversight. Smith was found to have used an established, but alternative bidding procedure in the UNESCO rules. The UNESCO Executive Board ultimately resolved to clarify and strengthen the bid procedures at UNESCO. In March, 2007, having received a death threat at his home, Smith offered his resignation.
In April 2016, University of Maryland University College announced that Smith had been appointed to a two-year term as the Orkand Endowed Chair and Professor of Innovative Practices in Higher Education. In this position, Smith is responsible for identifying and impleneting measures to improve delivery of the school's learning and support services.
Smith was one of thirty former Republican congressmen to sign a letter opposing Donald Trump's candidacy for President.
He is the older brother of former state representative Charles Plympton Smith.