Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Understanding Transfer Success

Over the past week, I heard from people who have had very similar experiences as I did attending a community college - MVCC or any of the other 1,200 community colleges around the country. The incredibly supportive environment most community colleges offer can result in success students might not have dreamed possible. I firmly believe the academic success I experienced my freshman year at a community college was not because the classes were easier than classes I took at the university – rather, the academic standards were just as high as at a university, but a more supportive learning environment allowed me to explore and thrive.

Similar to maintaining high standards, the objectives of the community classes had to be the same as the university classes for my classes to transfer. The same is true here at Mohawk Valley Community College, as our faculty and staff work with faculty and staff from our university partners to align the curriculum and create transfer articulation agreements. These pathways are the key to opportunity for students who start at MVCC and transfer. I've spoken to students (or parents of students) who have transferred to our closest partners like SUNY-IT, Utica College, SUNY Oneonta or Clarkson, or to four-year institutions that review our courses on a course-by-course basis like Temple, NYU or Boston College. These students, and their parents, routinely report not only success in the transfer process, but academic readiness for their continued study, thanks to the preparation they received at MVCC.”

Across the country, community college students who transfer to a four-year college or university regularly achieve grade point averages after transfer equal to or greater than students who start at the four-year schools. The tradition of the transfer success of our students is a great foundation upon which to build and our new Strategic Plan calls for us to expand our transfer agreements with four-year colleges and universities. The State University of New York (SUNY) has begun a more aggressive transfer initiative throughout the 64 campuses. However, we can't wait for a larger system to come together in ways it hasn't in 60 years - we're taking our own actions to create even more opportunities for MVCC students to transfer to four-year schools and experience success they may not have even known was possible.

If you have any thoughts on how we can improve our transfer programs for students, please share them with me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Great Place to Start

I recently read an article about a significant jump in students completing their GED and the fact that a large percentage of them indicated that the main reason for taking the GED was a "dissatisfaction with high school." This reminded me of my own high school experience - it was good, I guess. I was fortunate to have nice teachers and we took pride in our district. The top students in our class went to Brown, Swarthmore, Michigan, and other highly regarded schools. But I look back on that experience and think of myself as fairly disengaged, with my share of study halls my senior year. Unlike some of my friends, I lacked a laser focus on preparing for college and ended up falling short of graduating in the top 10% of my class of 265. Yet years later, I found myself walking across the stage in Crisler Arena, accepting a doctoral degree from the number one ranked higher education administration program in the country at The University of Michigan. I connect those two experiences with one decision upon high school graduation - to attend Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan, 18 miles from my home where I found confidence and direction.

The selling points for me were that the classes were smaller; instruction would come from those that were actually teaching the class, not from a graduate student working for a 'teacher of record'; the campus was small enough that I wasn't intimidated; the price was right; and most importantly, I knew all my classes would transfer to one of five universities that had good reputations and programs. I came to find truth in their advertising. Some of my classes were smaller than what I had in high school, so it was easy to participate in class discussions and I felt comfortable - perhaps for the first time - with learning. My English instructor was able to transfer his passion for the art of "word choice" to me; my history professor introduced me to the importance of asking "why" things happen instead of just memorizing the "what"; and my psychology instructor taught me the meaning of academic standards when she gave me a B (that I earned) when I was expecting an A.

The final highlight to my community college experience was when all 31 of my credits transferred to the university of my choice. I finished my Bachelor's degree three years later and when I found my laser focus on a career, it was aimed squarely at the very environment that gave me such a good start. If a community college was that special a place to me as a student, I reasoned, it was likely to be a special place to work. Looking back I never imagined how true that could be. Having worked in community colleges in three other states, I now know why more than 50% of all students enrolled in college in this country are enrolled in community colleges. All of the outstanding characteristics that drew me into a community college classroom are evident here at MVCC - making it a great place to begin...or begin again.

You can share your reactions and reflections with me at

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Strategic Horizon

The future is now and things are changing. We need to change, but we are an organization of more than 400 full-time faculty and staff and hundreds more adjunct faculty and part-time staff. How do we develop the capacity and the will to change, and keep changing, to remain relevant? The short answer is any way we can. A longer answer would involve multiple strategies and one of those is joining the Strategic Horizon Network - a collaboration of 15 community colleges from around the country. MVCC recently joined the Strategic Horizon Network as a community college interested in preparing itself for a complex current day and an ever-changing and emerging future.

The Network is coordinated and facilitated by Dr. Richard Alfred and Patricia Carter from the Center for Community College Development in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The presidents of the network colleges work with the facilitators to provide direction and determine the organizational curriculum and priorities for the Network. One of the important emphases of the Network is that leadership exists throughout the college. Twice a year the colleges bring teams (usually around 5-7 staff and faculty) for a colloquium event in addition to optional learning site visits. Two are being proposed for 2009: one with the National Coalition Building Institute (that focuses on building capacity through inclusivity) and one for faculty to preview research being done by Network college faculty on alternatives to textbooks using public domain sources. I would characterize the colloquia and site visits as common learning through uncommon experiences.

For example, in June the Colloquium was in Annapolis, Maryland and focused on Entrepreneurship and the ways community colleges can become more entrepreneurial and help their communities become more entrepreneurial - that was the common learning part. The uncommon part was the fact that we heard from a very funny economist (seriously) and experienced a behind the scenes tour of a defense industry leader and learned about many of their entrepreneurial strategies to prepare their organization for the future. We then had an opportunity for our college teams to process our experiences and have some conversation about what we saw and heard and the implications for our colleges. In the past, the colleges have learned about strategic human resources practices by visiting the headquarters of a major airline and customer service with a behind the scenes experience at the headquarters of a major hotel chain in addition to many other remarkable experiences. The fall colloquium will take our team to Ann Arbor to hear from leading academics in the University of Michigan Business School about abundance theory and positive organizational psychology with site visits to businesses and organizations putting those theories and ideas into practice.

On October 1st and 2nd, Richard Alfred and Pat Carter will visit the College to join the MVCC Board of Trustees in a workshop before meeting with members of the College Senate, followed by time with the Strategic Planning Committee and finally with the President's Cabinet. The intent of their visit is to help them get to know us and us to know them. They will likely prompt many conversations that we have yet to have here. Our time with them and our participation in the Strategic Horizon Network will likely surface glimpses of our own collective strategic horizon and help us reflect on new ways of thinking that will allow us to serve our students and community in significantly new and different ways.

Please share your thoughts with me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Rethinking Workplace Success

I have the good fortune of frequently talking with employers about their workforce needs and how MVCC might better support their operations - educating and training the workers of today and tomorrow. There is an apparent trend that parallels my experience with businesses in Omaha and it reflects a significant shift in today's workplace. I often ask employers for the most essential skills their entry level workers (likely those with associate degrees, certificates or less) should have to be successful. What comes to mind for you? Computer skills? Teamwork? Problem solving? Critical thinking? Appreciation of diversity? That's what I used to think. However, over the past five years, I've found that businesses share a troubling challenge of finding workers with newly defined essential skills and are having to rethink workplace success. The top five essential skills that too many new hires are lacking are often 1. Punctuality (just get me someone to show up consistently on time!); 2. Basic customer service (there's more to it than people think); 3. Respect for others (before we even talk teamwork...); 4. Positive attitude and a desire to learn (wet blankets need not apply); and 5. Professionalism (appearance, ethics, language, etc.). One employer said, "These are things so many of us used to learn in the home - but the needs are so pervasive, we can’t afford to ignore the fact that so many people lack these skills.”

Couple this revelation with the facts about the workforce in Oneida County. "After declining gradually from 2004 through 2006, the county's unemployment rate has climbed incrementally to 5.1% in May 2008, though it remains only slightly below that of the state and still below the national figure. Consistent with the upstate New York region, income levels in the county remain below average, and market value per capita is weak at $39,660" (http://www.pr-inside.com/fitch-rates-oneida-county-new-york-r754736.htm). Five percent unemployment used to mean "unemployable" and with plenty of workers, that was okay. As baby boomers begin to retire, our economy will need everyone and anyone who has the potential to enter the workforce to do so - and MVCC is the logical solution to connect workers and employers. With leadership from our Center for Corporate and Community Education (CCED) and our Humanities department, MVCC is launching a short-term workplace success program. Employability skills, customer service skills and communication, math and technology for the workplace can all be coupled with short-term training to quickly solidify the essential skills necessary for workplace success.

In addition, the average income level demonstrates that we likely have a number of people underemployed. When higher paying jobs surface in the area - nanotech or those already in development, such as expansion of the worker pool at DFAS in Rome - many people will need to be retrained. This retraining will require us to more intentionally provide courses and support services that meet the needs of working adults. Traditional concepts of curriculum content may need to evolve. In addition, we'll have to increase our efforts to strategically expand our transfer articulation agreements with SUNY-IT, Utica College, SUNY-Morrisville and others to maximize opportunities for our students. As these people move into higher paying jobs, local businesses will likely need more workers to backfill the vacancies. This is where our new workplace success curriculum will serve as the starting point for so many individuals. It's a flexible curriculum that can be offered in many ways to the myriad cohorts that will benefit from the fundamental success skills in the course objectives. The workplace success program is one of the many ways in which MVCC is addressing complex needs in our community with clear and relevant programs and services.

What do you think? Have you seen or heard about any of these same issues? Let me know at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Color My World

The first week of classes – what a glorious time at a community college. Students, both new and returning to the institution, rushing everywhere, caught in the tumult and trepidation of new beginnings. Faculty and staff energized and focused. A campus refreshed by new landscaping, new furniture, clean classrooms, fresh paint…

Ah, paint. Watching the email threads that dotted our inboxes during the first week of classes concerning the new paint scheme in the MV Commons Snack Bar brought to mind a quote by Ambrose Bierce. “Painting: The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and exposing them to the critic.” It also brought to mind the College’s new Strategic Plan and Priority #4 – Vibrant Culture. As noted in the plan, the first direction for Vibrant Culture is to enhance faculty and staff communication.

We are members of a special community – a community that has the power to change or transform the life of every student we serve. How we communicate about each other and to each other is vital to the harmony of this community. There is nothing healthier than inspired debate about issues that are crucial to our future. However, the time, place and tone of such debate are as important as the subject matter. As MVCC moves forward with ambitious development of campus technology, our methods of campus-wide communication will change – and although these changes are not yet thoroughly defined, I can promise a better platform for conversations such as Wednesday’s dialogue about paint schemes. By better, I mean a more appropriate space for collegial conversation and inspired debate.

Until then, remember that every day is a new opportunity to focus on conversations of a much more essential nature – those that guide and mentor our most important community members, our students.

“Mere colour, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.”
-Oscar Wilde

If you have any additional thoughts on the matter, let me know at presblog@mvcc.edu.