Monday, October 26, 2009

The Fourth Leg of the Stool

Last week, Governor Paterson announced his proposals for a two-year deficit-reduction plan to close a projected $5 billion budget gap – that’s the good news. The bad news is that the deficit is projected to be closer to $15 billion next year when the stimulus dollars expire. The proposed 11% across the board cut to state agencies would result in $90 million in cuts to the State University of New York and an additional $22.7 million in cuts to the 30 community colleges, which could mean close to $1 million in cuts to MVCC in this fiscal year. The proposed reductions also recommend a $26.2 million cut to the state Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) that is supposed to offset tuition costs for the neediest students. While these cuts are only proposed recommendations in the face of unprecedented budget shortfalls, they are simply an overall continuation of declining governmental support for community colleges in New York in the past thirty years. The pressure on county governments is also increasing their financial stress and limiting their ability to meet their financial obligations to their local community colleges – Oneida County is doing its best, but even that is not likely to get much better in the next few years.

In light of these fiscal realities, community colleges are facing significant enrollment increases – redefining the notion of “doing more with less.” Rather than closing our open doors and limiting admissions, community colleges must increase our resolve and commitment to student access and student success. While we can continue improving our processes and gaining efficiencies wherever possible, the unstable three-legged stool of state aid, county support and student tuition comprising the primary revenue streams is no longer adequate.

What we’ve known for so long as “alternative revenue streams” – grants and fundraising – are increasingly no longer alternative. Rather, they are becoming essential elements to providing consistent support for maintaining the dynamic nature of our enterprise at MVCC. The current realities of grants are such that most colleges are finding themselves having to apply for nearly six times as many grants to receive the same level of funding. This leaves fundraising as the primary fourth leg of the funding stool.

In years past, the College would conduct the United Way campaign in the fall, wait for it to be completed and then send an additional request to faculty, staff and board members for donations to the MVCC Foundation. The past two years, we have had successful campaigns of over $25,000 to raise funds for the Access Fund for students who fall just beyond the line of qualifying for federal and state financial aid packages. This year, we are combining the two campaigns and making a single request to faculty, staff and board members. Our goal is to dramatically increase participation, so our focus is on the number of people giving something –whatever they can – more so than the actual dollar amounts. When combined with participation in two Team MVCC events, a donation in the combined campaign will qualify donors for the Four-Runners Club – two donations, two events. Together with the institutional advancement staff, I’ll be facilitating campus conversations this week to share more information about the significant challenges facing our community, our college and our students and the meaningful work of the MVCC Foundation and the United Way in helping to keep programs and services accessible to all who have the ability to benefit.

If you have any thoughts on these items, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Intangible Resources

Previous blog posts have described our involvement in the Strategic Horizon Network as one of 13 community colleges engaged in “common learning through uncommon experiences.” I have described our involvement in broad terms and have yet to write directly about one of the Network experiences – until now. The fall Colloquium was titled “Internal Sustainability – Leveraging our intangible resources.” A guiding concept for the 2 ½ day experience was the triple bottom line of internal sustainability – leadership, engagement and stretch. I was fortunate to be joined by a team of ten other faculty and staff from MVCC, which in itself is a powerful professional development experience.

The program followed the normal rhythm of an opening presentation Sunday afternoon that included a conceptual mini-lecture on building a vibrant organizational culture followed by three colleges presenting their approaches to leadership development for their faculty and staff. A reception and dinner closed the evening where we were able to mix and mingle with team members from other network colleges from around the country – California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania. Monday provided a fantastic presentation that gave us insight into how Zingerman’s has developed an innovative and high performing organization of eight different businesses that carry the same brand of great food, great service and great finances. We spent the afternoon at Greenfield Village – an amazing living history museum created by Henry Ford – where we heard about their approaches to recruiting, developing and retaining a happy and high performing workforce. On Tuesday, we heard a presentation from one of the network colleges on their work with reviewing their processes by collecting and analyzing meaningful data and taking action through courageous conversations and improving their operations one process at a time.

The intensity of the Colloquium and the quality of the presentations and experiences left our heads full of ideas and emotions. I leave all of these Network experiences feeling renewed and inspired about the magic of the work everyone does each day at MVCC. During the past 16 months, we’ve been able to send teams to four colloquia and one team on a learning site visit – providing 31 different faculty and staff with uncommon experiences. The exposure to concepts outside education and best practices from other colleges provides a firm grounding from which to approach the future and rich ideas and notions to pursue here at MVCC. If you have any thoughts on this post, please share them with me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Need for Lifelong Learning

Noted community college leader Edmund Gleazer once wrote, “If you were to set out on a journey across the desert, you could not carry enough water to last the entire journey. It would make sense to have stations along the way where you could get water as you needed it. Education is much the same. Why should youth be expected to attain all of the learning they will need for their entire life? Why not have stations throughout life where one can learn as needed?”

Gleazer’s metaphor speaks volumes toward the importance of lifelong learning. So did a recent meeting I attended, where the New York State Office of the Aging presented to a group of community college presidents on the increasing significance of our aging population and the implications for community colleges.

The general trends are well known. More people are living longer, and the generations that follow are smaller. We also know that the economy is forcing working adults to change jobs and even careers. MVCC already sees this phenomenon in the stressed-out social worker turned chef; the retired firefighter in the nursing program; or the downsized assembly-line worker taking machining classes. A recent national survey by the AARP highlights the importance of community colleges for many of these people: out of 30,000 recent career changers ages 42 and older, more than one in four had taken courses at a community college as part of the process.

Although MVCC has more than 1,500 adult students 25 years or older enrolled this fall, much of our emphasis and reputation is anchored in the younger, recent high school graduate population. This is incredibly important and we do a great job to open our doors for about 30% of all high school graduates in Oneida County each fall, but we also know that by the year 2019, the population of high school graduates will be substantially smaller than it is today – requiring us to secure 37% of each graduating class to maintain our healthy enrollment.

Another 21% of Oneida County residents age 25 or older don’t hold a high school diploma. How can MVCC reach out and help these individuals chart a career path toward a more fulfilling life? Only 18.3 percent of our county's residents ages 25 and older have completed a bachelor's degree or more, compared with 27.4% statewide. What role can MVCC play in helping our community, which is rich in educational institutions, reap more of the benefits of lifelong learning? To borrow Gleazer's concept, how can we help our community members make it across the educational desert?

Whatever the answers are, they will require us to take a close look at making MVCC as welcoming as possible; as inviting and effective as can be; and home to programs and services that are responsive to the needs of individuals from every age group. We don't want people to stumble across us in the middle of a desert -- better for us to present ourselves to people in ways that are enriching and well received. We have what it takes to make these good things happen, but we won't succeed unless we address all age groups' needs more intentionally, sooner rather than later.

If you have any ideas on how MVCC can better serve adult students, let me know at presblog@mvcc.edu.