Monday, November 8, 2010

More Than a Grant

I am often reminded of the notion that success is the product of preparation and opportunity.  Last week a series of on-campus events actually turned out to be more than what might have, at first, appeared.  On the surface, last week’s College Senate meeting might have appeared to be a singular moment in time, comprised of civil discussion, a vote, a resulting recommendation...just another day at the Senate. I would argue that it was much, much more.

For the past 18 months, a great deal of work has gone into refining the College's governance system.  From two joint Cabinet/Senate Advisory retreats where great strides were made to review committee by-laws; create simplified charters; define Councils and Workgroups (that operate apart from the normal Senate committee structure); and clarify communication channels between the Cabinet and Senate, we've accomplished much.  After the first-ever joint meeting of Senate committee chairs, many Senate committees are taking a proactive approach to fulfilling their charters - going beyond simply reacting to issues as they arise. Agendas and attendance at Senate meetings this fall have been full and engaging, with candid discussion and give-and-take dialogue.  Simultaneously, the Strategic Planning Council has found its rhythm; is refining institutional strategic priorities; and leading a vocal charge for the need to infuse data and measurement into our decision-making processes. Their work prompted the Cabinet Conversations this fall that have expanded unprecedented dialogue and reflection across the entire institution.  It’s as though we were preparing for something…

One month ago we witnessed the first-ever White House Community College Summit where the nation turned its attention toward community colleges and the critical role they play in America. The event also prompted the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to announce a $35 million Completion by Design Initiative.  They selected nine states (NY was one) and specific community colleges within each of those states (MVCC is 1 of 8 in SUNY) that would be invited to apply.  The general thrust of the initiative is to accelerate efforts to move community colleges from simply providing access to focusing on student completion and success by taking proven programs and services and bringing them to scale for a more significant impact.  The work will require making hard decisions and overcoming daunting challenges – most of the toughest changes required will be fairly unknown early on - all in the name of increasing student success and completion.  It is an initiative that should not be taken lightly.   It will require the collective will to want to become better than we are. It is a tremendous opportunity to rise to the call of a nation and perform on a national stage – an opportunity that has potential to serve as a catalyst to even greater success.

It may seem odd for me to talk about success while we’re just finishing the application but, as the saying goes, “the journey is often as important as the destination.”  As an organization with an emerging vibrant culture, the process to get us to the point of applying to participate in the Completion by Design initiative is a success in itself.  For the Grants Council and Cabinet to stay on top of an information stream that was changing daily, with national and state implications, is testimony to MVCC's responsiveness and increasingly effective interdepartmental communication.

The capstone step in this process was last week's College Senate meeting, where the work of the last 18 months came into full view with a thoughtful, civil, and measured conversation about the pros and cons of our participation in this national initiative. This collaborative process was repeated as the MVCC Professional Association worked with college administrators to come to a full understanding of the grant opportunity and its implications for the college community. The process we followed in this effort clearly made this more than a grant – the start of the Completion by Design process felt more like "Enlightened Civil Discourse by Design."  Who knew that the formula for success could have unexpected derivatives and pay multiple dividends?

If you have any comments on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.