Monday, April 26, 2010

DGV Revisited

For the past two months, MVCC has hosted Khanh Nguyen, a visiting professor from our partner in Vietnam, Kien Giang Community College in the Mekong Delta. She has charmed us all and given everyone with the good fortune to spend any time with her the first-hand experience of living in a global society. This happens when the globe seems smaller and more complex than ever. The financial markets around the world are increasingly interconnected; our country is engaged in two wars, nearly a decade long now; much of the world has 24/7 information access; the Middle East remains as complex as ever; and natural disasters seem to be the new way we learn geography anymore. Locally, refugees and immigrants from around the world relocating to our area continue to diversify and bring a richness to our community.

As John Zogby states in his book, The Way We’ll Be, young adults are more apt to hold a passport, travel internationally, and plan to live in a foreign capitol city at some point in their lives than any other age group. In this new and ever-changing reality, exposure to people, cultures, and ideas that are different than our own and what we come across in our daily routines are essential to the 21st century college experience. MVCC has taken bold steps to ensure that our graduates are prepared to thrive in this emerging global society by, after more than two years of discussion, initiating a Diversity and Global View (DGV) requirement.

At graduation on May 21, the first cohort of MV graduates will have successfully completed the DGV requirement, a purposeful combination of coursework, online tutorials, and attendance at DGV-designated events in the greatly-expanded Cultural Series. Many faculty and staff have worked on various components of DGV and they should take pride in their results, and the College as a whole can certainly be proud of this unique and bold curricular endeavor. Recently, DGV was recognized with an Excellence in Education award from the Genesis Group; I wouldn't be surprised if regional and/or national awards follow.

As the DGV curriculum is further developed and strengthened, the challenge to our organization now is to infuse our commitment to Diversity and Global View to other parts of our operation. For example, our disability services for students continue to serve an increasing and ever-diversifying student population. In addition, the twenty tenure-track faculty positions currently advertised is a significant and timely opportunity for MVCC to further diversify our faculty ranks and further enact our commitment to DGV: the ad for the positions notes that experience in or willingness to work on international projects is a plus--so that MVCC will continue into the future to prepare our students for the ever-changing global marketplace. If you have any thoughts on this, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, April 19, 2010

SUNY Visions Revisited

Last September I did a post on the transformation that is underway in The State University of New York. The SUNY system has been around for more than 60 years. It has grown so large with its 64 campuses, that its power has fallen short of the potential inherent in such a large system. With the launch of a new Strategic Plan for the SUNY system last week, that potential moves much closer to being realized, and it creates some exciting connections for MVCC.

Our new Chancellor, Dr. Nancy Zimpher, has provided necessary and visionary leadership at a critical time. Over the last few months she has facilitated a group of 200 individuals, including our own John Bullis, through productive meetings around the state to understand the various needs faced by society and the manner in which SUNY can best address those needs. The result is a compelling Strategic Plan.

The Plan has six guiding points—“Big Ideas”—by which to frame system initiatives:
• SUNY and the entrepreneurial century
• SUNY and the seamless educational pipeline
• SUNY and a healthier New York
• SUNY and an energy smart New York
• SUNY and the vibrant community
• SUNY and the world

As a famed French author once remarked, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” The six pillars of SUNY’s plan are themselves useful tools for 64 campuses plans to align local initiatives for maximum return on effort. Guided by the direction set forth in this new compelling plan for SUNY, we can leverage the work we do every day here in the Mohawk Valley to help accelerate the collective work to advance SUNY’s overall local, regional, and global goals.

With all 64 campuses focusing their energies in the same direction, with the intent to address significant issues, we will all see a greater return on investment. Each college and university, the system as a whole, and students across the state and right here in the Mohawk Valley will reap the benefits of amplifying a system-wide vision by applying it locally.

Like other SUNY colleges in the Mohawk Valley, we at MVCC are very well positioned to leverage our location, our community’s support, and the initiatives we already have underway. We are committed to doing so in ways that match up with the big ideas of SUNY’s Strategic Plan. In other words, we’re already starting to connect our local dreams and plans with SUNY’s vision for the state system as a whole and this plan serves as a catalyst for that important work.

If we work together, we can adapt and implement SUNY’s plan in creative and bold new ways. We can harbor big dreams and solid plans for our college, our community, and our state. Most of all, we can turn those dreams and plans into local action to the benefit of those we serve. If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Assessment - Qualitative Gems

Assessment can be a daunting task, but sometimes the value in assessing outcomes can come from the most unexpected places. MVCC hosted an assessment workshop this week with Linda Suskie, Vice President from the Middle States accrediting association, spending two days facilitating workshops for administrators and faculty. The first day was focused on administration and the second day was focused on teaching and the assessment of student learning. I had the opportunity to provide a welcome to the group and I shared three themes related to assessment that I’ve come to value during my career. 1. Whether it’s assessing institutional performance and outcomes or assessing student performance and learning outcomes, good assessment is just good practice and good practice is good assessment. It’s all about measuring performance; using it appropriately; and making adjustments to improve. 2. Good assessment comes from sharing good practice. The wheel has already been invented, so use what’s already been created and make it your own. 3. Don’t have too many measurements – measure what matters and do it well. The general feedback I heard from participants was that the time in the workshop was well spent and hopefully, we’ll continue to improve our assessment practices for teaching and learning as well as our overall institutional performance.

While the workshops focused more on the technical aspects of assessment and more frequent quantitative approaches, I had a chance to do some qualitative assessments this past week as well. I had a meeting in Rome that got out early, so I dropped by a local business run by an MVCC alumnus. We had talked on the phone before, and he was gracious enough to welcome me on this unplanned and unexpected visit. We talked about our backgrounds and got to know one another some. As he shared his MVCC experience with me, I asked him how he got started in his business. He said that his memory always takes him back to an MVCC instructor who told him that he was a good presenter and had strong business skills. It was one of the first encouraging comments he’d ever received outside his family. That was 25 years ago and he remembers it like it was yesterday. How do you assess an outcome like this?

Similarly, I attended an MVCC alumni reunion event Friday night with nearly 120 alums from the past fifty years. Making my way around the room for a couple of hours allowed me to hear beautiful and interesting variations on a theme – “I loved my time at MV”; “MV gave me my start”; “I turned my life around at MV”; “Without MV, I wouldn’t be where I am today”; “My teachers were great – the smaller classes at MV made me learn more than the big lecture halls when I transferred to the university”; “We both got internships and walked right into a job when we graduated – couldn’t have asked for anything better!” - Talk about outcomes!

Assessment is certainly critical to inform our thinking and help us improve, but sometimes collecting the qualitative assessments and feedback to affirm what makes a difference can inform our processes as well. Sometimes it’s the individual positive reinforcement we give students that makes a difference in their lives and sometimes it’s the overall “MV experience” that stays with them for years beyond their time with us. If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Debt. Poverty. Then What?

At a recent Rotary presentation we heard from the Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) talking about debt. For me, the presentation was one of those moments where something of which I've been generally aware was suddenly magnified. Periodically, we see news reports about the mind-numbing level of personal debt in this country. The Utica branch of the CCCS sees it every day. It has about 350 people seeking counsel every month. A while ago, it used to see people walking in with an average debt of $30,000 (mostly credit card) and could help about forty five percent, in terms of getting fees reduced and debt restructured. For the past two years or so, its clients now come in with between $50,000 and $100,000 of debt piled up. CCCS says that these levels are so deep they can only help about twenty percent of the cases reduce and restructure their debt. Bankruptcy cases, on the other hand, represent fifty percent of the CCCS load.

In some cases, people try to hold on to material-based lifestyles long after debt or job loss have transformed personal economies. An increasingly large portion of CCCS's client base finds itself at the other end of this spectrum. Having never seen affluence, they are bottoming out in their own chapter of generational poverty. But much of this landscape is changing. John Zogby, in his book “The Way We’ll Be”, cites survey research that indicates people are increasingly looking to escape many of the trappings of affluence and leave more balanced, meaningful lives. In my opinion, a return to fiscal sanity - both personal and institutional - can't come soon enough.

David Mathis (MVCC Trustee and MVCC Alumnus of Merit) discussed a related view recently, in an O-D guest editorial, about the recent New York State Poverty Report. Federal guidelines define poverty based on household size (e.g., less than $22,050 for a household of four, etc.). Almost fifteen percent of Oneida County residents live in poverty; slightly more than twelve percent cite the high school diploma as their highest level of education; and less than four percent have earned a bachelor’s degree. Twenty percent of households in the cities of Utica and Rome are headed by single parents. In Oneida County, of families in poverty, a majority (56%) are headed by single parents. Almost one of every three Oneida County residents living in poverty is currently employed. Overall, more than 31,000 of the 231,000 people in Oneida County are living in poverty. A quarter of all Oneida County children are poor by definition. When we know generational poverty is a difficult cycle to break and we know one in four children in our community is being raised in poverty, intentional action is needed to secure a better future for our community.

The burdens and barriers faced by so many poor in our community are significant. Apart from the fact that the overwhelming body of research tells us so, we know intuitively that education is the single best way out of poverty. We, at MVCC, can pride ourselves on the rich history of providing access to opportunity. But, I think, access is defined too often by many as "keeping tuition as low as possible." And, frankly, that definition is simply too narrow. The time has come for us to think beyond the "traditional" concept of access. We must think more broadly. We need to think in terms of "delivery"....and (dare I say it again?) "serving" those most in need. For example:
• How do our current class offerings fit for the single parent looking for a way out of poverty?
• How do our current hours of operation fit for the nearly one in three individuals living in poverty who are currently working and wondering when they’ll ever fit in going to college?
• While we regularly enroll thirty percent of recent Oneida County high school graduates, we know there are significant sectors of our community that can’t find their way to college fairs and open houses. How do we reach them?

Addressing these issues and breaking these barriers will take creativity and attention. If we, as a community college aspiring to excellence, are to remain proud of the role we play in this region, what must we do to address these issues - and others - to insure that the MVCC mission is as relevant to tomorrow's students as it has been for those who have come to us in the past?
MVCC will be hosting the second annual Poverty Symposium this June in partnership with Mohawk Valley Community Action and the Resource Center for Independent Living. That, in and of itself, is a good thing. But I believe there’s more to do. Let's join together to make sure MVCC is doing ALL it can do to help create a bright future today....tomorrow....and all the days after that, for every member of this wonderful region.

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