Saturday, October 30, 2010

Understanding Our Education System

MVCC is proud to be a member of the Strategic Horizon Network (SHN) - a network of 7 community colleges across the country connected by a common interest in learning as much as we can from arenas outside of education. Recently, I joined a team from MVCC to the fall colloquium of the SHN where we had the chance to connect with our friends from the other network colleges.  We spoke of our common challenges and individual items of interest and touched on the overarching theme of moving from student access to student success and completion that is sweeping the country.  What I like most about this theme is that it brings community colleges and higher education into the center of the conversation about transforming education in this country.

As I was overwhelmed with the thought of writing a blog post about a topic as large as understanding "what's wrong with education in this country", a brilliant colleague from a SHN college shared the following video with us.  As he indicated, don't watch it until you can spend the 12 minutes watching uninterrupted.

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

Monday, October 25, 2010

Swimming in Whitewater

We are increasingly engaged in a national conversation regarding the need for more college graduates in America. President Obama introduced the American Graduation Initiative last spring, which calls for an additional 5 million community college graduates by 2020, and recently hosted a White House Community College Summit (http://www.whitehouse.gov/communitycollege) on the issue.

The Lumina Foundation has set a goal that they hope to influence with substantial grant support to increase the number of Americans with a two-year or four-year degrees to 23 million by 2025 (http://www.luminafoundation.org/goal_2025/). In addition, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made student completion a significant priority by launching its Completion by Design initiative, in an attempt to bring successful and proven community college programs and services to scale in large states like New York, California, Florida, and others. MVCC is fortunate to be eligible to apply in the first round of funding, joining other SUNY community colleges in a collaborative application.

These newly articulated objectives seem daunting, to say the least - 5 million additional community college grads, 20+ million college graduates…in ten years! The harsh reality is that, collectively, we are failing to keep pace with what we know are dramatically changing times that challenge our assumptions about educational attainment in this country. Based on 2008 Census Bureau data, only 8.4% of American adults 25-64 hold an associate degree; 19% hold a bachelor degree; and 10.5% hold a graduate or professional degree. At a time when a high school diploma is surely the minimum required to gain any form of reasonable employment, 12.8% of adults have not achieved that level of education.

According to the Lumina Foundation report A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education, the U.S. ranks tenth in the world in postsecondary attainment – trailing nations in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. As U.S. graduation rates continue to underperform, in contrast to growth in other nations, the youngest generations of Americans risk becoming the first less educated generation than their elders – making them a world-wide anomaly.

Global comparisons are only one lens through which to consider increasing student completion. The Lumina Foundation illustrates the importance of higher education attainment as it relates to economic recovery and growth. “Conventional wisdom goes this way…first, the economy creates jobs, and then higher education responds to the knowledge and skill demands of those jobs so people can fill them…in this recession, there is a growing consensus that the economic recovery is being hindered by a lack of workers with advanced skills and knowledge demanded in this economy.”

With national economic interest, opportunity, and pressure mounting for community colleges to transition from the "stepchild" to the "golden child" of higher education - offering effective approaches to an increasingly under-prepared workforce - we have much to consider. The fact is that we are seeing unprecedented demand from our communities, while simultaneously feeling the effects of federal, state, and local financial crises that are resulting in decreasing state support for community college operations. Many of these changes are prompting efficiencies that are good and, in some cases, long overdue. That said, the effort to maintain high quality and effectiveness, in an environment with fewer and fewer resources, has its natural limits.

Rather than simply keeping up with double digit enrollment growth and celebrating our ability to provide access, we must amplify our mission of "student success" by thinking in terms of "access to completion." Of course defining completion will be important and, unlike the No Child Left Behind initiative, it will be imperative that we not lower academic standards as the means to an end. We need to fight hard to secure and maintain the resources needed to carry out our mission; vigilantly search for and, then, integrate proven best practices from community colleges around the country; and recognize and strengthen what works right here at MVCC.

Indeed, whenever we get the chance to "come up for air" from our everyday responsibilities, we are most certainly swimming in whitewater that, at times, leaves us breathless and searching for a patch of dry ground (which often seems far too distant).  With all that has happened and is happening we are, most certainly, facing a “new normal.”

As one community college colleague recently said, “We're living in the Land of Oz. We were blown here by a tornado we didn’t see coming, and it will take every ounce of our collective brains, hearts – and most importantly – courage, to find our way out!” If you have any comments on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Transformation of the American Dream

I made a reference last week that took me back to an increasingly valuable touchstone – John Zogby’s book, The Way We’ll Be. Adults scrapping current careers and coming to MVCC to study in subjects that give them fulfillment beyond a paycheck is part of a tapestry of trends identified through polling by Zogby International and described in his book.

The subtitle of the book is “the transformation of the American dream.”  Based on polling results, it's estimated that one in three of adults in this country is reprioritizing his or her life to focus on the basics, finding value, and leaving the world a little better than they found it. This new segment of society (a subgroup that is continuing to grow) is a significant force that is truly transforming an American dream that has, for many decades, been more about material acquisition and consumption than spiritual and personal fulfillment. In fact, Zogby polling results over the past twenty years describe the trend of people taking intentional pay cuts to work in jobs that bring them less income but more satisfaction and fulfillment than their previous jobs - by 2007, this group comprised twenty-five percent of the American public.

Since the economic downturn in 2008, many people have found themselves working in jobs that paid less than a prior job (or found themselves with no job at all), but not so much by choice.  Likewise, our enrollment growth of nearly twenty percent in the past three years at MVCC has been influenced by the economy.  As I’ve stated before, that enrollment growth also was made possible by improvements in our operational systems – priority registration and increased retention; waitlisting and offering more class sections; hiring more faculty and increased support for adjunct faculty. So with record enrollments and people looking to MVCC like never before, another truth emerges from The Way We’ll Be - people are increasingly seeking value and, as John Zogby writes, “bypassing the sizzle to find the steak.” We can no longer just say, “we’re the best" at what we do and point to an anecdote as proof. The public is increasingly able to assess the extent to which institutional "promises" are delivered - or not! And, as they're able to identify alternatives, they're increasingly taking action based on the information gleaned. If a college says it provides an excellent education, in a personal friendly environment, it had better deliver - or be willing to live with the consequences. Unsubstantiated claims of being "student-centered" or of offering "outstanding academic preparation" can and are being tested broadly. The era of unsubstantiated claim is over and the time of assessment and demonstrated results is increasingly present.

These ideas were amplified at my Think Tank meeting last week. The Think Tank is a really cool committee (no other description will do) of faculty and staff whose purpose is to meet with me for a good monthly exchange to inform each other’s perspective. At our meeting last week, I learned a few harsh realities where our sizzle is seemingly outweighing the steak - fortunately, they are things that can be resolved with a little attention. We then spent some time talking about a few basic operations at the College that were not performing as we all might think.  Coupled with similar feedback I received from my monthly luncheon with students, my frequent phrase, “getting a little better each day” seems to fall short of creating a culture of assessment and continuous improvement that society is increasingly demanding of us.  Regardless of our role and responsibilities at the College, each of us can and should be able to do better!  Our students - and the public - deserve no less.

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

Monday, October 11, 2010

College - it's not just for kids anymore

I once met a community college president who wore her college nametag everywhere - even the grocery store - to prompt conversations regarding the college. Fortunately, our community is such that I find myself in conversations about MVCC while I'm at various soccer and gymnastics events for our daughters, attending countless community events, and yes, even the grocery store. The conversations are comprised of the usual, "I'm an alum"; "I took classes there"; "My wife and I are taking a community education class together"; or "My kid is going there before they transfer." Lately, however, I've encountered a new angle in the interactions I have with adults when I hear things like: "I just started taking classes at MV" or "I've had enough with my current job, am making a big change for myself and going to MV." In addition, walking around campus this past week I had individual conversations with five students – all in their 40s and early 50s, three with bachelor’s degrees – enrolled full-time in degree programs matching their personal interests. Indeed, college isn't just for kids anymore.

Adults returning to college is not a new concept. When I was 29 years old, and Dean of Students at a community college near Denver, students averaged 30 years of age. Until a few years ago, the community college where I worked in Omaha had more of its 14,000 enrolled students in evening classes than in daytime sections. That pattern held true across the Midwest and much of the country. Lacking empirical data, my sense is that the more northeast one travels, the more likely one is to find a bent toward serving traditional high school graduates in community colleges. This has been tempered somewhat by a recent nationwide trend over the last ten years, with a dramatic increase in the number of high school graduates directly enrolling in community college. Many of these students' parents enrolled in community colleges themselves during the 1960s and 1970s, helping minimize the effect of the negative stereotypes and elitist views, which frankly, tend to be more rhetoric than reality about the community college.

Looking to the future, we need to go beyond our success serving recent high school graduates and evolve our focus to meet the changing needs in our community. Each fall, MVCC enrolls close to 30 percent of recent Oneida County high school seniors upon graduation. Our high school partnerships are critical to the long-term success of the College and our community. That said, we know, from the number of current elementary school students in Oneida County, the pool of college eligible high school graduates will decline 25 percent between now and 2019. At the same time MVCC needs to think and act differently, and as broadly as possible, to address challenges associated with our secondary school partners, we're experiencing the greatest surge in 25 and older students in more than two decades. Our mission demands that we address this challenge as well.

The question quickly arises, "can we serve both populations effectively?" My response is, "Certainly." But to do so, we must live out our commitment to being truly student centered. A few important items warrant consideration. As community needs have changed, our evening offerings have been greatly diminished. With current unemployment over seven percent locally; an estimated twenty percent of the local workforce underemployed; and current and emerging manufacturing jobs becoming more complex and high-tech, adults are facing the reality that lifelong learning is the only way to a successful future. The evening program used to be a signature part of MVCC's offerings and services through the 70s, 80s, and early 90s, so we know we have that kind of capacity. If evening study is not the answer, what about on-line? What about weekends? What about flexible starts? The question really is, "Do we have the collective will to create program delivery alternatives that meet all our potential students’ needs in ways that are meaningful and attractive to them?" If not, there may be other organizations - both public and private - who do, but the taxpayers of Oneida County deserve our best efforts.

One of every five Oneida County households is led by a single parent. How easy is it for them to take classes between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday - the bulk of MVCC's current course offering schedule. How much of an effort do they have to make to enroll, attend, and study on that schedule and still hold down a job and manage family responsibilities? It goes without saying that it would be difficult at best.

We have a number of good ideas in play with regard to refining programs and services to more intentionally serve our older students better – we just need to see them through in short order. With the social and technological changes underway, it's more imperative than ever that we find ways to facilitate lifelong learning for everyone – because after all, college isn’t just for kids anymore. If you have any comments on this topic, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Shared Governance - Part II

Do you ever have that feeling that you're on to something really good and that if you just keep working at it the results will exceed your expectations - almost to the point that you know it's going to be good, but it's hard to imagine just how good? I feel this way about our shared governance system consisting of the College Senate and related committees, and the Councils and workgroups in place at the College. Last week I co-hosted a meeting of the College Senate committee chairs with Senate Chair, David Katz.

We accomplished some important, goals during the brief one-hour meeting. Online resources (committee memberships, agenda and minutes templates, etc.) were reviewed with the chairs to enhance their leadership roles. In addition, we had a brief training on the use of the “make a meeting” function in MS Outlook to aid them in one of the most important tasks of a committee chair – scheduling committee meetings. The key is for everyone to have their weekly calendars in the Outlook Calendar system. What was once a series of phone calls and emails over a number of days becomes the click of a button!

Beyond reviewing some technical resources, the meeting presented an opportunity to reinforce important messages about how the College Senate committees fit into the larger organizational context. If there is a “magic wand” to help overcome our institutional challenges and our community’s significant problems, I believe it is found in the activation and empowerment of the collective whole through an effective shared governance process.

The committees can generally be grouped into two categories. The first is comprised of those responsible for appeals, awards, promotions, and career appointment processes. These committees are essentially the keepers of excellence – how we define excellence is most visibly present in our organizational culture through the way we handle various appeals, and the way we determine awards, promotions and appointments. It’s no easy task, but the thought and integrity with which these committees go about their work is both appreciated and critical to managing these important symbols of all that we hope to resemble. The second category of committees is comprised of those more operational in nature (curriculum, facilities, safety, etc.). These committees are more like conveners of dialogue about improvements and innovations. They present an important opportunity to explore ideas and greatly enhance our collective ability to make informed decisions. Rather than making decisions in isolation and out of context, the primary work of these committees is to facilitate the dialogue necessary to manage change by engaging all relevant parties in the exploration of issues and making considered recommendations that help the College improve.

Certainly there are times when we need to respond quickly. Sometimes decisions must be made in the moment. However, much of the operation is about improvement and how to make things better, which can follow a more considered process of idea exploration, research and analysis, thoughtful discussion, solid recommendations, and informed decisions. A deliberative decision-making process through shared governance needs to be balanced with speed and flexibility in meeting the needs of our community. The real strength of a strong shared governance system is that it will help generate better made and better understood decisions and changes at the College. Given this time of significant change in so many different arenas, I am convinced this will help us apply the insight of comedian Stephen Wright who said, “the early bird may get the worm, but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese.” If you have any thoughts on this blog, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.