Monday, September 30, 2013

Community is the Answer

Community – a deep sense of community – is what will sustain us in an ever-increasingly complex and stressful future. That is what leadership author and inspirationalist Meg Wheatley says, and I agree with her.

As chaos and its consequences manifest themselves (think our federal government gridlock, economic uncertainties, environmental issues, and global unrest), the larger context of our daily lives grows more unsettling. Simultaneously, everyday life in our country seems to grow a little more unpredictable on a regular basis with technological advances and accelerating social changes. The issues and problems can seem overwhelming, but Wheatley also posits that “whatever is the problem, community is the answer.” The values of collaboration and community lead to win/win solutions if people are willing to deal with a little uncertainty and trust in principles of community.

MVCC is an anchor institution in this region – influential companies and other entities have come and gone, but this College has persevered. We have the word “community” in our name and we are inextricably tied to the Mohawk Valley. Our vision statement speaks to our commitment to meet the rapidly changing needs of our community. For us to pursue and carry out that commitment to our community, we must model the way for the region with the approach that this area needs to move away from a win/lose orientation that only goes to protect turf or the status quo. For this region to truly prosper, notions of either/or and yes/no need to be replaced with yes/AND – true to the values of collaboration and community. Resources are indeed scarce, but they will be even scarcer if we work within a competitive, isolated, self-serving mindset.

We’re starting to see this more cooperative approach as governmental agencies are increasingly dipping their collective toes in the merger/collaboration waters; the local agribusiness sector is also modeling the yes/AND mindset as they find ways to support one another and complement related lines of business; and increasingly the business and education sectors are rapidly coming together to find new ways of collaboration and partnership to better prepare the workforce for accelerating, exciting, and even daunting changes on the horizon.

A yes/AND mindset doesn’t always mean that everyone always gets exactly what they want when all is finished. However, through a commitment to collaboration – with a little give and take and a willingness to shift in order to accommodate the needs of others in some manner – this larger context allows for a deeper sense of community that moves its members from simply surviving to a far more desired state of thriving.

Richard Florida’s recent presentation to the community at the Stanley Theater tied all these ideas together as he spoke about what distinguishes cities from one another and attracts what he calls the creative class. His framework said communities need to focus on the three Ts: technology, talent, and tolerance. He closed his remarks by saying that not only does this area have the foundations of these three concepts, we also have a very distinct history that is part of a continuing narrative for this community. 

He said that in the past, many communities used to be defined by large employers, and when those employers would leave, the sense of community would have to be reborn. We have certainly seen our share of large employers leave, but the essence of this community has remained – through events like the Boilermaker and the Heart Run/Walk; through organizations like MVCC, other colleges, and countless service organizations that have existed for generations; and local assets like the incredible homegrown restaurants, the Stanley Theater, the Utica Auditorium, exquisite public parks, to name just a few! As Florida reminded us, up-and-coming cities can’t recreate our sense of shared history that helps to draw a community ever-closer – and in the end, amidst all the chaos in our world, isn’t a sense of belonging what we all long for as humans?

If you have any comments or questions, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Trends Worth Watching

To understand what higher education industry might look like in the future, I often pay close attention to what’s happening in the healthcare industry. There are, in fact, many parallels that can be drawn, but some of the most important  include:
  • Patient outcomes = student outcomes: Hospitals were increasingly accountable for patient outcomes in the mid-1980s as colleges did the same for student outcomes in the late ’90s.
  • Performance-based funding: Medicaid reimbursements went to performance-based funding more than a decade ago. Today 15 states currently have PBF in place or in process to implement for public higher education, and another 20 states have legislation in discussion. More recently, Medicaid funding has incorporated “patient satisfaction” as a factor in reimbursement. What would or will it look like if higher education funding incorporates student satisfaction levels as  means for determining the value of the public dollars spent on higher education?
  • Increasing government influence: PBF has been implemented to increase accountability in the healthcare field. Over the past two decades, costs have been spiraling out of control; outcomes have been questionable; and performance measures have not clarified the value of the public investment. As a result, the federal Affordable Care Act has been passed and will fundamentally transform the healthcare industry. Looking at higher education today, it’s evident that costs are spiraling ever-upward (making community colleges increasingly a first-choice option for many); outcomes are still questioned; and the value of public investment is under a microscope. Fast-forward two decades (or less!) and consider the healthcare parallel with regard to the relationship between government and public higher education.
Another consideration for all of higher education is the advent of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Delivering free content from faculty members at the most prestigious universities to reach hundreds of thousands of individuals in a single section is a novel idea suddenly brought to scale. 

Last year, we went from watching an interesting TED Talk to suddenly seeing a news story seemingly every other day about how MOOCs were beginning to take shape and catch the eye of other colleges that might use MOOC content to shape degree programs. While MOOCs are worth our attention, I am not so sure they will replace campus-based education. Similar to the advent of online education 15 years ago, I see them as a "yes/and" proposition
– likely to supplement rather than supplant face-to-face education. They do, however, represent a significant adjustment in our way of thinking about content delivery and how the Internet can so quickly bring things to scale – 100,000 students in a single section was hard to conceive with the concept of a MOOC.

In the short term, the most important thing for us to consider is the flexibility in our "credit for prior learning" processes and the extent to which we'll be able to accommodate non-traditional learning, like MOOCs, and evaluate it against our academic standards.

Finally, the Power of SUNY warrants our attention and commitment as system-wide initiatives will increasingly affect MVCC's future. SUNY's Strategic Plan is focused on leveraging the largest single higher education system in the country to maximize public investment and return economic and community vitality to every region of the Empire State. Initiatives like student mobility and transfer, common general education requirements, credit limits by degree, and shared services are all intended to call the question, "if we're not truly a system, why wouldn't we be doing these things?" They all require a great deal of conversation from every constituency group in the system, but if done well, each one will make the system stronger for students and communities throughout New York State. It's easy to think of them as SUNY initiatives off in the distance, but each initiative has tremendous implications for changes at all SUNY campuses – including MVCC. 

As fall semester classes are well under way now, we are in that joyous rhythm of the academic year. We carry out our work in a larger, ever-changing context, and these are just some of the more visible trends that will likely continue to shape our future endeavors.  

If you have any questions or comments, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.