Monday, March 21, 2016

Organizational Resilience

I recently had the opportunity to chair an evaluation team for a Middle States Association accreditation visit. I treasure these experiences because they provide me with a chance to learn about another community college and — perhaps more importantly — reflect on my own institution, and this visit did not disappoint. 

While our primary purpose was to evaluate the institution against the 14 characteristics of excellence established by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the real challenge is to understand the "story" of the place — where has the organization been in the past 10 years, where is it now, and how well is it positioned for the future? The team and I found more than your average story during our visit. We found an institution with incredible organizational resilience. Although resilience is not an accreditation standard, it was an overarching theme that touched all the other standards because the College found its way through a very challenging period without ever losing focus on its mission of serving students and the community. 

The notion of organizational resilience is an important one for all community colleges to consider in these difficult times. Beyond the institution we were visiting, we learned from colleagues that our peers at community colleges in Pennsylvania and Illinois have been working without state budgets since last April, meaning they have not received a dollar of state aid in almost a year. If colleges don't have enough fund balance to cover expenses, some are taking out lines of credit to meet their obligations. The resilience of community colleges across the country is being tested like no other time in recent memory.

What gave me a sense of organizational resilience on this particular visit is that after listening to more than 100 faculty and staff speak over three days, a few themes seem to appear. Organizations are able to thrive in challenging times when people stay focused on their responsibilities; keep students as the number one priority; don't spend time in the rumor mill wondering about "what if" and "maybe"; and try to find the positive by turning every challenge into an opportunity. I learned a phrase during my years in Omaha where I heard people say, "we got pulled through the knothole in the fence backwards" but we made it through somehow — and that's kind of what I saw on this visit. It was inspiring to see an organizational culture that had the resilience to persevere and the collective will to keep pushing, keep challenging, keep stretching to serve students a little better every day. 

As we look forward to celebrating our 70th year in operation, I'm proud of the resilience I see here at MVCC, and this visit provided me a wonderful opportunity to reflect on just how important it is for us to keep that in mind during challenging times.

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