Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Rodney Dangerfield of Higher Education

As a kid growing up I remember watching a number of good comedians.  Red Skelton, Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett, Dan Rowen and Dick Martin to name a few.   Another comedian I remember was Rodney Dangerfield.  He is famous for his frequent uttering, "I get no respect".  Take a brief trip in the past and click on the "I get no respect" and see a You Tube video of Rodney Dangerfield.

The Community College is one entity within the higher education sector that also "gets no respect". At one point in the history of the community college they were called, "junior colleges".  The very name implied something lesser than college.  People even talk about the community college as being "someplace where students go if they can't get into college." That very language suggests that the community college is not a college.  In spite of the poorly chosen language, community colleges are far from being "lesser than a college".  Let me illustrate.

First, one must understand that the higher education sector is diverse and the community college is just one of many entities within the sector. The community college mission is linked to career and technical education, but they are often comprehensive in nature so a student is able to get courses applicable to the first two years of a baccalaureate degree.  The regional university or college is focused more on teaching. The research university focuses more on research.  There are private colleges, religious colleges, and for-profit colleges each of whom have their own unique mission or niche within the sector.  Still no institution except the community college garners so much disrespect.

I believe the reason the community college is the least respected is because it is the least understood institution of higher education. Also, the community college is surrounded by myths.  For example, one myth is students who go to the community college go because they can not get into the four-year college or university.  Fact: many students who choose to come to DACC are not students who can not get into a regional college or research university, but are knowledgeable students who understand how the community college can facilitate their educational goals.  For example, some students choose to come to DACC because they can get the same course work applicable to their desired bachelor degree at a more affordable price with smaller class sizes.  Some students choose to come to DACC because they clearly know what career they wish to pursue and they know DACC has the program to help them get the training they need.  For example, some students want to be a welder or auto mechanic.  These students are good with their hands and find well paying jobs at the conclusion of the program.  They come to the community college because community colleges traditionally prepare students for career and technical careers.

Myth # 2:  Community colleges are not as rigorous as four-year colleges or universities.  Fact: many of the technical programs include a great deal of science and mathematics within the course work. These programs are rigorous and prepare students for a career, but can also prepare students to go on to seek a bachelor's degree.  Biomedical engineering, information technology, alternative energy, robotics and aerospace engineering prepare students to be technicians within these fields, but several graduates eventually move into a four-year degree program.

The hallmark of community colleges are the health education programs.  DACC prepares students to become LPNs, RNs, Nurse Assistants, Radiographers, Sonographers, Dental Hygienists, Dental Assistants, and Respiratory Therapists.  All these allied health fields require students to master science and mathematics principles in order to be well prepared practitioners.  All of these programs are rigorous and include a national test in order to gain their professional license.  Talk to any graduates of these health programs and they will testify to the rigor of their course of study.

Community colleges were established to make education available to the masses.  Community colleges are uniquely American.  The richness of the higher education sector is a tremendous strength in America.  The community college is the workhorse of the sector.  Take a minute and explore your local community college and see the wide array of offerings available to students.  Community colleges really are worthy of respect.  If you can't visit the college, check out the programs at the Dona Ana Community College web site by clicking here.     

How to Prepare for Executive Leadership: Hindsight is not 20/20

I was recently speaking to a youth leadership group about the topic of leadership.  The question at hand was what could these young people do now to prepare to be a leader.  As speakers we were to address the topic as if we were advising someone who wanted to prepare to be a leader in our field.

At first glance, one would think that someone who is serving as a president of a community college would be able to advise another person about how they might prepare to become a president. Naturally, one might even think for a second that someone should just follow the path that I followed, after all I became a president. Either thought might be reasonable if one thinks that higher education is a rather "stable", unchanging sector.  Certainly you have heard the discussions about how long it takes higher education institutions to make decisions.  I've seen and experienced the glacial pace of change in higher education first-hand.  However, I do find community colleges a bit more nimble.

Despite the rather stable, slowly changing higher education landscape I had to acknowledge that over 30 years in education I have seen significant shifts. For example, as a college graduate in the mid 1980s I would never have been able to image completing a degree later in life entirely "on-line".  I'm not even sure I knew there was an Internet at that point.  When I became a department chair in the late 1990s, I could never image a day when campus security would be forefront on my mind. Then I walked into my college on 9-11-2001 and joined the massive crowd of students in the hallway watching the television when a second plane crashed into the World Trade Towers. All this to say that when it was my turn to answer I had to acknowledge that I felt that the question was rather difficult.

In an attempt to provide some meaningful advice to the group I acknowledged that at some point while I was a tenured professor I began thinking about moving into administration. I explained that I was someone who enjoyed challenges and felt I could create a collaborative environment resulting from cultivating a strong team.  I believe that to begin the process one must want to be a leader and respect the responsibility that comes with being a leader before they ever cultivate the skills needed to be a successful leader. Really, my only leadership training was not formal, but resulted from many years of participating on and coaching athletic teams.  I felt that I had a good understanding of what it took to bring a group of people together, set meaningful goals, and foster each person's strengths in pursuite of accomplishing a meaningful goal.  For me, that is the definition of a coach.  So I had the desire to lead and I understood the responsibility that comes with leadership.

I acknowledged that I did not believe there was any one path to executive leadership in a community college.  However, I felt that someone had to participate in a range of experiences and leadership opportunities at various levels within higher education to gain a full understanding of how the "system works".  I explained that I believed one skill that is important for a president is the ability to see issues, problems and opportunities from a variety of perspectives and to know how to invite people with those perspectives to the table to share them prior to making decisions.

I acknowledged that a president needed to be able to create, share, and reinforce a compelling vision and foster buy-in from a wide range of people who generally do not fully understand how they are interrelated to functions within the institution that are very different from their own.  I explained that this trait is one that I do not know how to foster or train for.  I think some people have the innate ability to be visionary and motivational.  Perhaps this is instinct that comes from experience.

I mentioned that there are a variety of skills  that are foundational and can be developed over time in a variety of way.  I believe communication is essential.  I believe that survival is dependent upon being able to delegate and create accountability to ensure those to whom something is delegated to follow through.  I believe that one needs, at a minimum, a good understanding of budgets, funding, and running a business.  I explained that the job involves solving problems daily, consequently, one needs to be able to gain relevant information, evaluate its accuracy and worthiness, and apply the information so as to address the problem at hand.  One must also have the ability to work with people.  One also needs emotional intelligence so he or she is aware of the things that push their buttons so they can control their emotions, stay in the moment, and manage the situation they find themselves in.  Last, a person needs a thick skin.  Learning that others' reactions are "not about you" might be invaluable.  One must have mastered the skill of active listening and create an environment where they are approachable so people will open up and share information with you that you need to know.

I ended with a question to the group.  What is more valuable when picking a leader for an institution or choosing a leader to follow:  skills or character?

Perhaps this question needs to explored another day in a future blog.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

CTE vs. General Education

Tonight the Cleveland Indians will take the field against the Chicago Cubs in game 1 of the World Series.  Two teams with the longest "drought" in World Series titles.  I am rooting for the Indians, having been born in Ohio and most recently worked in Ohio.  As a Detroit Tiger fan I would like to see the pennant in the American League Central Division.  With all that said, I will be equally excited to celebrate a Cubs' World Series title.  Sounds strange right???  

So why begin with baseball? My baseball loyalties are somewhat illustrative of the dual mission of the comprehensive community college.  The mission at Dona Ana Community College reads, DACC "...provides educational opportunities to a diverse community of learners in support of workforce and economic development."  Often the phrase, "in support of workforce and economic development" feels exclusive of the general education base and transfer programs DACC provides.  However, it is far from exclusive.  Let me explain. 

Career and Technical Programs (CTE) are designed to lead directly to a job within the economy. Transfer programs are designed to represent the first two years of a four-year baccalaureate degree.  Generally, at the end of that baccalaureate degree is a job or graduate school. DACC offers transfer programs in Pre-Business, General Engineering, Education, Public Health and more.  DACC also offers programs that do both.  These degrees can end in a job and continue on to a baccalaureate degree. The Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), for example, will afford someone the opportunity to take the NCLEX-RN test and upon passing, qualify for a job. Often someone holding an ADN will proceed on with their education and enter a Bachelor's degree program in Nursing - often called a BSN Completion Program.  This process can also be true for students pursuing an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice. Upon graduation students may enter the workforce, perhaps working at the local detention center or they may go on and pursue a Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice and pursue opportunities as a probation officer.  

Perhaps this sounds a bit like my baseball loyalties this post season.  I love and root for the Indians (and the Tigers first and foremost), but will be happy if the Cubs win.  I love our career and technical programs and I love our transfer programs.  At that end of the day it is not CTE vs. Transfer - it is alignment with the workforce needs of our state that helps us fulfill our mission and add value to our students' lives.  Some of those needs can be addressed by graduates with CTE certificates and degrees while other economic development needs will be met by graduates who hold a baccalaureate or even a professional degree (Masters of Social Work or Doctorate of Law for example).  

The comprehensive nature of DACC is one of our strengths.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Dual Credit Dilemma

I attended high school in the 1970s.  Yes, ancient history for a high school student today.  It was a time before standards and standardized testing.  It was during an era where the philosophy of education including the exploration of many diverse and varied subjects, including subjects within subjects. You might remember them as "electives". The last half of my senior year I had earned enough credits that allowed me to have completed my day by noon.  However, I had to either take electives or work in order to comply with graduation requirements.  I opted to work.  I also played softball so I was still very much connected to high school.  I would have been the perfect candidate to take college course had such an opportunity existed.  

Dual credit course have become a way of life for students in New Mexico.  A dual credit course is a course that satisfies both high school and college requirements.  These courses are often identified in agreements between the college and the high school and the terms of participation are spelled out.  New Mexico was the first state that required high school students to take either an AP Course, an on-line course or a dual credit course to satisfy high school graduation requirements.  In theory, exposing high school students to college courses may help them realize that they can be successful in college.  The hopeful result is that more students will go to college because they have been exposed to college and know they can be successful.  

Presently a debate is taking place in New Mexico and through out the United States about the success of dual credit courses.  I suspect the answer is really dependent upon the definition of success.  The purpose of this post is not the debate the definition of success nor share the data from my college around the metrics of dual credit courses as we track them.  The purpose of this post is to raise another question.  Are we unintentionally robbing our children of their childhood?  

I am not the first person to have raised this question.  Dr. David Elkind in his landmark book, The Hurried Child raised just such a question.  Dr. Elkind drew attention to the dangers of exposing children to overwhelming pressures, leading to a wide range of childhood and teenage crises. Dr. Elkind demonstrated that blurring the boundaries between age appropriate expectations and adult expectations too soon forces kids the grow up too fast.  Dual Credit has the potential to become another initiative that forces kids to grow up too fast.  

I am not trying to throw the baby out with the bath water so to speak.  I think dual credit courses can provide wonderful opportunities for high school students to explore the rigorous of college while satisfying both high school and college requirements.  Allowing high school students to take the "right" dual credit courses can provide them with a very strong foundation in general education that can be a tremendous asset when they do matriculate to college after their high school graduation.  In some instances, dual credit courses that begin to move high school students toward a business or industry recognized certificate can also shorten their time between graduating high school and moving into a meaningful job or career.  

However, some high school students may not be ready for the pressures of a college course or the content of and exposure to topics and issues that some college courses or programs include.  Health related courses and careers may be one such area.  Certainly, health related careers are very attractive to the parents of high school students.  In some cases high school students know they want to pursue a health related career.  Health care employers often include very specific criteria for employment in addition to the necessary certification.  One criteria often includes age.  

Consequently, I think one of the discussions missing from the dual credit initiative is a deep discussion about readiness and whether or not certain courses and programs of study are appropriate for high school students.  Additionally, I have yet to find longitudinal research pertaining to the career success of high school students who took dual credit courses in a career path, then entered that career upon completion of the college requirements.  I think it will be important for us in the future to engage in longitudinal research that follows these high school students who began their college experience early to examine the long term effects.  I'm not ready to say all dual credit is good or all dual credit is bad; however, I do believe we need to continue to raise questions and explore the data to determine if the dual credit initiative is just another one of the activities that Dr. Elkind warned us about.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What Is In a Name?

How many of you know the meaning of your name?  Renay means "renaissance" - a new birth.  The meaning certainly has foreshadowed me in so many ways.

The Vietnam Veteran Memorial in Washington D.C. was designed by Maya Lin.  Her design, at the time, was a bit controversial for a variety of reasons, but was ground breaking for her inclusion of the names of all 57,931 people at the time of the unavailing.  As of Memorial Day 2013 there were 58,286 names on the wall. Maya Lin felt the names were significant. Since the memorial was unvailed in 1982, her concept of including names has transformed the development of memorials since then.  The names have drawn many survivors of the Vietnam War to Washington D.C. to honor and remember their fallen comrades. 

One of my favorite assignments to give my social studies methods class was to have the students identify a monument or memorial on campus, including the name of a building and conduct research about the monument, memorial, event or person and then turn that activity into a lesson plan that they could teach.  I learned a great deal from my students about the people and events that were commemorated on campus.  Since then, I have moved into administration at a community college. At both of the community colleges I have served, I have noticed an absence of the similar types of monuments, memorials and buildings named after people that are so common on a university campus. I believe that it is important to capture the history of an institution. There is much to be learned about the institution from its history. The community college movement is relatively young compared to the long established universities and hasn't had an opportunity to capture the rich history. Consequently, I believe it is important for us to begin to capture the history of DACC for future generations to learn about and learn from.

Friday, August 26th we celebrated a first for Dona Ana Community College. We named a building after our first president, Dr. Alex Sanchez.  It was not the first time we have named something at the college after someone important.  Previously we named our Adult Learning Center the Quintana Learning Center after president Dr. Patricio Quintana, the second president who served from 1978 to 1988.  He was instrumental in bringing high school completion and adult basic education to our institution and so we named the Adult Learning Center in his honor.

The naming of our main building after Dr. Alex Sanchez was particularly appropriate because he founded the college from idea to reality.  He saw a real need in the community for career and technical education and worked closely with New Mexico State University, the three public school districts, the community and the legislature of New Mexico to make the college happen.  He hired the first faculty who were committed to career and technical education.  He secured funding, He worked to pass the first capital bond.  He brought programs to the community to meet needs in nursing, water technology, radiology, and construction.  The foundation he laid for collaboration, faculty dedication, and commitment to career and technical education live on at DACC.

So, what is in a name?  Often the characteristics that influence a person and the culture that surrounds them.  In this case, Dr. Alex Sanchez represents many of the values DACC continues to hold dear - a commitment to career and technical education, collaboration, and our students.  So as you enter the Alex Sanchez building, please remember fondly our roots and recommit yourself to them.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Skills for the "New Economy"

As the fall semester begins, many of us at the community college watch enrollment.  After all, our budget is impacted positively or negatively based upon enrollment.  Several weeks before the start of the semester, student services personnel call students from previous semesters who aren’t yet registered for the fall semester to see what they can do to help the student get registered.  Those overseeing this task report out their findings and we review processes and procedures accordingly.  This year a new trend began emerging for me.  This semester several students reported that they were not coming back to school because they believed there was not a job for them after graduation.  They just didn’t feel like going to college was going to result in a better paying job. 

I suspect many are frustrated by the “new economic normal” that has evolved.  Computers have replaced people in a variety of jobs and other jobs have moved off-shore leaving people to wonder what the future holds for the middle class and whether or not good paying jobs will return.  I suspect what we in the higher education sector need to understand is the nature of the “new economy” and how we can better prepare our students to enter this new reality.  The axiom, “What was good enough for me so it should be good enough for you” is no longer true.

The quest to understand the economic world that our students are entering unveiled a number of interesting ideas.  First, the labor market of the future will require that our graduates be proficient in solving ill-structured problems, synthesizing information and performing non-routine tasks for which there are no step-by-step processes.[1]  Second, we need to be prepared to modify our teaching so that we help students become proficient with those skills.  However, building proficiency in problem solving, synthesizing information, and performing non-routine tasks requires that we build upon other skills.  According to James Heckman the ability to acquire skills is dependent upon skills developed at an earlier age.[2] So, will the students arrive to us with the necessary skills they need in order to gain proficiency in these 21st century skills? 

In order for students to develop proficiency in solving ill-structured problems, they need to arrive to us being able to read expository text carefully and critically, search for information efficiently and know what information is reliable and relevant, develop logic models for understanding cause and effect and then be able to communicate their solution so that others can understand. 

More than ever it is time what we re-examine our education framework to ensure that we are preparing our students for a global and technical economy so that we remain competitive. 

[1] Levy, Frank and Murnane, Richard J., Dancing with Robots: Human Skills for Computerized Work.  (Third Way, 2016), p.  15.
[2] Ibid, 19.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Weathering a Financial Storm

The overall revenue at DACC comes from primarily three sources.  Sixty percent of our revenue comes from the state of New Mexico, 26.4% comes from tuition and fees, 13.2 percent comes from the local mill levy.  The remaining less than one percent comes from grants and gifts to the College.  Consequently, the two most important goals for the College are to focus on enrollment (directly related to tuition and fees) and completion (directly related to state funding that is based on course completion and degrees and certificates awarded).  As of my communication today, the number of new freshman beginning at DACC for the first time this fall is ahead of last fall’s census day numbers.  The number of undergraduate transfer students beginning at DACC this fall is ahead of last fall’s census day numbers.  The Student Services team has done an amazing job at recruitment – they are to be applauded.  Our main challenge is retention.  Presently we are just under 300 students less than census day numbers last fall.  These are students who were with us last fall who are not registered this fall.  Also, we have a number of our students who are taking courses both with us and with other campuses in the system. That means tuition revenue from the courses begin taken at other campus is not coming to DACC.  We need to understand how we can better provide a schedule that helps these students stay at DACC.  Last, the number of students from campuses within the system taking courses with us has declined – this may be directly related to changes in mathematics on the Las Cruces University campus.  After census day we will examine this data to see what might have occurred and whether or not we can respond to what we learn. 

While enrollment is something we can impact and control based upon our own actions and initiatives, changes in state revenue is something we can’t control.  Present projections pertaining to revenue for the State’s budget are much less than expected when the State budget was passed in February 2016.  As a result, it is possible that a special session will be called to address any revenue shortages.  The impact of decisions at the special session to DACC are yet unknown, but even last February we were told that we should not be surprised if a mid-year cut were to occur.  I am watching these events vigilantly and will communicate information as facts become known. 
How must we proceed as we anticipate a reduction to state revenue to our budget.  First, we need to reaffirm our mission and commit to that mission.  Second, we must focus on the two most important things which are enrollment and completion.  Third we must identify our values for making decisions and act on those values.  Forth, we must identify the "must have" versus the "nice to have" programs and initiatives  Fifth, we must prioritize the "must haves", and last, we must make the hard decisions. 
Jacob Lew once said that "The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations".  We must also keep in mind that we can't just cut our way through a fiscal storm, but that we must carefully invest in people and programs to grow our enrollment.  John Hoeven said that, "Businesses must invest in products and people in order to create new wealth".  Often higher education institutions continue to do that same old things over and over.  We must recognize what Gary Hamel said, "Businesses fail when they over invest in what is over what could be".  As state revenue sources continue to decline, we must take a lesson from business in how to address revenue and expenditures in order to continue to serve our constituents.