Thursday, April 9, 2015

Addressing Student Concerns

As the end of the semester approaches and the stress mounts for students, we in the Office of the President, begin to see an increased number of student calls, communications, and visits pertaining to their concerns regarding their courses, campuses, individuals, etc. Let me take this opportunity to provide a few observations that might focus us as a caring community upon strategies that may support student learning while remaining appropriately responsive to students. 

Myth Buster # 1:  “Isn’t It Best to Start at the Top?”

President Scott says, “No!”  Here are several reasons why, when students come to our office with concerns, we send them back to the unit with the responsibility to solve the problem.   Why?

First, the businesses and institutions we serve expect us to prepare our students to work within a professional setting.  Business and institutional leaders who hire our graduates expect them to follow the rules (policies and procedures) of the organization and the institutional chain of command.  I believe that we can assist our students in developing those skills by ensuring that while they are in our care, we are responsible to teach our students to follow the protocols set forth for handling concerns. 

Second, if we allow students to go straight to the top, I believe it is disrespectful to those who are responsible for ensuring the application of procedures or administering the unit that students want to voice complaints about.  I strongly believe in those we hire to solve problems in an appropriate and timely manner.  After all their job descriptions and our policies and procedures define them as the appropriate party to address the concern.

Myth Buster # 2:  “They only way to get anything done is go to the top.”

President Scott says, “Not really.”  Complex organizations with well-developed policies and procedures and job descriptions have clearly outlined the scope of responsibility.  Further, policies and procedures include a complaint and appeal process.  Consequently, when someone begins at the top and is given time to outline their concerns it appears I am saying I will get it addressed. Yet in order to get it addressed I refer the situation to the unit head to address and they in turn call the student in who then repeats the very information they shared with me earlier. When this happens we are wasting time of the concerned student.  Students see this as the “run-a-round” and the reputation of the institution can be harmed.

Myth Buster # 3: “Dr. Scott won’t meet with me!”

President Scott says, “I will meet with you after you have addressed your concerns through the appropriate channel(s).”  This is extremely important in many instances because depending upon the nature of the complaint; I may have a defined role in the process as the final step in an appeal process.  Consequently, getting involved TOO EARLY in the process may compromise my objectivity and call into question my involvement as the final arbitrator. 

The Truth Is:  “I don’t know who to talk to.”

President Scott believes that this is probably more true than not.  Consequently, as a teaching and learning enterprise, it is important that each of us recognize the teachable moment when students approach us asking this question.  I would ask that you familiarize yourself with the student complaint process so that when a student comes to you and request information about how to get their concerns addressed that you can direct them to the student compliant process.  I have included the student complaint process link on the DACC web site below. 

Student Complaint Process

I know you would never do this but…..

I have been fortunate enough in my career to see this only once.  What was it, you ask?  I had a dear friend who was a graduate student who was pulled into a situation by her graduate professor and chair of her Master’s Thesis. The situation my friend was pulled into involved the elimination of a department at the University. She shared the situation with me because she felt she could not say no to her Thesis chair and she was seeking advice.  From her perspective she was forced to write a letter using her professor’s template to send to the Dean of the College supporting her professor.  I watched my friend agonize over the situation as she really didn’t want to get involved in the politics of the institution, but she also didn’t want to cross her thesis chair.  I have confidence in our employees that we would never put our students in this type of a situation. 

Thank you all in advance for ensuring that we demonstrate our care and respect for students by helping them learn the soft skills for success that are also learned outside of the classroom and getting them focused on the process that will help them get their concerns addressed in a timely manner consistent with policy and procedure. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Skills Gap

According to Nicholas Wyman, "Today around thirteen million Americans, some with college degrees, are unemployed, and that does not include those who are underemployed....Yet three million positions remain unfilled, and a quarter of American businesses say they have trouble finding people with the practical, technical, job-ready skills they need." (1)  This reality is known as the "job-skills gap". 

As a young person in high school I continued to hear from my family, teachers, counselors and even my pastor about the importance of going to college.  I listened and attended college and obtained my degree. I entered the workforce as a teacher.  The message about going to college and getting a bachelors degree is still prominent in society today.  However, many college graduates tell me that they are frustrated upon graduation that they can not find a job or that the job they have is unrelated to the field of study they pursued in college.  As these frustrations mount, additional burdens grow as these college graduates are faced with paying off student loans based upon incomes much less than expected due to underemployment or without any income because they are unemployed. The economic and business landscape has changed much between the time I attended college in the 1980s and now.  Today a bachelors degree does not guarantee employment. 

This is not the desired result that we want.  So, what is the solution?  According to Nicolas Wyman, people today need to add to their college education the practical skills necessary to align with the needs of employers in the economy of the 21st century.  Students need to learn to work as a team, navigate the day-to-day challenges of employment, and gain practical experiences.  This means students pursuing a bachelors degree should consider seeking an internship or working jobs while attending college to gain practical skills and experience that can enhance their education. 

I would build upon Wyman's suggestion and encourage students to learn the importance of being on time to class, attending regularly, being prepared, and being attentive. Additionally, I would also suggest that as educational leaders we begin to educate potential students about the relationship of degrees to workforce clusters.  This entails providing information about what degrees and certificates are necessary for employment in the sectors of: Agriculture, Architecture & Construction; Arts, AV Technology, & Communication; Business Management & Administration; Education; Finance; Government & Public Administration; Health Science; Hospitality & Tourism; Human Service; Information Technology; Public Safety; Manufacturing; Marketing; Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics; and finally Transportation, Distribution & Logistics. Further, I would encourage students to consider exploring what jobs are available and what jobs are expected to become available in the near future.  Equipted with this knowledge, and these habits a student can tailor their studies to align with the needs of employers. 

For example, a student may love sociology and wish to pursue a degree in sociology.  However, a bachelors degree in sociology may not be directly related to a job.  Consequently, this student may want to consider attending a community college first and obtaining a job credential before going on to seek a degree in sociology.  Many of the jobs that are available to potential employees today do not require a bachelors degree.  Often these jobs require some type of certification or on-the-job training.  As leaders in society, I believe we need to do a better job in providing information to middle and high school students about what jobs and jobs skills are needed for employment today.  This is the first step in beginning to address the job skills gap. 

1. Nicholas Wyman. Job U: How to Find Wealth and Success by Developing the Skills Companies Actually Need. (New York: Crown Business, 2015), 2.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What the GO Bond means to DACC.

On February 3rd we are asking the voters of Dona Ana County to approve two bond questions.  The first question lowers our previously approved debit service bond from 1.0 mill to .75 mills.  The debt service bond allows the DACC Advisory Board to authorize the sale of bonds for capital improvements.  The second question asks voters to approve a .25 mill increase to our existing 1.0 mill levy.  Funding resulting from our mill levy is used to fund operations.  Approval of the two questions will result in a 2 mill tax rate.  This tax rate is identical to the 2 mill tax rate that has been in place since well before 2009, the last time DACC went to the voters to approve a debit service bond question.  The approval of the bond and mill levy questions will NOT raise taxes for the citizens of Dona Ana County. 

The voters in Dona Ana County have generously supported DACC for many years by voting affirmatively in past bond elections.  The previous 1 mill debt service bonds have resulted in capital projects that have made possible the East Mesa campus along with the Hatch, Gadsden, Chaparral, and Sunland Park Learning Centers.  Previous debt service bonds have funded computer replacements, facilities maintenance, and new technologies to ensure that our facilities and technology are current affording our students career and technical training on state of the art equipment. 

Despite the addition of several new buildings, DACC maintains a ratio of square footage per full time student that is the lowest in the state.  While we have been efficient and good stewards of tax dollars, the result is that our facilities are heavily utilized; therefore required maintenance needs arise more quickly.  Additionally, our Central Campus at NMSU is in dire need of upgrades to ensure energy efficiencies and long term structural integrity.  These maintenance upgrades and structural modifications will afford us the opportunity to discuss future programming needs. While the structural needs and efficiencies have been determined, the programing needs have not been determined and will be determined, if the mill passes, through a process involving faculty, staff and administrators at DACC.

The debt service bond would also allow us to expand the Workforce Center in Las Cruces and move advanced technology programs to one location. The vacated space on the Central Campus resulting from the move of advanced technology programs to the Workforce Center will allow opportunities for expanding existing career and technical programs at the Central Campus and possibly expanding our Arts programs consistent with community and workforce needs. Additional considerations include adding classrooms to the Gadsden Learning Center to expand course offerings to students in the South County who are unable to travel to Las Cruces.  This expansion would allow us to consider offering degree and certificate programs at that location. The last capital project includes funding site improvements to the East Mesa Campus. This involves the relocation of the electrical lines to allow for further expansion of the campus when needed and the creation of a second entrance off Sonoma Ranch Blvd. to improve traffic patterns entering and leaving the campus. 

If maintenance is a significant need, then why would we consider lowering our requested debit service bond from 1 mill to .75 mills?  Our Facilities Master Plan (available in SharePoint) sets forth the institution’s facility needs and priorities.  Based upon our Facilities Master Plan, we determined that lowering our debit service request was appropriate and would not compromise our facility priorities and needs.  Lowering our debit service request allows us to seek an increase in our operational mill of .25 to help address our declining tuition revenue which is directly related to decreases in enrollment and increases in dual enrollment offerings without raising the total current tax rate.  (Note: offering fewer dual enrollment courses does not result in a direct correlation of increasing our tuition generating courses. On-campus/learning center enrollment and dual enrollment are two very different populations with different course offering needs; therefore, changes in one does not necessary result in changes in the other. Dual enrollment courses do generate revenue from the HED – Higher Education Department – funding formula, however not sufficient enough revenue to offset the cost of offering the courses and supporting the students).

Should our request for a .25 mill be approved, the result would be an increase in operating revenue of approximately $940,000 based upon tax valuations in the County. The additional operating revenue would off-set the present loss in tuition revenue based upon declining enrollment.  Consequently, approval of a .25 mill levy will help us to maintain current and vita operations, services, and programs to our students during a decline in the enrollment cycles.  Additional operational funding will also allow us to examine ways to meet workforce training and development needs in sales, transportation, skilled trades and the health care sector just to name a few. 

DACC operations, services and programing are funded based upon revenue from tuition, the State of New Mexico and the mil levy.  The Adult Basic Education and the Small Business Development Center receive funding from grants and the state and these funds support these vital programs.  Additionally, our career and technical education programs receive support from the Carl Perkins Grant.   All of these funding sources are essential for us to continue to carry out our mission of being a responsive and accessible learning-centered community college that provides educational opportunities to a diverse community of learners in support of workforce and economic development. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Governor Martinez's State of the State Address

Governor Martinez delivered her annual State of the State address to the 52nd Congress of the great state of New Mexico on Tuesday, January 20, 2015.  You can read an article on the State of the State address by clicking this link to the Santa Fe New Mexican. Her theme of "Progress over Politics" was well woven throughout her speech.  She challenged lawmakers to choose, "progress over politics", "courage over comfort, change over stagnation, reform over the status quo."  Words of hope during an era in American politics on both the federal and state level marked by strong partisanship and deepening divides between political parties resulting in gridlock.  The failure to solve our country's challenges serves no one.  So, over the next sixty days, I will be watching the New Mexico legislature to see whether or not this era in New Mexican politics, with the Republican Party controlling the House of Representatives for the first time since 1952, can buck the status quo and address the issues of importance to New Mexicans.  Can divided government in New Mexico set aside their differences and focus on area of agreement? 

As I sat on the floor of the House of Representatives, I listened intently to hear our Governor's vision for education in New Mexico.  Governor Martinez said, "Because education is what plants the seeds of wonder, of curiosity, of excitement in a child; points them to opportunities and goals, inspires dreams about careers, and about better days; gives them hope." It was a spoken thought that I found myself in total agreement. She recognizes the link between a well trained work force and economic development.  Attracting new businesses to New Mexico hinges on several factors and as educators, we contribute to one pillar, a well trained work force. 

So, over the next sixty days the 52nd New Mexico Congress will consider higher education funding, potential changes to the lottery scholarship, workforce development legislation, Right to Work, and regulatory reform.  The decision made over the next sixty days will impact DACC students.  The most important need DACC students have is to know that a good paying job awaits them upon graduation.  May this legislature have the courage to choose progress over politics and ensure the economic future of New Mexico as they debate and pass legislation. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

U.S. Department of Education Proposes College Rating System

The U.S. Department of Education has proposed a rating system for colleges to help families and potential students determine whether or not the colleges and universities they are considering rank highly as compared to their peers. To read more click here:  (U.S. Department of Education).   I am completely supportive of accountability in higher education.  After all, higher education institutions receive millions and billions of dollars in tuition, state revenue, and grants.  However, do we need another rating system? 

Consider that institutions of higher education already must be accredited by federal regulated regional accrediting associations in order to accept Title IV funding for students eligible for federal financial aid.  The process of institutional accreditation ensures that higher education institutions are reviewed against a set of standards established by a regional accrediting body.  Further, many degree programs within a higher education institution also seek and receive specialized accreditation for degree program.  The specialized accreditation ensures that the degree program meets industry established standards that signal to potential students and families that the program meets high standards.  Regional accreditation for institutions and speciality accreditation for programs have been in place for many, many years.  Each of these accreditation processes require institutional resources to collect data, analyze data, and write a self-study to document how the institution or program meets the standards.  The claims in the self-study are verified by a team of reviewers who visit the institution to verify the claims.  This peer review ensures academic integrity and honesty. 

Consequently, I wonder whether or not another rating system will provide the information necessary to help families and potential students evaluate whether or not the higher education institution they are considering is worthy of consideration.  In addition to accreditation information that is available to potential students and families, there is information at the state level that compares higher education institutions within the state on essential measures that often include data on retention, completion, STEM-H (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Health) degrees awarded and other matrix important to state officials.  Further, the U.S. Department of Education already requires gainful employment information for certificates awarded by higher education institutions.  Gainful employment information tells the public how well the graduates in these certificate programs are doing with finding employment within their field.  Certainly, there is already a plethora of information available to families and students for their use in determining the value and quality of a higher education institution. 

I want to reiterate my support for accountability and evaluation in higher education.  However, additional regulatory responsibilities for reporting, such as the newly proposed rating system by the U.S. Department of Education, requires institutional resources to collect, analyze and report the data required to address the "report card".  These institutional resources continue to add to the cost of delivering a degree or certificate program to the students resulting in higher tuition.  I would rather see the U.S. Department of Education help families and students use existing evaluation processes - accreditation, gainful employment, and state metrics - to evaluate institutions of higher education than to create another rating system that will require additional institutional resources, and yet not create knowledgeable consumers. 

The 2015 Legislative Session Begins

As a former middle and high school social studies teacher, history and political science has always been a passion. As a college professor who prepared social studies teachers, I continued my love of history and political science. As a college administrator, government relations is part of the job. It is part of the job I enjoy. Today I have the wonderful opportunity to attend the first session of the House of Representatives in New Mexico as the guest of Representative Nunez. Wow...I am excited with anticipation.

I have been called to testify at committee hearings in Michigan. I have met with state and national senators and representatives and felt pride at doing my civic duty. But, today, being on the floor of the people's house is an honor. As I walked through the Capitol today, I could feel the difference from previous trips when I attended committee hearings. Today, New Mexicans were in their house. The building was full. People were greeting their representatives with cards and literature, exercising their voice. It was good to see the people sharing what was important to them with the people they elected to represent them.

Events of September 11 have kept the people and government at a distance for security reasons. Understandable, but regrettable. As I walked the Roundhouse looking for my representatives to say hello and share my concerns, I couldn't help but think of President Andrew Jackson. During his presidency people inundated  the White House. He is sometimes thought of as the common man's president. President Lincoln often spent hours shaking hands of visitors who walked through the White House during one of the darkest periods of our history. Today in Santa Fe, I was reminded of Lincols's words, "We are a Government of the people, by the people, for the people."

Saturday, January 10, 2015

America's College Promise

On Friday, January 9th at Pellissippi State Community College, President Obama unveiled his"America's College Promise" proposal that would provide free tuition for students to attend America's community colleges. It is not surprising that President Obama continues to draw America's attention to community colleges.  This administration has consistently recognized the role that community college's play in workforce training and development.  Whether or not Congress drafts and passes legislation that enacts President Obama's "America's College Promise" lies in the future.  However, the spirit of President Obama's "promise" is already happening at DACC. 

For example, DACC recently announced a wonderful partnership with El Paso Electric that provides scholarships for potential students wishing to become lineworkers.  El Paso Electric has invested in its future and the future of the Dona Ana workforce by providing scholarships for students who qualify for admission to the program.  For more information about the program contact the DACC Admissions Office at:  575-527-7710. 

While President Obama is seeking to make community college attendance free, community college attendance is presently very affordable. Over seventy percent of DACC students receive some type of federal aid whether that be Pell grant, loans or wages as a qualified student worker. The challenge for many of our students reaches beyond paying for college. Many are in need of part time jobs to support their families while they attend school. Others need affordable housing. Still others need affordable child care.  Adults returning to school face many challenges beyond paying for tuition. DACC remains committed to finding ways to support our student. I applause President Obama for recognizing the role community colleges play in workforce training and development.