Friday, March 24, 2017

WELCOME to Campus

Have you ever visited someones house and FELT unwelcome? Have you ever walked into a room and FELT tension?  If so, you will be able to empathize with some of our students.  How so, you ask?
One of the most amazing aspects of the United States is our diversity.  I attended a fundraising lunch a couple of weeks ago and diversity was clearly exhibited at our table.  I sat next to a biology professor who was here on a HB1 visa and teaching at a university.  Two women sitting at the table were a couple recently married.  The heterosexual couple shared with us that they would be celebrating 30 years of marriage in the next month.  Many ages were represented at the table.  I suspect had the luncheon continued for another hour I would have learned about their diverse political and religious views and perhaps even more.  The conversations were rich because the people were diverse.  I left the luncheon very uplifted and entertained.

Dona Ana Community College's student body is very diverse.  That diversity includes a whole range of differences.  What is very important to me is that everyone feels "at home" at DACC.  I believe it is important to create a comfortable, stimulating environment at the college in which students are able to learn.  That goal is not just a goal for the classroom, but for the entire campus - or in our case - all of our campuses and learning centers.

I find myself asking the question, "How can we ensure we have a comfortable, inviting environment for all students?"

I suspect we engage in a variety of activities, similar to many institutions of higher education, with the goal of creating a safe, comfortable environment for students.  Our faculty and staff engage in a variety of professional development opportunities that focus on a respect of diversity.  We think intentionally about creating spaces on campus for students to "hang out" and engage in conversations with friends and colleagues, get basic needs met, and connect their devices.  We think intentionally about signage and "way finding" to help friends, family and guests find needed services, offices, and people.  There is also much more we do to try to be "student-oriented".

Additionally, every couple of years we administer a student satisfaction survey to ask students about their experience on campus.  We use the data to identify areas of high importance to our students where they are both very satisfied and areas where they are not very satisfied.  We target the areas that need improvement and begin to research best practices in order to improve.  This continual improvement process is important to me.  No matter how intentional we are about helping our students feel comfortable on campus, without their feedback we have no way of knowing whether or not we are hitting our goal.

So next time you are asked to take a survey at the college, remember how important your input and feedback is to us.  Your ratings and comments help us continue to make you and all our students feel at home.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Why History Matters

Monday I had the opportunity to interview a former DACC president for our library archives.  I had the opportunity to interview the first DACC president during the dedication of a building we named in his honor.   Click here to see that interview.  My goal is to interview all former DACC presidents while they are alive to try to capture their reflections about their presidency.  Why?

First, as someone who has studied history I enjoy history and in particular I enjoy oral history. Second, I believe it is important for leaders at an institution to know about and understand its history. It is important to understand an institution's mission in order to understand an institution's mission. As an institution of higher education DACC maintains archives in our library that include important documents the institution must keep and wants to keep.  Some of these documents are necessary and others are wonderful artifacts that maintain information about some of the important events that shaped our current situation. These oral history interviews will be included in the archives and also housed on the institution's YouTube site.

Let me share with you just a little about what I have learned so far.  Both interviews have provided insights into our relationship with New Mexico State University.  For many of us who come to work at the college, the relationship makes sense. However, for many people outside of New Mexico and outside of both institutions the relationship seems odd.  However, both oral histories gave insight about how the "branch" came to exist.  The community college was established out of New Mexico State University to serve a very specific population for very specific careers in criminal justice, secretarial careers and nursing.  Career and Technical education is DACC's foundation.  There have been times when I have tried to move an initiative forward and had to work with a department at NMSU.  In working with that department a certain procedure was applied.  While in the moment I wondered about how the procedure came to be - the history of the relationship between DACC and NMSU helps explain the context in which the procedure came to be.

The interviews also illuminate how the community college evolved into the buildings and locations we occupy.  It is interesting how so often opportunities were seized and as a result our locations grew to include seven different locations.  The three locations in the city of Las Cruces evolved because new programs needed new spaced.  Our locations in Hatch (click here to see the ground breaking) and the south county evolved because we served the population through adult basic education and high school completion programs.

Edmund Burke once said, "Those that don't know history are doomed to repeat it."  I believe that those who don't know the history of an institution are apt to run afoul.  How institutions evolve is important for understanding the culture of an institution.  The culture, often hidden, is the fabric that keeps the institution wrapped together.  As a leader of an institution it is important to understand the culture and how it evolved, particularly when trying to initiate change or enhance what is working.

Have you ever wondered about the person whose name is on a building?  Have you ever wondered about the person depicted in statue?  Have you ever wondered why an institution is organized the way it is organized?  If not, I challenge you to think about how an institution evolved into what it is today. I suspect you will find many unique stories and people.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Power of Hope

Last Saturday we hosted 250 or more 6th grade girls on campus for a 4 hour event called "Girls Can". The event is planned and organized by the local chapter of the American Associate of University Women.  The purpose is to encourage girls to think about careers in STEM fields and to realize that many careers and opportunities are available to them.  Simultaneously AAUW hosts the family members of these girls to share information about how to begin preparing for college in middle school and what to expect from "adolescence".

The event is particularly important to me.  Sharing with 6th graders and their parents about what opportunities exist is very important.  I believe if a middle and high school student has a goal - a big goal, a career goal - if you will, they are more likely to stay in school and graduate with their high school diploma.  Certainly these are prospective students for us in the future.  But more idealistically, these young ladies have the potential to fill important jobs in our workforce.  Among them could be the next governor of New Mexico or the nurse who takes care of a family member.

A knowledgeable king once said, "Without a vision the people will perish".  I believe that hope is a powerful thing.  I also believe that by helping our young people see a range of possible careers that they may begin to dream and believe.  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Blame Game

On June 14, 2011, Matt Wuerker published this political cartoon illustrating the state of accountability in education in the United States.  The cartoon sparked much conversation around the water cooler at the community college I was working at the time it appeared. Ironically, the cartoon appeared around the time we in higher education were discussing the success or failure of developmental (remedial) education within the community colleges.  Certainly some within our sector pointed to the public high schools, wondering why students arrive to our doors unprepared for college.  Professors who teach in the first college English or Mathematics course after the developmental sequence often ask why students who took developmental course work aren't more prepared for the college course. Consequently, I have concluded Wuerker's cartoon is illustrative of many other "cycles" of blame that intersect with my profession.

Another example of this "blame game" swirles around "soft skills".  In the course of my activities as a community college president I interact with economic development organizations, chambers of commerace and business professionals who hire our graduates.  Each of our career and technical programs have advisory councils that meet at least twice annually to advise and guide our programs to ensure our graduates are prepared for the profession for which they trained.  In each of these types of environments the term "soft skills" is mentioned.  Many within these circles want us to produce graduates with "soft skills".  When I probe these individuals about what they mean by "soft skills" I hear related themes, but not necessarily are the answers always the same.

By soft skills I frequently hear from businesses that they want individuals who will show up to work on time, work hard, get along with their colleagues, and can pass a drug test.  Sometimes I hear conversations about soft skills to include communication, team work, collaboration, and worth ethic or "going the extra mile".  Periodically, someone will throw in honesty as a desired skill.  Ironically, the community college is also an employer and many of us who hire people to join the teams within our organization expect much of the same type of skills.  We know first hand as an employer about the challenge of find people with the necessary soft skills to be successful in our organization.

On the flip side of this conversation I frequently talk to our students, particularly around fall enrollment and May graduation and when I ask our prospective students why they are thinking about coming to DACC or planning to study a particular program, they often tell me about the job or career they hope to obtain upon graduation.  I have never heard a student tell me that they were coming to obtain a degree simply because they were interested in a subject and wanted to learn it "just because".  The majority of students are hoping that their education opens up opportunities for a job or career.

When graduates are not able to obtain a job after graduation they wonder why and sometimes blame the college for not preparing them for a job.  When employers are not able to find prospects with the skills they want and need they often look to us to ensure that our graduates have the "soft skills" employers want.  Neither groups' expectations are unreasonable.  The question I often ask myself - How do you "teach" these soft skills?  We can teach programming, blood draws, welding melds, mathematical equations, grammar, painting techniques and so much more.  But how does one learn a work ethic, honesty, teamwork?

More and more I am becoming persuaded that experiential learning is a vital component for preparing our graduates for work.  Course work can assist graduates in obtaining the knowledge and technical skills necessary for their field of study, but only authentic experiences can help them truly understand what employers expect.  Our faculty consistently report that they discuss them importance of these soft skills through out the curriculum. I have observed our faculty talking to their classes about these skills so I know they are telling our students about what they will need to be successful.  However talking about skills is not the same as obtaining those skills - after all, I can talk about ice skating all I want, but that doesn't mean I can skate.

I believe we need consider how to expand our experiential learning experiences within our programs of study so students can observe and experience the expectations of employers.  One of my favorite videos that best illustrates those expectations is entitled, "The Entitlement Creed".  Click here to watch.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Be It Resolved to be More Focused

The beginning of the new year often affords individuals an opportunity to reflect upon the previous year and then make resolutions for the subsequent year.  Friends often share with me that they have made the traditional resolutions pertaining to diet, exercise, financial matters, attending religious observances, and family.  So, what resolutions have you made for this new year? 

I will confess that I too have made resolutions like the ones mentioned above.  Then, about the middle of February, I begin to realize that I am already hopelessly off track.  How can that be?  I was so determined - so committed - so......  Why is it that "life" gets in the way of what is important for us? 

This year I resolve to stay working on my resolutions beyond February until they are completed (or become a habit).  So, why would I even think that I can keep this resolution any better than my other resolutions in previous years that fell by the wayside by the end of February?  Good question! 

In my early years as a young teacher I was really good at making lists, checking them twice, and applying the Franklin Covey time management principles and tools.  I have been utilizing the Franklin Covey prioritization principles and tools for a long time.  They are a habit and a good example of a successful resolution I did accomplish early in my life.  I certainly am very good at "getting things done".  However, I often find myself asking - is this the best use of my time?  In my quest to try to turn the wonderful activities that we do at our community college into effective, productive activities that move us closer to meeting our strategic plan goals, I stumbled upon the book, The Four Disciplines of Execution

In the book I discovered the reason why my personal and professional resolutions fall by the wayside in February - its the "Whirlwind's" fault.  Before you write me off as another person who fails to take accountability; stick with me.  It is my fault that the "whirlwind" gets in my way.  The "Whirlwind" is the daily tasks that keep me from getting the important things done.  The whirlwind calls for my attention because it is in my face ALL THE TIME. My whirlwind includes e-mail, meetings, travel from meeting to meeting, signing paperwork that already has six signatures of approval and on and on and on.  Consequently, I never get to make that call to a legislator or community member about a strategic idea.  I don't review the data on the lead measures that tell me whether or not we will hit my enrollment targets or certain goals will be met in July.  So the whirlwind occupies my day at work so I take the important work home and that gets in the way of my personal and family resolutions.  Sound familiar?

In order to executive my personal and professional resolutions I believe represent the wildly important in my life and profession, I am must be committed to first, remaining FOCUSED, second, ACT on the important by identifying the weekly activities needed to ensure completion and then scheduling those activities, third, keeping a compelling SCOREBOARD - in other words, recording the weekly activities to ensure I am spending the necessary time on what is important to me and last, creating ACCOUNTABILITY.  Accountability comes when I meet with someone to review my scoreboard - in the case of my personal life resolutions, I review them with a close confident, friend, or partner. 

Consequently, this year when I write down my "to do" list each Friday, I begin by listing my resolutions.  Next I ensure time is scheduled each week for me to complete what I must do to ensure I meet those goals.  Then, I protect that time - or should I say, my administrative assistant helps me protect my time.  This also means I say "no" to somethings - or better yet, delegate somethings to ensure I remain focused on the important.  Undoubtable, something urgent will get in the way of what is important to me, but I have also asked that those activities get "rescheduled" just like any other appointment that has to be moved gets rescheduled.  Certainly flexibility, to a point, is necessary for managing the whirlwind and maintaining time for what is important. 

No doubt serving as a president of a community college is a 24 hour - 7 day a week job, but making sure that time is well spent and time is devoted to what is important is also a 24 hour - 7 day a week job.  This year I have a strategy for managing the whirlwind and that is why I believe I can keep my resolution to keep my resolutions. Good luck keeping your resolutions - I'm still on track; are you?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Dabbling in Futurism: Higher Education during the Trump Administration

People are still wrestling with the results of the national election more than a month removed from an historic election on November 8.  Daily news reports contain speculation and information about possible cabinet appointments by president-elect Trump fueling fears and cheers depending upon how you feel about the outcome.  Within this context I am glad for this Christmas season because I can turn off the news and focus on wonderful Christmas movies and shows both airing on TV and playing on my DVD.  However, after several weeks of trying this as a means of escape, I still find myself wondering what a Trump administration and a DeVos led Education Department will mean for us in higher education. 

In my quest to put this question aside, I’ve scowered the Internet looking for clues.  Also, I have tried to recall my time in Michigan – Grand Rapids, Michigan to be precise - trying to  recall what I remembered about Ms. DeVos’ work with charter schools.  It is no secret that Ms. DeVos and the DeVos family are strong supporters of charter schools and school voucher programs.  Articles written since Trump’s announcement of Ms. DeVos as his pick for Secretary of Education have chronicled her position on charter schools and vouchers while raising questions about their effectiveness for improving educational outcomes for Michigan.  Certainly if past behavior is predictive of future behavior, DeVos will bring her advocacy of charter schools and vouchers to the nation. 

The national campaign contained very few clues about Mr. Trump’s positions on issues in higher education.  However, two sources provide a glimpse into Trump’s thinking on higher education.  The first was a speech he delivered in Cleveland, Ohio on October 13, 2016.  During the speech Trump referenced a concern about student loan debt suggesting that student loans should be capped at 12.5% of a graduates’ income.  Basing student loan repayment on a graduate’s income is not new and was also a position Hillary Clinton seemed to embrace.  Trump also talked about controlling college costs and quelling rising tuition by having institutions of higher education control “tremendous bloat” in administration.  This is not a new theme either. 

A second source of potential clues into Trump’s position on higher education is his campaign web site.  Visiting there on 12-14-2016 I found the following statements relevant to higher education:

  • Work with Congress on reforms to ensure universities are making a good faith effort to reduce the cost of college and student debt in exchange for the federal tax breaks and tax dollars.
  • Ensure that the opportunity to attend a two or four-year college, or to pursue a trade or a skill set through vocational and technical education, will be easier to access, pay for, and finish. (1)

These two points do not advance anything significantly new and raise the question about how might these reforms be accomplished. 

Based upon what little I was able to find about Trump and DeVos’ thinking on higher education I am left with little clues about what to think.  Is it possible that higher education is not a priority for Trump?  Is it possible that the higher education landscape includes sufficient enough “school choice” to avoid being on the radar?  So, just what is it that I should conclude based on the dearth of information available? 

“Tis the Season”, so rather than speculate about what we might get with a Trump administration, lets seize the moment and ask for what we want from a Trump administration.  

All I want for Christmas is…
  • ·      A higher education accountability system that measures completion rates based on ALL first time entering students both full and part time certificate and degree seeking students rather than the traditional IPEDS definition of graduation rates for first time, full time degree seeking students.
  • ·      Internet security and infrastructure upgrades in our rural communities to make on-line education secure and accessible to those citizens furthest away from our campuses who also need access to higher education.
  • ·      Access to venture capital grants to allow start up or expansion of career and technical certificate and degree programs to address the most critical workforce needs in our communities.
  • ·      A vision for higher education that inspires ALL people to believe in and trust education as a vehicle for making the workforce great again. 

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and are not representative of any institutions or organizations with whom the author works or associates. 

1.  Taken from:  accessed December 14, 2016.