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.