United Tribes NewsInstitutional Transformation
LESSONS LEARNED AT THE 2010 NCA-HCL CONFERENCE
By Dr. Phil Baird, Vice President, Academic-Career-Tech Education
30 March 2010
CHICAGO (UTN) - During the recent North Central Association-Higher Learning Commission (NCA-HLC) annual conference, one college shared lessons learned through an institutional experience that mirrors the proposed future of United Tribes Technical College.
The April presentation focused on the six-year transitional experience of a Minnesota college from a technical institution to a “technical and community college.” It was accomplished during a time of struggling regional and national economies, and despite state funding cutbacks, with increased student enrollment and tuition hikes.
Here is a summary of the perspectives discussed by presenters from St. Cloud Technical & Community College about engaging five key areas of the transition leading to an accreditation review.
Preparing the College Community
After shaping a detailed public relations plan with timelines, the SCTCC administration facilitated timely conversations with stakeholders and community leaders to keep them informed about the progress of the proposed institutional changes. Stakeholders included board members, trustees, civic and community leaders, faculty, students, and staff. The presenters emphasized the need to maintain close communications with the NCA-HLC.
Through an advisory committee, regular informational sessions were held with a leadership council composed of other higher education executives involved with and guiding the expansion into four year degree programming. This nurtured intercollegiate support.
Communications strategies included face-to-face meetings, electronic messaging and dissemination of updates and key development reports. A lesson learned was making sure all events and communiqués were documented for self-study purposes.
Preparing the Faculty
Gearing up for the transition to a “technical and community college” organization required extensive communications with and the involvement of faculty, who would need guidance with articulating the rationale or justification for institutional changes and making the necessary adjustments.
It was suggested that the college leadership should repeatedly focus on the institutional mission and help the faculty interpret how the transition will impact educational philosophy. Nurturing “buy-in” of faculty versus imposing unilateral expectations was key to a smooth, effective transformation.
A college in transition might also anticipate having to work through a review and refinement of institutional terminology and definitions. One example given was the term “general education” and how language changed into terms such as “liberal arts and humanities.”
The conference presenters emphasized the use of “talking-with” conversations (as opposed to “talking-to” communications) across all levels and tiers of the college community.
Preparing the Student Body
As a member of the transition group, the student body president explained how his Minnesota college conducted student surveys every other year to assess interest in academic programs.
This was done to document the rationale for institutional changes and to keep the student body informed about the options being reviewed.
The student government leadership was also directly involved with institutional budget decisions, including discussions about tuition hikes to address funding cutbacks and new program costs. Student leaders submitted position papers supporting five percent increases in tuition and fees.
By being actively involved in conversations and information-sharing, the student body strengthened its loyalty to the college, which was expected to carry-over as future alumni support.
Preparing the Workforce
St. Cloud Technical College dedicated time and effort to assess the workforce that would be impacted by the proposed institutional changes.
Once employment opportunities were identified for “job seekers,” the college determined what skills and training would be required. Learner outcomes were adjusted accordingly.
Another important workforce dimension was graduate placement. An outcome measure was established for assessing the locations of jobs and the earnings of graduates.
One lesson learned was to establish an active relationship with a local Workforce Investment Act council or board, and to facilitate and document pathways of information-sharing to justify workforce training programs.
Preparing the Documentation
The last of five areas covered in the presentation was devoted to the critical chores of developing, collecting and storing key institutional documentation.
One of the start-up activities was developing a list of key reports, minutes, survey summaries, program updates and communiqués necessary for the self-study and the accreditation site visit.
An administrative review identified which groups of stakeholders were required to have document access, both internally (e.g., board, faculty, students, etc.) and externally (e.g., leadership council, accreditation team).
The presenter emphasized that the college should assess which electronic sources would be used (e.g., share drive, website, etc.). The lesson learned was make sure all stakeholders and constituents are informed about where and how to access the appropriate documentation.
The conference presentation about the experiences of St. Cloud Technical and Community College was one of many informative workshops offered during the 2010 NCA-HLC conference. In this case, the SCTCC journey showed a valuable path with lessons learned that can guide UTTC’s transformation from a technical institution to a technical and community college.
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