Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Focusing on Student Success

The following is an excerpt from Northwest College President Stefani Hicswa’s State of the College Address to NWC employees August 21, 2013.

Community colleges nationwide are currently experiencing the highest expectations and the greatest challenges in our history. Sustaining our local and national economies, as well as maintaining strong communities with engaged citizens, imposes unprecedented urgency on us to produce more successful graduates.

There is emerging evidence regarding promising practices and strategies associated with student success. Data from the Center for Community College Student Engagement, the Lumina Foundation and Columbia University’s Community College Research Center show that no matter what program or practice colleges implement, it is likely to have a greater impact if its design incorporates some of the following basic principles.

A strong start: Focusing attention on the front door of the college is a smart investment. We must ensure that students’ earliest contacts and first few weeks incorporate experiences that will foster personal connections and enhance their chances of success.

Clear, coherent pathways: The many choices and options students face as they navigate through college systems can create confusion and poor use of limited financial resources and time. Creating pathways that help students move through an engaging collegiate experience improves student success.

Integrated support: One of the most important resources a college has is time. A large part of improving success involves effectively connecting with students where they are most likely to be–in the classroom. Faculty need to continually think about the precious minutes they have with students. This means building support, such as skills development and supplemental instruction, into coursework rather than referring students to services that are separate from the learning experience of a particular class.

High expectations: Students do their best when the bar is high, but within reach. Setting a high standard and then giving students necessary help such as academic planning, academic support and access to financial resources makes high standards attainable.

Design for scale: Bringing practices to scale requires a long-term commitment as well as significant political, financial and human capital. In addition to allocating – and reallocating – available funding, college presidents must continually involve faculty, staff and students in decision making.

Professional development: Improving student success requires faculty and staff not only to re-conceptualize their roles but also to work differently. This means professional development is necessary for all college employees and trustees.

Although none of these concepts is new, the body of evidence regarding these principles continues to grow. Longtime student success researcher George Kuh suggests that colleges re-channel, stop doing some things and place less emphasis on others in order to implement the practices that really matter for students. Kay McClenny, the Director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement, suggests that we evaluate our college’s data in regard to these practices and use this information to prompt courageous conversations about what outcomes are most important for our continued success.

Our students need Northwest College to help prepare them for the ever-changing workforce demands as never before in our 67-year history.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Update from the President's Desk

Good evening everyone,

Before all the busyness and excitement of the first week of classes begins, I thought I would send a quick update of what has been happening on my end.

I traveled to Casper August 1-2 for a planning session with the Wyoming Community College presidents where we discussed Wyoming’s Complete College America goals, the upcoming legislative session, and the Wyoming Community College Commission’s strategic plan. The presidents and I spent a great deal of time discussing how student success should be defined for our students. We decided that the components include enrollment, retention, completion, and job placement. Over the coming months, you will be hearing more about this issue.

In order to make connections in the community, I have been attending Rotary Club meetings on Wednesdays. I will be transferring my membership in Miles City to the Powell Club. On August 5th, I attended a Forward Cody meeting, which is Cody’s Chamber of Commerce. The speaker briefed us on the impacts of Affordable Care Act. That evening I hosted our volleyball team at my home for dinner. 

The Vice Presidents and I met off campus August 7-8 to discuss strategic and operational planning.

The Trustee meeting was held on August 12 in Meeteetse. At the meeting, in addition to hearing regular reports the board discussed the line of credit with the foundation for the Yellowstone building and creating a Foundation Resource Collaboration Group to create a more formalized mechanism to identify meaningful projects for donors that fit within the college’s strategic goals for the future. Following the meeting a welcome reception was held at the museum.

I had the pleasure of welcoming in the RA’s to campus August 13th. On August 14th, I spent the morning with our emergency operations planning committee and the consultants with whom we have been working to finalize our campus Emergency Operations Plan.

Last Thursday, August 15, the Trustees held a summer retreat with facilitators Drs. Cindra Smith and Walt Packard. They discussed policy governance, board roles, key issues for the college, and their expectations of me as your new president.

I have also been meeting with various individuals, getting tours, and receiving briefings on upcoming events, issues, and contract deadlines.

This week, in addition to our opening day events, I get to welcome many different student groups and organizations to campus. This is my favorite time of the year. I love the excitement and sense of hope a new school year brings.

On a personal note, on August 7th my husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. To celebrate, we went to the Beartooths for our first overnight backpacking trip as a family. We started at Island Lake and hiked into Becker Lake. On the way home we stopped at the Clay Butte Fire Lookout Tower.

Many of you have asked how we are settling in. The outdoor recreational opportunities here are so great, we can’t seem to prioritize unpacking. I figure there will be time for that on cold winter days before ski season is in full swing.

Have a great week!

Stefani