Transformation Considerations at Our Fantastic Community Colleges

by Jean A. Wihbey, Ph.D., Provost, Palm Beach State College

Community College

So, you may be wondering, why there is an education article in Our Wonderful World? The answer is simple. For people to have the best quality of life and enjoy the wonderful world we live in, for the time we have, I can think of only a few pathways to achieve that intention. For some, they may be lucky and have an idea that is revolutionary in some way.Others inherit wealth that can lead to more wealth, and some are in the right place at the right time and have been blessed. Yet most of us set goals and have to apply a level of grit and commitment, coupled with education to get there.

I am a crusader for higher education, and in particular, community college education. While the community colleges have always been at the bottom end of the higher education pecking order, our work with students and our communities is second to none around the world. The model for educating large and diverse numbers of students in urban, suburban and rural settings is viable and has had great success. Our number one achievement has been our mission of access: we have an open door for anyone who desires a college degree or credential, and at an affordable price. This allows for a “wonderful world!”

So what do we do as community (or in Florida’s case, state) colleges? The consummate vision for any community college is to create success and change lives through excellence in education. There are many pathways in the continuous pursuit of the community college vision of excellence. The number Jean Wihbeyone priority is always excellence in teaching. It leads to student success and completion of college. This fact is related to teachers who care. They go out of their way to make students learn and feel a sense of care. Superior teachers profoundly influence those they teach for the rest of their lives. You know them! They are the ones you never forget. They cared…period.

Community colleges have a varied mission—we are proud of our quality academics, college preparation classes, transfer degrees, career and vocational degrees, training and community involvement, at an affordable price! We have such varied mission concentrations since we all have the same comprehensive purposes. Yet what one college or campus engages in is related to area economic demands, community and state influences. In other words, each community college concentrates on meeting the workforce and local economic conditions of the particular market they are located. Some colleges may focus on training and skills development. Others may be focused on diversity, developmental education, transfer degrees, arts and culture, athletics, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), trades and industrial development, and so on.

From my years of experience, I saw that community colleges were in the shadows of the universities and private colleges. Community colleges are blossoming into their own now with an estimated 49% of all students in college nationally are community college students (Department of Education Statistics). Our capacity to flex and change to meet the needs of our communities in a more timely, efficient and resourceful manner gives us the edge in community workforce development.

Our model of educating students is under high scrutiny and change. It is what Clayton Christenson from Harvard Business School would characterize as disruptive innovation. For example, the way we have done things, the pseudo-industrial model of getting as many people in, using uniform processes, as cheaply as possible, within the shortest amount of time (including remediation), is fast on its way out. At least some significant parts of it! For Our Wonderful World Media, I will offer many ideas to the many problems we face as a community that are now requiring higher levels of education to solve. The main one is overcoming the disruptive innovation with new strategies, processes and policies to ensure our area’s students are completing college and work ready to meet workplace needs.

While these opinions and thought pieces may not be considered “green”or typical ofOur Wonderful World Media’s focus uponsustainability and health, the community college and higher education perspective focuses upon green in another personal way—individual and community success and prosperity. Without it, the joy of living is dulled, and the struggle is in the forefront of what can otherwise be a spectacular journey.

This new approach is steering education and business community leaders to the questions of “who are we?” and “what are we going to do?” We are now under re-construction. If colleges are not rethinking, transforming or “disruptively innovating,” states’ policy makers around the country are laying it out for us. This is happening either through statute, executive orders, appointments to boards of trustees, budget recessions (otherwise known as disinvestment) and other power plays. It is not all bad. College strategy wheels are now turning a little faster and a little more focused as a result.

At the same time, with such a wide open door to operate differently, the task of selecting and choosing the route can be overwhelming. Aside from the input of the various college stakeholders, below are some recommendations to position our community and colleges in this new era of higher education reconstruction:

  1. Get ready for unprecedented transformation and urgency for change. Keeping up with what other states are doing to influence the trends is key. We must know what others are doing and get busy on a few key areas to improve. We will have to move the needle—so participate whenever you can. You will see more Palm Beach State College invitations to advise us on our direction to meet your needs.
  2. The governor is watching. State leaders have realized that their community colleges are essential to the economic prosperity in their state. If you are a business owner or a stakeholder for education,participating in the legislative process and with your area officials can help.
  3. Talent and professional development is essential to every organization. We need our community to be involved with taking interns and participating in the educational and workplace development process. We also need training materials and equipment so that our students can step into your jobs without a gap. We are trying to develop talent—this brings innovation and transformation.
  4. Come to our campuses, and be an ambassador for education. Again, it is the road to success and prosperity. We need you and your support.

If you are interested in being a business Community Ambassador, please call me. I would be glad to meet with you, introduce you to our staff and faculty, tour you at one of our campuses and see the great things that are happening right here right now in your own backyard. I promise that you will be impressed, maybe even amazed. I can be reached at (561) 868-3400. Tell Christine you are calling from the article in Our Wonderful World. I will be waiting for you!

One thought on “Transformation Considerations at Our Fantastic Community Colleges

  1. Joan Papa

    Well said, positive and informative article. Dr. Wihbey’s enthusiasm for higher education is inspiring and motivating. Her open door approach for members of the community to get involved in this educational revitalization sounds like an excellent opportunity, and a much needed effort.

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