“Until last year, HCC had a strategic planning process where each department created their own strategic plan and didn’t necessarily communicate with other departments,” said Marlowe Mager, executive director of research and institutional effectiveness. “We had a lot of people duplicating efforts.”
At a board of trustees retreat in late March, college administrators and trustees talked about their progress on the new goals, sharing ideas for initiatives that focus on community involvement with the goal of bettering student experience down the road.
“The core goal is student success,” said Barbara Parker, college president. “All of the other goals should lead into student success.”
Committees made up of professors, trustees and college administrators are exploring all the individual routes to that goal. High school equivalency classes for parents of school-age children and apprenticeships with local businesses and industries for students both got some time as committee leaders talked about their ideas for the future. Focus groups, surveys and just a general hashing-out of where to go and how to get there are still in progress as the college enters its second month of planning to meet the goals it finished outlining in February.
“We wanted this to be an intentional process,” Parker said. “The intentional process focused on students’ success, not just on the budget.”
But “success” is a hard word to define, as is “student.” Different people come to the college with different goals — some to earn the license or degree they need to enter the workforce, others to get transfer credit toward a four-year degree, and still others to learn new skills to apply to the jobs they already have. The college’s challenge, Parker said, is to offer the resources necessary to serve each kind of student.
“I think we have to continuously evaluate these services we provide and determine, are we meeting our goals? Are we meeting the needs of the students?” Parker said. “The bottom line is that the student is successful, no matter what their goal.”
Part of student success stems from them having the skills to use the college’s resources effectively in their quest for a fulfilling career. That’s why the college is working with Haywood County Schools to figure out how the two entities can collaborate to give students that chance. Each year, about 300 high school seniors graduate and don’t enroll in any institution of higher learning. HCC’s goal is to find out what those students need and build a presence in the schools so that the community college will seem the natural next step.
“We want to make sure our relationships with those schools are so strong that we can reach in and get those 300 students who aren’t going anywhere,” said Laura Leatherwood, board trustee.
The college is also trying to reach those students before they get anywhere near high school commencement. HCC is working with North Canton Elementary School, the lowest-performing school in Haywood County, to offer high school equivalency classes to its students’ parents.
“It’s very exciting,” said Buddy Tignor, vice president of academics. “We had hoped to get 10; we got 16 signed up. It might be a model we replicate at the other elementary schools.”
HCC is also looking beyond the academic community into the business world to improve its value to Haywood County.
“Something that makes us unique is that we are collaborating with business and industry, and are directly responsive to business and industry,” Parker said.
So, one of the college’s biggest goals is to forge partnerships with prominent businesses in the region and align instruction to those industries’ needs so that HCC students are easily marketable to area businesses. In the future, the college would like to work toward that goal by offering its students apprenticeship opportunities, but already HCC makes a point to offer the continuing education and certification programs businesses need, both for their existing workers and to prepare future employees.
Last year, the college hired a fulltime industry coordinator, and since then it has provided customized training programs for employees of local companies such as Evergreen Packaging, Sonoco Plastics and Giles Chemical, and it meets with industry leaders twice a year — soon to be monthly — to better understand their needs. Training classes and industry-focused degree programs such as mechanics and electronics also contribute to the partnership.
“We work to be a pipeline to business and industry,” Parker said.
The end goal for the college, though, will be to channel all these improvements into increased success for students, as measured by retention and curriculum completion. By 2018, HCC hopes to bring 71.3 percent of its first-year students back for a second year, compared to the current rate of 59.4 percent, and to improve the rate of students completing a program from 38 to 41.8 percent.
“Twice a year we’ll be reporting on progress,” Marlowe said. “At least quarterly, the leadership of each team will meet to make sure we’re on track.”
That kind of communication will be the key, Parker said, in turning a list of sometimes-abstract goals into tangible achievement.
“We’ve got to know what each other are doing,” Parker said, “and as a campus we’ve got to unify so we’re working together.”