TO: All VCCS employees
FROM: Glenn DuBois
DATE: July 15, 2010
RE: An update on the VCCS Reengineering efforts

Dear colleague,

I hope your summer is going well!

Just before the Independence Day holiday a national study was released showing that in Virginia, by the year 2018, two out of every three available jobs will require more than a high school education.

Like the focus President Obama and Governor McDonnell are placing on our work, like the enrollment trend that is shattering records semester after semester and year after year, this is another reminder of both the importance of and the need for the opportunities that our community colleges give individuals in every part of Virginia.

I am writing to update you on the work of the VCCS Reengineering Taskforce.

I read every single email that you and your colleagues are sending to me with impressions and ideas for this process.  I remain deeply moved by the thought, passion and conviction that come through in those messages and, of course, I am forwarding all of them to the taskforce.

The VCCS reengineering website, once again, can be found at http://rethink2.wpengine.com.  You can also link to it from the homepage of the VCCS website.

A reengineering idea that makes good sense

Throughout Virginia’s Community Colleges we have students who qualify for federal financial aid – grants that they will not have to repay – but never see a penny of that money because they never apply for it.

All too often, they don’t even know that they can apply for it.

I can’t help but wonder about the impact this has on student success.  We know that students who pursue a credential as a full-time student succeed at a much higher rate than those who attend part-time.  How many more students would graduate, and how much faster would they finish, if they were in a position to maximize the resources that exists to help them?

Our financial aid officers are doing yeoman’s work. But they need help.

I was visiting one of our community college campuses awhile back. As I walked down the hallway I was surprised to find a closed sign on the shut door to the financial aid office.

It was a Tuesday.

What I later learned was that the financial aid officer was there and he was working.  He was processing the paperwork from students he had already seen – an essential task – and was thus unavailable for other students.

I am still haunted by the thought of the students who may have taken a few minutes from their lunch break, or the single mom who had a babysitter just for that afternoon, to stop by only to find that closed door.  Could they make it back on Wednesday?  Would they?

The taskforce is ironing out a way to free that financial aid officer to keep his door open. They are exploring ways to alleviate him of the hassle of that backroom paperwork so he can focus on the students he is there to serve.

I believe a savvy consolidation of that kind of work will make our operations more effective and support our student-focused, front-line employees, allowing them to serve even more students.

I will share more about this and the other ideas the taskforce is exploring as we continue to move forward.

August Planning Retreat

I am hosting the Chancellor’s annual planning retreat next month. The two-day meeting is a chance for the leadership teams from each of the 23 community colleges to review last year’s progress on our strategic plan and to explore strategies to sustain and expand our success.

This year’s event will be held in Richmond on August 10 and 11. It will focus a great deal on the work of the Reengineering Taskforce.

One of the panels will be led by faculty members to ensure that a broad array of perspectives is heard as ideas are discussed.

As I mentioned earlier, every email sent to me about the reengineering effort is forwarded to the taskforce.  However, if you have an idea that you would specifically like to have included in that session then please note that in the message you send to me at rethink@vccs.edu.

Reengineering Q&A

The Q&A section of these emails remains popular.  So, let’s look into the mailbag once again.

You are asking a question that is more than fair. “Imagine my shock when I learned that we do not [offer] student counseling when students request a drop from classes,” wrote an employee of Virginia Western Community College. “If a student has enrolled in a class and is receiving financial aid and we do not offer some type of counseling, the student may not realize the ramification of the drop.” Students often don’t know what these actions could mean to their future eligibility for financial aid. This is yet another good reason to put our front-line financial aid officers in a better position to work directly more with more students. Financial aid can make the pursuit of college dreams possible when it was otherwise not, but responsibilities come with that opportunity.

You underscore the importance of our new strategic plan. “I suggest that the task force recommend that college administrators encourage their faculty to… pursue federal grants that would ‘lead to better fiscal balance…reducing operating expenses and maximizing revenues,” wrote a Central Virginia Community College employee. One of the goals of Achieve 2015, our six-year strategic plan, calls for raising $550 million in cumulative gifts and grants to support the mission of Virginia’s Community Colleges. That goal includes, but is not limited to, federal grants. Resource diversity is increasingly vital to our community colleges.

Ensuring adjunct faculty members are part of our college community. A number of you wrote in with thoughts about the role of adjunct instructors and ways we could better integrate them into our campus community. An employee at Danville Community College offered the idea of changing the way we organize the roles of all faculty members to better fit student needs. He also wondered about the merit of creating full-time positions that could be shared between two geographically close community colleges, “Meeting the needs of both schools in a particular instructional area when each school needs additional help but cannot alone afford that position.”

An employee from Northern Virginia Community College wrote to ask, “While the VCCS has always been very up-to-date in providing professional development to all its employees, adjunct faculty members seen to be left out of the picture…What can the VCCS do to at least bring many, if not all of them, to attend these sessions and training?”  That is a good question that merits further consideration, especially considering the important role these instructors play on our campuses.

Information security has to be a priority here. An employee of Tidewater Community College wrote to ask about reducing or mitigating technology costs by using more “open source” software, such as those that offer tools similar to Blackboard and other licensed software. “At the very least, these options should be considered as alternatives to their commercial counterparts,” he wrote. I agree, they should be considered.  But we have tremendous responsibilities to safeguard the vast amounts of data that we process. The security of any program we use must be optimal.

We must do more to harness the potential of online learning. There was a lot of passionate response to the segment of last month’s email about online classes. Some of you hate them. Some of you love them.  Here’s a sample of the responses:

“One of the best things about distance education is the asynchronism of it.  It respects that our students come from all walks of life, with all sort of responsibilities and schedules,” wrote a Virginia Highlands Community College employee.

“Are we just using the online as an IT tool to get students graduated?  Do they actually learn the material taught online?  Almost all my students say they learn only about 25% in an online course of study as opposed to 90% in a face-to-face class,” wrote an employee at Tidewater Community College.

“[The VCCS] should be able to [offer distance education courses] without ever requiring coming to campus!! Some people, like my daughter and I and many others, do not need or want to be on campus to learn. I used to take classes at JSRCC and hated having to sit in those itty bitty desks and trudge around on campus after having to hunt for parking, etc.” wrote a father of a potential J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College student.

“Even though the students I have in my online classes are signed up for that type of course, I still meet with them on a regular basis to discuss their questions as well as their performance… They continue in my course because of the virtual and face-to-face support I provide them while taking an online class,” wrote an employee from Southside Virginia Community College.

The Internet offers boundless opportunities to enhance the way we teach – opportunities that simply didn’t exist when I was a student and later, a young instructor. We have a responsibility to elevate our usage of technology to bolster good teaching. We currently have two levels of certification for instructors seeking to teach online. Every community college instructor should hold one of those certifications or be in the process of obtaining it. Granted, an exclusively online education may be inappropriate for some programs and some students. But I cannot think of a single subject that would not be enhanced by integrating into it at least some level of online learning.

I will continue to email you throughout the process to ensure that you understand the needs behind this work. And I invite you to email me with thoughts or questions you may have about it.  The email address for that (an email address that comes directly to me) is rethink@vccs.edu. I will pass along interesting thoughts to the appropriate taskforce members and may even discuss them with you and our colleagues in a future email message.

Thank you for your ideas and thoughts for this process and thank you for your hard work every day at your community college.

Sincerely,

Signature

Glenn DuBois

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