Strategic Planning

Goal Four: Partner with the Community

Monday, March 15, 2010

March 15, 2010
by Sandy Shugart

When a college commits itself so completely to an agenda of improving student learning results, as we have, there is a danger of becoming so focused on the internal programs and systems of the college, the variables we control, that we can neglect the community we serve. No one could reasonably describe Valencia as self-absorbed, but the risk remains as we engage in our daily work and manage the challenges our recent economic situation has created so we can do our daily work. But Valencia has a rich tradition of partnering with and serving the community. Perhaps it was born out of our earliest history, when there was a heated debate in the community over whether a comprehensive public community college was even needed in Orlando, now that a public university had been established.

Fortunately for Orlando, the advocates for the creation of Valencia prevailed at last, including the founding president of the university, Dr. Charles Millican, who foresaw along with Raymer Maguire and others the possibility of a partnership between the university and community college that would better serve our community than either could alone. Today, UCF takes in almost 750 new freshmen from Osceola and Orange counties each year; Valencia takes in more than 3500. Most are headed toward further study at UCF or elsewhere after graduation, and although UCF is the third largest university in the U.S., it is still true that sixty percent of their graduates are transfers, the majority from Valencia. By partnering in our community, we have created the most powerful engine for college access in America.

This same power through partnership has animated other aspects of our work, as well. Over the past decade, the Valencia Foundation has grown its endowment from about $15 million to over $60 million, and has been ranked first among community college foundations several years in a row. The recent major gifts campaign, the college’s first, exceeded its goal of $20 million and elevated Valencia in the minds of local philanthropists as a serious opportunity to invest major gifts. On several occasions the college has been recognized for its effective ties to local employers. More importantly, our internship program has flourished and placement of graduates in challenging, relevant work has been the norm for many years. In many of our technical programs, partnering with local employers is vital to our performance. Nowhere is this more evident than in allied health and nursing programs, where millions of dollars in funding and in-kind gifts of equipment and services have enabled us to remain at the top of our game and grow our capacity to serve both them and our students. The same could be said for engineering, IT, legal studies, and many other areas in the college.

While our tradition of partnering has been strong, though, it was clear in our discussions of Valencia’s future that led to this goal that we needed to raise our game to another level. State support may never return to pre-recession levels. These funds will have to be replaced from other sources such as grant-writing (clearly a partnership activity in the current environment), local support from county and other sources, and from philanthropy at the local level. As aspirations and readiness for college continue to increase in the community – in part a product of our partnership with the schools – many more students will come to us in need of financial support if the promise of access to college is to be fulfilled. This will increase the demand on partnering for resource development. In the next phase of the Foundation’s development, we must grow into a “first-tier” investment for the major givers in our region, known and unknown. An endowment surpassing $100 million would still be just a strong beginning for our work. And as ardent as our supporters are, it still remains true that Valencia is often “the best kept secret” in the community. I and you have struggled with this reality for years. We need the understanding, support, and advocacy of the public and of “key influentials” in the community. Somehow, though, even our best efforts seem to come up short in the face of continuing misunderstanding or undervaluing of the community college mission. Although, our enrollment is bursting at the seams, now is not the time to go silent in our public messaging and outreach, but to re-craft the message for goals other than or in addition to outreach to students.

Partnering is not always about securing support or resources. Valencia has much to give to the community at a time when it couldn’t be more in need. The quality of our workforce development efforts over the next few years may well determine whether our community limps out of the recession or leaps out by taking advantage of the shortage of fully qualified knowledge workers in key industries. Valencia needs to sustain and enlarge its entrepreneurial spirit in both credit programs and in customized training and development programs for emerging businesses. Watch for new programming opportunities to emerge as resources permit in areas vital to the emerging economic opportunities in Orlando touching the Medical City, the Orlando International Airport, the new economic strategy of Osceola County, and others. And look for creative partnerships to provide the resources to grow these programs.

Over the past several years, Valencia Enterprises, though not yet the financial home run we had hoped for, has established a strong reputation for excellence among major employers in the community, positioning us to be the training partner of choice for many, especially in leveraging new companies and jobs to come to greater Orlando. We have never been better positioned for this work, but have yet to fully prove ourselves and emerge as an economic development leader in the region. The college has recently become much more active in connecting to the emerging economic activities, sponsoring colloquia on them in the community and actively pursuing opportunities to brainstorm with community partners on how we can be of help in this work. Look for this effort to grow. We will know we have arrived in this work when a major new employer in the region indicates that Valencia’ partnership for creating their new workforce was the deciding factor in their decision to relocate or expand here.

One of our potentially most powerful assets is our alumni. The past few years have seen a serious renewal of efforts and engagement with alumni. With a genuine membership of over 17,000 and tens of thousands more to whom we can reach out, Valencia alumni can be a powerful partner to the college in service to the community, in advocacy for the college and its mission, and in development. Watch for several important initiatives to make our communication with alumni and with the whole community more effective and more strategic. Similarly, through effective voluntarism and service learning, our current students can grow in impact on the community while they learn lifelong habits and principles of stewardship.

What will the next few years bring in the area of partnering, then?

• Renewed emphasis on philanthropy and grants to fund our most important initiatives;
• Efforts to strengthen Valencia’s contribution to economic development and workforce development in the community, including new programming in credit and non-credit models;
• Efforts to activate our alumni in service and in advocacy;
• A formal strategy of communication with the community and cultivation of opinion and partnership in support of our mission;
• A higher profile in the community at every level for the work of the college;
• Increased emphasis on our advocacy with government at every level, particularly in partnership with influential advocates in the community; and
• Expanded partnerships with both the Osceola and Orange County school systems.

These efforts will call on the capacity of many in the college to partner with the community – not just the “front office,” but deans and directors and leaders at every level of the college will be asked to spread their entrepreneurial, partnering wings and fly.

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