Goal One Essay: Build Pathways

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

by Sandy Shugart
October 2009

Deepening Our Commitment To Access

What has made Valencia a “better place to start” for more than forty years?  There are many ways to answer this question, but as we have discussed this with hundreds of faculty, staff, and students over the past two years of planning, four cornerstones have emerged:  access, excellence in teaching and learning, amazing colleagues in collaboration, and powerful partnerships.  These will continue to serve as cornerstones of our shared work, but we have discovered that each will require renewal, a fresh commitment to stretch ourselves and our vision to serve students in the coming several years.

In this and three essays to follow, I will explore the substance of our 2008-13 strategic plan by revisiting each of these four cornerstones and relating them to the directions emerging from our strategic planning.  You will find the documents relating to the college’s strategic plan on the web at  http://valenciacc/strategicplan. The full plan can be found at http://valenciacc.edu/strategicplan/documents/StratPlanBOOKMARKED_000.pdf

My purpose in each essay is to give a summary of one of the four goals – its rationale and the larger initiatives to watch for in connection with it – in plain language so that staff and faculty throughout the college can speak about our shared direction, relate their contributions to the college’s larger strategy, and contribute to the refinement of the strategy as it continues to evolve.

But first, a word on planning.  Colleges produce strategic plans for a variety of reasons, some worthwhile, some not: to appease their board or president, to meet an accreditation or state regulatory requirement, or just because everybody does it.  There is only one good reason to have a strategic plan – to genuinely shape the future of the college and the experience we give to our students.  All jargon, process, and paperwork aside, Valencia’s last strategic plan was real.  It genuinely shaped our work together, our allocation of resources, and the focus of our collaboration.  This plan is real, too.  I encourage you to review these essays carefully and hold the college accountable to the areas of focus we have declared and the outcomes we hope to produce, beginning, now, with the first goal in our plan, Build Pathways.

Why Build Pathways

Our mission, from the very beginning, has been built on a three-part vision of access shared by the wider community college movement:  open door admissions, convenience, and affordability.  We choose to serve all who come to us ready to learn, defining our quality not by the characteristics of those we admit, however they might be measured, but by the excellence of our teaching and services and the learning results they achieve in partnership with our students.  (Somehow, it always seemed to me that colleges bragging on the SAT scores of their incoming freshman were like prisons bragging on the quality of inmates they were incarcerating.) Further, we understand that the college is what the students experience – how they experience us, not how we experience them – and so we design our programs to fit with both their aspirations and their busy, complex lives.  And we have kept tuition and other costs as low as possible to prevent cost from becoming an insurmountable barrier to our students.

In recent years, the college has broken new ground by developing a thoughtful model of student development, LifeMap, designed to help our students make a connection and find direction at Valencia.  We have given great effort to understanding how students experience us in their first semesters and to redesigning the “front door” of the college so students can “start right” and therefore succeed more fully as learners.  Continuing attention to the 2+2 model by updating and expanding articulation agreements with a variety of universities has built one of the largest and smoothest transfer partnerships in the country, minimizing any loss of credit.

However, recent trends in higher education in Florida and in our own community are creating new challenges to our vision of access.  As the state continues to navigate the treacherous waters of a major financial crisis, the cost of higher education at every level is increasing at unprecedented rates, even as capacity to serve new students is restricted.  In our own community, the maturing of UCF could have created an environment that denied access to bachelor degree programs to many excellent local students, both native and transfer, if it weren’t for the development of Direct Connect and its guarantee of admission to all of Valencia’s university bound graduates.  Further, as we engage our students in early planning for their programs of study leading to graduation from Valencia, we are discovering that the power of this planning is multiplied by extending the horizon forward to the earning of baccalaureate degrees and back to their early experiences of high school.

For these reasons, the college has adopted a goal built on a renewed vision of access entitled Build Pathways.  This goal speaks of a more proactive approach to the access agenda, designing a variety of pathways for students to follow, pathways to college, pathways through college, and pathways beyond college.  The underlying purpose is to enable more students, in an environment of increasing cost and strained capacity, to discern a clear direction for their educations, prepare for and enroll at Valencia, persist and succeed in achieving their goals, and complete their goals for further education and life, including careers.

To College

Pathways to college will reach more students at early stages of their secondary educations with the opportunity of postsecondary success.  Aligning high school and college curricula and programs will enable students to make a stronger connection between the two, giving more specific purpose to their high school studies and enabling them to prepare more fully for college-level experiences.  It will give more purpose to accelerated studies, such as dual enrollment and Advanced Placement.  And it will help them to see beyond the next semester, or even the next credential, to their ultimate aspirations.  Well designed outreach and support programs will put college within reach of more students, raising their aspirations and removing barriers to their success, with particular impact on first-generation and lower income students.

Important initiatives in Pathways to College include:
— Expanding the Bridges to Success program, one of the college’s most successful postsecondary transition initiatives for many years, to reach more than double the numbers currently served.
— Fully implementing Take Stock in Children in Orange County.  This couples a powerful mentoring program beginning in the seventh grade with a covenant signed by the student, family, and college leading to a guarantee of a four year college scholarship in the Florida Prepaid College Tuition Plan.
— Intensified efforts in curriculum and program alignment with the high schools in Orange and Osceola Counties to reduce the need for college preparatory studies in college, accelerate progress toward a degree, and provide a basis for students’ educational planning from high school through college.
— Assuring long-term access through increased capacity, new campuses, growing access to on-line models of learning, and increasing financial aid from both public and private sources.

Through College

Pathways through college will support students in clearly defined majors with a plan to graduate from Valencia and succeed in a career and further education.  Clear and meaningful plans, in turn, should increase student persistence and success up to and beyond graduation.  Valencia’s ground-breaking and nationally recognized effort as part of the Achieving the Dream Initiative over the past five years clearly addressed greater success for all students as they progress through Valencia, and underlined the importance of our commitment to the idea that everyone is capable of learning under the right conditions, and therefore no one needs to be or should be left behind.   Each year, an enormously diverse group of new students begins a new journey at Valencia; we won’t be satisfied until the graduating class is just as diverse.

Important initiatives in Pathways through College include:
— Renewing and redeploying LifeMap as a basis for student support services and connecting more thoroughly the curricular and co-curricular elements of our students’ experiences
— Continuing and expanding the college’s focus on the earliest academic experiences of our students with a focus on their success in “gateway” courses that we believe will cascade into their persistence and success as learners through to graduation.

Beyond College

Pathways beyond College will connect students to their ultimate goals by giving them a clear program of study and a plan that reaches beyond Valencia from early in their academic careers.  Access to bachelor degrees will be assured for all of our graduates and delineated in detail for purposes of their planning and success, including programs in areas that are generally less available to transfers, such as engineering, architecture, accounting, pre-medicine, and others.  This will open the door to creating real diversity in the professions.   New programs that are responsive to the emerging labor market and the economic development priorities of the region will bring together new opportunities for our students and renewed economic competitiveness for our community.

Important initiatives in Pathways beyond College include:
— The full evolution of Direct Connect at Valencia, comprising dozens of majors enrolling tens of thousands of students annually.
— Build-out and programming of joint use facilities on West and Osceola campuses.
— Development of new technical and science programs in response to the biomedical, solar energy, aviation, and other emerging industries in our region.
— Expanded transfer partnerships with a variety of other universities to assure our students have opportunity for study beyond our region.

There are many other efforts relating to Building Pathways at every level of the college, as the operational plans developed by departments and planning units have made clear.  But the theme of all of these is a new kind of access, a more proactive effort to create opportunity for our students and graduates well beyond simply providing an “open door.”

Our accountability for this goal is still in development, as are measures for each of the four goals, but will certainly include college participation rates in our region; our share of recent high school graduates; admissions, enrollments, and yields; measures of students’ active participation in planning their educations; and completion of their goals at Valencia and beyond.

Imagine

As important as these several measures of accountability are, it is at least as important that we take the larger goal of Building Pathways to heart and imagine all the ways we might enhance our students’ experiences by creating and strengthening pathways not yet contemplated in the plan.  The Build Pathways goal reflects an overarching “Big Hairy Audacious Goal,” (or BHAG) that we set as part of the strategic planning process: Valencia students can begin to pursue any higher educational goal by starting at Valencia.   Perhaps there are other kinds of pathways you can help us to discover and build.

Should some of our students have a much more direct pathway to many of the elite liberal arts universities in the US and abroad?  Or perhaps to the best historically black colleges and universities or to the best faith-based universities? Let’s build them. (Are there questions for our Honors College here?)  Should we be building pathways to law school, dental school, or other professional opportunities barely contemplated by most community colleges? Let’s build them.  Should international students experience a much smoother and direct pathway to Valencia and beyond?  Should we be helping more students find a way into the highly skilled crafts?  Or perhaps a pathway to creative writing or a career in the arts?  These and more can be built with purposeful collaboration and the application of your creative energy to this worthy goal.  A plan creates direction, only your energy can create momentum.

EXCELLENCE

 In recent years, we have added to this model a deep commitment to a paradigm of college that is “learning centered,” that takes very seriously the learning results of our students, the best in pedagogy and professional practice, and a collaborative approach to designing all of the college’s systems and processes to enhance the learning environment.  The quality of our shared work is attested in the results we are achieving and the extraordinary partnerships in which we are engaged, though we are the first to acknowledge how far we have yet to go to achieve the results we are seeking.

All of this work is part of a continuing narrative of commitment to excellence, one story of shared effort supported by various partners and resources over the years.  It has always been built on hundreds of related stories, deeper in the college, of excellence in teaching, creative curriculum design, thoughtful incorporation of new technologies into our work.

More to Come

This is the first of four essays.  Please watch for the next addressing Valencia’s commitment to excellence and its renewal in the goal Learning Assured.  And as always, I welcome your comment and interaction. Goal teams to be formed this fall, for which you may wish to volunteer, will also help to carry this conversation forward. Watch your email for an invitation from the College Planning Council.

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