Summer Update, 2011

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

As you move towards wrapping up the summer terms and gearing up for the fall term, I have just a few things to share:

1. Yesterday, the Board of Trustees took several important actions. Although the budget was approved at the last meeting, they were very kind to allow me to reopen the matter of employee compensation and make my rationale one more time for a 3% increase rather than the already approved 1.89% increase for full-time employees (and certain longer-term part-time employees.) In the end, they approved my recommendation and you will be hearing shortly from HR with updated information on your compensation and updated contracts where appropriate.

The discussion was very engaging, as the Board was balancing their high regard for your work, especially the results we have been able to achieve even as work-loads have increased over the past three or four years, against their concern for the cost of it all to the students and, through the financial aid system, ultimately to taxpayers, as well. These are legitimate concerns. As the state continues to cost-shift to the students, we have already been careful not to increase tuition “just because we can.” Valencia’s tuition is the fifteenth highest in the Florida College System and still below $100 per credit hour. But the pressure on tuition will continue and we will be faced with an ongoing choice between higher tuition and fees or deteriorating resources and quality. We will discuss this in the months to come. Meanwhile, I’d like to let you in on my thinking as it stands now.

Issues of cost and price in higher education have been on the front burner in public policy discussions for several years. The reason is simple – in general, higher education prices have increased at twice the rate of inflation for a generation. Community colleges have experienced the least inflation in price during this time, but with the recession and budget cuts offset by tuition increases, we’ve been forced into the escalating cost cycle, as well. The literature on this is worth reading, especially for those of us who want to preserve the value of higher education as a public good, not just a private advantage. But closer to home, we now have the challenge of looking for ways to reign in the escalation of cost even though we are the most efficient institutions in the system – not for public policy reasons, but for our own survival and the survival of our mission.

Tuition and fees are one component of the cost, but not the only one. Over the next academic year, I will seek a conversation in the college to look at the total cost – tuition, fees, textbooks, transportation, and other costs we might influence – and look for ways we can creatively enhance quality while reducing some components of cost to the students. Reducing the cost in one component, such as textbooks, may alleviate the stress on another, such as tuition, giving the college more freedom to do what must be done to maintain and enhance our quality without over-burdening the students. This will be a working hypothesis for a time, at least, as we explore this together.

For now, I know you join me in expressing appreciation to the Board for recognizing your good work.

2. The Board also passed a policy that will ultimately make Valencia campuses “smoke-free.” Again, the discussion was very interesting as they sought to balance the need to protect the health of all of our students and staff from second-hand smoke against their reticence to regulate private behavior. In the end, the policy they adopted, recommended by a large, collaborative employee and student group, will make the campuses smoke free effective August, 2012. The goal isn’t to create a new “enforcement” culture, but to set a new norm for the college that is better for everyone’s health, protects the rights of those who wish to avoid second-hand smoke, and is congruent with our educational mission (we are, after all, the largest nursing school and respiratory therapy school in the region…) Please be looking over the next year for a variety of activities designed to prepare the college for this new standard when it is implemented.

3. I was able to share with the Board several indicators of our progress in enhancing student learning and success yesterday, some of which I will share in more detail at Academic Assembly and other venues in the fall. Community College Week released their rankings just a few weeks ago and Valencia was rated NUMBER ONE in production of associate degree graduates, up from number three last year. We were also ranked NUMBER FOUR in awarding of one-year certificates, NUMBER TWO in associate degrees awarded to minority students (up from number five,) NUMBER ONE in awarding associates to “non-minority” students, NUMBER THREE in awarding associates degrees to African-American students (up from number ten,) and NUMBER TWO in awarding associate degrees to Hispanic students (up from number five.) These are amazing results. Next year, however, we will be competing in a new category – as a “Level II” institution (baccalaureate awarding,) we will compete with the largest institutions in the galaxy – Miami Dade College and Phoenix University. I think we are up to it!

Thanks for all that you do to make Valencia the best. I hope the rest of your summer brings you refreshment, joy, and no hurricanes…

Sandy Shugart

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