Moving Forward: A Valencia Update

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Now that the dust has settled on the transition to the spring term, I’d like to share a few thoughts with you.

1. We had a little extra dust to settle this year in the transition from fall to spring terms, mostly relating to “missing or phantom grades.” If you weren’t in the fray, here’s what you need to know. Valencia had some difficulty getting grades to post properly from the fall term. Some had to do with software design, some with an actual “glitch” in the software, and some from miscommunication. What I observed was the usual heroic effort to solve any issues these problems may have created for students – faculty, deans, division assistants, registration and records staff, OIT staff, and many others worked very hard to ensure our students weren’t compromised in this situation.

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the spirit of cooperation in a crisis that is rare in many organizations, but the normal response at Valencia. Meanwhile, both the software and communication issues have been worked out, though there is still some work to do to reach closure on the matter. Bottom line: you can trust the integrity of the grades in our system and the goodwill and competence of the people responsible for keeping it that way. In addition, we learned a few useful lessons along the way. To all who pitched in, thank you, thank you, thank you.

2. As I have used our transition time in academic affairs to visit and listen to many of you around the college (a process that will continue through the spring.) I have heard several recurring themes in your questions and observations. An important question concerns our recent growth and plans for the future. This is understandable, as the college has grown 50% over the past five years, driven largely by the economic downturn. How should we think about this and what should we expect over the next few years?

First, let me say that growth in and of itself is not a particular goal of the college. We’ve stretched ourselves not because we want to be huge, but because our students and our community needed us to. As people have been laid off or had their work hours cut in this economy, many have done just what we should want them to – they have sought to increase their skills, improve their education, and become more productive. It is worth stretching ourselves to meet this important need. Even in normal times, some growth is necessary to be able to fund our mission, new programs and enhancements, etc.

The double digit growth we experienced for a few years, however, isn’t a sustainable rate of growth, especially in a college that cares so much about the quality of the student learning experience. This year, our growth has been moderated to a more sustainable 5-6%. This is a result both of planning and of reaching the end of our elasticity with the resources available. We have some catching up to do in staffing, a project already underway as we are searching for more than fifty faculty, more than thirty in new positions, as well as a similar increase in staff who directly serve our students.

For the long term, a growth rate in the 4-6% range will be more manageable and healthier for the students and the college. All of this will need to be built on a careful and thoughtful plan for enrollment using a process we will renew over the next year that will be grounded in each campus developing a vision for its future in a process led by the campus presidents, deans, and other staff and faculty. This will need to include reflection on our current strategic plan, expectations and hopes for new programs, a thoughtful review of our future in on-line and hybrid courses and programs, and a chance for many to express their best aspirations for Valencia College and all it should mean to our community in the coming years. More later on this and on other themes I am hearing around the college…

3. The search for a West Campus President is underway. We have a large and thoughtful search committee. The position is currently being advertised “until a suitable candidate is found.” The job description, background information, a list of desired qualifications, and other documents have been revised. And a schedule of each step in the process is nearly finalized. Within a week we should be able to publish the schedule of interviews and events (without any candidates identified, of course) so you may plan to attend forums and interviews as appropriate in late March or early April. We are attempting to be mindful of the many other important searches for faculty and staff that are underway at the same time. Watch of further information, especially on West Campus.

4. A week from Friday, the entire college will be part of a singular event. Learning Day has been through a number of changes over the years, but has always been an important moment to pause and reflect on who we are as a college and what we care most deeply about. This year, rather than an opportunity to learn by listening, we will engage together in acts of service to our community. Think of it as a large scale service learning day.

So what do we hope to learn and affirm with this unusual event? We are experiencing unprecedented challenges as a college, keeping true to our mission of access and excellence in spite of serious resource issues at a time when our community needs us most. But our community is also under great duress. It would be easy to focus on our own challenges and find ourselves on a path to self-absorption and insulation.

Learning Day this year is a way of affirming that as a great servant institution, Valencia will stay engaged with our community, serving those in need in every way we can. We know this is at the heart of our values, but it seemed important to make this statement of commitment at a time when some may misunderstand our change of name as a change in core values. It isn’t.

We may, for a variety of reasons take “community” out of our name, but community will always be in our DNA. I’m looking forward to being with you all, reflecting, enjoying fellowship, and serving. More than a thousand of you have responded to the call for service. If you haven’t yet, please do promptly, and remember to dress comfortably. This will, I believe, be an amazing moment in the life of the college. See you on the bus!

Sandy Shugart

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