Message from Dr. Belinda S. Miles: Compliance, Concord & Community
October 15, 2021
It was heartening to hear news from SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras that SUNY students are nearing full compliance with the New York State COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate, reaching 99.5% compliance. At Westchester Community College, we take great pride in having achieved a vaccination rate of 97% among our undergraduate students – all commuters – and 97% among employees. These high vaccination rates are contributing to an extremely low COVID positivity rate – remaining at or below 0.5% during the fall semester, well below the state average range of 2.4% to 3.3% during the same period.
In Westchester County, the original epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreaks in New York State, many WCC students were on the frontlines of events from the very start. They were bussing tables, parking cars, and providing aid and relief as EMT first responders and hospital care workers to those affected early during this scourge. Over time, students did this in the face of personal and family illness, bereavement, and other pandemic-related hardships. WCC has partnered with local healthcare organizations including the Westchester County Department of Health to provide information sessions and establish health and safety protocols to ensure a safe return to on-campus teaching, learning, and services. We applaud our students and our community for their tremendous effort in vaccine attainment and for the courage to stay on track with academic, career, and community safety goals.
Collectively, community colleges are vital regional institutions specially positioned to supply local economies with a critically needed middle skills workforce, as well as graduates prepared to take their seats at four-year colleges and universities, including SUNY, CUNY, and other selective institutions. Our unique “open door” mission provides access to large pools of students who broaden the range of insights and perspectives they bring to their learning. We develop the talent students present upon arrival whether they begin as gifted members of our highly competitive Honors College or persist to join the ranks of the prestigious Phi Theta Kappa Community College Honor Society from more humble beginnings. We provide opportunities for rich engagement through real-world classroom simulations, community-based service projects, and vibrant student leadership roles.
Community colleges are part of a diverse tapestry of institutions in the constantly evolving higher education landscape. Carnegie Classifications discussed in the recent Chronicle of Higher Ed piece were developed in the early 1970s to “define the thousands of colleges and universities across the country.” They were meant to better categorize institutions of higher learning, but, ultimately, created a “pecking order” and “an outdated method to describe the modern American higher-education system — one that is much larger, more diverse, and more critical to our economic future than when the groupings were developed.” Simple institutional comparisons or replications of what is successful at one school or another can result in some loss of the uniqueness, innovation, and creativity needed to best serve students at different institutional types. Such differentiation may even be more necessary as we emerge from the pandemic where new policies, practices, and program/course offerings are required.
Ongoing and in-depth review of distinct institutional missions, goals, and outcomes strengthens the array of options that our varied colleges and universities offer. Westchester Community College has begun to prepare for such a review in anticipation of an on-site Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) evaluation visit in 2023-2024. The inclusive process has already begun with a representative team participating in MSCHE’s 2021 Self-Study Institute.
The process will help us focus on programs that are relevant, lead to successful outcomes for students, and are aligned with the 21st century needs of regional business, industry, and transfer partners. We will look at data from sources such as the Community College Research Center (CCRC), which provides information on programs students are completing, pathways to greater opportunity post-graduation, and more. Data like this can assist in our own self-study and assessment of programs and degree or certificate completion. We will share more information and opportunities to participate as we get closer to the start of our assessment work.
We appreciate the work of Provost Morest and WCC faculty regarding revisions to the SUNY General Education Framework as WCC works to develop a new General Education Core aligned with SUNY objectives “to support seamless transfer of students between and among SUNY institutions.” This work also seeks to “ensure consistency in expected learning outcomes while enabling individual campuses to develop unique signature features, including their respective array of educational offerings and pedagogical approaches.” We also can see our strategic plan’s focus on academic innovation and excellence and our commitment to provide transfer opportunities and pathways to jobs and economic mobility for our students through this effort.
Dr. Belinda S. Miles