Message from Dr. Belinda S. Miles: Tackling Our Most Pressing Concerns
March 18, 2022
For the first time in two years, the college’s Board of Trustees met in-person on the Valhalla campus for its monthly Wednesday afternoon meeting. For those of you unable to attend in person or via Zoom, I share that our Trustees expressed heartfelt appreciation to each of you for your diligent efforts that sustained the college during exceptionally challenging times. They acknowledged the real and extraordinary circumstances we have encountered and praised us for our strength and courage in not losing sight of our student-centered mission.
At the board meeting, I shared the fact that, in the past 10 years, Westchester Community College has lost the full-time equivalent of the total undergraduate enrollments of Iona College and Sarah Lawrence College combined. Most of that decline occurred during the pandemic. Far too much of this loss can be attributed to those within the population we serve choosing pathways that do not include postsecondary education. At a time when the region’s population and diversity are both increasing and occupations are advancing, our enrollment should be expanding, too. However, that is not what we are experiencing. The decline in students is a loss to our county and our region as well as to the college. Accordingly, the mandate in front of is to think differently about our mission and execute strategies that increase enrollment. This is our most urgent imperative and the time is now.
Guiding us in this work are the strategic planning, enrollment management, and self-study processes we use to gather evidence and set goals toward growth opportunities or to stop doing what doesn’t work. Ken Steele (2020), writing for the League for Innovation in the Community College says, “Some of the largest financial returns can come from pursuing new markets for your existing academic programs, such as students living in underserved areas, veterans, and/or those who already have bachelor’s or advanced degrees. Building on the needs of part-time students might require fundamental changes to program delivery and timetables, such as extended hours, monthly session starts, compressed delivery, or online learning.” These are precisely the lines of inquiry that various teams across the college are pursuing and implementing.
The imminent expansion of programming in Yonkers to include five associate degree pathways that can be completed entirely at that location exemplifies this new direction. Another example is the impending approval of a microcredential policy that will provide greater flexibility for faculty to structure course offerings to attract new students who may have different purposes than students we’ve served to date.
As Steele notes, opportunity is plentiful across the academic enterprise: “Some community colleges generate millions in revenue—at very strong profit margins—through continuing education, apprenticeship programs, customized workforce training, or custom credentials for sector councils and industry associations.” Our innovative teams in Workforce Development and Community Education are networked with their peers at the state and county level and with myriad trade associations for new credentials in advanced manufacturing and other areas to achieve similar outcomes.
Join our upcoming college-wide planning summit on April 1 at 9 a.m. where, together, we will review data, set targets, and organize our work to tackle and triumph over our most pressing concerns.
Dr. Belinda S. Miles