Monday, April 20, 2015

AACC, Part Two: Innovating While Broke

The unintentional theme for Monday at the AACC was “what we can do with no money.”  

The high-profile panel for the day was the group from the CCRC who wrote Redesigning America’s Community Colleges -- Tom Bailey, Shanna Jaggars, and Davis Jenkins -- along with Karen Stout, Ken Ender, and Rolando Montoya.  They discussed the ideas from RACC, focusing largely on what could scale relatively painlessly.  

RACC is an argument against the “cafeteria college” -- Tom Bailey suggested it might better be understood as the “food court college” -- in favor of a model with fewer options and far more guidance for students.  Shanna Jaggars suggested that curricular streamlining could form the basis of larger structural change, since advising and other student supports would have to be organized around the guided pathways.  Davis Jenkins noted that clearer structures make advising easier, and he advocated embedding advisors in academic departments or programs so they could learn a particular area well.  Even then, though, he admitted that to do pathways right, per-student spending would have to increase.

Karen Stout, from Montgomery County Community College, noted that it took MCCC about eight years to scale up to a comprehensive college-wide reform.  Ken Ender, from Harper College, got knowing laughs with his discussion of taking the idea of curricular streamlining to the liberal arts faculty.  (“I still have welts.”)  The highlight for me, though, was Rolando Montoya, the operations provost from Miami Dade.  He noted a disconnect between a macroeconomic perspective -- more community college graduates are a net ‘plus’ for the economy as a whole -- and a microeconomic perspective, in which improving the numbers of graduates costs individual colleges money.  Until our politics change, that disconnect is likely to lead to suboptimal outcomes.

Montoya offered a few freebies or cheapies -- mandatory new student orientation, FAFSA marathons in high schools, credit for prior learning -- but then dropped the bomb that the new ERP system they needed to track all their new programs cost a cool sixty million.  Then you add the cost of twenty-five new full-time advisors, eleven new financial aid officers, two prior learning assessment officers (!)...

So, yeah.  Reducing the cost per graduate is not the same as reducing the cost per student.  As long as we’re funded on the latter, addressing the former will be a serious challenge.

A session on Generation X presidents and vice presidents followed, and I have to admit that I didn’t realize how much I needed that until I went.  Among other things, the panelists -- Amy Morrison Goings, from Lake Washington Institute of Technology; Jo Alice Blondin, from Clark State Community College; and Tim Stokes, from South Puget Sound CC -- noted a major and consistent difference with their mentors in how they view capital projects.  They put a much higher premium on IT infrastructure upgrades, and a much more skeptical eye on building construction.  As Blondin noted, with enrollments moving online, why build now?  For this group, concerns about economic sustainability weren’t confined to operating budgets.  

My own panel followed.  Anne Kress, from Monroe Community College, put it together and emceed.  Michael Stoner, from mStoner, gave an overview of social media in higher education; I followed with a discussion of academic blogging; and Anne focused on Twitter.  The common denominator, as Anne noted, is that social media are fast, easy, and free.  They offer ways to have conversations across rank, institution, and geography, and they can help humanize authority figures and institutions.  As forms of professional development, they can be remarkably useful in our day jobs, particularly when travel funds are scarce.

The day ended with an optimistic and practical panel on OER.  Like blogs and Twitter, OER materials are free, and they offer to level the playing field.  The panel confirmed my sense that we’re on the right track at Holyoke with the OER working group, and that on any campus, the library will have to play a key role in any large-scale OER rollout.  Open resources are what libraries have always been about; OER fits the culture.

What can we do with no money?  Among other things, we can tell our stories.  If we tell them right, we might be able to do something about that whole “funding” thing...