Dec 01 2011
Change and adaptation took center stage when trustees and presidents of the three Southwest Kansas community colleges gathered to discuss shared challenges and opportunities Wednesday night on the Garden City Community College campus.
Representatives of Dodge City Community College, GCCC and Liberal-based Seward County Community College and Area Technical School made several analogies to “Who Moved My Cheese,” the well-known book by Dr. Spencer Johnson about the inevitability and acceptance of change, after seeing a short video based on the book.
“The cheese for Kansas higher education is being moved and it is dissipating, but that is not necessarily all bad,” said Dr. Herbert Swender, GCCC president. “In terms of state funding, we have probably seen the pinnacle, but I think we have enough cerebral mass among the three colleges to deal with that if we work together.”
Swender, who returned to Kansas from Texas after 15 years when he became GCCC president in April, said he has seen plenty of change in his native state, but added that he believes the challenges accompany opportunities.
“We want to beat you in athletics whenever we can,” he said to the representatives of the Dodge City and Liberal institutions, “but I think we all want to be at the finish line together on everything else.” The Garden City president cited cooperative efforts, including shared work by DCCC and GCCC on a recent grant from the U.S. Labor Department to provide Kansas workforce training; and a 2011 GCCC fall inservice program, which was hosted in Liberal by SCCC/ATS.
PRESIDENTS SHARE VIEWS
“Winning isn’t the biggest thing in the world, but what is important for us and for our students is learning to be competitive,” said Dr. Don Woodburn, DCCC president. Woodburn said he expects the “piece of cheese” in terms of state funding for community colleges to get smaller and smaller, and suggested that the three institutions collaborate on bringing more university-based bachelor’s degree programs to Southwest Kansas.
“One college can’t do everything for everyone,” Woodburn said, “but together maybe we can.” Dr. Duane Dunn, president of SCCC/ATS, echoed Woodburn and cited the development of EduKan as an example.
EduKan is a six-college consortium that offers associate degree courses over the Internet. Operated in partnership by the three Southwest Kansas institutions with community colleges in Colby, Great Bend and Pratt, it was launched with 50 students in 1999 and today serves thousands. This year alone, EduKan enrollment grew 14 percent.
Woodburn also noted the need to adapt in serving the region’s Hispanic and other immigrant populations.
“They are our future,” he said. “We need to deal with that, and we need to deal with it collectively.”
Dunn focused on the concept of regionalization, noting that the area’s chambers of commerce began discussing stronger inter-community cooperation earlier this year, and commended a recent accord between Dodge City and Garden City on federal funding for essential air service.
He added that he believes the three chambers are counting on leadership from the community colleges to build a stronger Dodge City, Garden City and Liberal partnership.
“If we can use our community colleges to create more economic growth, a lot of our other problems will be addressed,” Dunn said.
He also cited the need to better illustrate the value of education to the area’s population, and said it is important to focus on the future even in tough times, citing the value of a decision in Liberal to create his community college and an area technical school in the turbulent climate of the 1960s.
During the discussion, several existing cooperative ventures were noted, including the shared teaching of upper level mathematics courses between the three colleges; a respiratory therapy program at SCCC/ATS that is exported to Dodge City and Garden City; and a paramedic program at GCCC that is also available to DCCC and SCCC/ATS students.
Noting that funding is critical for each institution, GCCC Board Chair Terri Worf told her counterparts that GCCC is willing to work with them.
Ron Oliver, chairman of the SCCC/ATS board, echoed Worf’s sentiment, and DCCC Vice Chairman Shane Bangerter said community college trustees perform a vital role in boosting the prospects of Southwest Kansas.
Bangerter, a Leoti native, said he grew up with frequent excursions and strong connections to Garden City, but later selected Dodge City as a home for his family because the Ford County community included St. Mary of the Plains College, a baccalaureate institution.
However, he said, SMPC closed after his family relocated to Dodge, making him acutely aware of the limited bachelor’s degree opportunities in the area.
“We have got to figure ways that we can work together so our students can transition to four-year programs and we’ve got to figure ways that we can help them get good paying jobs,” Bangerter said. Woodburn keyed in on the importance of expanding bachelor’s degree programs, noting that many Southwest Kansas students can’t afford to transfer to university campuses.
The three governing boards also touched on other subjects, including the possibility of shared computer purchases, the need to adapt as students make the transition from traditional textbooks to iPads, and the necessity of developing technical support for tablet computer and smart phone usage.
“If all of our students are moving to iPads,” Woodburn asked, “what do we need computer labs for?”
In addition, the group focused on the importance of maintaining federal funding for the Pell Grant Program that provides college access to millions of U.S. students, as well as comparing campus policies on tobacco use and the closing of classes for inclement weather.
The boards meet annually to talk about common concerns and opportunities, with the location rotating between the three campuses. DCCC hosted the gathering in 2010, with the 2009 session taking place on the SCCC/ATS campus. The year’s session was the first for Swender and Woodburn, who each took office in 2011.