Planning for the Future of Wyoming’s Community Colleges Wyoming Community College Strategic Plan JULY 2009 DRAFT 2 Amanda Richards Laurel Sipes Carol Studier Sandra Staklis Beverly Farr Laura Horn MPR Associates, Inc. INTRODUCTION 1 Introduction With the national spotlight on community colleges, Wyoming is poised to become a leader through its efforts to align the programs of its seven community colleges with defined state interests. As local economies become more globally focused and knowledge-based, community colleges have become a critical focus for postsecondary access. Recognizing the importance of these institutions, President Obama has appointed a community college chancellor as undersecretary of education and moved community colleges to the forefront of his administration’s higher education policy. Wyoming community colleges offer students a high-quality education, and both they and the state benefit. The community colleges serve multiple missions and constituents, from high school students seeking college-level courses to adults needing basic literacy skills. As noted in the Wyoming Community College Commission’s (WCCC) Annual Report—2008 “There really is no ‘typical’ community college student” (WCCC n.d.-d, p. 3). Community colleges can mean the difference between a dead-end job and skilled employment capable of supporting a family, or between an affordable college education and one ending in debt that takes years to pay off. Community colleges are an essential feature of a state’s workforce development system. With a system that provides multiple modes of learning—traditional classrooms, distance education, program partnerships with business and industry, attending more than one college to accelerate or enhance a program—and then evaluates what works, Wyoming stands to expand access to postsecondary education and truly elevate the education of its citizenry. Planning in a Time of Economic Scarcity Recent Wyoming legislation, HEA 121, mandates the development of a strategic plan to create a statewide community college system to set priorities for state funding. The bill was conceived and written before the stock market collapse, however, when state surpluses were large and expectations high that state funding might increase to permit program expansion and capital construction. Unfortunately, the law is being implemented during proposed budget cuts, and state resources are limited. 2 INTRODUCTION It can be argued, however, that a time of economic scarcity increases the urgency to establish a comprehensive statewide community college system, one that introduces efficiencies and cost-saving measures and yet continues to preserve program excellence, serve all students effectively, and create the programs necessary to strengthen the state’s economy. Taking Wyoming Community Colleges from Good to Great This report offers a plan to establish a statewide community college system. It is ambitious but attainable. It underscores the importance of fostering communication between college leaders and the Wyoming Community College Commission (WCCC), the state’s decision-making body. Although based on state interests, the plan incorporates the unique contributions of each college and recognizes the need to maintain its specific community focus. We know that Wyoming’s community colleges have been successful over the years, outperforming community colleges nationwide on a number of indicators, including graduation rates. When they complete their programs, Wyoming community college students are likely to find good jobs related to their field of study. We also know that Wyoming’s economy has thrived on its extractions industries and enjoys the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. At the same time, Wyoming has not been immune to the recent economic downturn and remains vulnerable to the “boom and bust” cycle of energy needs. Limited resources now require a new approach to maintaining the state’s high level of postsecondary education. A statewide community college system is pivotal to this effort. This Wyoming Community College Strategic Plan provides the framework for developing such a system. It provides the foundation for operational planning in the form of policies that serve the state’s interests, set goals, and define strategies for achieving the goals. The plan both differentiates individual colleges through their signature programs and integrates them by proposing common admissions and standard coursework. It calls for an efficient use of resources by eliminating unnecessary redundancies, while recommending incentives to the colleges for developing innovative new programs that serve the state’s interests. Critical to the plan’s success is breaking down the barriers between the colleges and Wyoming Community College Commission. Therefore, the plan specifies clear criteria for program approval by the Commission and calls for adequate resources to fund those programs. Achieving an effective statewide community college system requires a long-term commitment from all constituents, including the Commission, INTRODUCTION 3 the colleges, the state, business and industry, and the public. With such commitment, an integrated system can elevate Wyoming community colleges from “Good to Great.” The Mission The mission for the Wyoming system of community colleges represents the diverse services and opportunities colleges offer to their communities, individuals, and the state. Wyoming community colleges provide dynamic lifelong learning environments through higher education, workforce development, innovative partnerships, and civic and global engagement that lead to responsible citizenship and economic, social, and cultural prosperity. The Strategic Plan Framework A successful strategic plan is grounded in data and the meaningful involvement of all stakeholders in the process and its outcomes. This plan was conceived and rooted in data and information collected from the community college stakeholders and developed under the guidance of an Advisory Council representing multiple constituencies, including the colleges, legislators, the WCCC, business, and the public. State Interests and Strategic Objectives The plan is framed by five state interests and built on eight strategic objectives, each of which falls within one or more state interests. Exhibit 1 illustrates the link between state interests and objectives. State Interests • Educated citizenry: Increase the educational attainment of Wyoming residents by offering access to a wide range of educational, training, and cultural programs. • Diversified economy: Contribute to the diversification of Wyoming’s economy by supporting the expansion of business and industry into new areas. • Workforce development: Respond to the needs of existing and emerging industries by providing a well-prepared and well-trained workforce. 4 INTRODUCTION • Efficient and effective systems: Maximize return on investment by implementing system-wide efficiencies to enhance community college operations. • Accountability and improvement: Improve the educational success of Wyoming residents by measuring outcomes and responding to findings, whether negative or positive. Strategic Objectives 1. Student access and success 2. Quality programs 3. Distance learning 4. Alignment of programs and workforce opportunities 5. Partnerships 6. Coordination and collaboration 7. Adequate resources 8. System of continuous improvement Exhibit 1. Strategic Objectives Support State Interests State Interests Strategic Objectives Educated citizenry Student access and success Quality programs Distance learning Alignment of programs and workforce opportunities Diversified economy Partnerships Alignment of programs and workforce opportunities Workforce development Alignment of programs and workforce opportunities Partnerships Student access and success Efficient and effective systems Coordination and collaboration Distance learning Quality programs Adequate resources Accountability and improvement Adequate resources System of continuous improvement INTRODUCTION 5 The Details The remainder of the report is organized into five chapters. Chapter 1 describes the history and governance of the community colleges. It reviews the legislation and statutes leading to the current bill, HEA121, which mandates a strategic plan. Chapter 2 profiles each of the seven community colleges and related outreach centers. Enrollment and completion data are analyzed, and there is a discussion of how community colleges benefit individuals and the public. Chapter 3 examines economic and employment trends in Wyoming. It looks at future employment projections and identifies new, emerging industries that will require education and training from the community colleges. Chapter 4 lays out the details of the strategic plan. Each Strategic Objective is discussed in terms of why it is important and how it will advance related state interests. The chapter includes recommended strategies and specific action steps for achieving the Strategic Objectives. Chapter 5 outlines priorities for implementing the strategies and action steps detailed in the report.