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Legislative Testimony: 2019-02-21

Posted on September 13th, 2019

Back in February, I testified before a legislative committee in Findlay. I have no idea why it never occurred to me to publish my testimony here on the blog. Here’s what I had to say that day. It’s interesting to see how far the “stigma” conversation has progressed since this time. I gave this testimony just a few days after we launched the #EndCCStigma social media campaign.

Regional Economic Development Alliance Study Committee
Hancock Hotel
Findlay, OH

Testimony of
Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
President
Owens Community College
February 21, 2019

Good afternoon Senator McColley, Representative Hambley, and members of the Regional Economic Development Alliance Study Committee. My name is Steve Robinson. I am the President of Owens State Community College. I would like to thank Tim Mayle for the invitation to testify before you today. As I am sure you are aware, Mr. Mayle and his economic development team here in Hancock County work tirelessly to build the economic strength of this region of the state. At Owens Community College, we are proud to be a part of these efforts and strive to be an indispensable partner to local employers for post-secondary education and workforce training needs. It is a sincere pleasure to be here today.

I am also delighted to testify with great colleagues such as Chuck Bills of Ohio Logistics and Dean Monske of the Regional Growth Partnership. Along with Ohio Logistics, Owens Community College is an investor in RGP, and I am very proud to serve on its Board of Directors with Chuck, who serves on the Board of Trustees at Owens. I am also proud to serve on the Board of Raise the Bar Hancock County, a partnership of education, business, social service and community leaders dedicated to workforce development and economic growth.

As one of the 23 public two-year colleges in the State of Ohio, Owens Community College has a legal service district that comprises the entirety of Hancock, Wood, and Lucas counties, as well as portions of Ottawa and Sandusky counties. Our newly-developed mission, vision and strategic goals specifically outline workforce and economic development as key priorities of the institution. Our mission specifically charges us to foster community success that leads to rewarding careers and regional economic strength. One of our six overarching institutional strategic goals is to develop the regional workforce and strengthen the regional economy. Specifically, we have new key objectives to address local employment needs with relevant programs, enhance and promote apprenticeship, co-op and internship experiences, and improve and promote career and job placement services within our region. This commitment to workforce and economic development is not unique to Owens. Community colleges in this reason have strong working relationships with business and industry, as well as regional economic development organizations, in order to live out a mission of economic strength.

During my brief testimony, I have four big picture ideas to share with you about how Ohio might address benefits and challenges facing leaders and organizations working on economic development in our region. Before I share these ideas, I need to share my perspective about the high degree of alignment I have noticed in these areas during my relatively short time as an Ohioan. I moved to Northwest Ohio from Southeast Michigan. In my experience, Ohio has already taken bold steps forward to align education, workforce and economic development efforts. My four ideas center on building upon successes and momentum, and they are: encourage partnership and alignment; strengthen infrastructure on career pathways; further develop apprenticeship and co-op models; and directly address the stigma associated with technical careers and community colleges.

Encourage Partnership and Alignment

The State of Ohio has done much to foster effective partnerships between schools, colleges, universities and state agencies. As you are aware, post-secondary institutions in Ohio are required by Ohio Revised Code to form Regional Compacts; The Northwest Region Higher Education Compact—which includes University of Toledo, Bowling Green State University, Northwest State Community College, Owens State Community College, Rhodes State College and Terra State Community College—was the first compact to be completed and signed last year.

Ohio has a robust ecosystem of public and private educational institutions, and this region of the state has a strong tradition of local collaboration. For example, here in Hancock County, Findlay City Schools and Millstream Career Center are proven leaders in talent development pipelines that serve as state-wide models. As local partners, we also monitor activity in other parts of the State to learn about best practices in collaboration. In the coming weeks, the Superintendent of Millstream Career Center, Penta Career Center, and I will be taking teams of people to Lorain County Community College to benchmark the partnerships with career technical centers in Northeast Ohio.

One collaboration that is specific to Owens is the suite of “Express” programs we have built with four-year transfer destination partners. Our first such program was “FalconExpress” with Bowling Green State University. Students are simultaneously admitted to Owens and BGSU, and unlike traditional community college transfer students, their credits transfer in real time. By paying community college tuition for their first two years, students realize incredible savings while staying on path toward their four-year degree. We have since built Express programs with University of Toledo (RocketExpress), and Lourdes University (GrayWolfExpress). Our OilerExpress program with the University of Findlay is in development and close to completion.

Through programs such as the TechNet Consortium and the RAPIDS Grant, two and four year public colleges collaborate on regional workforce training. A total of 11 Ohio community colleges formed a consortium named the Ohio Technical Skills Innovation Network or Ohio TechNet after each institution received $1 million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Labor to create or expand job-driven training for the advanced manufacturing sector. These State and Federal investments help transform Ohio community colleges into an engine of economic growth that meets the job training needs of local employers and prepares workers for jobs in demand today and in the future. Programs and investments such as these encourage partnership and alignment among state colleges, universities and economic agencies. State investment in these initiatives makes a difference.

Strengthen Infrastructure on Career Pathways

Over the years, a number of programs have helped expand career pathways of Ohio students. College Credit Plus in particular has been enormously successful in growing significant college credit attainment. Even more so than the previous PSEO program, CCP allows high school graduates to begin college or university with early momentum. Dual enrollment is a vital tool in our toolbox for moving Ohioans toward family-sustaining careers and postsecondary credentials.

Likewise, initiatives such as the Ohio Transfer Module, Transfer Assurance Guide (or TAGs), Career-Technical Assurance Guide (CTAG) should be maintained and supported. Another legislative strategy to strengthen transfer resulted in the Statewide Guaranteed Transfer Pathways, which promise to significantly curtail credit duplication and loss of credit for Ohioans who transfer from one institution to another. As a member of the Guaranteed Transfer Pathways Steering Committee, I am pleased to inform the committee that serious and substantive work was done by the two and four year institutions in the State, as well as by the ODHE staff, in order to ensure that Ohio students could stay on path toward the completion of degrees and rewarding careers.

I would like to make one final note about College Credit Plus and funding for short-term certificates that is meant to reinforce dialogue community colleges are currently having with the Ohio Department of Higher Education and its newly-appointed Chancellor, Randy Gardner. Economic growth and talent development in technical careers could be greatly enhanced by expanding CCP options for Career Technical students. As you are aware, severe talent gaps exist in technical fields for high-wage, high-skill jobs. Expanding access to CCP for these students would be a sound investment in Ohio’s future, as would expansion of the current procedures for funding short-term certificates in these fields. Currently funding for these certificates is limited to $1,000 and the use of these funds has been limited by this restriction. The Ohio Association of Community Colleges has partnered with career technical centers in the State to examine how this investment could have a greater impact in technical career pathways. From our perspective, it is vital to increase the number of career tech pathways for students by eliminated CCP eligibility barriers who want to pursue a workforce-ready certificate or postsecondary credential.

Incentivize Apprenticeship and Business Collaboration

Across the country, apprenticeship programs are an important tool for addressing severe workforce shortages in skilled trades and advanced manufacturing. Statewide efforts such as Apprenticeship Ohio, as well as other trades-based programs, and an important component of this vital work. Here in Hancock County, Raise the Bar has partnered with Owens Community College to replicate the highly-successful FAME model of apprenticeship education. The Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education, or FAME is based on Toyota and similar manufacturing principles in partnership with regional employers and results in college credit and degrees. Owens Community College has developed a FAME-specific two-year associate of technical studies in applied engineering, specifically tailored to the needs of regional employer partners here in Hancock County, including Ball Metal, Cooper Tire, GSW Manufacturing, NISSIN, Rowmark, Whirlpool, Simona PMC, and Veoneer-Nissin Brake Systems.

The OH! FAME program blends classroom instruction with onsite work experience at a sponsoring company’s manufacturing facility. It is a selective admissions program where students are chosen to participate by a sponsoring company based on the student’s academic success, math capabilities, and interpersonal skills during the interview process. The sponsoring company pays for at least 50% of the student’s tuition and fees at Owens, and employs the student for a minimum of 24 hours per week at a minimum wage of $12 an hour. OH! FAME is a truly collaborative effort, but it would not be possible without the vision and leadership of the economic development community here in Hancock County, specifically Tim Mayle, Laurie Zydonic, and the Raise the Bar board. The formal partnership between OH! FAME and Owens Community College promises to become a state-wide model. We view it as a central part of our mission, having developed this specific degree pathway for the employers in our college district.

A similar, long-standing partnership between Owens and regional employers exists between the dealer service networks of Caterpillar and John Deere. Years ago, Owens developed full-accredited two-year applied sciences degrees in diesel technology and dealer service technician areas for Caterpillar and Deere. Students participate in a unique 8-week rotation between Owens and a regional dealership. All of these students have jobs in regional dealerships before the even begin the program.

In addition to our long-standing programs with Cat and Deere, Owens remains a leader in trades and union based apprenticeship programs. Owens currently has approximately 1,500 apprentices, more than 1,300 of which are with our construction trade unions; approximately 200 apprentices in manufacturing. We partner with more than 35 unions across the state, including Plumbers and Pipefitters, Sheet Metal, Operating Engineers, Iron workers, and Boiler makers. Over 60 regional industrial manufacturers conduct their apprenticeship training at Owens, including General Motors, Chrysler, Jeep, Vehtech, Centaur Tool, Marathon Products, Cooper Standard, Norplas, JCI, Cooper Tire. We have programs in Advanced Manufacturing Training such as PLCs, Robotics, Mechatronics, Variable Frequency Drives, and Process Controls; our industries and Partnerships include Automotive & Appliance Manufacturing including Tier 1 & 2, Machining, Food and Petroleum Processing, Power Distribution, Service, Glass Products; Engineering- Communications, Design, Manufacturing, Aviation, and Energy.

Address Stigma Associated with Technical Careers and Community Colleges

As elected officials who are active in your community, I am certain that you have heard from employers first-hand about the dire need for trained workforce in technical and advanced manufacturing careers. Despite this great need and the family-sustaining wages associated with these careers, a serious image problem persists with any career path that does not point to a residential, four-year college experience.

Ohio families have inaccurate assumptions about manufacturing careers. To many, the mental image of a factory is one from a Dickens novel: dirty, dead-end work. Intellectually, many opinion leaders know the reality of advanced manufacturing with its clean, efficient and highly-automated environment. Still, the misconceptions persist, even among those who “know better.” It is our job as educators, business leaders, and economic developers to push back at these misconceptions at every opportunity. Initiatives at the state-level have begun to tackle this issue. The Ohio Manufacturer’s Association “Creators Wanted” initiative is one effective example. Another is the skilled trades initiative “Go Build” currently in place in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. Go Build Alabama in particular uses recruitment campaigns aimed at digital natives to meet them where they are: their mobile devices. At Owens, we have launched a similar campaign to do the same thing: 6 second, 10 second and 20 second videos promoting careers in technology, health care, and transfer. All of these are designed to be viewed on mobile screens with the device on mute.

In closing, if there were one thing that could be done to address workforce and economic development challenges in our region, it would be to eliminate the stigma associated with technical career pathways and community colleges. The combination of low state-wide college attainment levels and high levels of unfilled high-wage jobs at the certificate and associate degree level will remain a pain point for Ohio until we directly address and change the stigma associated with not immediately attending a four-year university. If we could wave a magic wand and make technical careers “cool,” we could see transformational economic growth in our region. Likewise, if we could persuade families to begin college credit attainment in high school with College Credit Plus and start post-secondary at a local community college, the impact on college debt, graduation and degree attainment, as well as career success would be transformational. Those of us who are testifying on this panel sing from this hymnal every day, and I suspect we are “preaching to the choir” in addressing this committee. The more we can do together to change public perception on these issues, the better we can address the quality of life for our citizens and the economic success of the businesses and industries that make our region strong.

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
President


My Response to Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse’s “Question 14”

Posted on September 6th, 2019

I’m not sure if my letter to the editor will make it into the pages of The Atlantic, so I thought I would publish it here.

2019-09-05

In response to Senator Sasse’s thoughtful “Seventeen Questions Every College Should Be Asking,” I would like to provide one answer to Question 14: “If the state’s community colleges could be folded into our system, would you want them? Why or why not?” Before I answer, I would like to praise the Senator’s approach of beginning with a set of questions. It’s a rare politician that leads with questions instead of pushing ahead with answers. The questions are all vital and important; many of them are at the center of important reform work going on within higher education in our country.

First off, I’d like to share a bit of context. America’s community colleges have a proud history, and I am sure the Senator is aware of much of it. There are approximately 1,100 community and technical colleges in our country, and five of them are in the state of Nebraska. These colleges play a vital and underappreciated role in our national story. For example, the Nebraska Community College Association provides an excellent description of their member colleges:

Nebraska community colleges provide efficient, hands-on training at an affordable price for students who are eager to join the workforce in a short amount of time. And for students who want to continue their education, there are numerous transfer options for students who want to reduce their college debt and still pursue a four-year degree.

There is a similar story to be told in the remaining 49 states. In many ways, the comprehensive community college is a uniquely American idea. Rooted in junior colleges that were founded in the early 20th century, the idea for the modern community college really took hold in American policy with the 1947 Truman Commission report. Most of our institutions were founded later in the 1960s during the Civil Rights era. At the present moment, nearly half of all America’s college students attend a community college, and more than half will graduate with some credits from their local two-year college.

Two aspects of Senator Sasse’s Question 14 require some friendly prodding. First, the idea of folding community colleges into “our system” is problematic, as many states already have the two and four year colleges in a unified higher education structure. Further, the notion that the university is “our” system seems to imply that the community colleges are somehow “their” or “other,” which is decidedly not the case. In fact, many of the tricky questions on Sen. Sasse’s list are more easily answered by community colleges, which have affordable tuition, relevant programs with clear labor market outcomes, and close ties to employers and community groups. Second, the follow up question “Would you want them? Why or why not?” perpetuates a stigma against community colleges that many of us are trying very hard to change. America’s community colleges boast many of the attributes associated with small liberal arts colleges: small class sizes, highly qualified faculty, and a focus on classroom learning as opposed to research and grants writing. We are proud to be “community” colleges and rightfully boast about being the front door to the middle class. For too long, the local community college has been a “well-kept secret,” and the increased cost of higher education has caused many to look in our direction for relevant credentials that provide labor market value. In fact, many community colleges are seeing an increase in the number of students with bachelor’s degrees who come back to school to add a community college certificate or degree, as these credentials were designed with particular career paths in mind.

It must be pointed out that all of Senator Sasse’s important questions apply to community colleges. Price, cost and competition impact us as well, and our colleges continue to struggle to make college affordable. But as a President of one of our country’s community colleges, my answer to Question 14 is this: Community colleges already are a vital part of the US higher education system, and nearly every university in the country (including exclusive and Ivy League institutions) are beginning to realize the important role that 2-year college transfer students play in their success. Look to the great work of national organizations such as Achieving the Dream, the Aspen Institute, the American Association of Community Colleges, and the Community College Research Center (to name only a few) for excellent and probative work on the issues raised by Senator Sasse. America’s community colleges are ready to answer these questions. For readers who are interested in the great work of community colleges, I would humbly reference the dozens of voices on our “End Community College Stigma” Podcast, as well as the social media #EndCCStigma campaign. The impact of our colleges is widespread, and that impact directly addresses many of the problems and disruptions raised by the Senator’s seventeen questions. To paraphrase LL Cool J, “Don’t call it a comeback–we’ve been here for years.”

Sincerely,

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
President


LED Energy Upgrade

Posted on July 24th, 2019

Toledo-Area LED Energy Project

In the coming weeks, our campus community will notice a much-needed upgrade to interior lighting in our Toledo-area facilities. The project to retrofit our campus buildings with energy-efficient LED lighting fixtures has an enormous financial benefit to the College. Not only will the new lighting generate an estimated annual savings of over $120,000 in utility costs, it is also estimated to create more than $60,000 in savings in light bulb replacement and labor. In addition, the savings on labor will not jeopardize any employee jobs, as there is ample replacement work in facilities for our team members who replace light bulbs. Based on these projections, the LED lighting upgrade will pay for itself in less than four years.

Moving to LED lighting saves the College money that can be spent on other important priorities. It is also more “green,” as it conserves energy and lowers our demand from the regional power grid. LED lights also emit very little heat, as is described in this page from the US Department of Energy.

I am very excited about the new LED lighting. Back during my time on City Council in Michigan, we replaced the town’s streetlights with LEDs. Not only are the lights far less expensive to operate due to their low power consumption and long life, they also emit a much more natural color and temperature. It takes a while to get used to this color and temperature if you have spent most of your time under fluorescent/CFL or incandescent lights in a particular space.

You Will Notice the Change

The more natural color and temperature can also be perceived as increased brightness. This is largely an illusion. As a test of this, I just downloaded a light meter app for my smartphone and used it in the “fishbowl” conference room on the first floor of Administration Hall. That room has two new LED fixtures and one old fluorescent fixture (see the photo above, also taken with my phone). Measured in both footcandles and lux ratings, those lighting instruments emit about the same amount of light. The ratings varied a bit: on some readings, the old lights were actually brighter. Even when the readings showed the LEDs as brighter, the difference was only a few footcandles.

The bottom line is that this change will take time to get used to, which is the case with any change. I ask everyone for understanding and patience as we retrofit the campus with the new LED lights.

Special thanks to Vice President Jeff Ganues and the entire Facilities team for their work on this upgrade.

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
President


Old Advice from Unexpected Places

Posted on July 10th, 2019

Blog Advice from Restaurants and Tour Busses

There are two thoughtful blog entries from outside of higher education that I have returned to over the past ten years. I think there’s something interesting about advice that is meant for a very specific situation, and in these cases, the specific advice has really useful (and surprisingly insightful) applications to working in a college setting. I have spent my entire adult life navigating the culture of public higher education, and these insights have proven very useful over the years. I often refer people to these now-aging blog posts, and I am thankful they are still live. Others must find them useful as well.

In my opinion, these lists of recommended behaviors are useful because they come from a context outside of colleges and universities. One list comes from the world of culinary arts, and the other comes from the performing arts. While I have both worked as a cook in a restaurant and played in a band, I am not qualified to give advice from these perspectives. Both Bruce Buschel and Danny Barnes are such experts, however, and I have passed along their tips and tricks for the past ten years or so.

Bruce Buschel’s “Restaurant Rules”

The first useful list comes from a pair of blog posts (post one and post two) by a restaurant writer in the New York Times. Composed as a list of dos and don’ts for the servers at a restaurant he was building at the time, Bruce Buschel’s list is surprisingly applicable to college organizational culture. Some of these rules apply in surprising ways: two of my favorites are #15 (Never say “I don’t know” to any question without following with, “I’ll find out”) and #77 (Do not disappear). These seem very specific to wait staff at a restaurant, but think about them a bit and they seem to apply to many situations. Buschel published 100 “restaurant rules” in total, but years ago I made a special compilation of the ones I think apply well to our work in community college organizations:

1. Do not let anyone enter the restaurant without a warm greeting.
5. Tables should be level without anyone asking. Fix it before guests are seated.
14. When you ask, “How’s everything?” or “How was the meal?” listen to the answer and fix whatever is not right.
15. Never say “I don’t know” to any question without following with, “I’ll find out.”
21. Never serve anything that looks creepy or runny or wrong.
31. Never remove a plate full of food without asking what went wrong. Obviously, something went wrong.
32. Never touch a customer. No excuses. Do not do it. Do not brush them, move them, wipe them or dust them.
40. Never say, “Good choice,” implying that other choices are bad.
46. Never acknowledge any one guest over and above any other. All guests are equal.
47. Do not gossip about co-workers or guests within earshot of guests.
50. Do not turn on the charm when it’s tip time. Be consistent throughout.
51. If there is a service charge, alert your guests when you present the bill. It’s not a secret or a trick.
52. Know your menu inside and out. If you serve Balsam Farm candy-striped beets, know something about Balsam Farm and candy-striped beets.
56. Do not ignore a table because it is not your table. Stop, look, listen, lend a hand. (Whether tips are pooled or not.)
58. Do not bring judgment with the ketchup. Or mustard. Or hot sauce. Or whatever condiment is requested.
61. Do not stand behind someone who is ordering. Make eye contact. Thank him or her.
63. Never blame the chef or the busboy or the hostess or the weather for anything that goes wrong. Just make it right.
66. Do not return to the guest anything that falls on the floor — be it napkin, spoon, menu or soy sauce.
69. If a guest is having trouble making a decision, help out. If someone wants to know your life story, keep it short. If someone wants to meet the chef, make an effort.
70. Never deliver a hot plate without warning the guest. And never ask a guest to pass along that hot plate.
71. Do not race around the dining room as if there is a fire in the kitchen or a medical emergency. (Unless there is a fire in the kitchen or a medical emergency.)
74. Let the guests know the restaurant is out of something before the guests read the menu and order the missing dish.
77. Do not disappear.
82. If you drip or spill something, clean it up, replace it, offer to pay for whatever damage you may have caused. Refrain from touching the wet spots on the guest.
87. Do not stop your excellent service after the check is presented or paid.
89. Never patronize a guest who has a complaint or suggestion; listen, take it seriously, address it.
90. If someone is getting agitated or effusive on a cellphone, politely suggest he keep it down or move away from other guests.
92. Never play a radio station with commercials or news or talking of any kind.
98. Do not wear too much makeup or jewelry. You know you have too much jewelry when it jingles and/or draws comments.
99. Do not show frustration. Your only mission is to serve. Be patient. It is not easy.
100. Guests, like servers, come in all packages. Show a “good table” your appreciation with a free glass of port, a plate of biscotti or something else management approves.

These rules have a Strunk & White kind of feel, and they can seem a little bossy. But if you have ever worked in a restaurant (or if you dine in them frequently), I am sure you can connect with the idea behind each of them. Again, the reason the list has stuck with me is that some of them apply to our college work in surprising ways. We really should avoid serving anything creepy, runny or wrong (rule #21), and I wholeheartedly agree that we should not run around the dining room like there is a fire in the kitchen or medical emergency, unless there really is a fire or medical emergency (rule #71). And we should always make sure the table–metaphorical or literal–is level (rule #5). Good advice.

On Tour with Danny Barnes

Some of my favorite people are banjo players, and I actually play a bit myself. The second list of “rules” comes from the charismatic, eccentric, and ridiculously-talented banjo player Danny Barnes. I met Danny once briefly, and we did not discuss these rules. But there is a lot here to learn about being a member of a team and not letting your ego drive your participation in a team setting. From my brief experiences being in a band, this essay reads like the ultimate “How to be a supporting musician” essay, or as Danny phrases it: “gain twenty years of road experience with a five minute read.” Much of what Danny writes is very specific to playing with a touring musical ensemble, especially the ins and outs of the bus, plane, hotel, and money aspect of the gig. Elements of Danny’s essay that still crack me up–because they are so true–are reprinted below. The first is about managing your schedule. Danny’s rule D is: “do not be weird about the calendar.”

if someone asks, can you play march the 3rd? the answer is yes, no, or maybe, let me check. this is not an essay question. if you are unsure, get back to them. quickly. a typical musician will have this conversation about 120 to 200 times a year {one for each gig}. after a few years, it should be very smooth and easy. it’s the same question over and over.

Rule G, true to Danny’s fun prose style, is succinct and to the point. Most of his essay pivots on the reader’s role of being a supporting musician in an ensemble, and recognition that the reader is NOT the leader of the ensemble. He calls this “the rule.” Here is how Danny describes the rule: “go out and look at the marquee of the club where you are playing tonight. is that your own name up there? if not, this article is probably for you.” I constantly try to follow Rule G, which is “try to be the easiest person the leader will ever deal with.”

if you do that, they will be delighted to have you back. you won’t get your needs met by being difficult. or passive aggressive. or endlessly bewildered.

That one is worth repeating: “you won’t get your needs met by being difficult. or passive aggressive. or endlessly bewildered.”

Barnes has more great lessons from the road. You know that old phrase “your lack of planning does not constitute my emergency?” Danny’s version of this is Rule M:

don’t make others work harder through your own inaction, or inattention to detail or inability to grasp the overall schema. when it doubt, stop talking and just look.

I especially like the elegant simplicity of his recommended solution: “when in doubt, stop talking and just look.” The basic idea of Danny’s essay is to relish your role as a member of the ensemble, be aware of your surroundings and empathetic towards others, and try hard not to be a jerk. He has other specific recommendations, such as offering to help with the driving or navigation, don’t be “weird, overly pedantic, or confused” about traveling, offer to pay for gas or a meal from time to time, and don’t run up hotel charges on someone else’s tab. The essay is authoritative and funny, and it is clear that everything in it comes from hard-won experience.

These lists from Buschel and Barnes are things I bring up from time to time, and I often send them out as a follow up to conversations. So I thought I would combine them here into a single link that I can share. One reason I return to these lists is that I strive to follow these myself, and I need reminders. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. I expect I will still be talking about them in another ten years.

Hopefully in 2029 the links will still work.

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
President


Higher Education Demand Index (HEDI)

Posted on July 9th, 2019

Nathan Grawe Speaking at the 2019 IHE NOW Conference 

Each year, one of the higher education books I read tends to dominate in discussions and presentations. Last year, that book was Nathan Grawe’s Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education (2018 Johns Hopkins UP). Well written and researched, the book is also scary as heck from the perspective of higher education organizations in our area of the country. Grawe is an economist at Carleton College in Minnesota, and this book is his first major piece of research on a tool he created called the Higher Education Demand Index (HEDI). Grawe created HEDI to forecast demand for higher education over the next 15-20 years. HEDI draws upon birth/census data and available information on historical demand for higher education. It is the first index of its kind.

While reading the book, I often described it as a “horror story,” and it certainly is depressing. In a region that is already quite challenging for 2-year college enrollment due to the robust economy and low unemployment rates, Grawe forecasts that the “birth dearth” will cause a precipitous drop in demand for 4-year and 2-year college attendance. Grawe analyzes the birth data by census region. Consider his analysis of the future demand for 2-year colleges:

The divisions running up the East and West Coasts will hold more or less steady until 2025, when the birth dearth will reduce enrollments modestly (5 percent) in the South Atlantic and aggressively (13 to 17 percent, respectively) in New England and the Pacific. In the heart of the country–East North Central, Middle Atlantic, and East South Central–the picture is quite bleak. Losses are persistent and deep, totaling 20 to 30 percent by 2029 (Grawe 62).

For context, Ohio is in the East North Central census region. Below is a pair of slides I shared with the Owens Board of Trustees during an annual retreat presentation I made back in February of 2018:

While these data are based on birth rates and calculated on a much younger average age of student than we currently serve, I think it is important for us to pay attention to these demographic trends.

Is Demography Destiny?

I enjoy attempting to research notable quotes and key phrases. The phrase “demography is/is not destiny” is common in popular journalism and articles in economics. It took some digging, but some great sleuthing by John Weeks, Professor Emeritus of Geography at San Diego State University was very helpful here. Like many quotes, the “usual suspect” (in this case Auguste Comte), was not the true origin of the phrase. Weeks attributes the first use of the phrase to  Richard Scammon and Ben Wattenberg in a 1970 book entitled The Real Majority.

While demography may (or may not) be destiny, it is important to realize that the Owens Community College of the 2020s will be faced with an uphill climb caused by declining birth rates in the region. That is indisputable and “baked in” as the cards that have already been dealt to the region.

Yesterday I heard Grawe deliver the opening lecture at the 2019 Inside Higher Education IHE NOW Conference. He presented updated data from HEDI, and sadly the picture for Ohio has not improved in his newer data. I took this photo of his slide with my phone (the photo of him at the lectern is also from my phone).

While the forecasts have improved for Wisconsin and worsened for Oklahoma, you can see that for our region, the “Forecasted growth in students who will attend a two-year institution 2018-2019” is the hardest hit area of the country, with declines greater than 15%. Scary, indeed.

One interesting point made during Grawe’s lecture was the number of ways particular colleges rationalize how this demographic may not impact them. I think its safe to say that the decline in birth rates will most certainly affect us here at Owens; how we respond and craft strategies to adapt is the key topic.

Further, Grawe made the important point (less prevalent in the book) that some of the conclusions regarding 2-year colleges do not take into account important, sector-specific factors, such as returning adult students, fluctuations in industry workforce needs (e.g. retraining, etc.), as well as the very strong impact of unemployment rates. None of these factors are a part of HEDI.

2029 seems like a very long time from now. That said, when I look back at my community college career (which began in 1993), one thing is for certain: 2029 will be here before we know it. In fact, at the end of our current strategic planning process, 2029 will be 8 short years away.

Tempus fugit,

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
President


Accessibility Signs on Campus

Posted on June 21st, 2019

I am excited to share a recent development in state law that impacts parking signage on our campuses. For many years, I have been following the development of what has come to be called “The Dynamic Symbol of Access,” a graphic design by Tim Ferguson Sauder, Brian Glenney, and Sarah Hendren. Adopted by New York, Connecticut, and now Ohio, the “Accessibility Icon” was even the subject of an exhibit at the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York City.

Decision:

Effective July 3, 2019, Owens State Community College will comply with the new ORC language on Accessibility Signs from HB 62. This new law requires exactly what I requested in an e-mail I sent on May 30, 2019. Rather than put this in my own words, here is the language from the law:

9.54 [Effective 7/3/2019] Accessibility signs.
Whoever erects or replaces a sign containing the international symbol of access shall do both of the following:
(A) Use forms of the word “accessible” rather than forms of the words “handicapped” or “disabled” whenever words are included on the sign;
(B) For the international symbol of access, use a logo that depicts a dynamic character leaning forward with a sense of movement.
Amended by 133rd General Assembly File No. TBD, HB 62, §101.01, eff. 7/3/2019.
Added by 130th General Assembly File No. TBD, HB 483, §101.01, eff. 9/15/2014.
Note: This section is set out twice. See also § 9.54, effective until 7/3/2019.

As we re-stripe and replace signage in our parking lots, we will be using the word “accessible” and the dynamic logo. I am very excited about this development, and this is my determination as President of the College.

Background:

I recently had a very productive conversation with Kevin Miller, Director of the Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities Agency. Director Miller was very familiar with the legislative action on this matter in HB 62. I confirmed with him that not only is the legislature committed to the new language and logo, but his Agency and the DeWine administration are committed as well. The intent is that Ohio will join the other states that have become leaders on this issue. We discussed the mismatch between the states that have adopted the new logo and the Federal/international organizations. We also discussed the possibility of future litigation over the new language and signage. My conversation with Director Miller made me very confident that we should make a bold move forward with the new language in HB 62 that is cited above.

Here is a link to the actual House Bill 62 as it was adopted by the 133rd General Assembly; the provisions relevant to this discussion appear on pages 2 and 3. In addition, here is a link to a Concurrent Resolution (SCR 18) from the 132nd General Assembly that urges the US Congress to amend the ADA to adopt the dynamic character version of the international symbol of access. This was a bi-partisan resolution that passed with unanimous support. I was able to learn all of this with just a small amount of research.

I have been following the development of the dynamic symbol for several years. While content experts can have divergent views on just about any initiative, I want our team to know that I view this as a progressive step toward visually communicating a “people first” perspective on accessibility issues. This matters to me. The timing of HB 62 could not be more perfect, as it eliminates any ambiguity about what we should do regarding the language and the logo. It also demonstrates our commitment to visual literacy as a College.

Currently, it is not well known that Ohio will be joining NY, CT, and several US and Canadian municipalities in using the new logo. When I spoke with Director Miller, we discussed the potential for earned media stories about the new signs when they are erected. While we do not generally stencil symbols on asphalt, we may wish to do this in some spaces as part of an awareness campaign. I think this is a great opportunity to build awareness, dialogue, and create a “teachable moment” on this issue. As the signs go up, I may be working with our Marketing department to reach out to media to publicize this change.

Speaking of teachable moments, the subject of “people-first language” was the topic of Episode 5 of my “Teachable Moment” podcast. My guest on the program was Professor of Psychology Kristen Price, who taught me a number of aspects of this important topic. Toward the end of the podcast, which was recorded last October, we briefly discuss the Accessible Icon as an example of people-first language.

I look forward to seeing the new language and logo on our campuses very soon.

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
President


Kudos Facilities

Posted on May 24th, 2019

Special Thank You To Facilities Services

This was the lovely view I encountered as I stepped out of my car this morning.

Spring has been slow in coming to Northwest Ohio, but this morning our Toledo-area Campus looked like a stereotypical Spring day. As the weather changes on our campuses, I am often reminded of the great work our our men and women in facilities, grounds, and maintenance. When I can, I try to say hello and compliment our colleagues in Facilities about their hard work and dedication to keep our buildings and grounds in great shape. Recently, three items have been on my mind and I want to publicly thank Dave Halsey and Danielle Tracy, as well as Jack Waldman and Brett Young on the Findlay Campus.

  1. Lawn and Grounds Care. This has been an especially wet Spring, which means the grass (and the weeds) are growing at a faster-than-normal rate. This can make mowing and trimming difficult. During my years here at Owens, I have seen a steady improvement in the way our grounds look during the “transition” seasons of Spring and Fall. The perennials, hanging baskets, and mowing/trimming have looked great this season. I realize that some areas of campus (such as the Center for Emergency Preparedness) can be difficult to keep trimmed, but our team members are doing a great job with the available resources to keep our locations looking good.
  2. Setup/Teardown for Spring Commencement. We had over 600 graduates for Spring commencement, and a much larger percentage of the grads actually walked in our ceremony. This is a great trend. We are fortunate to have an on-campus venue that will accommodate our commencement exercises. Many similarly-sized community colleges must move their ceremony to a local sports facility or university (my previous college held commencement at the local hockey arena, and sometimes we had to sit directly on the ice!). Our Facilities crew does such an amazing job of setup and teardown for our event. I asked the graduates to recognize this important work during rehearsal, and I want to publicly thank our great team for this important–and often overlooked–aspect of graduation.
  3. Office Chair Replacement. This item will seem small, but it’s not. As we look to maintain our buildings and facilities, an important aspect of this is what construction folks call “FF&E,” or “furniture, fixtures, and equipment.” Recently Facilities undertook a project to replace a number of aging and/or outdated office chairs. Not only did Jeff Ganues and the Facilities crew perform a great deal of research and due diligence to find the best chairs for the most affordable price, but they also took the unprecedented step of soliciting input on the chairs that would be provided. Additionally, employees who selected new chairs had the opportunity to make a selection between three different models. At my previous college, this would have been unheard of; when it was time for you to get a new office chair, it would simply appear. No options to select from; no opportunity to “audition” the new chair. While one of the three options on display in the Business Affairs Office had slightly different adjustment controls than the actual model, this opportunity to “try out” your new office chair before receiving it was a great example of customer service, and I want to thank Facilities for that.

The various teams in Facilities Services view the internal campus community as “customers,” and they strive to provide great service to us as we go about the important work of the College. Their hard work makes it easier for us to do our jobs. I truly appreciate their work. While those of us who don’t work in Facilities can rightly think of ourselves as “customers” of their services, we must also remember that they are first and foremost our colleagues. A quick thank you or expression of appreciation for these needed services goes a long way. I probably don’t make enough of a point of thanking this dedicated group of employees, which is why I decided to write this blog entry.

Specifically, I want to model a culture where we take the time to appreciate the folks who keep our work environment clean, safe, and inviting for the students and communities we all serve. As you see our colleagues in Facilities on campus, please join me in thanking them for a job well done.

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
President


NJCAA & Owens Team Up to #EndCCStigma

Posted on April 1st, 2019

On this first day of Community College Month, I am very pleased to re-print this Op-Ed piece I co-wrote with Dr. Chris Parker, President/CEO of the NJCAA. Our student athletes are an important part of our community college story, and Chris and I are delighted to add their voice to this important conversation. In fact, I interviewed several student athletes from across the country for the #EndCCStigma podcast project, which debuts later this week. Here is our essay:

Join Our Team:
Community College Leaders and the NJCAA Team Up to End Community College Stigma

Dr. Steve Robinson
President / Owens Community College

Dr. Christopher Parker
President  & CEO / National Junior College Athletic Association

We want you to join our team.

As the presidents of a comprehensive community college and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), we are recruiting a new team to end the stigma against community colleges and the athletes who compete there. At hundreds of community colleges across the United States, student-athletes are studying at table time, working out and practicing hard to achieve their dreams. We teamed up because the stigma against our institutions is real and it is not based in any objective assessment of the quality or value of our colleges. Student-athletes who attend community colleges are the star players in our arena. Their success makes us confident of victory as we fight the stigma against community colleges, provided people will listen as we tell their stories.
We want you to know that community college athletes are retained and graduated at significantly higher rates than the overall student body population. Competition, the engagement from coaches and administrators and the personal drive to continue forward are large factors in their individual success stories. In addition, community college athletes are constantly surrounded by teammates that can help maintain a constant focus and a sense of unity that adds academic success pressure to be the best he or she can be.

During the past two years, the NJCAA has seen more than 6,000 student-athletes graduate with a 3.6 GPA or higher, setting new NJCAA records in back to back years. The NJCAA provides opportunities to roughly 60,000 student-athletes a year but only half of that number would be considered sophomores, so 20 percent of all eligible graduates are completing with a GPA of 3.6 or higher. At Owens Community College, our 2018 Division III National Championship women’s volleyball team brought national recognition to our institution, not only for athletic achievement, but for academic distinction as well. This exceptional group of student-athletes recently won its fifth consecutive NJCAA Academic Team award and recorded a 3.58 team GPA, the highest in Owens Community College program history. These athletes are winners both in competition and in the classroom.

Since the late 1970s, the motto of Owens Community College has been “Your Success Starts Here.” Likewise, the NJCAA motto is “Opportunities Start Here.” We are proud to be a starting place. The term “Juco,” for example, has a very large stigma to it and the average person should understand some key factors about our association and the type of students who attend and participate in intercollegiate athletics. Student-athletes can save a significant amount of money by attending an NJCAA institution for two years before moving on to a four year college. Similarly, some student-athletes need to physically grow before competing at the next level and the NJCAA provides those opportunities daily. Additionally, some student-athletes need to academically grow before moving on, this simply means they need a strong academic setting to help them adjust to academics at the college level. And finally, yes there are scholarships at the NJCAA level.

In terms of transfer, student-athletes come in with a mindset of what the next step may be and for many it is transfer to a four-year college and continue to compete at the highest levels possible. This is truly a mindset of the individual students and coaching staff to help them succeed; however, if they decide to enroll in a trade program and compete for two years and go straight into the workforce, then our mission is also completed.

The NJCAA and its member institutions use sports and athletics as a way to center energy around education. Nearly 85 percent of our member colleges are considered community colleges and these colleges produce some outstanding student-athletes.  Such names include Bryce Harper, Sheryl Swoops, Roger Staubach, Albert Pujols, Larry Johnson, Bubba Watson and many more. But on the other hand, we open the doors for individuals who would never attend college but for the opportunity to continue to compete at the college level.  When these individuals connect with a sport and then enroll and graduate, we have completed our ultimate mission, but we have also planted the greatest seeds of success. Those seeds blossom whether the student-athletes move on to four-year colleges or go into the workforce. Most importantly, they blossom into fulfilling and rewarding lives. When first-generation college students succeed, the mindset and opportunity to attend college are passed down as a generational expectation. At that point, the stigma is erased and everyone wins because of the work of a two-year college.

How can you suit up and join our team? First, you can promote community college success stories on social media using the hashtag #EndCCStigma. If you or your family members attended or played sports at a two-year college, tell your story! Perhaps most importantly, work to change the minds of those who might not have experience with our wonderful institutions and student-athletes.

We want you on our winning team.

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
President


#EndCCStigma Podcast Teaser

Posted on March 19th, 2019

During Community College Month in 2019, we will be producing four unique episodes of the #EndCCStigma Podcast Project. A collection of voices from our social media to end the stigma against community colleges, these podcast dialogues are designed to amplify the voices of those of us who are pushing back against inaccurate stereotypes of two year college. These are the voices of students, graduates, faculty, administrators, community leaders and college presidents.

A teaser for the podcast project is below. Episodes “drop” on each Wednesday of Community College Month: April 3, 10, 17, and 24. Podcasts will be published here on my President’s Blog and Twitter.

Show Notes

Below are links mentioned in the Teaser Promo:

Transcript

As we produce the podcast, I will try to achieve the highest standard of accessibility. To that end, here is a complete transcript of the teaser promo:

#EndCCStigma Podcast Project
Promotional Teaser
2019-03-17

[Music plays]

Tenisha Baca
I am really proud of the fact that I started at a community college. I feel like it was one of the best decisions of my life.

Matt Reed
Community colleges teach. So we hire people who are good teachers and we focus all the professional development around teaching. It’s all about teaching. You are going to have amazing classroom experiences and they’re going to be affordable and they’re going to be local.

Josiah Litant
It’s to change the conversation that it’s not a “this or that.” That the four-year degree, the two-year degree, technical trades, those are options of should all be on the table. We have to get away from this idea that you know one is it’s going to go better than the other.

Tenisha Baca
You get a quality education at a community college. Don’t let anyone tell you anything less than that. So wherever you’re going in life, I feel that community colleges can help you to get there. They provided me quality preparation to help me to reach to where I am at right now.

[Music Fades]

Steve Robinson

Hey everybody and welcome to the hashtag #EndCCStigma podcast project. I’m Steve Robinson, President of Owens Community College in Ohio, and I’m delighted to be bringing you voices from our social media campaign to end the stigma against community colleges. We are planning four podcast episodes for the month of April, and if you’re listening to this message before April 10th or so, there’s a chance that your voice could be included in the podcast that will be published during Community College month.

There’s a lot of great activity happening on Twitter and social media to push back against inaccurate perceptions of community colleges, and we would love for you to join the conversation. The podcast will be published each week and Community College month, and this is not one of them. This is just a teaser, and I wanted to say a couple of things about the podcast as we go forward. First of all I want to thank three folks who’ve already recorded interviews with me: Tenisha Baca, Matt Reed, and Josiah Litant. You heard their voices in the intro, and I also want to give credit to the music. The music that will use as bed music, transition music, and outro music was composed by Scott homes and is licensed through Creative Commons. Scott makes great tracks for this kind of production work. You can find his information at scottholmesmusic.com. The track that were using as background music for this podcast project is called “Make Your Dream Reality.” It is licensed through Creative Commons, and I would encourage you to go find Scott’s music, and if your organization is interested in having soundtracks, give him some attention and business.

So I look forward to hearing from folks. If you would like to be on the podcast, you can reach out to me on Twitter. My Twitter handle is @OCCPresident, or you can visit a landing page that we’ve put together with the URL endccstigma.org

Thanks for tuning in. We’re very excited about the podcast project. The first one will be published on the Wednesday of the first week of April. Until then, keep using the hashtag #EndCCStigma, and I will see you on Twitter.

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
President


#SixStrong

Posted on March 18th, 2019

#SixStrong!

What a season!

Who could have predicted that our amazing Express Women’s Basketball team would find a way to make it to the NJCAA National Championship game with only six players? Two Twitter hashtags tell the story: #FindAWay and #SixStrong. Despite their small numbers, our 2018-2019 Express kept finding a way to win. At the Championship game in Bethlehem, PA, they fell to Hostos Community College from the South Bronx in NYC. Hostos were the defending champs, but our Express stayed in the game, falling short by only a few possessions 63-73.

When I watch our student athletes play, I always search for things they can teach me. This team taught me about resilience. The Oxford Living Dictionary defines resilience as: “The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.”

Our Owens Express web site has a wonderful recap of the WBB team’s magical season here. I’m not much of a sportswriter, but here’s a unique lens I can focus upon these exceptional athletes. Here’s a letter I received yesterday from the Athletic Director of the host institution, Northampton Community College:

Even the defending champs Hostos praised our team and coaches on Twitter. There is so much for this team to be proud of this season.

On behalf of the entire campus community, I want to tell all the student athletes and coaches how proud they have made Owens Community College. Coach Perry and Coach McBrayer did an amazing job. Thank you for your hard work. Because we have six athletes on this amazing team, I’d like to list all of them here:

  • Whitney Thames (3)
  • Taylor Works (4)
  • Moreina Moore (20)
  • Liliana Velazquez (23)
  • Shyah Wheeler (24)
  • Tori Kopp (25)

Well done. We appreciate you making Owens proud on the national stage.

Sincerely,

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
President