President's Blog

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.

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 charasmatic, 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 authoritiative 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.

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.

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.


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.


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.

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.

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 OpEd 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.

#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:


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

[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 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

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.


Posted on March 18th, 2019


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.


Steve Robinson, Ph.D.

Now What?

Posted on March 4th, 2019

Last week, the Board of Trustees approved our 2019-2021 Strategic Plan, including newly-revised mission and vision statements. Our plan is based on months of work that includes input from hundreds of internal and external voices. Six strategic improvement goals now guide our important work; these goals are supported by twenty key objectives that are specific and measurable. The new mission and vision statements contain our organizational consensus on our purpose, what defines and distinguishes us from other similar organizations, and what we hope our College will become in the future.

What do we do now?

Despite the countless hours of work by dozens of people here at Owens, the work on our 2019-2021 Strategic Plan is just beginning. Often strategic plans are finished then find their way to a shelf where they sit until it’s time to write a glossy annual report. In order for our new plan to be useful, we will have to work to buck this trend. A cautionary tale about “stopping at the beginning” with strategic plans comes from strategy consultant Nilofer Merchant, who named this problem the “air sandwich.” She explains:

“An Air Sandwich is, in effect, a strategy that has a clear vision and direction on the top layer, day-to-day action on the bottom, and virtually nothing in the middle–no meaty key decisions that connect the two layers, no rich chewy center filling to align the new direction with the new actions…”

An important part of our work over the next three years will be to avoid the “air sandwich” effect by living out our mission, vision and strategic goals. From my perspective, we worked very hard to find and define the key elements of our identity, aspirations, and strategic direction; we can’t stop now. In fact, I made a few 2019 individual goals for myself in 2019, and one of them is “make everything about the strategic plan.” If we built the right plan, these six goals and twenty key objectives are the most important things we can be doing in the coming years.

As we move forward with our new plan, I will be using this blog as a way to amplify elements of our planning work. If you have ideas about how we can best execute and “live out” our mission, vision and goals, please reach out to me. I would love to have that conversation.


Steve Robinson, Ph.D.


Posted on February 19th, 2019

Consider This Conversation STARTED!

I’m delighted by the response we have received to the #EndCCStigma campaign on Twitter. So many graduates, two-year college professionals, as well as prominent business leaders have chimed in to say they agree: it’s time to end outdated and negative misconceptions about community colleges.

Of the many responses I’ve received via e-mail and on Twitter, one that particularly excited me was an entry in Matt Reed’s wonderful blog “Confessions of a Community College Dean,” an important regular column in Inside Higher Ed. I have followed Reed’s “Confessions” blog for quite a while, so reading about our campaign there was an early indicator that we have touched a nerve. While lauding the effort and adding his support, Reed raises an important and accurate complication. He points out that the preconceived notions about community colleges are much larger and more complicated than the stigma itself. These biases or prejudices are part of a larger context of competition among K-12 and higher education institutions, as well as complex structures of race and class within our society. I could not agree more, so it’s a thrill to extend this conversation here on my blog.

Head vs. Heart

The experience that put me over the edge to start the #EndCCStigma campaign was an interaction I have often. The attention surrounding #EndCCStigma has shown me that I am not alone. As a community college leader, I am in constant conversation with community leaders, business owners, and elected officials about community college issues. Among these groups, the public perception of community colleges is at an all-time high. I have been a community college professional for most of my adult life. I can’t think of a time when our movement had more “friends.” I regularly encounter evidence that we have changed the intellectual conversation with opinion leaders and employers on the subject of community colleges; however, I am not certain that general perception is this positive. Parents and families want what is best for their kids, and there is an out-moded perception that community colleges aren’t “best.” The President of our state association of community colleges explained this very succinctly while being interviewed for a podcast. For recent high school graduates, “success” is defined as going away and being enrolled in a university. The state and national data tell a different story, and that is the story we are trying to tell with #EndCCStigma.

What’s In A Name?

One of the first responses I received to my use of #EndCCStigma was a marketing/branding suggestion to find a different name for our institutions. Without “throwing shade” on two-year colleges that have gone down this road, my personal view is that this does not address the problem. That’s where my slogan “We’re not going to change our name; we’re going to change your MIND” comes from. Prior to becoming a college administrator, I spent 15 years as a community college English professor. I was a full-time faculty member (and president of a large faculty union) when the fad of dropping the word “community” from the name of two-year colleges began. I am not here to criticize the strategies of other colleges, but I will say this: “community” is the most important part of our college’s identity, and that word isn’t going anywhere. Most community colleges can use some form of the catch phrase that “community” is their middle name. In his blog, Reed refers to the fact that community colleges often have pejorative nicknames. The community college near my childhood home was also “OCC,” and it was often snobbishly called “Only Chance College” by local high school kids. My first community college teaching experience happened at an “LCC,” which some kids called “Last Chance College.” Our community college once had a pejorative nickname that I refuse to repeat (and, frankly, I have only heard from long-time employees… I never hear it in the community). In my experience, the only effective way to deal with these prejudices is to call them out: as Reed notes, that’s the entire point of #EndCCStigma. If we simply drop the word “community” from our names, the negative associations and stereotypes will remain.

The Equity Agenda

Reed’s larger point is about social forces that are much more pervasive than stigma. He is exactly right that a disruption of our society’s assumptions about the “social order” of K-12 and higher ed will overturn a rock with lots of creepy crawly things underneath. As an eternal optimist, I am convinced that even this stark reality is a major strength of community colleges. I am biased of course, but from my perspective, no sector of higher education is doing more to examine and advance equity outcomes. This is a great week to be talking about this as more than 2,000 two-year college professionals gather in Long Beach, CA for the 15th Annual ATD DREAM Conference. Achieving the Dream has advanced the cause of student success and equity in a sustained an unparalleled fashion. By directly and unapologetically highlighting equity and completion gaps, ATD has helped hundreds of colleges and thousands of students address the larger point that Reed makes in his blog post. Add to ATD the growing list of reform networks and organizations working this important problem–The Aspen Institute, Jobs for the Future, CCRC, Completion by Design, AACC, and others–and you have a critical mass of community college practitioners who own this larger responsibility and enthusiastically attack it on a daily basis.

I’ll end by thanking Matt Reed for extending the conversation on #EndCCStigma to this larger and important context. This is a very exciting time to be doing this work. But as he points out, there is a lot of work to do!


Steve Robinson, Ph.D.

P.S. The WTOL reporter interviewing me about #EndCCStigma in the photo above is a community college grad! Jonathan Monk attended nearby Northwest State Community College, one of our awesome partner schools here in Northwest Ohio. Note that Jonathan proudly puts his community college experience in his bio on the website of WTOL! Special thanks to Jonathan for coming to Owens to discuss our #EndCCStigma campaign as it was getting off the ground.