Community College Month 2018Posted on April 30th, 2018
As Community College Month draws to a close, most of us here at Owens are preparing for commencement exercises on Friday, May 4. This is my absolute favorite time of year. The many awards ceremonies, Police Academy graduation ceremonies, Nurse’s pinnings, the Honors Symposium… the days are filled with celebration of our students’ success and the great work our faculty and staff have done during the semester.
One piece of Community College Month that seems to be different in 2018 has to do with something that has troubled me for a long time: the uninformed stigma against community colleges.
Community College Stigma
During many on-campus presentations and a number of talks in the community, I have shared my view on the unfair stereotypes of two-year colleges in the United States. I use two examples from my own history and career. I grew up near another OCC, which some of the local high school kids called “Only Chance College.” I taught my very first community college class at LCC, which the kids called “Last Chance College.” Many (if not most) community colleges have a pejorative nickname. A few people have shared with me the disparaging name given to Owens (though I must say that I have only heard this from Owens employees–I’ve never heard it out in the community, and I refuse to even repeat it for the reasons below).
In my experience, people create nasty nicknames for people and things they do not understand. As community colleges, we have excellent faculty, highly transferrable courses, and quality facilities. We need to do a better job of telling our story. What I find different about 2018 is that our story seems to be taking hold in the national media. In the space of a week, I noticed prominent stories in national news outlets such as NPR, The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Consider the following recent Wall Street Journal headlines:
- When It Pays to Start at a Community College
- How Students in New York are Graduating College with No Debt
Then there is my favorite headline from the Dallas Morning News by Bethany Reed:
No, we can’t. In her article, Reed does what I think we all should do in our own spheres of influence: tell our story wherever we go. Her article pushes back against what she calls the bias against community colleges by recounting four real and recent conversations she had in her daily life. This is something everyone in our college community has the ability to do. I am sure that many of you do this already, but I encourage everyone here at Owens to tell our stories outside of campus.
Returning to Reed’s headline, the idea that we “cannot afford” to be snobs about community colleges is supported by evidence. It is well known that important skilled trades jobs go unfilled in most regions of the country. We are literally paying a price in terms of lost productivity and social mobility by thinking of community college as a “lesser than” option after high school. And there is even greater evidence that this thinking is simply wrong. Consider this interesting graph from a recent publication of the National Center for Education Statistics:
Not only do students who earn an occupational credential have a higher employment rate; they also have a significantly higher likelihood of working in a job that is related to their field of study.
I am a firm believer in the value of the bachelor’s degree, and a central part of our mission at Owens Community College will always be to prepare university-bound students for successful transfer. That is a central part of who we are as a comprehensive community college. But equally important is the other part of our mission: directly preparing students for the workforce through certificates and degrees, as well as non-credit and corporate training. That is also a central part of who we are as an institution that was founded as a technical college.
As employees, we should never miss an opportunity to tell our story for both of these core missions at which we excel. And that is something we should do not just during April and Community College Month, but year round.
See you at graduation!
Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
Introduction Video MessagePosted on April 12th, 2018
Directly following the Board meeting on April 11, I recorded this three-minute video message to our college community. I wanted to quickly share my genuine gratitude and excitement with as many of you was possible.
Hi, this is Steve Robinson
I want to take this opportunity to personally tell as many of you as I can how very honored I am to have been selected the seventh president of Owens Community College, and I want to offer a sincere thanks to the Board, the search committee, and everyone involved in the selection process.
I’m excited to move forward with you, and I’m optimistic that together, we will build a bright future for this institution. Together, we will work to achieve our mission and vision of success for each and every student who walks through our doors.
I’m already being asked what my plans are for Owens. So let me share a few thoughts with you.
We went through a rough period. We did a lot of hard work together to survive and now it’s time to thrive. And I can confidently say that we’re on the right track.
We know Owens graduates are critical to the businesses in this region. Thanks to the hard work of our faculty, our students have the skills and knowledge employers want and our community needs. I intend identify new opportunities to meet the needs of businesses in this community who want to build their workforce with the kinds of students who graduate from Owens.
I plan to work tirelessly to build on the relationships we’ve established in the business community in Northwest Ohio to make Owens an indispensable partner for their success and growth.
We’ll also be keeping a sharp eye on employment trends so we can continually evolve our academic programs to fit the business community’s and workforce needs.
A critically important part of that process will be our work to enhance career counseling and experiential learning opportunities for students.
I’m proud – we’re all proud – of the collaborative working relationships we have developed with our higher education partners in Northwest Ohio. We will work to make those relationships even smarter and stronger.
To continue our forward momentum, we will focus on attracting new students increasing enrollment, retaining the students we do enroll, and making sure they complete their certificates, degrees or transfer to a four-year institution.
We also want more people to know about the great work our students and faculty do here, so we will be looking at ways to do that through our marketing department.
We also plan to broaden membership in our alumni association so we can build long-term relationships with our graduates. And, we’ll be focusing on ways to increase the number of donors we have, as well as the gifts and endowments we receive so we can enhance the opportunities we provide for our students.
These are ambitious goals. But they are achievable goals. To get there, we will soon begin a college-wide, comprehensive, multi-year strategic planning process. That process will culminate in a roadmap to our success. We will need everyone’s help. Everybody’s voice will be important in this process.
In closing, I want to thank all the students, faculty and staff who have made my time at Owens such a pleasure. These past three years have truly been the most rewarding interval of my career. I’m looking forward to the future with great enthusiasm. Today, let’s focus on building a strong and sustainable path forward.
To say that I’m eager to get started is really an understatement. I’m very excited, and I’m confident that our commitment to student success and economic development will propel us toward a bright future. Thank you for joining me on this journey.
In the coming days and weeks, please stop to chat as I see you across our campuses and out in the community. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.
Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
Thank You from the 7th Owens PresidentPosted on April 11th, 2018
Dear Faculty & Staff:
I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have been so helpful and supportive during the past three years as we’ve worked together to reposition Owens for a bright future. The Board’s decision today is the high point of my professional career, and it is a sincere honor to serve as the seventh President of Owens Community College. I pledge to make every effort to be the kind of leader who will inspire all of us to do our best to help all our students succeed – whether that means preparing for the workplace, or advancing to a four-year college or university.
Now that we have addressed many of our financial challenges, Owens Community College is well-positioned to help this region meet its workforce and college attainment goals. I am confident we can become the indispensable partner our K-12 and higher education providers need, as well as to supply the skills and training that employers in Northwest Ohio expect. With your expertise and experience, we will become an engine of workforce development for the businesses, hospitals, schools and agencies seeking trained, job-ready candidates for the careers of the future. It is an exciting time to be at Owens, and I hope you share my enthusiasm for the journey we are about to undertake together.
The best community colleges focus on four key areas of success: student learning, degree completion, equity, and labor market success. In the weeks ahead, I look forward to speaking with many of you and gaining your input about our future direction and priorities. Your insight and perspective will be critical as we undertake the development of a comprehensive strategic plan. Together, I want us to identify a clear vision for our institution, as well as a sustainable and resilient path forward. Northwest Ohio needs Owens Community College, and we must do all that we can to ensure that we are here to fulfill that important need well into the future.
In my conversations with community and business leaders, I constantly hear about the critical role Owens Community College plays in Northwest Ohio. With your help, I am confident we can build and expand that role to make an even larger contribution to this region’s growth and success.
Steve Robinson, Ph.D.