With 2018 Ahead of Us…..What’s Next on the Horizon at STLCC?
2017 has been a year of both challenge and success for the faculty, staff and students of St. Louis Community College. It was a year of transition on many fronts, yet a year of great accomplishment as the College continues to move forward by addressing the educational needs and expectations for residents of the St. Louis region.
In regards to challenges, our biggest one is the budget crisis. The state cut core funding for the college by $5 million a year. In addition, the College realized a loss of enrollment by 10,000 students – 35 percent – between 2011 and 2015, and no strategic solution has been taken to address this issue. Even though enrollment has stabilized since 2015, the fact is that we must address this matter now or the deficit will grow to $13 million a year by 2020. So adjusting the budget is one key part of the solution; while restoring and growing enrollment is the other key piece.
In terms of the budget, several steps have been taken already to cut costs: Cosand Center, our administrative headquarters in downtown St. Louis, is in the process of being sold. We trimmed administrative and operational costs and froze filling noncritical positions. Unfortunately, these steps are not enough by themselves to close the gap.
What is left is the very painful decision to reduce the number of full-time faculty and staff. Our payroll for existing employee levels are not aligned with national norms. In regards to faculty, currently, STLCC has a higher number of employees than peer institutions based on the number of students to full-time faculty. And, a need to reduce faculty is not the norm for us, either – this is the first significant reduction in force (RIF) since the late 1970s.
Earlier this year we saw the budget storm clouds forming. That led to offering a Voluntary Separation Incentive Program (VSIP) that enabled us to find 117 volunteers who chose to leave full-time status. We are in the process of creating and offering (pending Board approval) two additional VSIPs for 2018 in hopes of finding additional volunteers – one for all employee groups and one just for faculty.
In the meantime, it has become necessary to announce a reduction in force (RIF) in the event we cannot find enough volunteers for the VSIPs being offered. A RIF will mean involuntary separation for up to 58 full-time faculty when their contracts end May 14, the end of the school year. Based on the provisions of the Joint Resolution between the College and the National Education Association (NEA), the College has given notice to those faculty who will be part of the RIF unless sufficient numbers of volunteers come forward through the additional VSIPs, to be offered early in 2018. Know that College leadership and the Board of Trustees are committed to making this process as thoughtful and considerate as we possibly can.
The next biggest challenge is enrollment. As you might expect, 10,000 fewer students require adjusting the number of faculty and staff. We must address the underlying issue of lower enrollment, and work diligently to attract students with programs that prepare them for the workplace opportunities in the region or for the transition to a four-year university. To meet this end, we’re working on several strategies.
To begin, our local economy and workforce needs continue to evolve, and nowhere is that change more obvious than healthcare. There is a constant shortage of nurses, technicians and other roles across healthcare providers. Area health science organizations anticipate a growth rate of 11 percent for new jobs over the next 10 years. STLCC is addressing that challenge already but we must go the next level and increase our capacity and capability.
That is the reason for the new Center for Nursing and Health Sciences that will be located at the Forest Park campus. Approval by the Board of Trustees and announcing this news are among the biggest accomplishments for 2017, and the groundbreaking of the new Center will take place in March. Excitement is building – faculty, staff, students and employers are telling me they cannot wait to see the new 96,000 square-foot building, which will house 11 health science programs having state-of-the-art innovations and technology. It will also contain innovation space for future program needs and the ability to grow existing programs.
The new Center will dramatically improve the entrance to the Forest Park campus and will provide a much-needed facelift to the campus as a new “front door” to welcome current and future students.
That’s not all we are doing to improve infrastructure and improve the student experience as it relates to modern facilities. In addition to the new Center, we will begin renovations and improvements in 2018 to classrooms and labs at the Forest Park, Meramec and Florissant Valley campuses. As a part of this effort, the College is in the midst of a feasibility study for a capital campaign to assist in addressing its facilities needs and to provide much-needed funding for student scholarships and workforce training.
We will continue our efforts to bolster enrollment through its alignment with business and industry, including the development of more apprenticeship and internship opportunities like the Medical Assistant Apprenticeship Program with St. Luke’s Hospital. STLCC also celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Boeing Pre-Employment Workforce Training Program in early December at the Center for Workforce Innovation. These direct connections will better prepare our students for the workforce, for continuing their education and for advancing their future careers, an essential piece of workforce readiness that our business partners need and demand.
Growing our enrollment via retention strategies will be a major focus for businesses and residents in the St. Louis region. Within Academic Affairs, faculty will soon unveil a new model for developmental education. As part of the Complete College America agenda, STLCC will move to a co-requisite model that combines developmental education courses with the gateway general education courses of our degree and certificate programs. This model has proven to increase student persistence and degree or certificate completion by a significant amount in several other states.
The College also is developing significant initiatives in Student Affairs to improve the entire student experience from admittance to completion. Simplifying student pathways to a degree or certificate will help them realize their academic objectives – whether preparing for a high-wage job in the workforce or to transfer to a four-year college or university.
Our Strategic Plan includes several initiatives aimed at enrollment. They are underway and focused on metrics that have been established to measure College improvement. The majority of the metrics are geared toward student persistence and completion because we are moving the culture of the College toward one of student success and increased accountability. The important variables associated with this critical area include such measures as persistence, completion of a credential such as a degree, certificate, or industry-recognized certification within a timeframe, job placement and transfer to a four-year university.
In February, the College will host consultant-evaluators from the Higher Learning Commission for ongoing accreditation. The College has been preparing for the visit, and we anticipate a successful review and reaccreditation.
I look forward to working with all of you to make St. Louis Community College the first choice for students in our region. Thanks for all you do and have a happy holiday season.
Jeff L. Pittman, Ph.D.