(The following update on the state of Valencia Community College was sent via e-mail by Dr. Sanford C. Shugart to administrators, faculty and staff on Sept. 22, and is published here with permission.)

By Sanford C. Shugart, Ph.D.
[email protected]

Thanks to You

We’re off to one of the most interesting semesters in recent memory. Thanks to many of you, the college was able to maintain our commitment to access at levels I couldn’t have predicted. We anticipated enrollment growth at no more than 6 percent in our most aggressive plans, knowing that our capacity was already strained. Nevertheless, full-time equivalent enrollment (FTE) increased more than 11 percent. This gives us just a little breathing room in case of budget “adjustments” by the state.

More importantly, we have been able to serve many more of the students who need us now more than ever. We are all aware, of course, that this is straining many areas of the college and will require new resources just to maintain this capacity with quality. I’ll share more on this later. Meanwhile, I want to call attention to the extraordinary work in just a few areas.

As we were entering the recession a few years ago, we knew that tuition would accelerate to replace funds at the same time many of our students were less able to pay. So we asked both our financial aid department and the Foundation to step into the gap. Both have done remarkable work. Financial aid awards more than doubled in the past three years, growing from under $40 million in 2006-2007 to an estimated $109 million this year.

In part, this reflects increased need in our community, but much more is due to the amazing efforts of our financial aid team. Similarly, the Foundation, at a time when endowments at all foundations were taking big losses, managed to greatly mitigate the losses on its endowment and to manage its overall budget in such a way that there was no reduction in scholarship support to our students.

Deans and program chairs have also worked wonders, guarding the quality of our instruction while managing to schedule creatively to meet the needs of our students. And many faculty have stretched themselves to meet the needs of more students than we are staffed to serve.

I am concerned that teaching loads, both full-time and part-time, are higher than we can long sustain, however. So staffing, both in the classroom and beyond will be a priority as finances improve. This isn’t just a matter of faculty and staff “headcount.” Valencia has always been able to attract the best to work here, for both intrinsic and extrinsic reasons. This is why we stretched very hard to provide some raise this year. It is less than we want and need to provide, but at least it keeps our faculty step system intact and addresses core inflation. We will do more later.

Finally, to all of you I want to express thanks for the way you have stewarded the “spirit” of the place. While other organizations have contended with low morale, fear, and loss of direction, Valencia remains full of hope, vitality, direction, collegiality, and a focus on the students we serve. Our best “every day” work continues, as we seek to treat every student as a unique person, not just a body or an FTE.

Our best longer-term work is also thriving, as you continue to push Valencia’s learning-centered journey to the next level, giving renewed attention to the curriculum, to expanding learning communities, to refining our students’ first empowering experiences of college, to renewing the way we support our students’ learning in labs, tutoring, and through LifeMap, to building new pathways in our partnerships with UCF on the one hand and the public schools on the other, and through many other initiatives.

What’s in a Name?

You can’t have missed the press and promotion associated with Seminole’s name change to Seminole State College of Florida. As you know they have added a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Interior Design. Their name is intended to signify that they are now eligible to offer limited bachelor degrees.

Many are asking what Valencia will do. This comes at a time when UCF has asked us to take a look at offering a couple of degrees they are phasing out, programs that may be needed in the community and are largely enrolled with our transfers. As I shared at Academic Assembly, it is time for us to have this conversation. But I want this to be thoughtful, authentic, and grounded in our values.

To this end, we have scheduled some time to have a first discussion of the name issue as well as the offering of bachelor degrees beginning with the Board of Trustees in October. This will be a first step in the conversation and no decision will be made for months. But I hasten to add that any decisions we may ultimately make need to be on the basis of what is in the best interests of our students and our mission, not on “markets” or ego or competitiveness or any other basis.

If we add a degree, it must be because it is clearly needed and clearly our work to do. If we change our name, it must be because the name signifies something of genuine import to our students and community. I guess I am asking everyone to keep this issue in perspective. For years, we at Valencia have borrowed a Latin motto from the state seal of North Carolina – esse quam videri- which means TO BE RATHER THAN TO SEEM. This has never been more important to us…

Looking Ahead

In all honesty, I am tired of talking about money, budgets, the economy, and so on. Perhaps now that the recovery has officially begun (yesterday’s Conference Board indicators say so) I can rejoin the conversations that matter most to me at Valencia: How can we get the very best in learning from our students?

My part of that conversation begins with our college strategic plan. It isn’t the most important thing in the college – your day to day work is. But the plan is the way we collectively shape the future so you can do your best work and get the best results from our students. We have a great plan – the right focus at the right time – thanks to many of you.

Beginning this month, I will write a short essay each month on each of the four strategic goals: Build Pathways, Learning Assured, Invest in Each Other, and Partner with the Community. My purpose is to illuminate the goal, describe the underlying reasoning or “working theory” behind each one and examples of the creative new work to which each goals is already leading us. I hope you will treat these essays as part of a conversation, with me and others, responding, questioning, and imagining together what we can accomplish for this simple reason — the only plan that matters is the one we carry in our hearts.