It’s a whole new semester. Cochise College enrollment is up, and we’re kicking off new programs in respiratory therapy, unmanned aerial systems and equine management.
Although numbers are preliminary until the day after the drop/add period closes, we have 3 percent more students enrolled for the fall semester than we did last year. Aviation is reporting record enrollment, as well as 10 out-of-state students taking advantage of the Cochise Combo Plus offer to live in the dorms at no cost with enrollment in at least 16 credit hours and purchase of a meal plan. We’re expecting 56 international students – up from 11 last year – and 147 residents in the Douglas Campus dorms, which housed about 120 students last year.
Things looked very positive and we were all feeling pretty good about ourselves until our vice president for instruction basically threw down the gauntlet at faculty-staff Convocation last week.
It seems Dr. Verlyn Fick has been doing a lot of reading in the name of making informed decisions related to the direction of college academics. The world is changing, he says. Just look at the monumental challenges that appear in the news: national debt and financial scandals, healthcare and immigration reform, bankrupt cities and out-of-balance pensions, poverty, terrorism, yadda yadda yadda. Plus, word is getting out about things like affordable and successful surgeries in foreign countries, and reverse innovation, in which low-cost solutions to problems in developing countries are repackaged as affordable alternatives in wealthier nations.
What are proponents of these ideas thinking? Any one of them can threaten the workforce as we know it (hands wringing)! How can anyone really be prepared for the seismic shifts that we all will face in coming years?
Geez, Verlyn. What a downer!
Luckily, Dr. Fick also has a theory, and it happens to be supported by our accrediting agency, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Essentially, that is, prepare to be versatile.
Or, in educational terms, “develop skills adaptable to changing environments.”
In dangling the accreditation carrot, the latest version of HLC criteria guides institutions by referring to key components of a general education program: the acquisition, application and integration of broad learning and skills; engagement in collection, analysis and communication of information, and in mastering modes of inquiry or creative work.
This is where things get a little bit, shall we say, dry (?), but no less significant.
Students fulfill general education requirements at Cochise College by demonstrating competency in communication, creativity, critical thinking, diverse and global perspectives, information literacy, and technology literacy. To develop strategies to help improve student learning in the future, faculty use tests, research papers, projects, presentations, or standardized examinations to evaluate how well students who have passed a course actually achieved the expected learning goals.
Faculty initiated a project at Convocation to more consistently interpret and assess general education outcomes across the curriculum. In addition, the college’s Student Success Committee will this year have committees focused on the areas of developmental education and shepherding students in directions that accentuate their ability to complete. Both committees will seek to experiment with short-term projects and identify successes and build communities of practice that can enhance student success and completion across the college.
If we can invigorate and improve the power of our general education component, we will transform the student experience at Cochise College, our students will be well-armed to face changes in the environment that no one can predict, and Verlyn’s next address to the college community stands a chance of generating a little more optimism and cheer.
J.D. Rottweiler is president of Cochise College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.