President’s inaugural leadership retreat addresses social mobility and equity
President Dr. Tracy D. Hall opened her inaugural President’s Leadership Retreat at the National Civil Rights Museum June 28 with a moral imperative: to confront the challenges and opportunities Southwest students face through the lens of social mobility and equity.
The museum was a fitting location for examining systemic institutional barriers and a vivid reminder that to move forward, we must understand our past.
Retreat presenters included keynote speaker Dr. Sidney P. Malone and Tennessee Higher Education Commission and Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (THEC/TSA) representatives who provided an outcomes review.
President Hall presented attendees with a recap of the status of the College since her appointment in 2015. When Dr. Hall arrived four years ago, the College was in the throes of a 7-year enrollment decline and all-time low retention and graduation rates. And equity gaps loomed large with fall-to-fall retention rates for White students at 53 percent versus 41 percent for African-American students. Additionally, the admissions processes and customer service were perceived to be hindering student access and achievement.
A year later, President Hall embarked on her “Big Audacious Goal to Redesign, Reinvent, Reset Southwest”. The first major step was joining Achieving the Dream. Dr. Hall and the College’s leadership understood that real systemic change required a holistic approach—no tinkering around the edges. “We needed to deconstruct and fundamentally change our way of thinking and how we do business,” Dr. Hall told the crowd of more than 200 faculty, staff, administrators, students and community partners who attended the ATD kickoff, answering her call to review the student experience—from recruitment to completion and beyond.
An organizational structure was put into place spearheaded by Special Assistant to the Vice President of Academic Affairs Sindy Abadie and founding co-chairs Vice President for Student Affairs Jacqueline Faulkner, Dean of Faculty Support Jeremy Burnett, Associate Vice President of Retention and Student Success Jacqueline Taylor and Cashier’s Office Director Margaret Hillman.
By Fall 2017, Hall announced the College was moving toward its highest level of cohesion since the merger of State Technical Institute and Shelby State Junior College in 2000. The spirit of those institutions was morphing into the “Southwest Way”, which was more student-centric.
A shining example of this movement was the debut of more than 30 business process and academic maps to improve customer service and provide students a distinct pathway to success. The College also moved the graduation application date forward from November to April, giving students ample time to plan for graduation. The result: a 24 increase in graduates in 2018. The College also hired a mental health and social services coordinator and the Student Success Council was established.
“Year four is where we are now,” Dr. Hall told the crowd faculty and staff at the retreat. “Our focus now turns to equity and teaching and learning. Too many of our students of color, our largest population, are not performing at the level and rate they should,” Dr. Hall added.
Though the College halted the enrollment decline with a 10 percent jump in enrollment in Fall 2017, experienced a remarkable 13 percent increase in the number of associate degrees awarded in May 2018, and experienced success in narrowing the equity gaps in retention, Hall said it was time to talk about what’s happening in the classroom to focus the College’s attention to the why of teaching and learning.
“Theoretically, income increases with education, but to what end?” Dr. Hall said. “Do we want to graduate more students who remain in low-paying jobs? Do we want to graduate students who are ill-prepared to take on the rigor of their junior year at a university?” Dr. Hall referenced a 2014 Washington Post, “Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids that do everything wrong,” that stated, “inequality starts in the crib.” She equated the statement to many Southwest students who arrive unprepared due to societal inequities. “Just getting a degree may not be enough to get them out of poverty,” Dr. Hall said. “Our students arrive at our doors traumatized, broken, under resourced, under prepared, unsure, unfamiliar, excited, anxious and hopeful. But they arrive.”
President Hall challenged the group to see Southwest students according to their abilities, not their deficits – to not label students as “at-risk” or “disadvantaged”, but rather provide the best possible educational experience and environment to take them from poverty to prosperity. “We owe it to them to see them, to see their hopes and dreams and their lived experiences, and to teach, guide, direct, redirect, and set reasonable expectations, because they have arrived,” she said.
Funding the formula for student success
Following President Hall’s presentation, THEC/TSA representatives Chief Fiscal Policy Officer Steven Gentile, Fiscal Policy Director Crystal Collins and Assistant Director Alex Monday presented an overview of the history of state outcomes-based funding for Tennessee colleges and an analysis of the performance formulas. Gentile said there is a $1.1 million pot that is divided among the colleges based on such performance outcomes as enrollment and credentials conferred.
They shared analyses of funding formulas outcomes between community colleges and four-year institutions, demonstrating metrics from the number of credit hours obtained to dual enrollment students to job placements. Gentile said formulas formerly were based on enrollment and costs associated with that, in addition to maintenance operation costs. Now the funding formula is reviewed every five years and financial resources are allocated based on outcomes. The different missions of each college and the unique challenges of their student populations also are taken into consideration given that certain students may require more resources to cross the finish line.
Dr. Hall’s Big Audacious Goal is paying off. “There is excitement in Nashville about the things that are going on at Southwest,” Gentile said. Much to the credit of all who worked on Dr. Hall’s Big Audacious Goal, THEC/TSAC confirmed Southwest will receive a $1.7 million increase in funding for the fiscal year 2019-2020.
Respect and results go hand in hand
Motivational speaker, life coach, author and Founder and CEO of Malone Consulting Group Dr. Sidney P. Malone concluded the retreat with an engaging and fun interactive session that included a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of the college. “Let’s talk about our objectives and overview,” said Malone. “We want to talk about creating a culture of change for this organization – every organization, every home and business has a culture. Let’s start backwards with the end goal in mind by identifying weaknesses and skill gaps and grow individually.”
Malone asked attendees to consider the College’s mission, mindset and motion (putting into practice attainable goals) by walking through a pyramid model of steps from commitment to results. “The important thing to remember, no matter what you do, is to keep building, plan, evaluate, assess, implement, establish and repeat,” he said. Malone’s message echoed Dr. Hall’s call to action that everyone must hold each other accountable and that change has to be systemic. “People do not respect people who don’t produce. You will not garner the respect of your peers. Respect and results go hand in hand.”
Malone said he knows first-hand about Southwest—three of his four girls attended Southwest. “You are helping to change lives. To see a life change, to see a student come in one way and leave out another way is more than anyone can pay you. The students have changed, the community has changed, the city and region have changed because of this fine institution.”