Timothy J. Nelson, President
October 13, 2016
Let me start the update by thanking you all for what you do to create a great learning environment that helps to prepare our students for success in this rapidly changing global society and market. Each of you plays an important role in achieving this success. Together, we model values and help create experiences that will have a lasting impact on those we serve.
This communication is intended to provide our NMC campus community an update on the state of the college. As the 2016-2017 year gets underway, it is important to review where we’ve been and where we’re going. The goal of this letter is to provide detailed information on many of the critical initiatives and programs affecting our campus. Some of these topics are included below:
- Updates to “Opening Conference”
- Student Enrollment
- Community Engagement
- International Relationships
- Employee Professional Development
- Compensation and Talent
- Higher Learning Commission Accreditation
- Leadership and Governance
- Legislative and Regulatory Issues
- Board of Trustees
- Spring Semester Opening
Community engagement is important for our continued success. I invite you to reach out with questions and thoughts on any of the items discussed in this update.
Updates to “Opening Conference”
During the summer, I was approached by the AQIP Learning Outcomes Team co-chairs about a proposal from the faculty members on the team to expand the normal time for the August faculty professional development day to include the time normally devoted to Opening Conference. The faculty wanted to invite a presenter on active learning and significant learning outcomes to campus who could assist all instructors over a two-day period. I welcomed the faculty request, as it aligned with our goal to improve student learning outcomes. The faculty and staff from the Center for Instructional Excellence along with the Learning Outcomes Team then worked to make this two-day professional development event a success. The event was funded from the president’s office strategic fund.
As a replacement for the traditional Opening Conference breakfast, we hosted an “end-of-summer-beginning-of-fall campus picnic.” This allowed many staff and faculty members who often struggle with serving students during the final registration weeks the opportunity to engage in a campus event.
In the spirit of check-and-adjust, we have decided to replace the town hall originally scheduled for October 12 with small group meetings. In place of Opening Conference, I committed to providing this written update to the campus. The small group meetings will provide a more accessible space to discuss questions or concerns related to the state of the college. We will send out appointment times for these meetings. Thank you all, again, for all you do to help make our learners successful.
Students and Enrollment
Total enrollment this fall is 4,167 students, which generated 43,956 contact hours. We budgeted for a 6% decline and ended with approximately a 4.6% decline in contact hours. There are two major trends influencing enrollment at the college. The first is a decline in the traditional student age population that is predicted to continue past 2020. The other is the improved state of our local economy where older, potential students choose employment over education. These trends require us to continue to seek students from outside the region to take advantage of our specialty programs. This year, we saw growth in the number of students from out-of-state, international and our non-service areas of Michigan.
Another observation about our enrollment is that we continue to see a decline in the average age of our students. One reason for this is that the combination of dual enrolled and early college enrollment is up from 282 in 2013 to 497 in 2016. This is reflected in the increase of students aged 17 and under and contributes to a declining average age, now 23.7 years old. These gains have been made, despite the decline in the population of this age group across the region.
Even as we seek to expand enrollment in our region and beyond, it is important to remember that a significant percentage of our students are first generation college students. This means they need additional guidance, mentoring and wayfinding assistance. It is critical that we recognize they are not familiar with our systems and processes.
Student success and degree completion continue to be a paramount goal for NMC. Every new level of regulation and monitoring is placing more emphasis on this outcome. While we have made progress over recent years, we have much to do. I am asking our planning groups to establish additional metrics, which will help us to both succeed and to manage our performance. Achieving these goals is directly connected to government support. Financial Aid that NMC students received in 2015-16 totaled over $19 million.
NMC Student Financial Aid Sources
Extended Education Services (EES) has been refreshing its catalog, pricing models, and preparing for a stronger online registration presence over the past few years. Specialty enrichment programming such as “College for Kids” is often a family’s first experience with NMC. Participant comments indicate great enjoyment with the challenging and new content, and high marks for a setting in which they can build new and lasting relationships. Area learners over the age of 50 continue to discover and use Life Academy programming in record numbers. These learners praise the great content from highly experienced instructors, gaining new sharing communities in the process. We will continue to see strong use of EES for personal and professional learning opportunities.
Training Services provides significant contributions to the community. It is the regional office for the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Corporation, the leader in our Michigan New Jobs Training Program, a regional leader in LEAN programming, and now coordinator of a new stackable credential precision machining program with regional manufacturers. Training Services is a net positive in its revenue/expense profile. Below are some specific achievements:
- New Jobs Training Program results
- 495 jobs created with a minimum of 175% times minimum wage
- 31 participating employers
- $3.2 million of training
- MMTC Employers served during the last 12 months reported the following results
- $14.5 million of increased sales
- $16.3 million of retained sales
- Net new investments made $9 million
Service Learning is yet another way in which students can connect their career aspirations to global concerns through targeted projects with their instructors. Examples at the local level with faculty members Kristy McDonald and Brandon Everest have earned important local and state recognition. Other similar projects include construction technology students participating in Habitat for Humanity, business students helping to install wi-fi technology in an Andean community and culinary students assisting a startup restaurant in Ecuador.
The International Affairs Forum (IAF) is another example of community engagement. IAF brings the experience of the world to our region through its annual lecture series, specialty ‘hot topic’ events, providing access to specialists on global policy for credit and noncredit presentations, and facilitating a growing network of professionals who now know Traverse City and NMC. Their membership program provides free admission to lectures for NMC students and their instructors.
NMC continues to be a leader in creating global learning experiences for students, faculty and staff. We are well into the implementation of our global endorsement, which is being reviewed as a model for other community colleges in Michigan and a potential MCCA submittal for a National Endowment for the Humanities grant. We are finalizing plans to provide joint degrees/certificates with Yellow River Conservancy Technical Institute. Our faculty could begin delivering short-format courses in China in the next 18 months, and we could see more international students from this endeavor in about 12 months.
Employee Professional Development
The August learning outcomes professional development days were well attended and a great addition to this important project. Regional and national accreditors have made this a prime directive, and we will continue to make this a priority for the college.
Last spring, the Higher Learning Commission passed new regulations that require certain levels of graduate education for those teaching college. While I believe our faculty and instructional staff are excellent teachers, a number of our regular faculty do not meet these updated standards. As a result, NMC is paying for 80 percent of the tuition and fees to help current faculty secure appropriate credentials. This is in line with the fact that NMC is in the top 6 percent of all reporting community colleges for the investment in professional development.
Compensation and Talent
Staff and Administration Classification and Compensation implementation is in progress. We continue to complete work as identified on the implementation plan. I expect us to continue efforts to align staff salaries with their national benchmarks. As you recall, staff and administration, including the president, have been classified and benchmarked against national scales, as part of the implementation plan that started a few years ago. I am proud to call the faculty, staff and administrators on this campus my colleagues and believe this process will ensure NMC maintains its commitments to employees and taxpayers and students.
Fair Labor Standards Act changes will go into effect on December 1. The Human Resources office will be working with employees and their supervisors to prepare for these significant changes before the December 1 implementation date.
Faculty and faculty chair contract negotiations are continuing to move forward with the help of MERC appointed mediators. Additionally, we have requested a fact finding analysis, which will identify items of possible compromise in order to reach a final contract. The NMC administration and Board of Trustees remain strongly committed to reaching a fair agreement that is in the best interest of NMC faculty, students, the college and the community.
To offer additional facts, below is a summary of the negotiations thus far. Since the faculty voted to unionize in March 2015, NMC has done the following:
- Presented numerous written proposals and counter proposals for the union’s consideration, the first on June 12, 2015; a comprehensive proposal and set of tentative agreements on August 19, 2016; and, most recently, on October 12, 2016.
- Followed established negotiating practices, engaging in 17 collective bargaining sessions with union negotiators between May 15, 2015, and March 7, 2016.
- Requested mediation through MERC on March 7, 2016.
- Participated in eight sessions with MERC mediators between March 22 and September 29, 2016.
- Petitioned MERC on August 8, 2016 for fact finding analysis to advance negotiations.
- Reached at least 18 tentative agreements with the union.
Maintenance and Custodial Contract Negotiations with the SEIU union that represents maintenance and custodial employees are proceeding well and should come to conclusion soon.
Campus security installed a number of security upgrades over the summer. This includes blinds/shades and security film on windows. As part of our current campus upgrades, we will be bidding out enhanced security camera systems. I thank everyone who has been involved and engaged in building security practice events, and ask everyone to remain observant and diligent in this area.
Residence Hall and Fitness Center has broken ground. The new 140-bed residence hall and fitness center has the target opening date of August 2017, and we will be recruiting students for this hall. Rental housing in the region continues to be in short supply. Students coming to us from our region, outside the area or the country expect to have access to housing as they complete their studies. This project is critical as we work to expand enrollment in certain areas and specialty programs. Additionally, the facility is designed to accommodate other uses for example internships, workforce and/or married housing, as our college and community demographics change.
The Dennos Museum Center is breaking ground on a 14,000 sq. ft. addition beginning in October 2016. This is made possible because of kind contributions from Richard and Diana Milock and Barbara and Dudley Smith. Additional funding is being raised as part of larger efforts from the NMC Foundation.
Okerstrom Fine Arts Building updates and improvements are coming. We are in the selection process for an architectural firm to schedule facility repairs for this building. Windows, drainage, exterior siding repairs and internal restroom redesign are a few of the items on the list.
Funding sources for NMC, in addition to gifts named above, include funds in the plant fund reserves and the housing fund balance. NMC has issued general obligation bonds earlier this summer to fund these projects. The NMC Foundation is actively engaged in securing additional resources for the college that includes these projects. Residence halls are self-liquidating and will generate resources to retire their debt.
Facilities planning activities include selecting design firms for two more projects centered on the current site of West Hall. These two new facilities will result in an approximate 53,000 sq. ft. modern learning facility that will serve both our students and faculty, as well as the community at large. Combined with new housing, we envision this new learning facility to be open 24/7. Faculty, staff, students and community members will be involved in the design process. The innovation center is authorized for planning through the state, and the library is an internally funded (through bonding) project.
Higher Learning Commission Accreditation
Regional accreditation is required for NMC to provide access to federal and state funding for the college and our students. NMC follows the AQIP pathway offered by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Our cycle requires submission of our system portfolio by November 2017, a strategy forum in Chicago for a team of board, administration, staff and faculty in February 2017, and a campus visit in late 2018 or early 2019. Our last accreditation visit outlined four strategic challenges in need of improvement:
- Aligning our continuous improvement processes for learning outcomes at the course, program, and general education levels
- Expanding institutional awareness, accessibility of, and the use of data in terms of metrics, targets, and goals
- Developing deeper understanding of student needs related to developmental education
- Developing a more robust peer benchmarking process in order to inform future planning
NMC already had initiatives in place for strategic challenges (1) and (3) to address the concerns identified by the HLC review team. For strategic challenge (1) NMC identified a strategic goal in the FY15 strategic plan to “develop and implement an integrated and aligned learning outcomes system that includes the articulation of and means of documenting learning outcomes, assessments, results, and actions for improvement at the course, program, and institutional levels.” NMC began operationalizing this goal by chartering an AQIP action project, Learning Outcomes, by forming a team for implementation. The most recent Learning outcomes summary was reviewed in October 2015. Additionally, the course outlines and instructions were revised so that all courses will have been reviewed and revised, if necessary, in order for course level learning outcomes to align with program and general education outcomes. For strategic challenge (3), NMC chartered an AQIP action project, Enhancing Developmental Education. The team implemented several initiatives in developmental English and math, closing the project in 2015.
For strategic challenges (2) and (4), we continue to work through our cycle of the aligned planning process using the A3 metrics and planning tool. We expect to see our processes related to using data and benchmarking metrics to be refined and expanded. As with everything we do, we will follow a plan, do, check and adjust cycle.
HLC accreditation is important to each and every one of us. Many of you will be involved in the process and all of us will be affected by the outcome.
Leadership and Governance
Our goal is to maintain a collaborative community and we believe in the power of engagement. That is why faculty, staff and students are invited to participate in dozens of NMC councils, committees, task forces and project teams. I believe it is important that we, as a college, review and recommend any modifications to our shared governance and leadership systems. An unanswered question for staff and administration remains as to what the future of employee groups is within the leadership and governance processes. These groups are currently foundational to representation on governance councils and many committees. The Leadership Group has been key in aligning planning processes at NMC. I have asked employee groups to remain intact as they continue their participation and representation on councils, committees and taskforces.
We have begun a clarification process with PBC and will review that with the campus. A more comprehensive review calendar for leadership and governance review will be established prior to the end of the calendar year.
Last year we built the budget on moderately increasing revenue, reducing cost, and shifting priorities. The budget reductions included; $450,000 reduction in salary expenses, $200,000 reduction in COAT purchases, $250,000 reduction in professional development and $300,000 reduction in transfers to the plant fund. It is important that NMC operates in a responsible way to students and taxpayers, and the budget plays a key role in our commitment to both constituencies.
Right sizing and adjustments
When we built the budget last year, I stated that I did not want to take budget actions that might later have to be reversed depending on fall outcomes. We have a long history of reviewing all vacant positions, asking whether positions can be combined, eliminated or revised to result in cost savings. We have done this in a number of areas during the summer and early fall. In all of these cases, we have committed to monitor the impact, review the decisions and welcome your feedback.
We recognize we have approximately 1,200 fewer students today than we had at the peak of the recession. We also continue to see more competition from online and other education delivery methods. Consequently, we must continue to review and revise how we accomplish our work and make adjustments in our budget. Our projections last spring indicated we needed to remove over $1 million from our budget. We set a target of $450,000 of that to come from salary costs. Our hope was to achieve some savings through employee attrition and consolidations; and we continue to work toward our targets. An update on the targeted savings will be provided at the October Board of Trustees meeting. The budget will continue to evolve. I ask you to stay engaged, ask questions, and offer suggestions.
NMC Foundation and Resource Development
Four years ago, we began a comprehensive redesign of the NMC Foundation and Resource Development department. We know that we need significantly more resources to fund scholarships, programs, people, facilities and equipment. We also know that more of this needs to come from NMC Foundation efforts. To that end, we are executing a plan that will provide those resources. You will see additional personnel in this department as we continue down this path. In the coming weeks and months, you will begin to hear more about this exciting effort on the part of our Foundation, its volunteers and employees. Funding for this effort is shared by the Foundation and the college’s strategic fund, fund for transformation and reserves.
Legislative and Regulatory Issues
We continue to engage and inform our state and federal elected officials about the breadth of work that we are involved with here at NMC, as well as some of the challenges we face. So far this year, we have convened several legislative roundtable discussions both in Traverse City and in Lansing, hosted a legislative campus tour, welcomed Governor Snyder to NMC and showcased a real world implementation of NMC’s technical education capabilities for a U.S. senator.
As a result, we have found success in raising legislative awareness of all that we do at NMC and appreciate the legislative support we have received to move forward with important projects, such as the West Hall Innovation Center.
As we look forward to a legislative session at both the state and federal levels following the election in November, as well as what the legislature and administration might be focused on in 2017, there are several legislative and regulatory items that we continue to track and monitor. These include the following 2017 State Legislative Advocacy Issues:
- State FY18 Budget – Community College Base Appropriations
- We will continue to press for additional increases in state base appropriations in FY18.
- We expect the Governor to announce his FY18 proposed higher education budget in early February 2017.
- Capital Outlay – West Hall Innovation Center
- Following NMC’s successful capital outlay planning grant request in FY17, we are hopeful that the legislature will approve construction funding for our West Hall Innovation Center project in FY18.
- The total project cost was reduced by over 20% from the proposed project cost in FY16 and once complete will transform and renovate 38,000 square feet of space to accommodate the use of simulation, team-based and project learning across all curricula.
- Community College Baccalaureate Legislation – Offering New Credentials of Value
- To meet the needs of the business community, our region, state, nation and world, NMC must have the flexibility to offer new credentials from technical certificates to baccalaureate degrees.
- SB 98 would expand the ability of community colleges to offer a baccalaureate degree in nursing, a credential that is needed by healthcare employers in the region and state.
- Guided Pathways – Start with the End in Mind
- Support the implementation of the Guided Pathways Design Principles.
- These principles include helping students with goal-setting from the start and simplifying their choices with clear roadmaps.
- The principles also include a redesigned intake with the goal of helping students choose and successfully enter a program of study while monitoring students’ progress, giving frequent feedback and support as needed.
- The principles would also empower faculty and staff to lead the redesign process.
- Transfer Management and Community College Collaboration
- The Michigan Transfer Agreement (MTA) provides every student in Michigan access to earn 30 college credits at a low-cost community college with the guarantee that all 30 credits will transfer to a four-year institution and count towards a bachelor’s degree
- We are supporting expanding this opportunity by creating career pathways to guarantee seamless transfer of an associate degree.
2017 Federal Legislative Advocacy Issues
- FY18 Federal Budget
- We will be watching closely as the next administration releases its FY18 budget proposal and the levels at which higher education is funded.
- One specific issue that we will be advocating for will be the reinstatement of year-round-Pell Grants.
- Higher Education Policy Positions of the New Administration
- This year, President Obama outlined an ambitious agenda to combat rising college costs and make college affordable for American families.
- We are actively tracking the policy positions of the presidential candidates as they relate to higher education.
- Department of Education Oversight
- We will continue to monitor issues related to rules and regulations from the U.S. Department of Education and how they might affect the operations of NMC.
Board of Trustees
The NMC Board of Trustees is a volunteer body that continues to do critical work for the future of the college and community. The election in November has two open seats. One seat is due to the retirement of Bob Brick, who has been a tireless supporter of NMC first serving on the Foundation Board and then on the Board of Trustees. I thank him for all he has done and have been assured he will continue to support NMC. The second seat is currently held by Chris Bott, who was appointed to the Board following Cheryl Gore Follette’s resignation. Trustee Bott is one of six candidates seeking this position. The League of Women Voters will hold a Board of Trustee Candidate Forum in Milliken Auditorium on October 18 from 7:00pm to 8:30pm.
Following, are the six candidates in alphabetical order:
- Chris M. Bott
- Carolyn Collins
- Christopher Dailey
- Michael Estes
- Michael Haynes
- Rachel Johnson
Spring Semester Opening
We have not made a decision on the nature and design of spring semester Opening Conference. I want to talk with a number of groups, including the Learning Outcomes Team, CIE, and Staff Development Team to get their recommendations. I hope to have a decision by mid-November.
We live in a time of not just change, but transformation. Whether talking about society in general, or the college as a microcosm of society, I think the following is true. We have the technological capability to be more connected than at any other time in history. Yet, we seem to be less connected than any time in recent history. It is far too easy to blast off an email or text without regard to factual basis. It is far easier to use technology to support a position than it is to listen to a colleague and examine our position. It is more comfortable to talk only with people who have a like mind. It is hard to feel uncomfortable. Everyone, close your eyes, breath deep breaths and consider for a moment all the gifts we have in our lives.
I ask each of us to understand the discomfort that accompanies transformation. I ask each of us to learn to embrace today, work to build tomorrow and truly live out the values adopted by the NMC community in 2007. Never forget, it will take all of us to get to the future. It will take all of us to make a difference in our learners’ lives. It will take all of us to make a difference in our community. We have a proud history of service and innovation. I believe this college, this community, more than many others has the will and capacity to continue growing to meet new needs within our world. It is up to us.
Thank you for all you do, have a great semester.
Part I of a coming series
I’m compelled to write to you after what I believe was an ill-informed Forum article in the Record Eagle on July 4, 2015.
First, let me thank the taxpayers of Grand Traverse County and the State of Michigan for supporting Northwestern Michigan College over its 64 year history. Next, thank you to the tens of thousands of learners who have chosen to experience NMC. And lastly, I want to thank all the staff and faculty who have dedicated their energy and passion to changing lives and building our community.
Higher education has changed a lot since I first attended college in 1971. We as a nation have recognized that many more of our citizens need some form of education beyond high school. When I attended, about 20% of high school grads went on to some type of college experience. Today in our region, that number is approaching 80%. With that increase has come the implementation of many services that were not needed nor offered in the past. A constantly growing spate of regulations, reporting and audits face all educational organizations. For those of you who are old enough to remember 1971, we do not live in the same world and our citizens do not have the same expectations.
NMC has made significant investments in learning as it is delivered today and will need to be delivered tomorrow. Investments in technology, in learning coaches, in campus security, in recruiting, in advising, in institutional research that helps us improve student learning, in instructional design, in professional development for faculty and staff, in financial aid management. We have special services for veterans, new and expanded programming including NMC baccalaureate degrees, University Center programs and national accreditation for nursing and other areas. The staff that support these efforts are critical contributors to learner success.
Many colleges and universities during the past 15 years have significantly reduced the number of full time faculty. NMC has not been one of these. In 2001, when I became president here, we had 88 regular career plan faculty and they represented 57% of the direct instructional staff. In 2014 we had 96 regular career plan faculty representing 57% of the direct instructional staff.
Adjunct faculty play an important role in today’s learning environment. They are often practicing professionals who want to give back to their community and profession. They may be retired faculty from other institutions who wish to continue to teach on a limited basis. They may be NMC staff with special qualifications or backgrounds. This group of dedicated individuals is critical to our ability to provide quality learning experiences.
Other learning experiences that our community expects include training in the workplace for businesses and their employees. A robust College for Kids, Life Academy and year round Extended Education programming have all blossomed. Our Dennos Museum Center is a leader in the state and the nation for its work in the area of arts and culture.
NMC makes considerable investments in our facilities. Our taxpayers voted a bond in late 1999 that allowed us to leverage funding to repair and replace long neglected buildings. We promised not to allow that to happen and allocate close to $1.5 million per year in their upkeep.
The notion that any expenditure not directed at full-time faculty is an administration expense is false. It takes all of us and all of these services to assure student success and I thank each and every one of you for all that you do every day.
Timothy J. Nelson, President
Northwestern Michigan College
July 8, 2015
The next article in this series will provide simplified data and information on NMC’s budget.
Dear NMC Community,
This is an update to let you know that we will no longer be investigating a partnership with EDUStaff.
Last week on May 20, the Michigan House of Representatives passed House Bill 4052 which if fully adopted could significantly change the relationship NMC would have with adjunct faculty or supplemental staff employed through EDUStaff. I am not interested in pursuing an approach where NMC could not set wages, conditions of employment, evaluation, and provide professional development resources as it currently does. It appears this legislation could prohibit this.
We first began investigating this option because we thought it had the potential to:
- Save some employees money by offering alternative retirement and health care options.
- Save the college money by reducing the payroll covered by MPSERS. As a reminder, each dollar of covered payroll requires a college payment to the state of between 20 and 26 cents. The current covered payroll requires close to a $600,000 MPSERS payment each year.
- Increase pay rates to those opting for this approach by sharing college savings with them.
This was to be optional for current employees and we had yet to determine whether it would be optional in the future.
Throughout this process we believed it was critical that we keep the high level of service offered here at NMC and that all employees feel part of the campus community. In order to accomplish this, we needed to retain important hiring, wage, supervision and evaluation decisions with our employees. But under the new legislation NMC could lose the ability to decide those issues, and the relationship with those employees would have turned into complete outsourcing. This is not acceptable. It is critically important that NMC continues to have the best team of employees possible to ensure our learners continue to get an exceptional education. It’s also important for everyone to feel valued and heard as we strive toward our common goal of providing lifelong learning opportunities.
We must also ensure that our learners are not unduly burdened by the cost of higher education. As the funding structure for higher education continues to change, we must all keep looking for ways to ensure we are fiscally healthy for years to come. This will cause us to examine alternatives that on their face are uncomfortable. However, it does not remove our responsibility to do so.
I thank those who participated in forums, spoke at the Board meeting and shared perspectives in unit meetings. Thank you for all you do.
Timothy J. Nelson, President
1701 E. Front Street Traverse City, MI
Phone: (231) 995-1010