Timothy J. Nelson, President
October 6, 2017
We are in an exciting academic year here at Northwestern Michigan College. Some of our students are waking up in the new North Hall, one of our newest AQIP teams is finding innovative ways to educate and engage our learners, and the students in our first cohort of 100 commitment scholars are officially Hawk Owls this fall. This is all possible because of the work you do every day and I thank you.
Our world is changing at an ever quickening pace, but together we continue to find new ways to prepare our students to be successful. We must be focused not only on the work we are doing today, but also planning for an uncertain future and creating an environment on campus that is agile enough to adjust to the forces of change. Our multi-year planning process has been an essential element in our effectiveness.
It is critical to keep you informed on many of the initiatives and programs affecting our campus. In this state of the college report, I will provide a detailed overview of where we have been and where we are going. Some of the topics include:
- Fall Opening Picnic
- Students and Enrollment
- Community Engagement
- International Relationships
- Employee Professional Development
- Higher Learning Commission Accreditation
- Leadership and Governance
- Legislative and Regulatory Issues
- Board of Trustees
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. We will continue the small group meetings to provide a more accessible space to discuss questions or concerns related to the state of the college, and appointments for these October meetings have been sent to your calendar.
Fellowship was an important part of our previous opening conference, and last year we hosted an all employee picnic before the start of the fall semester. 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. It was a success last year and an even greater success this year. Thank you to the hundreds of you who joined together for a meal with your colleagues and to welcome our new employees.
Total enrollment this fall is 3,952 students, which generated 42,298 contact hours. We budgeted for a 4.6% decline and ended with an approximately 3.8% decline in contact hours. The major trend influencing enrollment at the college continues to be the improved state of our local economy where older, potential students choose employment over education. This requires 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 out-of-state and international students. The opening of North Hall was an important step to supporting these students from outside the area and all who choose to live on campus.
One reason for the decline in average student age is the combination of dual enrolled and early college enrollment is up from 282 in 2013 to 510 in 2017, bringing the average age of our students to 23.5 years old. Overall, our enrollment of students aged 20 and under has been steady for the last 7 years. However, enrollment declines have been the norm for students 21 and older. As the economy has improved, many of these students have entered or returned to the work force.
As we seek ways 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 way-finding 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, with every new level of regulation and monitoring placing more emphasis on this outcome. While we have made progress over recent years, we have much to do. I am continuing to ask our planning groups to establish additional metrics, which will help us to both succeed and manage our performance. Achieving these goals is directly connected to government support. Financial Aid that NMC students received in 2016-17 totaled over $18 million.
NMC Student Financial Aid Sources
Extended Education Services (EES) has continued to refresh its catalog, pricing models, and preparation 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. This summer marked the 40th anniversary of this program, with our largest class on record – over 1,800. Young student 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. This fall is also the introduction of the new SOAR (Skills, Opportunities, Achievement, Rewards) programming in the EES catalog. SOAR began last year with an award from the Foundation’s Innovation Grant program which allowed development of a pilot project.
Now in its “incubation stage,” SOAR will provide a variety of opportunities for adults with learning challenges and disabilities. 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, as well as 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 a state-wide leader in the use of the Michigan New Jobs Training Program, recognized at the forefront of LEAN programming in the state, and now coordinator of a new stackable credential precision machining program with regional manufacturers. Training Services is net positive in its revenue/expense profile. Below are some specific achievements:
- New Jobs Training Program results
- 577 jobs created with a minimum of 175% times minimum wage (today: $15.58/hr)
- 32 participating employers
- $4,168,435 million of training
- MMTC (Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center) Program eligible employers served by NMC during the last 12 months reported the following results
- 193 increased and retained jobs
- $5,950,000 of increased sales
- $44,700,000 million of retained sales
- Net new investments made $15,734,386 million
Service Learning continues to be another way in which NMC students engage with the community by connecting their career aspirations and global concerns through targeted projects with their instructors.
The International Affairs Forum (IAF) continues to be another example of community engagement. IAF brings the experience of the world to our region through its 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 is a leader in creating global learning experiences for students, faculty and staff. Our implementation of global endorsement is referenced as a model for other community colleges in Michigan. Scott Swan and Brian Sweeney delivered our first modularized courses to students at Yellow River Conservancy Technical Institute this past June, on our way toward completing the first generation of course delivery at the associate level to students interested in construction management and marine surveying. Our team will complete program delivery in March 2018.
Regional and national accreditors have made professional development a prime directive, and NMC will continue to make it a priority for the college. The August learning outcomes professional development days continue to be well attended and beneficial to faculty. Two years ago, the Higher Learning Commission passed new regulations requiring 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 did 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. Last year, we worked with the AQIP Learning Outcomes team co-chairs to expand the fall professional development day in October to include sessions to benefit both faculty and staff. With considerable work from the Center for Instructional Excellence, and the Learning Outcomes team, the event was a resounding success. We will continue that event this fall on October 10 and I encourage you all to participate.
Campus Security installed a number of security upgrades over the summer. New security cameras have been installed on all of our campuses and remote door access for all of the college buildings is currently being installed. These two projects will provide enhanced security for all of our campuses. 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.
The North Hall Residence and Fitness Center opened on time and on budget. The new 140-bed residence hall is 90% full. Rental housing in the region continues to be in short supply. Students coming to us from our region, as well as 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 near completion on a 14,000 sq. ft. addition. 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. This project doubles the gallery space and adds classroom space to the facility. We look forward to enhancing the connection academic classes have with the museum.
Okerstrom Fine Arts Building updates and improvements are coming. In August, the Board of Trustees approved the contract to replace the siding and windows for this building. The work is targeted to be complete by December 2017. Improvements to both restrooms will also be done during FY 2018.
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 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 continue for the West Hall Innovation Center and Library. We were successful in securing State capital outlay funding of approximately $7.5 million. This new facility will include approximately 53,000 sq. ft. of modern learning spaces 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 have been involved in the design process.
Regional accreditation is required for NMC to provide access to federal and state funding for the college and our students. NMC participates in the Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP), one of three pathways offered by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The AQIP pathway includes an added emphasis on helping institutions achieve continuous quality improvement. The eight year AQIP cycle requires the submission of our Systems Portfolio in November 2017 and the official campus site visit in March 2019. Our last accreditation cycle in 2011 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 has initiatives in place to address the concerns identified by the HLC peer reviewers for strategic challenges (1) and (3). For strategic challenge (1), NMC identified a strategic goal in the FY15-FY18 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 completed in June 2017. Among the project’s accomplishments were providing professional development in the area of learning outcomes to the faculty and teaching staff and the comprehensive review and revision of all our course outcomes. The project will transition to an Assessment Team in fall 2017 in order to continue the continuous improvement initiative related to learning outcomes. For strategic challenge (3), NMC chartered an AQIP action project in 2012, Enhancing Developmental Education. The team strategically analyzed, innovated, and improved developmental education at NMC which began with assessing and reviewing the college’s data, in the context of state and national data, in order to help identify evidence-based practices. This resulted in the implementation of several successful initiatives in developmental English and math, which ended the formal project in 2015.
NMC continues to work through our continuous improvement cycle for strategic challenges (2) and (4). For strategic challenge (2), the Office of Research, Planning, & Effectiveness (ORPE), initiated several changes in order to expand the College’s awareness, accessibility, and use of data. The 2011 AQIP Project, Enhancing Employee Communication and Collaboration, resulted in significant changes which included providing departments across campus the capability to use the NMC Intranet (employee site) to share information. More recently, ORPE has made significant improvements to the ORPE intranet page. By listening to faculty and staff data needs (i.e., metrics, targets, and goals), ORPE identified and incorporated changes in order to expand institutional awareness and increase accessibility of data. Additionally, in collaboration with the President’s Council (PC), ORPE has identified a reporting process in which to share qualitative information with faculty and staff. Based upon the Cultivating a Connected Community AQIP Project, the reporting process successfully addresses one way in which we communicate. For strategic challenge (4), the College examined and assessed our peer benchmarking process. Historically, peer benchmarks used by the College included national and state-level metrics. The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), National Community College Benchmark Project (NCCBP), Perkins Core Indicators, and Michigan’s Education Dashboard (Mi Dashboard) provide peer comparisons at varying degrees. However, not all data are comparable. For example, IPEDS is the most used and accessible nationally recognized organization that provides comparable data on graduation rates and related metrics. Although improvements have been made to data collection processes in IPEDS, there is still somewhat limited coverage of community colleges. In 2014, NMC established membership with the Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA), a robust peer benchmarking initiative, which is now a part of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). NMC recognizes that existing accountability measures in higher education do not provide an adequate measure of our mission. The VFA provides community colleges with significantly improved ability to assess performance, identify areas for improvement, and reaffirm a commitment to our academic mission.
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.
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. In the meantime, I have asked employee groups to remain intact as they continue their participation and representation on councils, committees and taskforces.
An AQIP project was established in May 2017 to review and clarify shared governance at NMC. I look forward to their recommendations.
Last year we built the budget on moderately increasing revenue, reducing cost, and shifting priorities. The budget reductions included a $600,000 reduction in salary expenses, COAT budget was reinstated at $250,000 and professional development remains at the 2016 level. The college offered a voluntary separation plan to faculty and staff in order to try to reach the goal of reduction in salary expenses. The college accepted six faculty applications and five staff applications. This strategy was used to reduce personnel costs in an environment of declining enrollment. We will continue to look for ways to reduce overall expenses by shifting priorities. 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.
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 $600,000 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. The budget will continue to evolve. I ask you to stay engaged, ask questions, and offer suggestions.
NMC Foundation and Resource Development
Five 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 continue to hear more about this exciting effort on the part of our Foundation, its volunteers and employees and learn how you can be engaged. Funding for this effort is shared by the Foundation and the college’s strategic fund, fund for transformation and reserves.
With changes in Lansing and Washington, as a result of the 2016 elections, we have continued to engage and inform our state and federal elected officials, some of whom are new to office, about the breadth of work that we are involved in here at NMC, as well as some of the challenges that we face.
So far this year, we hosted new and returning legislators on campus to talk about the state budget and our 21st Century Innovation Center, met one-on-one with new legislators to give them a Community College 101, participated in the Michigan Community College Association Legislative Day, hosted a Lunch and Learn in Lansing to discuss the need for upgrades to the Michigan Transfer Network, met with lawmakers in Washington, DC, to talk about federal budget priorities, healthcare and immigration issues, and hosted U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow on campus for a workforce development roundtable discussion.
As a result, we have found success in raising awareness about how NMC is continuously transforming the learning experience and its global relevance to those we serve through innovation, agility and thoughtful risk-taking. We have also found success through specific actions taken by the Michigan legislature through their fiscal year 2018 budget process. With Governor Snyder’s signature, this legislation finalized several important items for NMC.
The budget spends $16.6 billion on school, colleges and universities. It also includes final approval for NMC’s multi-million dollar 21st Century Innovation Center project, a slight 2% increase in our state funding formula allocation and a $1 million dollar investment in the Michigan Transfer Network (MTN) to modernize the MTN website and increase accessibility to information about college and university credit transfers.
The inclusion of these priorities for NMC and community colleges statewide would not have been possible were it not for the leadership of our elected officials, and I would like to personally thank those leaders who represent us in Northern Michigan including Representative Inman, Senator Schmidt and Senator Booher.
However our work is not done, and as legislators return from their summer recess period, we know that important issues for community colleges will once again be on the agenda. This includes issues such as:
- A debate over immigration reform in the wake of the Trump Administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
- A need to pass a federal budget to fund the federal government for fiscal year 2018
- A need to reauthorize the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act which provides approximately $230,000 in annual support to NMC
- A renewed debate over tax policy and credits in Lansing that could have an adverse impact on Michigan’s budget, which has the potential to harm community colleges
- The need for workforce data legislation that would give community colleges needed information about learner success, information that we are increasingly being expected to have as a requirement for funding and evaluation
We will also be looking ahead to next year as the state once again begins deliberations on the state budget and we will work hard to make sure our legislators are educated on the importance of support for community colleges.
The NMC Board of Trustees is a volunteer body that continues to do critical work for the future of the college and community. The November 2016 election brought a new trustee, Michael Estes, to the NMC Board. Incumbent trustee Chris Bott, who was previously appointed to fill a vacancy on the Board in April 2015, was also elected to a full six-year term. Shortly after the election, former trustee Steven Rawlings resigned and the Board appointed the next election vote getter, who was Rachel Johnson. In June, former Trustee Marilyn Gordon Dresser resigned and the Board voted to appoint Janie McNabb to fill her seat.
All three new trustees have a strong interest in the college and have brought a renewed energy to the Board. They are each demonstrating a thoughtful and thorough approach to their role as trustee and we look forward to their work for our college.
Rachel and Janie will serve until the next election in November 2018 when voters will determine who will fill the remainder of their predecessors’ terms, which both expire December 31, 2020. They will be eligible to run for those two-year terms or any other open trustee term on the ballot in November 2018.
NMC is a connector, or the Nexus, as you have seen in the sculpture of the same name by the Health Science building and our new magazine that highlights our successes. We connect our learners to the world, our campus to the community and to each other through a networked workforce. It remains my goal to work with others to create and innovate for the benefit of our learners and our communities. I believe innovation occurs when two or more dissimilar people or organizations collide. So let’s collide! Together we are doing incredible work. Our learners, our communities and the world will benefit from what we have achieved and what we will continue to achieve together.
Thank you for all you do to keep learning at the center. Have a great semester!