My first year as President of Northeast State Community College confirmed my first impressions of the college, our faculty and staff, and our students. I experienced first-hand the College’s commitment to excellence and our students’ commitment to succeeding in college. It is my priority to make Northeast State the best place to learn and work!
Our major emphasis is to provide the highest quality, regionally-based program to meet the needs of economic and workforce development. I initiated a “Think-Tank” group early on to review college data, regional demographics, and workforce and economic trends for the future. From this we will develop a program master plan and a college facilities master plan.
Colleges face an increasing need from students and narrowing resources from traditional funding sources. Our task was already daunting - Northeast State receives the lowest per-student dollar share of the state of Tennessee’s higher education appropriation, yet we have the highest completion rates of any community college in the state.
Higher education best serves students when it is responsive to their needs. We began last fall talking to students about what they needed to improve their access to college. What we discovered was a need for flexibility of course offerings, better financial aid information and services, and more communication about college services. I started the year in fall 2009 with focus groups discussions, meeting with students, faculty, staff, foundation board members, and community leaders. This information helped in creating strategies for improvement, hiring critical personnel, budget priority development, and expansion of our off campus teaching sites.
Northeast State’s fall 2009 enrollment soared 15 percent from the previous year to more than 6,270 students. This fall marked our 10th increase in enrollment in 11 years. Our annual headcount surpassed the 8,000 mark! The College conferred a record 911 degrees and certificates at our spring commencement. Clearly, Northeast State is a destination of choice for students.
We are piloting a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) school this fall at Dobyns-Bennett High School, and making plans for Early College implementation next fall. Our goal is to have a STEM school and Early College at each of our five teaching sites.
Funds provided through the economic stimulus package of 2009-10 were invested in programs and services that would save money, improve services or grow more revenue. Our Web site gets a makeover this year to better serve students, our campus phone system is being replaced, and we are investing in alternative energy resources.
Distance learning exemplifies delivering college courses to students at their convenience while they manage school, work, and family. Northeast State initiated a pilot program with four high schools in our service region to establish Interactive Television (ITV) technology in high school classrooms. ITV takes the course to the students in real-time interaction with faculty and fellow classmates. Northeast State uses ITV in Carter, Johnson, and Unicoi counties – three of the most rural counties in Tennessee – to deliver college courses to high school students.
I have visited each of these new ITV classrooms where we can provide at least one year of college credits for all high school students in the region. We funded our ITV expansion with stimulus dollars. This investment in technology gives us a long-term distance education delivery medium for the future.
The Northeast State at Elizabethton teaching site will undergo a transformation this summer after enrollment increased 37 percent last fall. We will more than double site’s classroom space to accommodate more new students. Academic courses for health-related professions, college parallel, and business curricula will be taught there this fall. We also hope to help build a strong foundation for the new economy by establishing a learning site for entrepreneurship and small business management/support at Elizabethton.
The Kingsport Center for Higher Education (KCHE) surpassed all expectations of enrollment in its first full year of operation. KCHE hosts academic programs from Northeast State, the University of Tennessee, King College, Milligan College, and Lincoln Memorial University. The Kingsport Center for Higher Education Consortium, the consortium directors (presidents of the five colleges) will meet this summer for a strategic planning session to assess our progress and ideas for future improvement.
The Northeast State Foundation developed new relationships with individuals and businesses this year to boost scholarship opportunities for students. We are also developing a grant proposal for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and working with public schools on the Race to the Top Initiative. It is my personal goal to create scholarships for each program on campus and endowments to support faculty salaries and professional development.
One of our greatest resources is the Wellmont Regional Center for Performing Arts (RCPA). Our goal is to have a self-supporting center, with several events to sponsor management of the theatre and provide scholarship funding for students. A full-time theatre manager takes the reins on July 1, as the College expands the capabilities of the RCPA. Our vision is to expand usage from across the area and make it a showcase for local, regional, and national talent and cultural activities and as a true “community” center.
Surviving tough times requires discipline and adaptability. Students are facing their greatest obstacles in decades to attend college and yet, they are adapting to make it possible. We must employ all our resources to ensure that opportunities for academic freedom are available to them.
The community college has democratized education, taking students wherever they are and moving them forward. As Malcolm Gladwell states in his book, Outliers, it is about time and opportunity. Our goal is to make it easy for them to walk through the open door, but provide a rigorous educational experience so they can be the best they can be in their field of study.
Dr. Janice Gilliam
President, Northeast State Community College