Several years ago, a colleague told me he and his wife never planned their vacations. They prided themselves in taking a week off, jumping in the car at first chance and setting out – to wherever. I can’t imagine the frustration of going somewhere, anywhere, without a plan to guide the preparation for and outcome of such a trip.
Managing the place we call Johnston Community College brings the same frustrations if, without the knowledge of whom we serve, how we should serve and with what we should serve, we launch into a course of “Let’s just go. How, when or where doesn’t matter.” What business or organization would survive that kind of leadership?
JCC is a very different institution than it was 45 years ago, and so we must be thinking for the future if we plan to have a positive impact on it. Today, about 65 percent of our students are female, 75 percent are 30 years of age or younger, and 40 percent are minorities. About 25 percent are high school students. Overall, 55 percent of our students are in transfer curricula.
I could fill the page with data on our students. But data is worthless unless you take advantage of the information to be ready for the future. What is our data telling JCC it needs to be in the future? Younger students are telling us, “We want a college experience with facilities that accommodate our technology needs, space in which to gather and work, and faster response to everyday issues.” A diverse population is telling us, “We need faculty and staff who can communicate with us, we need counselors to help us plan for our futures, and we need the gender and education/training biases to be traded for a place in which we all can succeed.” A troubled and disadvantaged population is telling us, “We need help with the crises in our lives, we need a safe place to land, a place to live, help with our learning disabilities.” A growing population of both college transfer and technical degree student is telling us, “Jobs require training on 21st century equipment, classroom space needs to be flexible and accommodating of current teaching and learning styles, and learning opportunities need to be offered year-round and just-in-time.”
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In response, JCC is taking seriously the need to be ready for both current and future students. A master plan has indicated several needs related to safety concerns, building repairs, technology upgrades, updated classroom space, gathering venues, appealing campus facilities, and adequate pedestrian and traffic flow.
Changing demographics are requiring the need for additional counselors, disability services, crisis-intervention teams and the expansion of engaging activities such as sporting events, cooperative education and community service.
JCC is at a crossroads. We can do as my friend with his vacations and launch out to anywhere. Or we can use the information at hand and, in the words of Fredrick Law Olmsted, “draw out the genius of the place.” Let’s draw out. Otherwise, who knows where we’ll end up?
David Johnson is president of Johnston Community College.