Smithfield: Opinion

College receives ‘excellent’ news

Surprises are nice. Surprises that come after hard work are even nicer.

A couple of weeks ago, a note came in the mail. “Greetings!” it said. “I am delighted to inform you that your community college has been selected as one of only 150 nationally to be eligible for the fourth $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.”

Without seeking this specific recognition, JCC was selected from more than 1,000 community colleges across the nation by the Aspen Institute as a Top 150 Excellent Community College. Surprised? Yes, but not really. JCC has expressed over 45 years of excellence in Johnston County.

Upon my arrival at JCC in 2009, I discovered an institution well founded and traditionally structured, along with a great deal of talk about student access. Student success, however, was less emphasized. Even less emphasized was discussion about what happened in the middle of access to success. We held conversations around placing students at the heart of the completion agenda. This required us to analyze what happened along the journey of access, completion and, ultimately, job placement or college transfer.

Even before the national completion agenda gained popularity, JCC began to organize itself in ways that would eliminate barriers and have direct causal effect on student success. We came to realize there was nothing any employee of the college did that did not have an impact on student learning. Whether an individual was responsible for campus aesthetics, classroom comfort, advising, tutoring, business transactions or instruction, everything had an impact on student learning. Understanding that mantra set the stage for creating a vision for the college now fondly known as the One College Philosophy. Over the past several years, JCC broke the bonds of tradition and now sees itself as one college, focused as a single unit, with one purpose – student success.

No longer were we nibbling around the edges of change but diving into the messy middle on behalf of students. We consolidated all instruction into one unit, whether curriculum or continuing education, credit or non-credit. We merged teaching and administration as appropriate, allowing for stackable credentials and program development based on current employment demands. Estranged functions of the college were brought into a one-stop fashion of service delivery, reducing student frustration and promoting positive customer service.

Students were compelled to agree to receive a degree with the thought that intention to graduate was a strong motivation to succeed. Academic pathways to success were created to reduce distractions to completion. An Academic Planning Center was implemented. Now a Career Development Center is being planned to accommodate career planning and goal attainment.

Why should JCC be considered as a finalist for the Aspen Prize? Because JCC is an excellent community college, and according to Aspen, our student success data show it.

Finally, don’t forget to vote March 15. Your support of the state bond referendum can help JCC with an additional $3.7 million in much-needed repairs and renovations. An excellent institution requires excellent facilities.

David N. Johnson is president of Johnston Community College.