Recently, the Illinois Central College board of trustees approved the strategic goals for the next few years for the college. A visiting member of the press, in a whisper loud enough to be heard by ICC staff, deemed the goals “administrative nonsense.” (I’ve cleaned up the language for this article.) This kind of skepticism is to be expected and actually frames the challenge of the goals as more urgent than ever. All organizations, not just ICC, have lived through “flavor of the month” programs and goals—the business literature boasts a high failure rate for goals and programs. So the snide remark by the visitor isn’t totally unfounded and indeed sharpens ICC’s need to “put its money where its mouth is” on the goals.
For the record, the goals ICC has chosen aren’t necessarily easy goals. The business and industry communities, our students, and our staff all need to know that these goals are the targets that judge our success or failure. They’re broadly grouped in four areas: student learning, outreach, service, and finance.
Let’s begin with student learning. Community colleges for a long time have faced the challenge of people “dropping in” for college and “opting out.” Logic includes personal reasons, financial challenges, and that many are filling in gaps of four-year programs with community college coursework. Nonetheless, ICC thinks it’s important to provide programs, services, and advising that helps students finish school. Our goals include increasing the degree and completion rate over the next three years, focusing on and helping students achieve educational goals that aren’t degree/certificate-related, and increasing the percentage of students who find jobs in related fields after college, the success rate of minority students in college, and the success rate for all students who enroll in ICC.
Outreach involves doing more for our community in terms of learning. For example, ICC would like to attract more people who need professional and career training over the next three years. Because ICC values lifelong learning and its mission is to be a learning resource for the community, we also want to see more people enjoy leisure, recreational, and enrichment classes that aren’t credit based. Finally, in a commitment to diversity, ICC wants to increase the number of minority students who enroll.
The Disney enterprises believe an organization’s real competition isn’t just direct competitors. They say whoever customers compare you to are your competitors, regardless of whether they’re in the same business as you. ICC recognizes that students and the community are exposed to virtually the best practices in customer service daily. In recognition of such competition, ICC has embraced a focus on customer service. In the next three years, ICC hopes to exceed the national averages in a majority of student satisfaction measures. Additionally, through the development of cross-functional ties, ICC expects to achieve greater intra- and interdepartmental cooperation. Finally, ICC will also concentrate on increasing the diversity of faculty, staff, and administration over the next three years.
A local hospital administrator used to say, “No margin, no mission.” ICC’s last area of focus is on the finances of the college. Without a healthy financial state, the other three strategic goals can’t be met. ICC is committed to holding the operating unit cost to the growth in the CPI and/or the growth in enrollment. In other words, we’ll live within our means, but still deliver on student learning and outreach.
Are these measures and goals administrative nonsense? Well, I suppose they can be if those of us at ICC simply use them as window dressing. But the board of trustees has put their stamp of approval on these goals. They’ve sent a clear signal to the administration and the staff of ICC that these goals are serious, and that the board expects performance based on these goals. While the outsider looking in may see these measures as fluff, I can assure our community, our college, and especially our students that these are anything but. These are our marching orders for the next three years, and we take them very, very seriously—our community should, too. And they should hold our feet to the fire on these goals. If we haven’t made progress after three years, then the pronouncement of “administrative nonsense” will be fair—but not until then. IBI