GatorCast Ep. 22: Reshaping the Future - Overcoming Challenges in Times of Change (Part 2)
By College Relations and the Office of the President, October 14, 2020
President Johnson: Welcome to Gator Cast, the official podcast of Green River College. Where we share conversations with the community about topics that are relevant to you. I'm Suzanne Johnson, president of the college. My guest today is Randy Van Wagoner. Who serves as the president for Mohawk Valley Community College. And is the author of "Competing on Culture, Driving Change in Community Colleges." This is part two of my conversation with Randy. If you haven't had a chance to listen to part one, you might wanna hop off and listen to that before you jump in. But if not enjoy part two of our conversation with Randy Van Wagoner, as we discuss the role of community colleges and the drive for change.
President Johnson: It's interesting to now be part of a guided pathways state and have that supported by the legislature. Every institution has received monies from our legislature. And for the listeners here in New York, community colleges actually have three sources of revenue, essentially state funding, and the local County funding, as well as student tuition here in Washington. It is two venues of revenue, essentially student tuition and state funding. And so in the context of achieving the dream and the sequence that your college went through, would you say that achieving the dream helped your college embrace and accelerate in guided pathways or didn't have any connection to--
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Pretty consistent in saying and telling people that we would not have made the changes we made in guided pathways in both in AACC and at the state level, we've gotten feedback from coaches and external related people associated guided pathways that wow, you made a lot of progress in a very short amount of time. How did you? And I say if we hadn't spent three years in achieving the dream beforehand, we would not have been able to go as far and as fast as we did with guided pathways, because achieving the dream gave us a chance to kinda, I hate to use the phrase, but kinda muck around and try some things and fail and get comfortable with that type of prototyping and recognizing it wasn't gonna be perfect. So we made big changes in developmental education and developmental math and developmental English. And with zero very little impact on student success. We tried some things to support. We've created these tool kits, a virtual tool kits for, to help improve online success rates. And they didn't make a very big difference. Our completion coaches did amazing work and we implemented with starfish and we tried some things and our retention numbers really didn't move. And it's man, just banging our head against the wall. It's just so hard. And as we got into guided pathways, we were able to go through the guided pathways institutes and things in our math and English faculty. This past fall I went to co-requisite model, multiple measures of basic skills assessments. And we combined our new student advisors and our completion coaches into a single job title of student support advisor to create a case management system. So we have about a 425 student to one SSA ratio. So students have a single point of contact for their entire time here. Which all of those pieces, we would not have even dreamed of three years ago.
President Johnson: That's very interesting. So it sounds to me like achieving the dreams experience kind of helped the institution lay the foundation for the guided pathways work that you then went into.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Very much sense.
President Johnson: The advising is such a key feature in the context of guided pathways. And it's going to be interesting to see, I'm excited to see the work of our staff and faculty around guided pathways. Like I said, it's very early on in, in the context of our adoption and the education and information dissemination across the college in terms of guided pathways. I mean, it's sort of an old news story to many institutions, guided pathways has been around for, well called different things, but guided pathways and its terminology I think has been around for about 10 years or so. Give or take a few. And.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Yeah, 'cause the book came out in 2015 and the research that went into the book. So yeah, you're right by 10 years.
President Johnson: Yeah. And so it's just, it's an interesting opportunity to be able to ask that I had forgotten that your institution had gone through a number of years of conversation around achieving the dream. I think we were in that same kind of a journey and it was helpful in terms of getting the institution comfortable and in that mode of trying things out and really looking at things systematically.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: I think of it as slowing down to speed up.
President Johnson: Yeah.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Slowing down, having those important conversations on the front end will allow an organization to speed up or certainly a college in particular in academia to be able to speed up because you have more engagement and more understanding of that context for change. Versus if it were to be a top down mandate flip the switch, you won't go very fast 'cause you're gonna be spending so much time trying to explain the unpopular decision.
President Johnson: Exactly. And for all our listeners, in case you haven't noticed top down doesn't work, I know that. About any sort of thing, but how to bring the information and how to disseminate information to people so that they can make a well informed decision, right? And that I think I can help a lot with, but you're absolutely right. Any sort of mandates internal top down or external are not successful and good ideas can come from everywhere, right? Even at the top or the middle or the bottom. And that's how we manage those ideas and possibilities in terms of information, education, I guess that makes all the cultural difference. I'm reminded of that phrase where it says, and I'm probably gonna get it wrong, but nothing ever seems to change from day to day. But when you look back, everything's different.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Yeah. I'm a big fan of like one big thing. So like our governance system, rather than trying to overhaul our entire governance system, if we just made one big change each year, that added value and refined our governance system a little bit, holy God, after 10 years, you've made 10 big changes and you've transformed your governance system. And suddenly instead of lamenting all the governance, it's just not... It's unhelpful, governance can actually serve as a catalyst organizational change. 'Cause you got clear roles, responsibilities and strength.
President Johnson: That's the whole point, right? It should be a helpful moving's dynamics.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: That's right. And you don't wanna put everything to a vote or else the place will just slow down to a crawl, but transformational decisions like achieving the dream and guided pathways, those are bigger conversations that need to be held in. And I... Some presidents might disagree but I wanted them to go through our governance system so we we'd have a vote.
President Johnson: Absolutely. And I think we've honored that process thus far and will continue to, in case anybody's wondering. Let me revisit this 13 years of presidency and ask a question about priorities. When you first came to that position, what would you say your top priorities were in your role as president and what are the top priorities now?
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Yeah, interesting. At a very high level, I would say those priorities, honestly haven't changed. The number one priority has been tending to the culture and the people who work here, all the Gallup research of the more engaged and positive the people who work here are, the more engaged and positive experience the students will have. So Peter Drucker culture eats strategy for breakfast, no matter what strategies I would put forth, if I wasn't paying attention to culture, the strategies didn't matter. So paying attention to culture. And then as a community college, the student success comes first and then community connections are close second with that. So
President Johnson: I'm feeling better, making, of course I'm asking these questions to do a checklist, to see how I'm measuring against you, Randy. And so, so far so good.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Well thank you.
President Johnson: And you say those three culture focusing on student success and community relationships, community outreach, and your role as president have remained the same whether year one or year 13.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Yeah. And they just... As priorities they are. And then of course, how you pursue them have different pieces to them. And Roy Church, the long time president Lorain community college in Ohio, when I asked him, what was secret to his success of 29 years, I think it was about year 15 when I got this job and I called him and was looking forward to seeing him at the, excuse me, the next strategic rise in network meeting. And he said, he wasn't going to be able to make it 'cause he's so busy. And I'm like, man, you're 15. You should be cruisy. He said I'm busier now than I was when I started. And I said, why is that? And he said, well, the first five to 10 years, I just kept showing up to things in the community and telling the college story and letting people know what the college had to offer and--
President Johnson: Yes. In case people wonder what I'll do when I'm not in my office. That's exactly it right there.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: And good news. And just trying to let people know we're open to partnership and I tried not to force things and I just listened closely and just let people know we were here and we had amazing faculty and staff and could do some really cool things through partnership to leverage resources. And he said in years, 10 to 15, and I mean, year 13 years 10 to 15, people in the community were coming to him with ideas of how they could partner with the college with just big ideas and people and he felt more confident in years, 10 to 15 of prompting new discussions to explore possibilities. And people were more open to partnership like that. And again, the community flywheel kind of took off after that time. So the community connection has a very different feel to it now than it did even in my first 10 years. 'Cause I took that to heart, listening to him and took that advice and have tried to pursue that same tack of early on just being present and listening and open. And then now really putting some cool together to create some neat things.
President Johnson: Yeah. I'm seeing parallels and in the three years I've been here and I guess maybe our service area, we might be on a little accelerated pace, but I think we're getting in a good place where, we do have community outreach back to us now in the context of ideas and partnerships. So maybe we're on a little faster trajectory, but I think.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Yeah we are up here people in are not South Seattle, you know?
President Johnson: Yeah, that's true. Well, you have to be careful, we're all very proud of our city independence out here. So we are in the Southern suburban zone of the city of Seattle, but we like to be proud of our city titles as well. But I'm really struck by the consistency of the priorities and what you said in terms of, how you might pursue these priorities, being culture, student success, community relationships, how they're pursued has changed and in various ways. And it reminds me of one of the first conversations I had with our board of trustees here at the college wonderful group of dedicated community members. And they asked me that first summer before the academic year had begun, what will be my priorities coming into the college? And I said, okay, top three priorities, culture, number two culture.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Yeah.
President Johnson: And number three culture. And of course, I delineated, my responsibilities in the context of community outreach and so on, but just knowing how important it is to... We talk about a culture of caring here and a culture of belonging here at the college for our students. But it has to be established with all the, all of those that work here, right? I mean, students, we are the culture that the students come in and out of and the students can sense. It's kinda like, kids and parents, right? You might be outside the house, not hearing anything going on in the house, you're out playing you come into the house. You can sense energy if the parents have had a fight, been quarrelsome and kind of agitated with each other, you can sense it. Nobody has to say anything. But you can feel it. And so focusing on culture as a college, or we can just say, as an organization, been reading and listening to a lot of Simon Sonic have been for years, but recently revisiting his, presentations and writings and so essential, right? So essential to our success is what we can help support and encourage and build in our roles. And our limited capacity within our roles of building a belonging, caring culture for all that work at our institutions and what impact that has for our students, because we are the culture students come in and out of. What are some of the biggest impacts that you think you've had in 13 years in terms of building culture at your college?
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Yeah I think, early on, for me, it's professional development and employee recognition are two things that some people may not from where they sit in the organization may not see them as significant as I do from where I sit in the organization, but putting in place a new employee orientation that wasn't in place when I arrived to help with onboarding. When I arrived, there was a morale committee here and I asked them, why did they exist? And they said, we're not really sure, everybody says morale is bad. So we were asked to fix it, but we don't know how. And I said, what do you think?
President Johnson: Well okay morale.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: A morale committee there you have it. And I said, what do you think is at the core of this? And they came to this notion of recognition. So I changed the title of the group and ask them to be an employee recognition design team, and look at our system of recognition, which we had, the State University of New York chancellor's awards, which were mostly for teaching. And I think one for classified service and maybe an administrative professional role for administrators. And I gave them three names of three colleges from around the country that I wanted them to look at. And they took three colleges within Sunni and asked them, how do they recognize their faculty and staff? And they came up with these wonderful ideas of how to recognize faculty and staff with various awards and recognition. And we didn't have, they used to have a holiday party or Christmas party, and then it was a holiday party. And then it wasn't a party at all. 'Cause nobody knew what to call it, that kind of thing. So they recommended having a celebration of success at the end of each semester for faculty and staff to just gather informally and socially on campus at the end of a particular Workday and ended up doing basket raffles, departments would do basket raffles that everybody could participate in and all the money would go to either a local charity or then now it goes to our college community connection program that oversees our pantry on both our campuses. And so recognition was important. And then growing professional development, it was fun. In the early years, we would spend a fair amount of money on speakers to come in. We would pay speakers to come in, to present, whether it be not just plenaries, but we'd even spend money to have them come in and do workshops. And then now we have August, January and May two days each time, and we have more presentations of faculty and staff, more faculty and staff wanting to present than we have slots.
President Johnson: That's wonderful.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: And very, almost no external people coming in at this point, 'cause there's so much to learn from each other. So that's really a powerful artifact, I think, within the culture.
President Johnson: Well, for all of our staff and faculty listeners, I think you'll find that some of the things that Randy has shared, and we did not plan this ahead. I think you'll recognize that we've been working on here at Green River. And if you heard anything that Randy just shared that you think is a great idea, please circle back to me and we'll get the right people working on that. And we can always pursue some of these ideas that he's just shared out that we might not have thought of already for us.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Yeah. And some of them are in the, one of the appendices in the back of my book around, I think they're like 16, maybe even 20 different ideas of, from different colleges that I picked up about how to increase the interconnectivity among faculty and staff on campus to create these kind of chances for creative collisions around campus. 'Cause that's where the big ideas come from is people hatching their, Steven Johnson says hatching their notions and merging them. And that's where good ideas come from as--
President Johnson: Speaking of the cross collaboration and getting people from different worlds, with opportunities to convene. And the other thing I love in terms of what you just shared is in terms of the appendices, what are the appendices in your book? It was ideas that you collected from other institutions. I am always up for shameless stealing of good ideas. So I'm just glad that you've acknowledged that you do that as well.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Completely.
President Johnson: So thanks for the honesty there. If you were asked, shifting gears here a little bit, what the greatest challenges are that you face in your role, I guess your 13 is a bit different, but what are the greatest challenges you're facing in your role now?
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: I think about that one that comes to mind that from day one, till probably the day I retire, we'll be managing the paradox between having a sense of urgency and meaning patient.
President Johnson: Can you please tell me how to do that?
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: I'm still working on it.
President Johnson: It's I feel better. Maybe that'll help some of our--
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: It's like maybe on Monday and Tuesday you feel really urgent and you push everybody to get moving faster and then they pushed back on Wednesday and Thursday and Friday you're a little more patient. I don't know how it works.
President Johnson: Well, that was my week, this week.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Exactly. And then more recently, priorities, certainly post recession, enrollment declines in upstate New York enrollment declines are a challenge.
President Johnson: We have them in our state too. We're fortunate where we're located, but it's absolutely an issue within our state.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Yeah, so multi-year budgeting. And how do you maintain a mindset of abundance in the middle of so many challenges? And then the third one is managing the pace and the scale of change as we've gotten into guided pathways that whew guided pathways, when you, if you really follow the research and the framework, the more you can do simultaneously, the more integrated all of your systems will be.
President Johnson: Exactly.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: And when you lay it all out. Some of these things would take one to two years to make any progress on just in isolation. But some of it, you could do eight to 10 things all at once, have major system overhaul all at once. That, and you're doing that at a time when just the amount of stress that people are bringing in from their daily lives, walking through the door every day, as we've surfaced and begun to recognize the, how personal lives impact the success of our students in the classroom. I think it's important as leaders to increasingly surface and recognize the impact of personal lives of our faculty and staff and how that--
President Johnson: Yeah, absolutely.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Those circumstances can impact. Everybody's got stuff. And it's really easy as a leader to get so focused on the problems and the solutions and the initiatives, and just getting driving ahead on that stuff. Without recognizing that the person across the table, was going through a divorce or just got diagnosed with a chronic condition and just kid child issues and just unbelievable stuff that people have to come generally are compartmentalizing in order to do their best work. And so managing individual stress and managing organizational stress simultaneously is a tremendous challenge.
President Johnson: Sure. And true confession here, you did visit our college the summer. I was so delighted to be able to have you be our keynote, for our administrative retreat of about 70 administrative leaders here we have on campus. And you're also able to spend time with our board of trustees and the exec team.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Yeah, it was .
President Johnson: Yeah it great fun to have you. And here's something I don't think I've shared with you until now. One of the videos actually, I totally, and shamelessly stole two fantastic video ideas that you had in your presentation for the administrative retreat. And one of the video clips was the people who are stuck on the escalator.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Oh great, yes.
President Johnson: Yeah. And the other though was the video that you had used from the healthcare system.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Clinic.
President Johnson: Video and--
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: I got both of those from idol and car. So as amazing leadership mentor of so many around the country. And you taken it from me. I took it from her, it's all good.
President Johnson: Yeah. And so this particular video really resonate. I used it in my series of college address this fall. So I felt like, in terms our three falls together, the first fall was really here. Here I am, right? Introducing myself and then spending the year on student data. And then last year was really structured on our processes and how we do things and began the conversation, which we continue this year in terms of how to create an integrated planning and governance system here at the institution. And so this year, I wanted to focus on our culture in particular. Although I think we have talked about culture, throughout the time together, but we focused on at the state of the college, abundance mindset of appreciative inquiry and grace and shared with the college it's time. Well, I think you're expecting me to talk about student data. I'll talk about how many cranes are in Seattle in the context of the building and what that means in terms of economic boom and so on. I said, but really, we know the data, we know what's happening in our communities. We know the opportunities that we have. And so what do we need to do as a group in terms of our culture and how we treat each other to create an environment where we can do our best work for our students and that video of the healthcare organization really resonated, I think with people quite a lot. And it's so easy to forget, right? You're frustrated, you're aggravated about things and no matter what our title or position or what office or division we're working in, we're all human beings. And we come into our offices every day with, different struggles and challenges, and we're all probably doing the best we can.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: So true.
President Johnson: Yeah. So with that as a foundation, let's talk about community colleges and the imperative that we have in our current time and what's ahead in the future. I mean, you're in New York, I'm out here in Washington, we've got other guests this season that are scattered all throughout the country. And we're finding lots of themes regardless of what state we're in, in terms of community colleges and our needs and our importance and imperative. So if I were to ask you, what are the imperatives for community colleges right now and how you see that moving in our future?
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Yeah.
President Johnson: What would you say?
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Yeah, I think higher education in the country, some would argue otherwise. But if I were to say that the higher education system in America is not doing its job, I would... My number one piece of data would be that we have over 7 million job openings going unfilled across the country. And we have six and a half million unemployed people. And another 9 million underemployed with which means they have they're working in jobs that require less than the credentials that they do have. So they're underemployed. They should be employed in better paying jobs. That means that our higher education system is not aligned with our workforce system, which you could argue neither our systems. And so that is allowing, and community colleges are the ones to stay connected to where that open entry access point opportunity for all America's democracy's colleges as we've been called for so long. And yet given the technological platforms that are out there, internet based and otherwise the pace of acceleration, there are new entrance into the higher education space. That kinda challenges some of our fundamental assumptions that we've been comfortably ignoring for years. And I think that's gonna challenge our colleges greatly. So a major imperative is to figure out how our external environment is changing and how our colleges and our faculty and staff individually remain relevant.
President Johnson: So let's talk a little bit about more about this what's happening in our external environment.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Yeah, learning is becoming unbundled. It's not our tight 15 week semester classes. You think of just teenagers today, accessing four minute videos on YouTube to learn just about anything. You look at the massive open online courses, the MOOCs of edX and Coursera and Udacity, Udemy, the Academy of you, these major platforms with millions of people accessing content and higher education, traditional higher education, we could say, well, we don't have to pay attention to them because they're not accredited or they don't have the standard quality that college traditional colleges have. Employers really aren't caring, increasingly caring less and less about that. They want skills. And if someone can learn a skill through a massive open online course for free or for low price under $100 or so, or even under $100,000 they're probably gonna get the job 'cause when they're over 7 million vacancies, employers are gonna hire who, who can do the job.
President Johnson: So you just listed a variety of outside. He sort of, I guess, using some traditional academic language, e-learning platforms and startups that are happening out there, that I'm not sure all of our listeners are familiar with. So please go on. And I mean, after the podcast, of course, but do some googling and see what's happening with edX and Coursera and so on. If I'm not mistaken, Randy, some of the courses let's talk about Coursera for a second. My understanding is, they're able to provide sort of like, undergraduate lower division transfer sorts of courses, like a psychology 101 or sociology 101 for a very small amount of money. And are you saying that these courses are then accepted by other institutions in terms of transfer credits? Are they finding other ways to take this course work and course completion onto other schools I'll put in quotations as transfer credits? Just wondering what's happening there.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Depending, Udacity, edX and Coursera, they all have different approaches to this and different university partners. Arizona State is in several of these spaces. For example, well known colleges and universities. Many of those courses on those, on the MOOCs are not intended to transfer, but an entity like straighterline.com, they openly state that they're looking to disrupt the market based on assumptions. Many community colleges will charge an extra fee for online courses and straighterline.com begs the question to Why would you charge a fee if it's online and there are no facility costs and there's nothing extra that comes with online. So why charge a fee? So they took the 50, according to Peter Smith's book of "Free Range Learning." He did--
President Johnson: which I recommend for all of our listeners "Free Range Learning."
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: And he looked into straighterline.com and interviewed the founder. And the founder was wanting to take the 50 most transferable courses and offer them through partner accredited institutions at low cost. So if you were to go on straighterline.com among the 135 accredited colleges and universities, you would find psychology 101 intro to psychology. You might find that there for $79 and 99 cents for a three credit class, and here we're evaluating this because of those 135 colleges on straighterline.com, most of our faculty and staff have never heard of about 130 of them. So it was kind of beg the question a little bit, but of the five that we do know, we know them very well. So it's not to say that we need to accept all 135 transfer credits from all 135. And we might direct our students to take classes from the five that we do know, for example. So it's gonna change the way in which we think about transfer credit. Our prior learning assessment systems, which most of our colleges have something in place, but very little usage of, 'cause the barriers are so high, if we don't figure it out prior learning assessment, because students are gonna be able to learn in so many different ways, the more agile community colleges will be able, we'll have systems that can find ways to better accept credit from a variety of sources.
President Johnson: Wow. So I'm struck by, well, I'm struck by all of what you're describing. And of course, I'm sure for some of our listeners, they've been reading about these processes and they have, differing opinions or viewpoints about whether these developments in terms of the free range learning. So to speak, whether it's neutral, positive, or negative, but I am struck by the variety that has emerged and the essentially legitimacy that some of them are attaining in the context of partnerships with other institutions, highly respected. I'm thinking about Arizona State as an example. And that's one of our top destinations of transfer for students at Green River, largely with online programs that they continue and complete out in terms of their junior and senior years after they've done their two years here at Green River. So I can imagine for some of our listeners, their minds are spinning now in terms of what the potential implications are and so on. But I'm also struck by a comment that you made about employers. And it's about the skills, they're hiring for skills now, as compared to, I guess the alternative would be you're hiring for a degree or a certificate per se, from a particular institution or a named a university or college. You think that's a trend in terms of employment across the country, or just in particular sectors?
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: I think it's only gonna accelerate and I have the privilege of serving on the jobs for the future policy trust. And the trust is looking at the workforce of 2040 to think about what policies will be needed in the thirties to think about how colleges need to change in the twenties in the coming decade. So it's quite a ways out there, but looking at these trends around what they call the gig economy of people working gig to gig, or everybody having a little side hustle, you get your regular job, but then you're working on a 10 99 contract tax form there for an individual work off to the side. That right now, I believe the statistics show that half of all millennials are working in some way with a 10 99 on some kind of gig that might be an Uber driver. It might be a graphic designer, a computer coder working gig to gig. And the forecast is by 2030, more than half of all workers, not just millennials, but half of all workers will be in that mode of gig to gig. So employers will increasingly be looking for very specified skills to meet very specified projects that their market demands 'cause their markets are moving so quickly. They can't just hire one person to do the same job over a 10 year period. They need someone with specific skills for a shorter period of time. And then it's gonna be incumbent on community colleges to kind of figure out how to support these workers that are working in these shorter sprints if you will. We used to talk about people changing careers seven times in their lifetime. Now I don't even know what the numbers might be. It's hard to even forecast, this things are changing so quickly, but people moving from gig to gig, they might work for six months on a gig and then need to get some skill upgrades for six months and then go back on their next gig for another six months that 15 weeks semester courses don't fit neatly into that reality.
President Johnson: Wow, so I suspect for faculty and staff who are listening to this, whether at Green River or at another institution, you might be having some breathing difficulties right now in the context of being a culture of anticipation, which I believe is a concept that you talk about in your book, "Competing on Culture." The culture of anticipation.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Yeah. How to get at being comfortable with spotting signals I guess that will lead to something that you're going to have to change in some way. So the solution isn't right in front of you, but this concept of, okay, things are probably gonna be accelerating and we need shorter term offerings. What does that look like? And then you see someone like Amarillo college in Texas with Russell Lowery heard their president, talking about them moving. I believe it's like 90% of all of their credit offerings are in eight week classes.
President Johnson: Yes, actually I think you're familiar with this that, Russell came to Green River, he was one of our opening day for the fall convocation. They call it opening days here, keynote speakers in terms of the no excuses work that they're doing at Amarillo. And he was talking about the conversion to eight week courses. And for the listeners here that are on the, we have a quarter calendar here, tech, that's a big change for Texas. Their semester calendar, right? So two 15 weeks semesters and shifting to eight weeks. And it has some really good results in terms of student retention and rates of completion, for sure.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: And we have Bellevue University is on our campus. They're offering their online classes for our students with local Bellevue University adviser to support them. And their offerings are six week terms. So you take two classes every six weeks, just a hyper-focused. And for our community college students a lot can go wrong in a 15 week span. But if something goes wrong in a six week span, you not have to wait a couple of weeks before the next session comes up.
President Johnson: Sure. And I guess it's no different than offering a truncated summer term session, right?
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Yeah. And the fact that you're already on a, what I'm guessing 11 week, quarter maybe?
President Johnson: We have four, 10 week quarters.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Four 10 weeks, yeah. So 10 weeks, that's pretty close to eight weeks, but nonetheless, these shorter term, so of Bellevue is at six, in certain particular disciplines. And again, it's more how can you not make, it's not a cookie cutter for everything, but there might be some disciplines that could benefit from five week terms, five week sessions, something along that just to keep it a little more accelerated and offer more options.
President Johnson: Sure. And of course the strategy there's fewer classes, but at a faster clip.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Exactly.
President Johnson: So with all of that as background then let's look for some reassurance or at least inspiration and motivation. So let's talk about community colleges and the opportunities we provide for all the, for all of our listeners out there today. What would be a message that you have for the faculty that are working at Green River and other colleges around?
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: For faculty, community college faculty for me, short answer is just recognizing increasingly 'cause certainly so many already do, but increasingly recognize the life circumstances for students outside of class and their impact on learning. And really if they're not already exploring what an equity minded syllabus looks like, look into that and see how it might change their teaching for the better. We've been doing, so our faculty here have been doing some pretty cool work. We just did every month, my cabinet senior leadership team and I have lunch with about 10 to 12 students. And last fall, I asked them how many of the students in the room had one or more faculty this semester on the first day of class, ask them to fill out a little piece of paper and say, write down anything that the faculty member should know about them that would help them with their success, help the students succeed. And every student raised their hand.
President Johnson: It's great idea.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: And by November, so every student had at least one faculty ask that question. So then by November in our faculty caucus, the monthly meeting their faculty were saying that they were overwhelmed with what students were sharing. And it goes to Sara Goldrick-Rab's work of hungry and homeless.
President Johnson: Another recent visitor to Green River.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Yeah, the hungry and homeless that our own students are reporting. I haven't eaten in two days and I've been couch surfing for the last six months. And so then the faculty members know about how to refer to our pantry and to our college community connection program, that those support services to connect them to the right community resources. But it's become overwhelming because so many students are in such need. We have 70% of our students are on Pell. So we have tremendous needs among our students.
President Johnson: Yeah. And how about messages for our staff?
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Just recognizing the change moves differently for everyone it's too fast for some and too slow for others and rarely right for anyone. And thinking about ways to remain relevant. Rick Warren has a great Ted talk on relevance that says if change is moving outside your organization faster than it is inside, your organization runs the risk of being irrelevant. And for me, a corollary to that is that if your organization is changing faster than you are, then you run the risk of being irrelevant. And I think that goes for no matter what position you're in.
President Johnson: Sure.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: That something to think about is how do you get comfortable with change when change is so hard for all of us.
President Johnson: And for our students who come to our community colleges, what would be a message for them?
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: I'm a little biased on this because it's gotten me through, but I've seen it affirmed in so many ways with so many students over my career is that grit and effort and resilience are more important than how smart you are. I've seen a lot of smart people not keep it together and finished college because they didn't have the grit and the resilience and put forth the effort. And then the second piece to that, that's only recently really hit me, is the importance of social capital. So many of our students are first generation college students. They don't have a personal network that opens doors for them. And that's what college really can be. As we kind of opened up early in our conversation here about--
President Johnson: I was just thinking about--
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Following up on those mentors and seeing other people as mentors and guides. And when they point you in a direction go in that direction, if you don't have a clear direction, which some of our students certainly do, they know what they wanna do and how they want to go about it. But I think more community college students they are not how I was of, you're just kind of stumbling forward until something strikes your passion.
President Johnson: Sure. And messages for or message for the communities that our colleges serve.
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: How it's just see community colleges as the true economic engines that we are. And that if they, if they engage the community college in the right ways, community colleges have a role to play in the solutions for just about any problem the community is facing. The faculty and staff and the capacity within community colleges is there and they just need to engage.
President Johnson: Yeah. And after 13 years in your presidency at Mohawk with a lot of years before that, I must ask this question. What drives you, motivates you each day when you get up to start another day?
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Yeah, I think it could very well be in that way that chemical dependency counselors are often former addicts or users, those kinds of things for me to have been a kind of stumbling forward goal lists, drifting a young person, finding their way through the community college, what the community college faculty and staff at Mott community college did for me, I wanted to be part of that same kind of transformation. And to just know the students we serve and have a sense of who they are because I was one. And that notion of we want to attach ourselves to a higher purpose, the role that community colleges play in society. I'm not just part of transforming student lives. I'm part of building and transforming our community because of where and how Mohawk Valley community college is positioned and community colleges across the country, essentially share that same role and purpose in their communities and are really the backbone and fabric of an educated citizenry, a free democracy and social mobility for all. With that higher purpose, all of those things combined to make it pretty darn easy to get out of bed without an alarm clock every day.
President Johnson: I'm hearing that and I couldn't say it better myself. And I think my... If someone were to ask me that question, I think I'd give a very similar answer that you just shared. So to wrap up our conversation, I've been asking everybody in season two, the same question and Randy, I know if retirement is part of your plan, I've discovered asking this kind of question with people, some have a firm commitment to retirement, and they've got an end date and they know how everything's gonna go until then. And they're counting down and others, not so much. So when and if you retire, what will be the measure for you have a successful career in community colleges? What will you look to or gauge your success?
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: Yeah, I'll quote advice I got from Roy Church, 29 years at Lorain Community College. How do you stay for 29 years and still seemed so vibrant and engaged. And I use this in my own work. Now he said he promised his wife that he would work as long as he connected himself to every five year strategic plan. And said if he wasn't as excited about the next five years as he was the previous five years, it was time for him to be done.
President Johnson: Okay. So that's gonna be a marker for retirement, right?
Dr. Randy Van Wagoner: I love that. Yeah, exactly. 'Cause I've seen places that have had presidents probably overstayed their welcome and maybe hang on a little too long to the detriment of the college momentum and pace. I don't exactly know when I'll retire, but that's in the back of my mind is a filter for when I know it's time. But in terms of how, what will be my measure, very difficult question that what I keep coming back to this notion of making sure I put forth my best effort and then so important to beg the question, did I treat people with respect and kindness? Did I help others achieve their goals? And perhaps at the larger level did I helped my college stay positioned to thrive in a very unknown and dynamic future that classic leave it better than you found it kind of thing. And how I might get a sense of that is certainly on the individual level feedback, feedback that I get from others and just connections and relationships and feelings, very qualitative to say the least. And then organizationally, just seeing this community college continued to thrive as it moves closer and closer to its 100 years of anniversary in 26 years.
President Johnson: Well, I couldn't say it better myself if somebody had asked me that question as well, Randy, I so appreciate our conversation. This is culminating in a multi episode conversation and president Randy Van Wagoner, I am delighted that you've been able to be us and share your ideas, really have enjoyed your book, "Competing on Culture, Driving Cultural Change in Community Colleges." And for all you listeners, we'll have some links to some resources that we referenced today in this episode. And you have been listening to Gator Cast, the Green River College official podcast, and we're located in Auburn, Washington, have a wonderful day.