Last week, I participated in the Cobb Chamber of Commerce's “Cobb Education and Workforce Forum.” I had agreed to be part of this several months ago, and over the intervening time, the event morphed from a “summit” with a large public audience to a “conversation” that was focused on representatives of education (K-12 through post-secondary and higher-education institutions), the Georgia Department of Labor, and a few key businesses in Cobb County. The goal is to expand the audience, as originally intended, in the near future.)
The day included discussions by the superintendents of Cobb County and Marietta City schools, the president of Chattahoochee Technical College (representing the Technical College System of Georgia), and representatives of public higher education in Cobb County. For this last panel, I was joined by Dan Papp, president of Kennesaw State University, and Kirk Nooks, director of Georgia Highlands College’s program in Marietta (which is offered on the SPSU campus).
I was particularly glad to have Christi Pichon at the Forum. As SPSU’s Employer & Career Relations Coordinator in Career Services, Christi plays a critical role in linking students with opportunities for internships and co-op experiences. She’s made some great connections through the Cobb Chamber, and she contributed to the success of last week’s event.
Each of the panelists was asked to speak to several questions, which provided me with an opportunity to take a step back for a broader view of what we are doing here at Southern Polytechnic. I am sure many of you share my tendency to focus on the details of the daily and weekly to-do lists, and the chance to think about the big picture was welcome. Here are the major questions we were asked to address – and my responses. (Remember that the target audience was intended to be the business community.)
What have been SPSU's top three successes in 2012?
(You can imagine the challenge of focusing on only three!)
1) SPSU has enjoyed sustained enrollment growth, with a 7% increase in Fall 2012, relative to Fall 2011. I made the point that the growth this fall was particularly significant in some of our newer degrees, including engineering programs (mechanical, electrical, and civil), accounting, and computer game design and development. However, we also saw strong growth in some existing majors, such as computer engineering technology, information technology, and computer science.
2) SPSU graduates continue to get jobs. Students graduate with a combination of knowledge and skills that make them highly sought-after employees. I emphasized that the enrollment growth in specific programs illustrates how SPSU is successful in matching student interest with employer needs.
3) SPSU has been successful with integrated planning, linking the processes related to developing the overall strategic plan, athletics plan, facilities master plan, academic plan, transportation plan, risk management plan, distance education plan, Complete College Georgia plan, and even a landscaping plan. By coordinating these efforts, we are able to be more efficient, find synergies, and save money.
What are the top three things I want the business community to know about SPSU's priorities over the next few years?
(I hope you’re not surprised to hear that my answer was linked to the three goals of SPSU’s strategic plan.)
1) SPSU places a high priority on supporting student success. “Success” means retention and graduation rates. As Dean Reichgelt reminds me regularly, "The University doesn't exist to have students. It exists to have graduates." This goal is also reflected in the Complete College Georgia plan. Given that Sunday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution (11/18/12) had a lead story about how future funding for the University System of Georgia institutions will depend on student-success metrics (a.k.a., retention and graduation rates), this issue is one of increasing importance for all of us at SPSU. Figuring out how to increase student success rates without compromising the academic expectations of students is a topic we will be grappling with in the coming months.
2) SPSU also places a high priority on ensuring adequate resources to fulfill the University's mission. The most important piece of this effort is raising private dollars through the SPSU Foundation, although we must also continue to find operational efficiencies and to advocate for our share of state funding .
3) SPSU is committed to strengthening our sense of community, both on-campus and in the larger community. PolyDay was a celebration of SPSU’s role in the broader community, and, for the purpose of this discussion, I emphasized the critical role that the business community plays. When this conversation about business and education expands into the business community (which is the Chamber’s plan), this will be an important point for SPSU.
And finally: What is one program that you are most proud of that helps the workforce needs of any of the Chamber's target industries? (The areas that the Cobb Chamber has identified as target industries are: aerospace/advanced manufacturing, information technology & software, professional/business services, wholesale trade/logistics, biosciences, healthcare, and travel & tourism.)
SPSU has many linkages to these areas, and the challenge here was which one to focus on. I managed to mention the developing minor in aerospace engineering, the new accounting program, the BAS in manufacturing and in supply chain logistics, and the biology major. But I emphasized the programs in IT, computer science, and software engineering, which collectively have nearly 1,300 students enrolled. People from the Department of Labor and local/regional health care systems remarked on their inability to find qualified employees in computer-related fields. They need to be recruiting from SPSU.
Overall, this business-and-education event felt like we were preaching to the choir, but none of us can afford to miss the opportunity to promote our institutions and highlight our current and projected partnerships with business and industry. We’ll see what the next steps bring.
Thanks to all of you at SPSU who contribute to making this university such a great partner with business and industry. This institution was founded, 65 years ago, at the request of Georgia’s businesses. And SPSU continues to be important to them today. One of my priorities is to make sure the business community remembers that.