By President Annesa Cheek
Another exciting academic year is underway at St. Cloud Technical & Community College. This year saw hundreds of new students join us to begin a higher education journey that will lead them to a new and brighter future, via transition to a four-year university, the workforce or both.
For SCTCC students, there is value in both the journey and the destination.
Since becoming president of SCTCC last year, I’ve had the opportunity to learn so much about our students, our local businesses and our community. There is a clear linkage between the college and the residents of the St. Cloud region and that mutual respect and appreciation leads to enhanced opportunities for students.
There’s nowhere I go in our community where I don’t hear wonderful stories about someone’s experience with our college and how it changed their life. The stories have included smiles and laughter as well as tears of joy and triumph. For me, that is both heartwarming and reassuring as we continue to work to maintain a unique, compelling and powerful sense of place – physical, social, cultural and educational – and purpose for all who fill our classrooms and our campus.
I’m very proud that for more than 70 years, SCTCC has prepared thousands of individuals for success in work, future education and life. Our focus is on increasing student success and completion for all students, while also ensuring that we make significant gains in addressing the unique and diverse needs of historically marginalized and underserved student populations.
There are currently gaps in educational outcomes and we aim to address those gaps. In 2015, the Minnesota State Legislature called upon colleges and universities across the state to increase the number of residents (ages 25 to 44) who hold postsecondary degrees or certificates from the current 55% to at least 70% by the year 2025. The statute also notes that achieving this goal would be difficult without achieving comparable rates across all race and ethnicity groups. In the four years since the law’s adoption, progress has been made, but there is still much work yet to be done.
It is within this context that SCTCC is both obligated (as a publicly-funded institution) and honored (higher education is indeed the great equalizer) to answer the call to significantly increase postsecondary attainment — for each and every one of our students, for our great community and for the entire state of Minnesota.
Earlier this month, SCTCC signed a partnership agreement with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota (BGC) to create complimentary pathways and support services for students transitioning from the BGC to the college. This is a good example of how community partnerships and connections allow students to realize their potential and gain access to a college education.
Because SCTCC maintains such close ties to business and industry, we ensure that students’ educational experiences are high quality, relevant and provide effective preparation for the real world of work. This is just one example of how partnership and collaboration enhance opportunity — there are many more that exist currently and many more that are yet to come.
This academic year, SCTCC will develop a new strategic plan and set priorities that will help us focus and direct resources for the next several years. As the college undertakes the critical process of strategic planning, we do so with the frame of reference I am calling E3 – Equitable Educational Excellence.
This framework, supported by the key pillars of equity, student learning and completion and employability shapes a paradigm that allows SCTCC to look beyond the evident and examine the root factors of student success. Through data examination, process review and collegial and collaborative conversations, E3 will inform thinking, invite analysis and entice innovation in our approaches inside and outside the classroom.
This planning process is an important exercise in framing our future, reviewing our needs, understanding our challenges and evaluating our current and future resource requirements. It is also a prime opportunity to engage our stakeholders in the review process.
As we move forward, we will need the valuable feedback of our community and business partners. The feedback we receive will help us identify areas of focus to make our college even more connected to and engaged in transforming the lives of our students and their families and preparing our local workforce for the jobs of today and careers of tomorrow.
The information we gather will help position the college to more effectively meet the broader needs of students and the broader needs of the St. Cloud region. From there, we can work together to forge new partnerships, identify new program pathways, secure new funding, reallocate existing resources and support a shared vision that shapes not only the college’s future, but the future of our students and the community.
I know this sounds lofty, and quite frankly, it is. It is bold to assert that SCTCC plans to shape the future of the lives of students and our community. But the college has proven time and again that that is what we do. Each day, students come to SCTCC to seek new skills, sharpen their critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, learn new subjects, become proficient or even expert in a field of study or to prepare for a job or to transfer to a university.
Each week, community leaders, partners and businesses reach out to us to help them think through a situation, to solve a problem, to identify a resource or to be a leader on an issue. Each time, we do our best and give it a “Minnesota try” to make a positive impact on those individuals and organizations who seek our help, encouragement and support. At the end of the day, it’s a really great feeling to be asked to help.
And that’s how I want to end this column, by being comfortable in asking for your help. We need you to help SCTCC remain strong by giving us honest feedback: What are we doing that’s working? How can we improve? We want your engagement, your feedback, your support and your ideas.
The hallmark of a technical and community college like SCTCC is its ability to provide value to its community. We want to continue to provide the St. Cloud region with the value of world-class training, teaching and learning that makes our community and our economy vibrant. With your help, we can do just that.