Fitting the needs of our community

Higher Degree
September 26, 2010

By Joyce Helens, SCTCC President

St. Cloud Technical & Community College is a college "of" the community educating and training students to become good citizens and secure good jobs. This successful 62-year-old mission established our college’s main value: the needs of the student come first.

Our new name, adding programs to help licensed practical nurses become registered nurses, and other expanded options for students are just some of several recent changes that exemplify that.

Student needs

So how do we determine those needs? Historically, because we were preparing students to be successful in technical fields, we listened to the business/industry community to see what work was in demand and how to teach to prepare students for that work. When students secured jobs in their fields, we knew things were working.

The college was contributing to creating that quality of life in Central Minnesota we enjoy. But the college also exists in the real world, and that world is always changing. So the college changed, too, and now we are St. Cloud Technical & Community College.

Our name reflects our enhanced mission. We have "technical" first not just to honor our history, but to emphasize our applied learning philosophy. We learn by doing as well as by reading and thinking. This may even be a risky philosophy because the "doing" part of so many things is constantly changing.

Technology is not easy to keep up with, so we strive to stay abreast of the changes so we can educate and train students for the real world and real work. We continue to hear what kind of workers are needed and how the work has changed. Then we adapt the curriculum.

We listen to students and how they have families to support. Then we adapt the schedule and offer part-time, evening and online courses.

We heard the large numbers of licensed practical nurses in Central Minnesota ask for the RN degree, so this fall we introduced the RN Mobility program for LPNs to continue their studies and become registered nurses. The program filled immediately.

Assess, assess

We constantly re-evaluate and assess. The past several years, we have been developing a "culture of evidence" so that we rely on assessments of our programs and services to improve. Assessment drives results. This helps us understand what is working well and what we should be focusing on.

Our strategic planning efforts — utilizing our assessment data, for example — led us to the reality that our future vision had to assume more students wanting to access in new ways and needing services with less state support.

Our overall budget strategy is now based on how we can reallocate existing resources to leverage state funding reductions to ensure quality program and institutional sustainability — all in a manner that still best serves students and the community work force development needs.

As a public institution of higher education, we also measure our performance and report it. We make our financial health transparent, and we hold ourselves accountable because in both good times and challenging times, we want to constantly improve our programs and services. That is how we sustain and thrive.

Strong future

This is demanding work that is part of everyone’s job here at the college. We know quality that is sustainable only happens when it is part of the culture of the organization, embedded in our values, and not simply a series of projects we do.

We have been hard at work for the past several years to define our mission and clearly articulate it. We continue to identify the needs of our communities and students. We also understand being good stewards of our resources and have become more energy efficient and are now a tobacco-free campus, emphasizing healthy living.

Of course, this would not be possible without our strategic use of partnerships. We value and utilize other organizations as partners in the delivery of education and training. Industry, the Stearns Benton WorkForce Center, the college foundation made up of individual volunteer businesspeople, governmental and nonprofits, and our colleague Minnesota State help us achieve outcomes.

As we recently looked back at what we do to be successful in this economic climate, we realized that there is a term that fits us. In the "quality" world, it is called a "high-performing organization," and we fit the characteristics of the high-performing organization quite well.

You can count on us to continue to build a college of the people and for the people of Central Minnesota.

Kate Wallace
Posted in Higher Degree