Students, not the college, should be the sole focus of the strategic direction.
- Editor-in-Chief -
STLCC’s mission statement says “St. Louis Community College expands minds and changes lives every day. We create accessible, dynamic learning environments focused on the needs of our diverse communities.” The college has followed this mission since its opening in 1963. After 57 years of educating students and “changing lives,” the college is now struggling to make the community happy while trying to save money and stick to its mission. The college has come under fire for making the controversial decisions about cuts in funding and elimination of positions. Maybe a student’s input could fix things.
The college’s core values revolve around its strategic initiatives designed by Chancellor Zelema Harris, Ed. D. They are: “Growing enrollment,” “Improving the academic achievements and student learning outcomes of our students,” and “Improving our responsiveness to evolving work force needs.” I feel some of the decisions the college has been making are not in the best interest of its students but in the best interest of the college. Anyone could say the college needs to do well for students to do well, but when changes to the college sacrifice student learning, students and faculty become upset.
One change the college has made is the elimination of Meramec’s Child Care Center. Many students were enraged at the decision because it was the only way they could attend Meramec. Instead of updating and refurbishing the building, they tore it down to save money. This significantly impacts the ability of the parent-student population to attend school at Meramec. Second, the college has been making many unnecessary job cuts throughout the district. Although this was before the most recent staff cuts, cutting staff and positions from Financial Aid has slowed down the financial aid process and has significantly impacted the quality of attention students should receive. So many students currently complain of two-plus-hour waits to receive help on their grants and scholarships.
In addition, one important staff member from TESS was recently scheduled to lose her job, but she was involved in helping students with assistive technology in the Information Access Lab. Hundreds of students used this technology every week in order to take notes, read and do homework. Without her, the work must be spread among other workers who have much less experience. This frustrates the already busy employees and students. Many students were crying foul and didn’t like that they were losing someone so important and key to their success at school.
The consolidation of sports throughout STLCC also resulted in the removal of several coaches and secretaries. Fewer students will be able to play sports now and students will need to commute longer distances in order to participate in their sport of choice. Faculty and staff are worried they will lose their jobs, and those who already have are asking, “Was it really necessary?”
What’s most frustrating is that STLCC doesn’t need to make the cuts. They are using a 7-percent cut to state funding to disguise the fact they’re using the money cut from programs and layoffs to fund programs that, while they do follow the college’s core values, are not necessary. STLCC has recently purchased and renovated two buildings that will help support advanced training for white-collar and blue-collar working students. Following the core mission isn’t bad. However, when you’re not straightforward and honest with the people you’re firing, that’s deceitful. STLCC is trying to expand its services during a time when money is short which lead to cutting jobs in order to fund major projects and save money in the long-term.
In an effort to revise STLCC, I would suggest changing the strategic direction of the college. I think we should focus on ways to increase revenue besides increasing enrollment, for one. We don’t have the classroom space at Meramec for more than 13,000 students, which is what STLCC is aiming for. When we had 12,000-plus students a year-and-a-half ago, there were barely enough classrooms to teach all of the students, and more students than usual couldn’t sign up for the classes they wanted to take. Teachers were required to teach more classes. If we ever reached 13,000 students, the school may need to hire more part-time faculty, which would ultimately cost additional money and increase friction between students.
STLCC should keep its second direction (improving academic achievements and student learning outcomes) because that’s a reflection of any community college’s responsibility. The third direction is a legitimate effort to give more attention to people in the workforce, but we’re spending too much money on it. We should invest less money into new buildings and put more money into improving the builds we already have or add on.
In addition, many students complain about the antique feel of Meramec. Brick walls, white staircases that have turned yellow, and lack of visible state-of-the-art technology is a turn-off for many students. Students should be able to feel comfortable spending their time at Meramec and have something to look forward to instead of looking for reasons to leave. We’ve been to high school; don’t make us feel like we’re going back.
The board of trustees doesn’t have much say in the decision-making process, yet they are supposed to represent Meramec’s decisions. The chancellor ultimately has the final say in the college’s big decisions. The board guides the decisions so they’re consistent with the strategic direction of the college. There should be a closer and less domineering force in the chancellor’s position and more power should be given to the presidents who practically work directly with the students that STLCC’s decisions affect.
If the presidents’ input and suggestions would be taken more seriously, I’m sure students would be happier, if just a little, and faculty and staff would be more comfortable working for the organization, assuming the presidents all act selflessly and following the college’s second strategic direction.
Lastly, faculty and staff should have more say and input in the college’s decisions.
Right now, decisions are made by the chancellor, the board of trustees and the CLT. Unfortunately, these decisions don’t directly affect them.
Most decisions affect the people who are working under them. They were put in their positions to represent their employees, absolutely, but the employees should have a little more control over what happens in their environment.
So far, STLCC has been doing a good job at providing that extra control by hosting the president and chancellor forums.
Continuing to do so will make the students, faculty and staff feel less alienated in the decision-making processes that takes place at STLCC. This is an important step in improving the environment throughout our college.