Categorized | Opinions

STLCC expands minds and… the truth

Posted on 20 April 2011 by Online Editor

Students, not the college, should be the sole focus of the strategic direction.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY: CARLOS RESTREPO

Joe Douglas
- 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.

 

  • MeramecGrad85

    Joe, you might want to investigate the purchase of the McKelvey Building and BTOP (former Circuit City building in Ferguson) a little further. Both of those were purchased by Workforce and Community Development funds which comes in from a different pool of financial resources. Also, the building in Ferguson utilized Missouri state grant money which several other Community College districts in Missouri obtained.

    I definitely don’t disagree with your piece because I have too have seen enough of the situation that has gone on over the past few years and it makes me worried about the continuing mission of this almost 50 year old institution of higher learning.

  • Concerned Employee

    In response to the comment by MeramecGrad85 – only a small percentage of the funding for the McKelvey bldg came from WCD funds. The money to renovate this building will be in the millions and will come from the college coffers.

    And the former Circuit City up at Flo Valley – that was purchased to prevent Ranken or another technical school from setting up residence in the college’s back yard.

    Regarding how things are run: The Board of Trustees for St Louis Community College are elected by tax payers in the community. It is their task to be sure tax dollars are being spent wisely. The Chancellor is NOT the person in charge of this – the Chancellor should bring ideas to the board who in turn should determine if such idea is an appropriate use of tax payer dollars.

    What representaion from the Board of Trustees, the Chancellor staff, or Human Resources ever came to the campuses to see exactly what the functions were of the programs/staff they were cutting?

    Let’s see:
    The athletic managers and their staff at all three campuses were let go. The PE managers were not cut. However, on the Meramec campus, our athletic manager was also the PE manager – ooops!

    When TESS made their cuts, the IAL lab coordinator job was eliminated strickly because two other staff personnel in the same position had more seniority. Professional staff DO NOT have a union. They are contracted by the college every year.

    The IAL lab coordinator not only runs the computer lab, she is (or was) the Adaptive Technology Specialist for our campus. She provided academic support to a very specific population of students – the VP of Academics, VP of Student Affairs and the manager of the Access Office were never consulted and were blindsided by the decision to eliminate this position.

    As of June 30, who will be providing these services to students? Oops!

    Look back over the past – Chancellor Henry Shannon – did the college ever get the money that was embezzled during campaigning for the tax increase? I must say, Henry Shannon’s decision to retire seemed very timely, considering the fallout from that fiasco.

    And what about the part EX-board member Michael Rohrbacker played in the whole scheme? Never heard much about that again either.

    Then there was our chancellor in 1999 – Vivian Blevins – she was released from her contract because of “frivolous and impudent” spending – she spent thousands of dollars on parties and gifts for employees – jump forward to our current chancellor –

    The current chancellor (and the board of TRUSTEES) can spend thousands of dollars on a retreat and $4000+ for souvenirs; they can throw a party that cost in excess of $3000 for food alone (+ a $500 parting gift) for someone who is leaving one interim position to take another – from Forest Park to Meramec) during a time when the college is cutting programs and jobs……she can create six figure positions and fill them with family members and our board of TRUSTEES just signs blindly on the dotted line…

    Who is really looking out for the best interests of St Louis Community College?

  • Another Concerned Employee

    Maybe we need another (more serious) investigation by Elliott Davis. . because we’re taxpayers, and we paid for this.

  • James Egan

    This market model of education is disturbing. The original mission of community colleges around the country was to provide a traditionally under represented population access to a strong education and academic resources. The commodification of education has created a strange zeitgeist for community education. This consumer driven education offers nothing more than a paper that says I have skills and am subservient. As liberal arts screams its last death knell community colleges are in a very profitable position to offer “education” for a better tomorrow. The college has zero accountability to students. I feel like a student should become a non voting member of the board at least that would provide some transparency.

  • Scott

    1963 was 48 years ago. Not 57.

  • Lillian Pride

    I like the idea of upholding what we have before expanding. If Meramec is lacking funding, that is not a good time to ambitiously expand. It is admirable to be sustainable, but there are many ways to go about that. STLCC ultimately serves the community, and thus pleasing the community is a viable goal for those in charge.

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