A Legacy of EPIC Success in Online Education

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On 4/17/19 at 8:35am, I attended the Wake Technical Community College Spring Professional Development Conference Session: Faculty Association Breakfast Meeting. This was co-presented by  Kathrynne Paul and Kimberly Atkinson of Wake Technical Community College

A Legacy of EPIC Success in Online Education

SPARK Initiative intro. Wake Tech continues to play a role in economic development in the community. Billions realized in local economy come from our workforce, and that comes from our students, and that credit belongs to the teachers.

Cameron, a student success

Student Success story talked about Heating and HVAC. Getting a 3.7GPA when they had done less well in high school. He gave a great shout out to the ILC on Main campus helping with papers. He was very thankful to the Pathway program, helping him as a mentor and becoming a “people person”.  He started as an employee, but wanted to move into a business ownership. He’s managed NC Express Heating and Cooling for some time and growing his business in a great way.

Tim Guffy, a student success story

First responder with the Raleigh fire department, and part of a 2+2 program, graduating last year. Fire Protection Technology had a ton of networking and comforting person-to-person contact experience. This made his ability to move on in his education and settle in the career goal of his choice.

Presentations were given to Cameron and Tim, small tokens of our esteem from the Professional Development committee as well as certificates of appreciation.

EPIC Update

Jaqueline Popp presented as the assessment team lead about EPIC. After a 5-year initiative, how can you measure success? We were finalists in the Bellwether Award, and several team members were recognized. It was a great recognition. Over 30,000 attempted, 95% of students passed, and 89% noted that they felt their skills have increased. 630+ faculty and staff have been certified online, 44+ have passed a peer review process, 39+ have been certified as mentors, and 29+ have achieved Master Certification.

We haven’t seen the full effect yet. WE’ll see more success as time goes on. It is difficult to see full success as not all classes have been converted to EPIC readiness. This is mainly a concern in the early classes and gateway courses. There are reports written for every year, and they should be viewed if interested in how comparisons are made and observed. Most student responses are positive. Faculty complained about numerous surveys and there was survey fatigue which contributed to lesser completions as time went on so they’ve stopped doing that.

There were external reviewers and external takers of the EPIC materials. EPIC will continue, and a sustainability plan is in development. Until we’ve fully implemented, look to see changes and adjustments as time goes on. The EPIC team will be shutting down shortly. One thing EPIC has done is given our students some consistent habits. Students struggle with time management, and EPIC assists with that.

Townhall Session with Dr. Ralls

Marsha McCoy, communications faculty and member of ToastMasters, as well as her TED Talk.

Ralls is our newest president, previous president of NOVA. President of Craven Community College. Created a new technology division, grew their cybersecurity program and built the first cloud computing degree program with Amazon. He was a former president of NC Community College System Office. He has numerous awards, as well as a recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, NC highest civilian award.

Q: Are community colleges still a good deal in the first 2 years? Average student carries $10k debt for 2 year colleges, $14K debt standard for Wake Tech students. The average 4-year student carries $28K in debt.

A: Be wary of statistics and averages. Geography majors had the largest average salaries. He graduated with Michael Jordan, a geography major. Be proud, diligent, and fight for our students. In the last 10 years, student debt has doubled. Students carry more debt than years before. They carry student debt instead of housing debt. Millenials are not buying houses. North Carolina has in its constitution that higher education should be as free as possible. Ralls is an advocate of debt-free higher education. Averages for tuition allows a student to work 10 hours a week at minimum wage and still pay for their education.

Q:What impactful changes should we see under your leadership in the short run and long run 

A: In the past, he was impacted by technology. People struggle with technology because the big dogs have to mark their territory. As a president, he should not immediately leave a mark or make a change. Rather than implementing change right away, get the best knowledge first so as not to make a mistake. There need to be short term and long term changes. Rather than comment and make mistakes, he wants to get the lay of the land. There are not problems on the whole. But here’s some perspective:

He’s been a collegiate leader for 20 years. He believes in the unique role in upward mobility for students in community colleges. Economic mobility has always been our issue in NC and its still an issue. Money is more of a segmentor instead of an integrator. We should be inclusive and proud of it. We should be proud that we take the top 100% of our students. That’s what people need from us.

To be effective, we have to be very good. No one states that they dream of an associates degree. But 25% of HS students and 10% of adults in the county come through our school to reach their dreams. The best jobs we do is when we identify and clear those paths and assist them on their way to the goals. More will come to our institution than any other in Wake County.

Q: Will we be required to complete annual applied benchmarking under your leadership.

A: One thing he does and enjoys is to pop into offices. He’s heard faculty members tell him that applied benchmarking creates a culture of innovation. The process each year is so sped up that the focus is on the process, not the solution. We should not be defined by process, but on the goals. It may be that 1 year is too rapid. He does not know. He’s only been here 4 days. We should always evaluate a process and ensure that it helps us to the goal and isn’t being done for its own sake

Q: How would you foster research initiatives and innovation?

A: I see research is already in the mix. Without a culture of innovation, you’re dying in education. Research is a byproduct of the culture of innovation. You learn from looking out side the institution, listening where the rubber meets the road. We should all have ideas, and ideas should be disseminated from there. He would not like to break anything and certainly not the culture of innovation

Q: scholarship on campus is here. How can we incorporate this into everyone’s work, and how can a budget be added.

A: I’m going to avoid that question. I am unfamiliar with the project, with the budget, etc. He doesn’t have the info and expertise to answer the question.

Q: What do you see are the college biggest challenges?

A: Usually its financial, but I don’t think that’s the case. More likely, it will be dealing with slowing growth. There has been several years of growth. The county is growing, but its not growing like it was. Growth trends are now pretty flat. That’s a good challenge because its not a major drop. We’re likely heading into stability, and that creates new challenges because we don’t have the money (bad news).

We may need to look to retention to be the answer. We’ll need to pay attention, because colleges are used to naturally growing. Economic circumstances change, and we’ll need to worry about a new definition.

Q: Do you plan on evaluating faculty pay to be commisserate with 4-year pay. Low pay leads to excessive turnover.

A: I think I will be fighting for faculty pay for quite some time. It is not a question of equality. the problem becomes the discrepency with working here and for graduates. when its a bump to walk out as a graduate and receive more than the teacher, that’s a major problem. Faculty don’t want to leave, but they are having their salaries doubled. The challenge isn’t hitting the market rate, just to hit the spouse approval rate. I’d work for you, but I cannot tell my wife how much money I’ll make.

Students need knowledgeable faculty. That’s why faculty pay is important.

Q: Do you see faculty tenure installed here?

A: No. There are certain traditional academic ideas which are bad ideas. There are items which are better sells, such as better salaries. Academic salary for research is important, but it cannot be done well without tenure. You earn tenure by researching and publishing in the first six years. We are not built around those items. Its not in our flavor.

ON the flip side, there is no need to have a culture and climate to feel uncomfortable with Ralls being there. Do the right job for your students and you have no fear.

Q: How does faculty governance fit your vision?

A: Faculty-lead decision making. He didn’t have collective decision making. That was a challenge for them because colleges would threaten not to take course credit? What is important is to have structures to allow groups to get together and make decision.

In the SPARK strategic plan, the AACC report lead with principals to evolve CC from idiosyncratic decision to collective decisions. Defaulting to idiosyncractic decision cause problems. Department chair says that only credits for world history should be allowed will cause problems for students. Decisions should be faculty-lead, not leader-based.

Q: Dr. Ralls, if faculty morale is low, we would like your help finding solutions. Have you had issues like this in the past?

A: He has. Morale is like taking temperature. The numbers mean little or nothing without context. What are the specific issues? Morale changes one day to the next. Organizational climate and culture is important. Does the climate add or subtract to our emotions, opinions, etc. What are the things which are causing the challenges? Are they in or out of control? Sometimes there’s no good way. Some things impact morale in ways which seem little.

Morale is not about how you feel now, but how we are challenged and thrive, feeling good about what we do and how we feel about what we’re doing. He wants to work in a good morale location

Q: what is your place on remote work in the workplace

A: computers give flexibility. With flexibility, as long as we’re meeting the needs of the students, you’re fine. A culture of professionalism means values which are important. If the needs of students are being met, don’t impress him by leaving after he sneaks out the door. We need to police one another for professionalism.

Where this breaks down is by letting one another down. Office hours can be a problem. Rules for everything becomes a problem- rule-driven cultures are not good. Professionalism cultures are best. Small rules are troubling.

For years, there were issues with annual leave for staff. You should only have vacation and leave days which are equal among employees. At the end of the day, auditors had to come in and now laws have had to be put in place. We do a job not because of a rule, but because of our levels of professionalism. Don’t get caught up in rules, but be caught up in professionalism.

Q: Any thoughts on communication

A: He would aspire to a forum 1-2 hours at each campus once per semester, just so he can have dialog and conversation.

Q: How should changes be communicated?

A: student-focused and faculty-lead. Not idiosyncratically. You should have the decisions to teach things the way they are taught best.  I will always respect the classroom. I respect the classroom process and he’s a distraction. When looking at student curriculum, each step should be clear and lead you somewhere. If we don’t hit the target, and students transfer, that’s a big problem for them. IF they don’t have job skills in the workplace, that’s a big problem for them.

Q: Faculty staffing model: Adjunct or full-time models? Adjuncts do not have office hours.

A: I don’t intend to change anything about that. The needs of all programs are different. Having a strong cadre of full-time faculty is important. Full-time faculty push the programs forward. It wasn’t about teaching the students in the classroom. We get good value from adjuncts, but that experience is very helpful. We need to pay attention because not all colleges are strong in how they orient adjunct faculty.

Adjuncts are just as much a professor as a full-time professor. How we support adjuncts is very important

Q: How do you feel about certifications for faculty and supporting credentials for faculty?

A: behind it completely. 35% of jobs ask for certifications and licensures. you need to be knowledgeable and tell whether the value is real. You need to tell students and know about it. If we work with certification and pay faculty, we don’t need to offer certifications which do not add value. We have live data letting us know what certifications are helpful.

We are not an elite college. The biggest day for most students is the day they are admitted, not graduation. Walking off stage is nice, but demonstrating what they know is as relevant in the workplace.

Q: How do you feel about a reading day for students and faculty?

A: Not going to answer that. Don’t have the information about those items, what might the unintended consequences be?

Q: Across the nation, Community colleges offer Bachelors degrees. What are your thoughts.

A: I am not against BA degrees if its for the right reasons. For some it has to do with hiring and magnet rates, safety, etc. Is the value provided better from a Comm College and 4-year college. There are rationales, but there have to be reasons. Half states have them, started in Florida. Only 4 states allow this. There is a fight in higher education about who can offer these items and why.

One thing to be careful about in this conversation is not to get caught up in the ghiher education arms race. Its not because of an inferiority complex. Every regional wants to be a flagships school. Every flagship wants to be a harbor school.

Otherwise, we’ll get chopped off at the knees because funders don’t want to cover that, and we’ll be challenged in numerous ways. We should lead not with inferiority, but from grassroots efforts. No one is doing research or policy research. we have the strongest university system in the country and this will always be more challenging for us.

Q: It has been rumored, that in the future faculty will be put in the same category as staff. Staff accrue PTO and faculty do not.

A: Won’t happen because of purely technical reasons. Staff earned leave and faculty do not. What we should do? Don’t know a reason to do this. If there is a rumor, he’d like to hear it. At James Sprunt in a previous college a faculty had earned 20 bonus days. These days were not accepted by Wake Technical Community College. Bonus days are problematic.