Seymour addressed the Rotary Club of Cleveland on Tuesday, beginning with a quiz that showed most everyone in the room had some connection with the college.
“The most unique thing about a community college that makes it unique from pretty much every other type of college is that we are open access,” Seymour said.
He explained other schools are selective as to who is allowed to enroll.
“We take any student who has graduated high school or achieved a GED,” Seymour said. “That’s our special mission.”
He said the students at CSCC range from those who were top of their class to those who may need some developmental courses before beginning college-level classes.
“And when you speak of the ages, 33 to 39 percent of our students are over the age of 25,” he said.
He said higher education is now experiencing a “transformational period.”
“I see there is a paradigm shift in higher education where attending four-year colleges is not necessarily considered any more the gold standard of college education,” Seymour said. “Things are starting to shift and a lot has to do with costs, student debt, relevance to the workforce, skills and salaries.”
He said in Tennessee and 30 other states, the average salary of a community college graduate is higher than that of a first-year salary of those graduating with a four-year degree.
“That is an indication of that shift and where the jobs are and the needs that are there and the skills that are the necessary credentials for those jobs,” Seymour said. “Community colleges are probably more relevant than they’ve ever been.”
He said that role has become so important that it became the impetus for Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise” initiative which gives all high school seniors a free two-year admission to any of the state’s community colleges or technical schools.
Seymour said the impact on CSCC would not require new buildings and may need a few more faculty, “... but I think it’s going to be a fairly subtle transformation.”
“We’re very lucky in this community to already have ‘Tennessee Achieves’ [a program providing last-dollar scholarships with mentor guidance] to provide funds,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to see a large change in Bradley County in terms of enrollment.”
He added for the college’s satellite campuses in Polk, McMinn and Monroe counties, “It will be a brand new thing for them.”
Seymour issued a reminder that the deadline to apply for the 2015-16 academic year is Nov. 1.
“If you know of people who are going to be a senior this year in high school and they want to take advantage of ‘Tennessee Promise,’ they must apply between Aug. 15 and Nov. 1 of this year to be eligible for August 2015,” he said. “Even if you’re just thinking about going to college, then make sure you apply and make sure you’re in that pipeline.”
Seymour also addressed the recent news of the college’s accreditation cautions from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the organization which performs accreditation in this region of the country.
He said the staff had been working on the reaffirmation for over a year before he arrived.
“We were told there were about 10 or 12 things we needed to clean up and we had to provide another report which was due in March,” Seymour said. “We did that work soon after I got here and did not hear back from SACS until June.”
He said that report says the college has three items that have “... not quite reached compliance.”
One of those was a SACS core requirement which carries “very strict rules.”
“You do it this way. It’s black and white, and you follow their procedures,” Seymour explained. “If you have a core requirement they cannot reaffirm you until you pass that requirement.”
He said it was in an area of institutional effectiveness.
“If you look at that on face value, you may think if they didn’t pass you, you must not be an effective college,” he said. “That just isn’t so.”
He said they are not judging the quality of the effectiveness, but the quality of how well the processes are put into place and documented.
“We did not do quite a good enough job in documenting that, because I can tell you all kinds of ways in which we are very effective,” Seymour said. “We have some outstanding programs that are recognized nationally like our math education program or service program.”
He said the most important thing to him is how well CSCC produces graduates.
“In the state of Tennessee, we are one of the smallest community colleges in the system,” Seymour said. “In terms of the number of graduates, we produce more graduates than four colleges who are larger. That spells effectiveness.”
He said he was not trying to make light of the situation and takes the matter “very, very seriously.”
“That’s at the top of my list of goals to complete this process,” Seymour said. “I think SACS recognized that and that’s why they gave us an extra year. We’re going to get this fixed. I don’t want people to get worried about it. I don’t think there’s any concern about us eventually losing accreditation.”
He added, “I think we’re a pretty safe bet. We have been for almost 50 years.”