Cleveland State Community College has launched a series of meetings to gain input for a five-year “strategic plan.”
College faculty and staff met with members of the community at the college Wednesday to kick off the initiative being held in Cleveland and surrounding counties to create a draft of the “Cleveland State 2020 Community First Plan.”
President Bill Seymour explained during the opening session the plan will help the college identify its focus areas to make sure Cleveland State is the “ideal campus.”
“If we can describe what it’s going to look and act like, then we can get started on the planning,” Seymour said.
A steering committee made up of college personnel has been chosen to oversee the overall planning process, which could last until March. After holding meetings to gather input, a draft of the long-term plan could be presented in December and finalized in the spring.
More than 30 community members ranging from business leaders to government officials were expected to attend meetings taking place Wednesday, Thursday and Monday. Similar meetings are expected to take place in the other counties that are part of the college’s service area — McMinn, Meigs, Monroe and Polk.
Seymour noted higher education has undergone significant changes in recent years, with changing career fields and demands for new programs across the board.
However, he stressed community colleges are “more relevant today than they have ever been.”
More milestones and changes are expected to be at the forefront of the college’s focus over the next five years, including Cleveland State’s 50th anniversary in 2017.
After sharing quotes from various leaders on what makes for a good planning process, Seymour stressed the importance of planning at the local level.
While he referred to Cleveland State as “a good school,” he said there is still room for improvement, namely because the environment in which it operates is constantly changing. He did stress, however, that no drastic changes would be happening just for the sake of changing things.
He said the college’s current planning process is a matter of deciding what programs and practices to change and what to leave the same in order to make things better.
“We’re not talking about a wholesale change of Cleveland State,” Seymour said.
When each guest with an invitation to one of the meetings arrived, they found they had each been assigned to a table that included a mix of individuals from different fields. For example, City Manager Janice Casteel sat at a table near Tony Bartolo, who handles marketing for Cleveland State.
Seymour led the 10 or so groups of about six or seven people in two different exercises designed to get them talking about the college’s needs and goals.
The first was a “SWOT exercise.”
“SWOT” stands for “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats,” and each group made lists of the things they thought fell into each of the categories. Each individual group was then asked to share the top five on the list in each category.
Some of the top five “strengths” shared included the college’s faculty and staff, campus involvement, competitive tuition cost, the campus being next to a major highway and existing degree programs. “Weaknesses” included the reputation of a community college being too easy, aging facilities, a lack of community support and low revenues.
“Opportunities” included growth outside of Bradley County, more partnerships with area businesses, possible growth in the number of students due to Tennessee Promise and the possibility of improving the physical aspects of the campus. “Threats” included students graduating from high school unprepared for college work, the college having a lower-than-desired retention rate and competition with other area colleges.
In many cases, groups had duplicate responses, which Seymour said was a good sign those in attendance had like-minded goals.
The next activity was an “aspiration exercise.” Participants were asked to envision the ideal Cleveland State five years down the road, listing and ranking their top five goals for the college.
The top “aspirations” included: having an 80 percent completion rate, modernizing the campus’ facilities, adding a full-time student advising office, adding more degree programs in certain fields, raising wages for faculty and staff, adding a childcare center for employees and nontraditional students and adding more food service options.
The lists of aspirations were written on giant sticky notes and placed along the walls of the meeting room. Participants were given sheets of colored sticker dots and asked to “vote” by placing their stickers on their favorite ideas.
Those top-voted ideas will be given special consideration by the strategic planning initiatives’ steering committee, Seymour said.
After the meeting, the college president said he saw a lot of good ideas, many of which he expected might come up in the meeting.
However, he stressed the meetings were an opportunity to hear the opinions of members of the community of which the college is a part — not his own.
Seymour expected there would be more good ideas shared at each of the meetings, and the meetings in other counties are expected to yield even more diverse responses.