Cleveland State Community College has wrapped up the slate of meetings it has been holding to get input from the community as part of a long-term planning process.
Meetings taking place last Wednesday and Thursday, with the last of three coming on Monday, represented the beginning stages of the creation of the “Cleveland State 2020 Community First Plan.”
The process has involved college faculty and staff getting together with local community leaders to brainstorm ways to better the college over the next five years.
“We appreciate all the community members that have participated,” Dr. Bill Seymour, Cleveland State’s president, said during the final Cleveland meeting.
While speaking to the group that gathered Monday, Seymour stressed the importance of a college like Cleveland State having a plan for the future instead of being “adrift” like a lost ship.
“Sometimes, organizations are just adrift,” Seymour said. “That’s not what we want to do.”
Representatives from local businesses, nonprofits, school systems and government offices were invited to attend the three recent planning meetings, and more than 30 accepted those invitations.
Charles Sutton, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland, said he was interested in helping set goals for the college because his organization already has a stake in it.
Cleveland State is home to a Boys & Girls Club unit, and he said he sees the college as a place of opportunity for the youth organization’s students as they grow older — especially with financial aid programs like Tennessee Promise becoming available.
Sutton said he wants to continue to “deepen the partnership” between his organization and the college, and that played a part in him wanting to be part of the planning.
“I think it went very well,” Sutton said. “We identified a lot of good ideas.”
Steve Robinson, president of Cleveland Plywood Co., said he wanted to be part of the meeting to help the college gauge what the community’s needs are.
As he worked with his group to come up with ideas through a couple of different organized exercises, Robinson said he would like to see things like more training related to specific job fields, more business partnerships and more financial aid to help students who need training to get that which they need.
The meeting did not just draw enthusiasm and ideas from the community members who attended.
College faculty and staff said they liked having the rare opportunity of getting to talk with community members about where they see the college going over the next few years.
“It’s good to especially get input from the community,” Joan Bates, Cleveland State’s director of human resources, said. “We don’t get that very often.”
Each of the three meetings was structured similarly. After Seymour spoke with the groups about the importance of the goal-setting process, participants were led through two activities meant to get people thinking about goals.
Participants took part in a “SWOT exercise” and an “aspiration exercise.”
“SWOT” stands for “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats,” and Seymour asked each group of about six people to make list of the top five characteristics the college has in each category before sharing them.
Some of the top five “strengths” 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 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.
In the “aspiration exercise,” those at the meeting were told to imagine the ideal Cleveland State five years down the road, also listing each group’s top five goals for the college.
The three meetings garnered many similar responses.
Amid “threats” like a decrease in state funding and competition with other colleges, Monday’s meeting attendees identified top-five lists of “aspirations” that included ideas like making the college’s facilities “state of the art,” adding more job readiness programs, earning top spots in national college rankings, bettering communication among departments on campus and starting an internship program that would partner students with local industries.
After all the “aspirations” were identified, participants also got to vote on them.
While the Cleveland meetings have largely come to an end, the college also plans to hold meetings with students sometime after they return to the campus for classes next Monday.
Cleveland State is also set to hold meetings in the other counties that are included in its service area: McMinn, Meigs, Monroe and Polk.
After all the strategic meetings are done, a steering meeting of college faculty and staff will identify the top goals for the college and begin drafting the college’s five-year plan. A draft is expected to be completed by December.
Seymour said during Monday’s meeting that the long-term plan the college creates after it has finished all its local brainstorming meetings will not “sit and collect dust” but instead dictate how the college operates.
He added that he hopes the communities Cleveland State serves will feel like they can “take ownership” in the college’s goals after having been a part of setting those goals.