Paul Grasso

Paul Grasso. Just Sayin'

In December 2014, the Clinton County Board of Legislators appointed me to the Clinton Community College Board of Trustees.

It’s a privilege to be a community college trustee, especially during a period when community colleges are undergoing, or should be undergoing, significant change.

“Change” has become a word associated with the 2008 Democratic campaign for the presidency. Although the campaigners never definitively stated what they meant by it, “change” became synonymous with a better future and a pathway to prosperity.

Politics aside, a better future and a pathway to prosperity are perfect concepts for community college trustees and administrators to keep in mind as we work to reinvent our institutions to meet the needs of 21st century learners and 21st century employers.

And reinvention is what our focus needs to be.

As trustees, we need to think differently about Clinton Community College. We need to examine every aspect of how we operate, who we serve and how we serve them.

We need to re-examine our whole “raison d'etre,” and we need to do it in a way that is purposeful and well-planned.

I have long been a supporter of the concept that there is a significant difference between “continuous improvement” and “business process re-engineering.” The former seeks incremental improvements that usually focus on the individual parts of a process or system. The latter requires fundamentally rethinking and radically redesigning a process or system to achieve dramatic improvements in critical measures or performance.

In my opinion, community colleges are beyond incremental improvements; it’s time for radical change. We need to ask the question, “If we were starting a community college today, how would we design it?”

Forget what “is” and focus on what “should be.”

Easier said than done, I know; especially in an environment governed by a state educational system with an antiquated Weberian management philosophy.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying the people aren’t good; most of them are, and some are very good. However, it’s time for the state bureaucracy to reinvent itself as well, because over time the bureaucracy has become static and less adaptive to an environment that requires speed and flexibility.

To complicate matters, most community colleges have a narrow instructional delivery system, and all have inadequate funding.

Collectively, it’s a witch’s brew that is no longer palatable for colleges challenged to be an economic engine for their community, as well as serving a changing population in an increasingly competitive global economy for a future that is rapidly evolving.

To meet that challenge, we need a system that is both dynamic and agile.

Both President Obama and Gov. Cuomo have proposed accountability measures designed to increase completion rates and track employment for community college graduates. I applaud their proposals and say, "Bring it on."

Their focus on outcomes is refreshing, and it’s certainly within the purview of those who provide the funding (or most of it) to dictate what they want to see achieved.

I say let them articulate the “what,” the outcomes, but ask them to give each college the authority and autonomy to determine the “how” around achieving those outcomes.

New York isn’t a “one size fits all” state; it’s far too large and diverse. So give community colleges authority and autonomy with regard to achieving their outcomes.

And, really, why should it matter if colleges in the eastern part of the state promote learning differently than those in the western or southern parts of the state? The differences shouldn’t be important as long as each achieves its outcome, and those outcomes need to be as much about competency as they are about credits.

The state and federal issues notwithstanding, Clinton Community College’s board has its own set of challenges. First among them is a declining enrollment similar to almost every other community college in the state. Like any other business, our declining customer base is affecting our finances.

To help meet those challenges, we need to:

• reposition the college in the minds of high school seniors, adult learners, incumbent workers and students who are either time-bound or place-bound as a way to increase enrollment;

• ensure that our course offerings foster academic excellence and workforce preparation; and

• improve our financial position.

In the limited time I’ve been a trustee, I’ve been impressed with my colleagues’ dedication and commitment, and I’m confident that working together we can meet these challenges.

Paul Grasso is the president and CEO of The Development Corporation, Clinton County, N.Y.

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