2015 Conference Prompts “New Normal” Discussions, New Leadership

Seventy presidents, vice presidents, and other higher education teammates gathered at the Publick House Historic Inn in Sturbridge, MA on Friday, October 30 to discuss “the new normal” and how the New England College Council can better serve its members.

Mark Milliron, co-founder and chief learning officer at Austin, TX-based Civitas Learning, reported on the recent League for Innovation Trends Report, in which hundreds of college leaders responded to a survey on current and future trends in higher education. Using a well-researched approach and engaging style, Dr. Milliron not only presented the findings but tied them to the challenges and opportunities facing all those gathered in the room. The trends included access & completion, learning outcomes, learning models, structural issues & incentives, regional educational ecosystems, data & analytics, and future-ready work. Dr. Milliron was kind enough to provide a copy of his PowerPoint presentation for the New England College Council to share online with its members.

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In the coming years, community college leaders will need to better define, and help students achieve, learning outcomes; alter learning models to adapt to changing needs; address emerging funding policies such as performance-based appropriations that conflict with institutions’ needs and priorities; create stronger connections between K-12, universities, and employers; employ real-time and analytics-driven data to drive change and better understand and serve all students;  and a stronger focus on leadership development to ensure a next generation of administrators who feel urgency, understand priorities and are able to make tough decisions. College leaders have been meeting these challenges by launching initiatives such as “bring your own device” and educational apps to improve learning for today’s technology-driven students; delivering programs with competency-based models; applying adaptive learning models and experimenting with developmental education models; expanding short-cycle training and certification opportunities; and improving connectivity with educational ecosystems for smoother transfer and workforce opportunities for students.

After his presentation, Dr. Milliron joined Drs. Jack Warner, executive director of the NECC; Ellen Kennedy, president of Berkshire Community College; and Barbara Finkelstein, president of York Community College, for a panel discussion in reaction to the key trends presentation. Attendees then broke into affinity groups, tasked with composing ways the NECC can serve its clients more effectively and be more responsive to institutional needs.

After breaking for lunch, the groups reported their collective findings. Suggestions included exploring think tanks, specific trainings (such as Title IX), and other ways to bolster professional development for higher education leaders; citing a more specific mission and more clearly branding the NECC; linking with NEASC, AACC, NEBHE, CollegeBoard, and other local higher education groups to schedule conjoined meetings or partner on initiatives; providing more resources and connections among states and regions, including potential shared software and data; assessing skills and abilities and providing asset maps to members; providing regional opportunities to talk about curriculum assessment and other pressing needs; involving more faculty in the organization; helping to drive public policy and articulation agreements; conducting research and collecting  information to counter IPEDS; create cross-state collaborations; helping to push innovations and combat resistance to change by supporting innovations; promoting and stating the NECC’s value; identifying hot topics, such as student success, and the needs and means to achieve them; and considering the launch of a leadership academy (for transition/succession planning and support of higher education leaders) and a chair academy (for board leaders to explore their roles in oversight, accountability, and planning).

The groups recognized that the NECC has some challenges of its own, from members who do not respond to communications (a phone tree was suggested by the group of presidents/executive officers) to no full-time staff (Jack Warner has recently been named executive officer on a part-time basis, but membership dues have remained a reasonable $475 per institution per year, and the Council may need to increase that amount if it plans on expanding Dr. Warner’s role or adding more staff and resources to accomplish the suggested initiatives).

The NECC conducted one final piece of business at the conference. With Ray Di Pasquale stepping down as president of the Community College of Rhode Island, the NECC was in need of a new president. After discussing the NECC’s leadership issue, a group of NECC-member presidents and executive officers at the conference (Cathryn Addy, Daniel Asquino, Paul Brodie, Gail Carberry, Ray Di Pasquale, Susan Dunton, Pam Eddinger, Barbara Finkelstein, William Hart, Alicia Harvey-Smith, and Susan Huard) elected Ellen Kennedy, president of Berkshire Community College, as the NECC’s new president. The NECC looks forward to thriving under President Kennedy’s leadership and under Dr. Warner’s guidance.