College Update: January 21, 2021

Thursday, January 21, 2021

A Special Message from Sandy Shugart, Valencia College President

Welcome back to Spring Term 2021! I hope you enjoyed genuine rest and deep fellowship over the holidays. You certainly earned it. So much has happened since the last collegewide message; I hope you’ll allow me to comment on just a few.

Valencia students are persisting in their studies.
You may have read that postsecondary enrollments are down across the country, and most especially at community colleges. This is true in Florida as well, where nearly all of the 28 Florida Colleges are experiencing enrollment declines in the 10 to 15% range this spring — except Valencia. Valencia’s enrollment grew considerably last summer, continued to grow modestly in the fall and is essentially holding steady in the spring.

As in the rest of the country and state, many graduating high school seniors are delaying their enrollment in college. Our First Time in College numbers for this fall and spring are down (-13.2% headcount; -9.7% FTE). But growth in other areas is offsetting this delayed enrollment, and I expect, with a little creative effort, many students who have delayed their entrance into college will join us in the fall. Most importantly for learning, we continue to have high levels of returning students, with less than a 1% decrease in term to term persistence over the course of this whole “COVID” year.

I wonder why Valencia’s students are having such a different experience than those of our peers. It isn’t our geography or economy, not our program-mix or our finances. In all of these respects, we’re similar to many institutions whose students have not persisted in their studies. I believe the answer lies in Valencia’s radical commitment to treat students as persons, not enrollments.

Our faculty have made thoughtful and flexible adjustments for students requiring many accommodations during this unusual time. Brilliant innovations in the ordinary things students have to experience (grades, eligibility for financial aid, scheduling, remote access to learning support and other services), were developed and implemented with such creative collaboration, based on seeing our students as students to be served, not problems to be solved or counted. Perhaps most notably, many have granted extraordinary access to students for personal support and help, often in ways “off the radar,” but also in very intentional and proactive ways. With coordination from Student Affairs, staff from across the College have made more than 100,000 outbound calls of support and assistance to students since this crisis began.

I can’t express how grateful and proud I am for all of this work and all of you who have done it. As you know, I’ll be moving on in a few months. This personal attention to our students is the best going away gift I could imagine. Thank you.

Speaking of moving on…
The presidential search process concluded in December, with the District Board of Trustees unanimously selecting Kathleen Plinske, executive vice president and provost, to be the fifth president and CEO of Valencia College. The search was thorough and challenging (just ask Kathleen), and I think it showed the power of collaborative wisdom in the final selection. She is a magnificent servant leader and will serve the College exceptionally well for years to come. Thanks to all who participated in the process.

In order to give Kathleen time to build her own team, complete the academic leadership tasks that can’t easily be handed off and get a little much-deserved rest before beginning her service as president, I will continue actively in the presidency until Thursday, July 1, 2021, at which time Dr. Plinske will fully assume the role.

There is much to sort through to ensure that this is the smoothest and most effective transition we can imagine. Kathleen and I will be close partners in this work. She will want to consult widely within the College on many of her early decisions as well. Watch for a direct collegewide communication from her in the next few days to set the stage for this work.

More relief funds are on the way.
A new federal relief bill was signed into law in December providing $900 billion for a wide variety of relief and other activities. Valencia College is expected to receive nearly $60 million to support our efforts to serve students through the pandemic and prepare to open more face-to-face classes safely. This is a huge sum, but it is non-recurring money restricted by rules that are still in development. A large portion will go to students, some will go to defray COVID safety costs, and other uses have yet to be determined. It may take a few weeks for the rules to be issued. We will approach this as we have previous relief funds, through a transparent and collaborative planning process. Normal operating expenses, especially personnel, salaries, raises etc. are unlikely to be eligible for these funds, but the costs of things like contact tracing, deep cleaning, PPE, technology to support remote services, etc. will be. We’ll share more as the rules are released.

Communication is important, now more than ever.
It is hard to overcommunicate in times of change and uncertainty. For this reason, I expect that I, Dr. Plinske, faculty leaders, campus leaders and others will be sharing messages like this a good bit more often over the next few months. We don’t mean to bury your inbox but do want you to be knowledgeable and included in all that is underway. I hope you find this helpful.

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