College Update: Student Affairs Redesign

Monday, February 28, 2022

A Special Message From Kathleen Plinske, Valencia College President

I hope this message finds you well and that you are looking forward to a restful and relaxing Spring Break.

As I shared last fall, it had become apparent to me that a different organizational structure was needed for our Student Affairs team. After hosting six Student Affairs Town Halls and meeting individually with dozens of Student Affairs employees who requested to do so, I heard our team consistently describe a number of challenges related to our Student Affairs processes, technology, and organizational structure and culture.

These challenges have led to results for our students that are not commensurate with the level of effort that our Student Affairs team has been putting forth. As an example, in December 2021, 600 would-be, first-time-in-college students submitted their application to Valencia. Of those, only 126 (26%) were able to make it all the way through our steps to enrollment to register for classes this spring. Moreover, our Black and Hispanic applicants were disproportionately impacted by these challenges. While I know that our Student Affairs team puts forth extraordinary efforts to serve our students, our processes, technology, and structure haven’t allowed us to serve students at the level our mission requires.

Please understand that my concern is not about enrollment for enrollment’s sake; rather, I know the difference a Valencia education makes for students who are able to enroll. As I shared during my presentation at last week’s District Board of Trustees meeting, it is possible that many students who don’t enroll at Valencia will instead choose a for-profit, proprietary institution where the steps to enrollment are much simpler, but their likelihood of success is lower and their odds of being saddled with a lifetime of student debt are much higher.

First, to address the process and technology challenges, I recommended to our District Board of Trustees that they approve a partnership with CampusWorks to help us both with business process reimagination as well as technology support. As the CEO of CampusWorks, Liz Murphy, described to our board, the results of this partnership will free our teams from much of the “brute force” effort that has been required, both in Student Affairs and the Office for Information Technology, to make our systems operate. We will work together to simplify enrollment processes as well as begin to leverage more of the native functionality of Banner so that our teams aren’t required to put forth such a Herculean effort during each period of peak registration.

Second, though my original plan to address our structural challenges included dividing the Division of Student Affairs into two parts, with leadership by both Joe Richardson (for the student experience) and Joe Battista (for outreach and enrollment), Dr. Richardson has recently shared with me that his plans have changed and that he will return to Georgia at the end of June. When he first joined Valencia in 2019, his son was a high school senior; he and his family planned to live apart until his son graduated from high school and went away to college. As has happened to so many of us, the pandemic disrupted those plans, and he has unselfishly continued to serve Valencia apart from his family. However, upon much reflection, he has decided to return home, and I fully understand and support his decision. He aspires to be a college president and will be looking at opportunities in Georgia. Dr. Richardson will continue with us at Valencia until Thursday, June 30, 2022, unless another opportunity presents itself sooner.

With Dr. Richardson’s change of plans, and after reflecting on all of our conversations and your feedback, I determined that the team would not be well-served by another period of ambiguity and uncertainty in leadership. As such, I immediately began developing options of how to best provide stability in senior leadership for the team.

You may recall that during our provost search process, we had the opportunity to meet and learn about Lesley Frederick. Her extraordinary commitment to the community college mission, authentic passion for our students, and more than 25 years of direct experience within student affairs, including more than 11 years as the Vice President of Student Services at Lincoln Land Community College, stood out to our search committee and made her an excellent candidate for one of our provost positions. Indeed, she accepted the invitation to serve as the Provost of Career and Professional Programs. Dr. Frederick was excited for this new challenge, and we were looking forward to her leadership in this area.

After Dr. Richardson shared his plans with me, I invited her to consider the possibility of joining Valencia as the Vice President of Student Affairs. After careful consideration and a number of conversations with members of our Senior Team, Dr. Frederick has accepted this new call. She will begin as Valencia’s Vice President of Student Affairs on Friday, July 1, 2022. We will examine options for leadership for our career and professional programs in the coming weeks.

Additionally, I recognized that some additional changes in our leadership structure were necessary to position our Student Affairs teams to best serve our students. First, our Transitions department will join our Outreach and Recruiting department in Continuing Education, so that we have a single, collegewide team providing outreach and recruitment for credit and continuing education programs alike. Second, our Testing and Assessment teams will join together within our Learning Support division. Third, I have invited Sonya Joseph, Amy Parker, and Edwin Sanchez to serve in different roles at the College outside of Student Affairs. I am confident that they will excel in these new roles.

And finally, as we expect many of our students will continue to prefer to access our services virtually, I have invited our Deans of Students to reimagine their work organized by service, rather than by campus. Accordingly, I have asked:

  • Andel Fils Aime to serve as Dean of Counseling, Advising, and Holistic Student Support, providing collegewide leadership for counseling, advising, new student orientation, conduct, and providing support for students with disabilities;
  • Edna Jones Miller to serve as Dean of Student Engagement and Partnerships, providing leadership for Student Affairs at the Downtown Campus as well as for student development and career centers;
  • Joe Sarrubbo to serve as Dean of Student Services, providing leadership for our Directors and Managers of Student Services, Answer Centers, and our Enrollment Services teams;
  • Jill Szentmiklosi to serve as Dean of Student Enrollment and Records, providing collegewide leadership for admissions, records, and graduation; and
  • Daniel Barkowitz to continue serving as Assistant Vice President of Financial Aid and Veteran Services.

You can learn more about the new organizational structure here, which will go into effect when we return from Spring Break. This structure represents our best thinking today and will serve us well through the fall registration process; we may expect some additional adjustments to this structure after the fall registration period as a result of our business process reviews.

While I recognize this represents a significant amount of change, I am excited that we are moving forward with clarity and strong leadership in our Student Affairs team. To provide space for you to ask questions about these changes, or anything else, I’ll host a special edition of Ask Kathleen Anything on Thursday, March 3, 2022, at 1 p.m. via Zoom. As always, you are also welcome to communicate with me via email at kplinske@valenciacollege.edu.

After Spring Break, you will see opportunities to continue our conversations with CampusWorks about reimagining our Student Affairs processes and technology to provide the best student experience possible. We will also begin planning immediately for how best to welcome potential students at our front door, who have taken the courageous step of indicating an interest in continuing their education at Valencia College this fall. I’m looking forward to engaging in this important work together.

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