At our commencement exercises this past May, we celebrated the academic achievement of more than 1,700 graduates who were awarded degrees and certificates as members of the Class of 2011. This annual ceremony is one of the most tangible examples of how the Community College of Philadelphia educational experience can transform lives toward a better future.
As we begin our next academic year, I am reminded of a recent op ed whose literary conceit could be adapted to our own goal of building many more bright futures for the residents of this city.
In the August 2, 2011, edition of The Philadelphia Tribune, Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, spoke to her continuing passion for improved futures for children and, indeed, individuals of all ages. If I may adapt her column’s metaphor, “Lessons learned from the Ark,” I would suggest five of Ms. Edelman’s lessons that can be translated into our higher education mission and our critical role in the city that we serve.
Lesson One: We are all in the same boat. Our participation in Achieving the Dream has demonstrated over and over again that the challenges we face at our College are faced equally in other community college environments. Developmental education, for example, is not a uniquely Community College of Philadelphia proposition; our colleagues at other institutions, like us, seek to improve developmental education student outcomes. In that way, we are all in the same boat. But we at Community College of Philadelphia are in the same boat in another respect as well: regardless of our position at the College, it takes all of us—classroom teacher, counselor or academic advisor, financial aid officer or tutor—to collectively help our students achieve their individual goals.
Lesson Two: Plan ahead. Ms. Edelman reminds us that Noah began building his boat before there was any sign of rain. Before government or other external forces mandate performance-based funding, we need to improve our institutional accountability in producing better student outcomes. Before we experience the inevitable enrollment swings that accompany changes in the national economy, we need to anticipate ways of ameliorating this cyclical phenomenon. Before changes in licensing or industry expectations narrow the options of our career or technical students, we need to anticipate the curricular mix that will best serve our students in the next five, ten or fifteen years.
Lesson Three: Don’t listen to the critics and naysayers. We cannot be afraid to take risks on behalf of innovation or enhanced student success. We cannot be afraid to disturb the status quo if evidence validates that our direction is not fruitful. We cannot be afraid to stand behind those efforts that are documentably successful.
Lesson Four: Travel in pairs. We are fortunate to have individual champions on campus that have led the way as we have developed quality programs in international education, educational re-entry programs, our academic Centers, etc. But we can achieve even more powerful results if we act collectively as a department, division or institution. The engagement of those larger “pairs” can significantly move our student success efforts to the next plateau.
Final Lesson: Build on high ground. Whether we are dealing with “everyday” issues like enrollment or budget, necessary priorities such as our upcoming Middle States reaccreditation process, or innovative approaches to curriculum and pedagogy, we are engaged in building our future. We are building a future for our students. We are building a future for our College community. We are building a future for our broader community. That’s my definition of building on high ground. While the increase in the number of our graduates indicates that we are making wonderful progress in multiple areas, there remains more than enough building yet to do. I look forward to building alongside you as we enter yet another productive academic year.