By Diana Matthews
Southeastern Community College’s board of trustees in June approved updates to the college’s three-year strategic plan.
Henry Edmund has served on the board eight years and became chairman in 2014, just before Dr. Tony Clarke started his term as college president. The two explained how the board’s 12 members provide general oversight to the college staff.
“We don’t get into the operational part of the school,” Edmund said.
“The president updates the board on college happenings at every-other-month meetings, plus any other called meetings, to keep them up to speed,”said Clarke. “The board’s main responsibilities are to hire and fire the president and to develop the strategic plan.” The board dedicates their June meeting to updating that plan.
“We get a lot of input from the community,” said Edmund. “That’s who we represent. Along with the president, we determine a path for the college to take.”
Edmund, like most of the board, receives and appreciates calls from community members, whether the caller wants to address a concern or offer a donation. “Yesterday I got a text that said, ‘Just drove by the campus, and the grounds look really good.’ I was at a meeting with Dr. Clarke and I passed the message along to him,” Edmund said. “We were both able to say thank you.”
One of the main changes in college administration since Clarke assumed the presidency is that the strategic plan has become “a living document,” both men said. Previously it had less flexibility and less applicability to current operations.
During Clarke’s first two years in office, the board developed one-year plans. They then adopted a plan to cover the period 2017 through 2020. This year’s meeting updated that plan. A year from now the president and board will begin developing the 2020-2023 plan.
“It’s alive and well,” Edmund said. “We review the previous year. We plan and set goals and expectations for the coming year, then we try to stay within those as well as we can. We can always make adjustments to give clarification and guidance.”
Clarke was proud to say that, “All of our employees were involved” in a recent revision of SCC’s vision and mission statements. A follow-up survey showed that “a very high percentage” remembered what those new statements were.
The college adopted as its vision “To be recognized as the premiere rural community college in North Carolina.” The chosen mission is “To continuously promote educational attainment, economic development and cultural enrichment in Columbus County and surrounding areas.”
Those two statements become the framework for deciding “not just what to do, but also what not to do,” Clarke said. There are things the college could try, and which could be “not bad” ideas, he said, but if they are inconsistent with the college’s overall vision or mission, perhaps those tasks should be accomplished by some other institution.
Putting plans into practice
“Dr. Clarke is as concerned with who is going out our back door as he is about who is coming in the front door,” Edmund said. It would be easy to become too focused on bringing in new students, but “The true test is keeping them here and graduating them. Student success is at the top of our vision.
“I think we do a really good job” of supporting student success, Edmund said. Clarke has invested energy in improving student services, which has helped boost both re-enrollment and retention.
SCC currently has the seventh highest enrollment record among North Carolina’s 58 community colleges, with a 4.6 percent increase in curriculum (degree-seeking) students over a year ago.
Some of the innovations Clarke has put into place include the visible changes commented on by Edmund’s texting correspondent: campus landscaping, improved signage and new paving.
Clarke said he appreciated the county commissioners for “stepping up” to provide funds for the upgrades.
All the things that form a prospective student’s first impression of the college come under the heading of student services, said Edmund, “and that’s got to be a good impression.”
Student services also include less obvious ways that the school reaches out to established students, including software that allows administrators and faculty to track attendance status and reach out to students who are struggling.
“It’s almost like Facebook,” Clarke said. When a student has a good attendance record, “We send a thumbs-up.” Another program sends out emergency alerts and reminds students of due dates and tuition payments.
Success in a competitive world
“A key to moving forward,” Clarke said, “is recognizing that we are in a competitive environment.” Other community colleges as well as four-year institutions advertise to Columbus County students to promote their on-campus and online programs.
“We did very little marketing in the past,” said Edmund. “Now we have a marketing plan in place.” SCC reaches out to likely prospects via Facebook and other social media, newspaper ads and billboards. Edmund is pleased with how current the college’s website now is. He and other board members used to find problems with the website frequently.
A recent innovation proposed by Clarke is the establishment of an entrepreneurial center modeled after a program at UNCP. “The general concept,” Clarke said, “is to be a place where people can start and grow businesses.” The center would be a partnership between SCC’s Small Business Center, Whiteville’s Downtown Development Commission, the Columbus Jobs Foundation and the Columbus Chamber of Commerce and Tourism.
Another area of change is the new mechatronics program, which will train multi-skilled technologists who understand a manufacturing process from many angles. Enrollment is now underway for classes to begin in the fall in the expanded T building.
Clarke pointed out that the college’s logo had changed during his first four years. “It already had the bell, but we added the tagline ‘Succeeding Together.’ We want students to know that when they’re successful, we’re successful.”
The same principle applies to economic development as to student success, he said. “It’s about partnerships and working together. We want to work together with everybody.”
Each SCC board member is appointed to a four-year term by either the governor, the county commissioners, the county schools or the Whiteville schools. Along with board chairman Edmund, current members are Theresa Blanks, Spruill R. Britt, Mark Cartret, Pickett Council, Maudie Davis, Robert Ezzell, Jack Hooks, Joe Hooks, Brenden H. Jones, Emma Shaw and Terray Suggs.