01/11/09 — Wayne Community College reflects on successful '08

View Archive

Wayne Community College reflects on successful '08

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 11, 2009 2:00 AM

The economy may rise and fall, but at Wayne Community College officials count on partnerships built over the years to keep it steady.

And while 2008 was a good year, every struggle came down to the money ---- particularly financial aid and scholarships, said Dr. Kay Albertson, WCC president.

"When the economy is the way it is now we don't have the scholarship funds that we normally have," she said. "We had invested very well but our foundation investments took a plunge. We have our revenues to draw on but it's tough fundraising when you have businesses that are having to cut back.

"In a community our size we do call on the same groups and individuals because we are limited in our scope. These are wonderful groups and wonderful individuals who don't just target one ---- they give across the board."

The community college system is a "fickle business," she said, each driven by the community which surronds it. And while it offers some solid core training programs, part of the challenge is trying to meet needs in the midst of an economic struggle that is likely to shift again.

"You have to be thinking forward, even if it isn't here right now or it's smaller right now," she said. "Take our gaming and simulation program ---- it's a fast-growing area ---- the jobs aren't here but they're going to be here."

And while the dip in the economy translates to people taking fewer classes and financial aid being more competitive, the head count for the spring semester is still good at this point, Dr. Albertson said.

"Even with the economy people will take classes," she said. "We have put the message out that you have got to (register) early to get financial aid."

This past year, there was much to celebrate, the president said. Graduations and accomplishments of students and staff top the list. And while many long-term employees retired, a new slate of highly-credentialed employees replenished the pool, she said.

An internal leadership institute was launched, providing coaching sessions for faculty members on how to plan for the future and succeed in their careers.

In the coming year, the college will participate in a basic uniform marketing strategy being launched by the statewide system, Dr. Albertson said.

"We have not used funds and marketed ourselves in the ways that we need to," she said. "Some of that is limited funds ---- you don't put it into selling yourself, telling your own story. We are looking at some prospective ways we hope to get the message out, that the N.C. community college system is vital to the health of the state."

The marketing strategy will be based on the theme of creating success through hope, opportunity and jobs.

"It's all about giving folks hope for the future, setting up opportunities for people who never thought that they could possibly accomplish higher education goals and create jobs for North Carolina," she said. "It's simple but we're all going to build our own personal marketing strategies around that theme."

Customizing the approach and creating its own personal brand will not be difficult, the president says.

"One of the elements that makes Wayne Community unique ---- we have such personal care given to our students," she said. "Almost everyone we interview who tells us their story and the stories vary from, 'I own my own auto body shop' or 'I'm a nurse at Pitt' (and) almost always woven into their personal stories is, 'Somebody cared about me.' It might have been financial aid, a counselor, an advisor, but 'somebody cared enough about me that my sense of self-worth increased,' 'my desire to continue increased,' 'I knew I could do this,' 'I knew I could finish it.' ... I think that's one thing that we do better than most. We talk about it a lot and we know that it's the right thing to do."

Retention rates are better because of the personal care, as is the success of students, she said.

The college offers more than programs, Dr. Albertson pointed out ---- it offers services. And that is evident in its collaborations around the county.

"I hope that people in the community are beginning to see that the partnerships with organizations and agencies and individuals really are coming to fruition," she said. "I think we are as much on track to improve education, to provide a skilled workforce, to provide for our citizens, joining hands as much as we have ever been. We talk about it all the time."

The college boasts partnerships with the city and county as well as the school system and the hospital. As just one example, Wayne Memorial Hospital contributes $175,000 a year to the college, which in turn produces nurses and other health care graduates.

It's something she does not take for granted.

"I'm very proud of the partnership in the community," she said. "We have community colleges in this state in which the community colleges and the public schools do not work together side by side. I have colleagues who have literally said, 'You go and meet with your county manager or city manager?'"

Building a bridge to prepare students for the workforce means collaborating with the school system, as well as those in the business sector. With the latter in mind, one of the efforts anticipated in the coming year will be conducting a survey of city and county employees.

"We haven't done something like that in about 15 years," Dr. Albertson said. "It's to really see what the specific training needs of our employees are."

In the meantime, the economy remains a looming challenge.

"It's what you expect. We haven't had difficulty in attracting people, we haven't lost as beat from the standpoint of the kind of things we can offer," she said. "We have had to revert 3 percent of our base budget to the state and that hurts those things that you want to do.

"But on the other side of that, because Wayne Community was one of the seven superior performing colleges, we did get additional funds in late October that we can use to take care of that 3 percent reversion, that would have been a loss. So I can provide equipment, I can have extra money to provide (for the) latent evidence (program started this year) and provide bonuses to this incredible staff. We're going to be fine from a fiscal standpoint in 2008 and in the spring of 2009."

The next obstacle will be subsequent years' budgets. Community colleges have been asked by the current governor to look to the future and consider what it would mean to make 3 percent, 5 percent and 7 percent cuts.

"Three percent you can probably live with," Dr. Albertson said. "Five and seven, you probably have to look at jobs. This is something that we're looking at. We'll start in January when everybody gets back and take a very, very, very close look at those budgets."

With the arrival of 2009, Dr. Albertson said one of her main goals is to maintain a stable operation and build on the things the college does well.

"I want people to have employment. When you think about us as part of a train in Wayne County ---- many of the train cars are here at Wayne Community," she said. "I want us to continue to be a major employer, I want us to continue to provide the kind of skill sets that they need to be employed, to be contributing members here in Wayne County. In order to do those types of things, we have to have a good solid fiscal plan.

"I really hold my breath that we can maintain where we are, if not get better, because that fiscal stability is at the center of everything. We continue to listen and to learn from our partners in Wayne County so that we can continue to contribute to that partnership as we have in the past."