The Case For Planning
De Anza College enters the next decade with a reputation as an institution of exemplary collegiate instruction and support, offering a wide range of courses and programs to a diverse and exciting community of students. This is a reputation earned through the commitment and imagination of an extraordinarily talented faculty and staff, working with limited resources and too few amenities to meet the widely diverse needs of our students.
How shall we maintain our excellence in the face of systematic under-funding from the state, fluctuating enrollments, a rapidly changing social, technological and economic environment, and the ever-changing demography of our region? What are the implications for us of the new high school exit exam or changes in remediation policies at the UC and CSU? How can our faculty, staff and administrators sustain or redefine our identity in the face of new challenges in our region, commit ourselves to new initiatives in our academic and support programs, and clarify our highest priorities for development and direction?
A strategic review of our priorities and goals is provoked not only by the immediate changes in the external environment, but by the belief that our current enrollment and funding dilemmas are not momentary lapses in an otherwise happy story of robust support and unending student demand. The decline in our enrollment may be rooted in long-term shifts in the demographics of age and location in our region, demanding from us a critical review of who we serve and how we might serve them better. And the long-term prospects for significant college budget increases are slim to none, especially in light of escalating costs.
In the face of these changes and projections we must be clear about our priorities in the distribution of scarce resources, and clear about how we might better deliver the quality programs for which we are known. This may mean we do more of some things, less of others, or change some of what we do altogether. But which things do we choose, and why? The purpose of strategic planning is to engage the entire De Anza community—both internal and external constituencies—in addressing these questions, and provide answers to them.
This is not an abstract exercise. Strategic planning is hard work, asking a lot of men and women who are already working full time to meet their classes, counsel students, review our programs and our facilities, manage the schedules and keep ahead of the deadlines. Strategic planning is only worth doing if we feel the challenges are sufficient to warrant the extra work, and if we believe the results will be expressed in measurable changes—not in abandoned texts on some shelf.
The challenges that provoke a turn to strategic planning are these:
1. Funding: De Anza is coming through the fourth year of a budget decline, caught between insufficient state support and increased costs. The college B budget per FTES has declined over 60% from 2001 to today (from $255 per FTES to $88); there have been repeated cuts in staff, instructional technology, and the support programs that sustain an engaged faculty and empower students. Every member of our faculty, staff, and administration has felt the impact of these budget reductions, especially when we are trying to reach out to more students, and offer programs that engage and sustain them
Even with equalization dollars this year our per student funding will only increase to roughly $4,000, only half of the national average for community college funding. By comparison, the California State University receives over $11,000 per student, and the University of California receives about $20,000.
More critically, there is no plausible scenario in which state funding increases dramatically. The District faces cost escalations in both employee and retiree benefits costs, and must maintain competitive salaries for our faculty and staff. While the new bond promises to relieve some of the pressure on the general fund, it precipitates other issues: in what sequence and in what magnitude are funds distributed for equipment, maintenance, technology, etc?
2. Enrollment and Demography: Our overall enrollment trend for the last two years is flat. But if we exempt our Job Corps enrollment from the calculations, we are persistently down more than 4% in our on-campus enrollment. The largest drop has occurred among permanent residents, and east of the 880 corridor.
While our enrollment of our immediate district high school graduates remains stable, this is a relatively small share of our overall enrollment. The number of local high school graduates is expected to slightly decline over the next decade. The fastest growing age demographic is persons over 50, and we do little to especially attract or engage this cohort. And the fastest growing geographic areas in our region are those farthest from the campus.
The fastest growing communities in our region are among those most in need of quality and low-cost educational opportunities, particularly in working class and immigrant communities. Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic demographic in a region notable for its diversity, where Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Filipino, other Asian and African-American and European-American students and families look for opportunity. How can De Anza best respond to this diversity, especially in light of systematic and deep divisions of economic class that also mark the region?
What about the goals of our students? A more detailed review of enrollment in our academic programs reveals dramatic declines in those areas where we have traditionally been strong—especially in computer sciences—and increased demand in areas where we do not have sufficient program infrastructure—like the life sciences and nursing. Indeed, students come to us well aware of where the jobs are—and they are in high cost programs where we have finite limits on our offerings.
We must come up with answers to the questions posed by these trends. How do we better support students over 50, and should we? How do we attract a larger share of a relatively stable cohort of high school graduates, and which communities should we reach out to more? How can we be more of a cultural resource for the region; how can we better serve students with widely diverse needs and talents?
3. The Economy: There have been multiple analyses of our local regional economy, including one commissioned by the District in an effort to better understand the local job market. Every analysis concludes that the exodus of manufacturing jobs is a permanent feature of the economy, that job growth will be in high skill fields, especially in business services, computing, bio-sciences and software development, and that high school equivalencies will be inadequate to gain employment offering a living wage. More detailed analyses provide insight into the flexible and adaptable skill sets employees will look for, and suggest that colleges will have to better prepare students for multiple career paths rather than for narrow technical competences.
College planning is always caught between the demand for immediate responsiveness to a changing labor market—with its attendant dangers of over-preparing for job niches about to disappear—and the demand for broader and deeper preparation in literacy, writing, math, science, and the arts. But even a glancing look at the employment trends in our region will direct us to certain general fields and away from others. On which fields should we concentrate our efforts? How can we partner with our local communities, governments, and businesses to better prepare students, and how do we build and sustain new programs in the face of restricted budgets?
4. Technology: No one with even a passing acquaintance with contemporary teenagers can doubt that digital media have become a ubiquitous force in defining the availability and nature of information, entertainment, even knowledge itself. For some this is a cultural catastrophe, for others an occasion to explore alternative methods of engaging students in their own learning. The explosion of delivery systems—from computers to PDAs to iPods to whatever comes next—offers an opportunity for colleges to experiment with a wide variety of technology-mediated instruction as well as new forms of distance learning. Especially with the growth of internet II and broadband, or the development of simulated “dry” labs and pod-cast study groups, we are challenged to craft a thoughtful and coherent engagement with technology, one that is driven by an account of what we expect students to learn, and takes into account the new ways of learning available to technologically-savvy student.
The challenge of technology is made especially sharp for De Anza because the passage of the new bond will provide us an unparalleled opportunity to explore and expand our uses of technology. But which kinds of technology will we invest in, driven by what curricular models and with what learning outcomes? Does technology provide opportunities to integrate the arts and sciences in new ways? How shall we assess our projects, and against what standards will we judge our students to be expert users of the technology?
5. The Competition: De Anza has rightly occupied a relatively secure spot in the local educational ecology. The strength of our programs, the quality of our instruction and student support, even the beauty of the campus—all combined to bring us a healthy share of students well beyond what we might expect from our district alone. But we cannot rest secure in the region. Virtually every local community college has initiated significant curricular changes, built or renovated buildings, crafted outreach programs and community partnerships, and tried to create and sustain new identities of service to their immediate communities. As gas prices escalate and more proximate colleges get stronger, we may have to provide new reasons for students to come to De Anza, or craft new partnerships with our sister colleges to better serve our multiple communities.
Beyond the public institutions, there are a plethora of for-profit degree-granting schools (Phoenix, National, Alliant) and local university extension and continuing education programs that offer exceptionally flexible programming, short courses, and good student support for a certain range of students. Are there are ways we can meet the needs of students who currently choose these competing options?
6. Student Learning: At the center of any strategic planning is an account of substantive student learning outcomes. Given the changing economic, cultural, and technological environment, what are the fundamental challenges faced by our students, and how do we best prepare them for living and working in that environment? If we restrict ourselves to an account of what students need for transfer, or what they need for technical certification in any particular field, we may miss a major opportunity to clarify our own real purposes here. How do we best honor our deep commitment to educational equity among the diverse students who come to De Anza? How will we assess our progress in better preparing students to become powerful and resourceful participants in the region’s economy, society, and politics?
If these elements frame our challenge, they also provide a case for strategic planning. Only if we step back from the daily operation of the college and ask ourselves to imagine alternative futures for De Anza, can we actually craft those futures. And only if we use a planning process that deeply engages all of us can we believe that those futures will come alive in our daily work.
Strategic Planning Initiative
Contact: Marisa Spatafore