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Business Officer Magazine
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Sphere of Influence

Pulling partners into its orbit, Columbus State Community College is building collaborations that bolster its vision—and achievement—of student success.

By Terri Gehr

In a few short years, Columbus State Community College has rounded up an impressive array of partners—educators, corporate executives, and civic leaders alike—who share a single vision: Boost student success, keep college affordable, and effectively prepare the central Ohio region's workforce.

Motivated by a new president, the assembling of this cadre of like-minded people has come with its share of challenges. Understanding and integrating cultures, working through countless details, figuring out budgets and finances, and building relationships among people who may reside more than 75 miles apart have been simultaneously exhilarating; exhausting; and, at times, frustrating.

Through it all, we have kept our eye on the prize—affordable pathways for students—and we have seized every opportunity to problem solve creatively and collaboratively. With each partnership we have built, we have learned to stay at the table and figure it out.
This is our story.

A President With Passion

Columbus State, with almost 26,000 students, is located in Columbus, Ohio, the state's capital. The heart of a relatively prosperous region, Columbus is home to The Ohio State University and Fortune 500 companies, including Cardinal Health, Nationwide, American Electric Power, and L Brands.

"Time is the Enemy"

In his interview with Business Officer, Columbus State Community College President David T. Harrison explains his strategy for increasing student success and workforce development through partnerships.

As was the case for many community colleges, our institution experienced surging enrollment during the recession. As enrollment was peaking in 2010 at just under 32,000 students, we opened a second campus, prepared to transition from a quarter- to a semester-based academic calendar, and began arrangements for a decennial accreditation visit. At the same time, state policymakers were increasingly turning their attention to performance-based funding.

Enter David T. Harrison, the college's fifth president, and an experienced leader with a track record of building partnerships as vice provost for regional campuses at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

During his first year, the president met with school superintendents, university presidents, and business and civic leaders. His conversations consistently led to the same key questions: How can we help students be more successful? How do we make college more affordable? And how do we ensure the region has the workforce it needs to be prosperous?

Finding a Framework

Since many of us had the same questions, we worked together to answer them.

We hosted summits, inviting the many people President Harrison met during his first year. Superintendents and university presidents brought their own senior leaders to the table. Civic leaders interested in the K–16 education pipeline joined the conversations. 

Together, we launched the Central Ohio Compact, in 2011, a regional strategy aimed at reducing or eliminating remediation; expanding early college opportunities; guaranteeing students a bachelor's degree pathway to universities in the region; and, in doing these things, keeping college affordable. The compact serves as a framework within which systemwide efforts can be undertaken that will help retain students in the education pipeline.

As details of the compact emerged, community partners invested $100,000 for regional membership in the Pathways to Prosperity network, a multistate initiative focused on preparing students for career success. Many central Ohio school districts and nine higher education institutions adopted joint resolutions supporting the compact, cementing the foundation for a regional strategy designed to achieve the Lumina Foundation's well-publicized national goal of 60 percent of Americans earning a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2025.

Integrating With Four-Year Universities

Quick wins within the compact's framework were important to establish momentum. And who better to demonstrate a commitment to the objectives of the compact than the largest university in the state—The Ohio State University.

The 2+2 Preferred Pathways partnership, which debuted in 2012, guarantees admission to Ohio State for any Columbus State student who satisfactorily completes an associate degree, potentially reducing education costs significantly, and eliminating uncertainty with regard to the 2+2 pathway. The guarantee of admission to Ohio State allows students and families to develop a four-year bachelor's degree plan starting at Columbus State. Other universities in the region followed suit.

Today, eight institutions have demonstrated their commitment to the compact's objectives by becoming Preferred Pathways partners. In addition to Ohio State, those partners include Capital University, Franklin University, Miami University, Ohio Dominican University, Ohio University, Ohio Wesleyan University, and Otterbein University. This year, about 7,800 Columbus State students said they hope to transfer to one of the partner institutions.

In Ohio's performance-based funding model, transfers matter. Associate degree completions, certificate completions, and transfers to public or private four-year institutions are cost-based and account for 25 percent of the subsidy allocation. The costs are weighted for student populations that are underserved, yet whose success is critical to the state meeting its postsecondary attainment needs. The weights, referred to as "access categories," include adult, low-income, and minority students. Columbus State leads Ohio's community colleges in university transfers and in access points associated with transfers.

A rainbow greets more than 1,100 students on their first day of classes at the Dublin campus, where Columbus State and Ohio University are joining forces to create academic pathways in allied health professions.

What About K–12?

While meeting with school district superintendents early in his tenure, President Harrison also found a receptive group of leaders, including the superintendent of the Reynoldsburg City School District, a suburban district with 7,000 students. The district had too few students who could demonstrate college readiness, too few who could afford college, and too few who could hope for a better future.

At that time, the alignment of the curriculum and academic expectations between K–12 curriculum and college was essentially nonexistent. In 2012, 46 percent of Reynoldsburg graduates who attended a public Ohio college or university were enrolled in a remedial class in math or English.

In the midst of rethinking its high school model, the district sought a college partner. After a pilot program to address the district's math remediation needs yielded promising results, a high school math teacher assisted Columbus State in expanding the program, not only in the Reynoldsburg school district but also in other districts across Central Ohio. This initiative gave high school students, upon completion of the courses, a direct path to college-level math courses at Columbus State. Now, several districts are using the program to prepare their students to take college coursework while still in high school or upon entering their first year of college.

As the math program launched, Reynoldsburg's superintendent offered us vacant space in one of the high schools that could be renovated at the district's expense. The space would be rent-free, provided we furnished and equipped the 18 classrooms and labs, and the offices. The space provided the expansion necessary for the math remediation program to take root, while also providing a variety of college courses in Reynoldsburg for both its high school students and its community at large. And Columbus State faculty could continue to work with Reynoldsburg's educators to align curriculum. 

Before the regional learning center opened in January 2013, 50 Reynoldsburg high school students took five different Columbus State classes, earning a total of 421 credits. Once the center opened, they could choose from 25 different courses. Last year, more than 350 students took classes at the regional campus, earning a total of 1,354 credits.

State Mandates Dual Enrollment 

Ohio has had dual enrollment and postsecondary programs in high schools for approximately 25 years. What's new and improved in Ohio is a statutorily mandated program, College Credit Plus, which gives all college—ready public secondary and middle school students—including homeschooled students-the opportunity to take courses for secondary and postsecondary credit. The program, which became effective on July 1, 2015, required implementation for the autumn 2015 term.

The Central Ohio Compact provided a framework within which Columbus State and its K–12 partners prepared for the program's enactment months in advance. We had hired a former district superintendent who worked with the compact's superintendents to facilitate their efforts and provide guidance. 

While getting the law enacted was anything but simple, and this first year of implementation has had its challenges, we have reason to believe that our existing framework made things go more smoothly than they might have. After all, we already had our partners at the table, we were able to immediately work through the details, and we consistently applied our standards across agreements with the participating school districts. 

State mandates have definitely made a difference. This autumn, we enrolled more than 2,000 high school students in college courses, more than doubling the number participating in postsecondary courses over the same term a year ago. 

Corporations and the State Kick in Funds

As word spread about the compact and its goal of integrating the education pipeline toward a common goal, Columbus State received financial commitments from corporate partners that understood the value of the compact and the collaboration it created.

The American Electric Power Foundation committed $5 million over five years for STEM-related pathways in five high schools within the region's largest urban school district, Columbus City Schools. JPMorgan Chase committed $2.5 million for five years as part of its international New Skills at Work initiative to support an infrastructure for the compact, giving us resources to sufficiently staff the work.

Additionally, the state of Ohio allocated $250 million for a grant program designed to increase efficiency in K–12 education; and the compact provided the framework to respond quickly to this funding opportunity, with our partner high schools securing millions that had to be spent within 18 months.

Columbus State's share of these K–12 partnership grants totaled more than $3.7 million. The monies have been and are still being used for various initiatives supporting the secondary, postsecondary, and workforce pipeline, including:

In one sense, community colleges are better positioned than most to foster collaboration. Our workforce development and civic engagement missions make working in isolation a practical impossibility.

  • Digitizing courses.
  • Supporting college readiness initiatives.
  • Providing professional development to high school teachers.
  • Developing a data dashboard to inform the effective use of resources to advance the compact's goal and objectives.
  • Enhancing our systems to streamline the entry process for incoming K–12 students. 
  • Creating an information technology academy within an early college high school.

A student tests one of a range of possible activities at Columbus State Community College.

Employers Strengthen Partnerships

As a large manufacturing employer in Marysville, Ohio, Honda of America is committed to building its current and future workforce. While we have been working with Honda for the past 20 years, in 2012 Honda executives huddled with workforce development and business program leaders from Columbus State to explore a partnership for producing the next generation of skilled technicians. Bolstered by a $1 million workforce development initiative, Honda is investing in all levels of education and training to close the skills gap in U.S. manufacturing.

Columbus State worked with K–12 districts and Honda leadership to create a work/study program that allows students to work at Honda three days each week, while completing their degrees at Columbus State. Students can earn their degrees while applying their newly mastered technical skills. To ensure members of the existing workforce can upgrade their skills, two Columbus State technical faculty work on site at Honda full time.

Columbus State and Honda are partners with Marysville schools, informing the creation of the curriculum for the first STEM early college high school program focused on manufacturing. A mobile fabrication lab and on-site robotics equipment create enthusiasm among middle and high school students about manufacturing. Further, the new College Credit Plus legislation allows students in high school to take Columbus State college-level courses that apply toward degree programs at Columbus State.

Anton Dela Fuente is one of the many students who has benefited from the partnership. He recently started working at Honda, with a $60,000 salary, after completing his studies. In 2013, Anton studied STEM subjects that transferred directly into his degree program at Columbus State. After his first two semesters at Columbus State, he continued taking courses two days each week while working three days a week at Honda, earning $18 an hour. Dela Fuente, who says the grueling pace was worth it, plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in engineering from Miami University at one of its branch campuses.

Let's Move in Together

In 2012, we learned that Ohio University (OU) would be offering undergraduate education on its new campus in central Ohio, roughly 75 miles from its main campus in Athens. We were looking for space where a 2+2 or a 3+1 academic partnership could flourish. So President Harrison called OU President Roderick J. McDavis.

In January 2014, the presidents and their senior leaders met to consider the possibilities and emerged with an agreement to explore 2+2 partnerships at the new campus, starting first with Columbus State's allied health programs, because the university's medical college is located on the new campus. OU's new physician assistant program was the first to launch at the new campus, and other 2+2 pathways may be considered as the 100-acre campus develops. At its November 2014 meeting, our board of trustees authorized an enhanced partnership relationship with OU based on the following principles:

  • Recognizing each other as primary academic partners at the Dublin campus, Columbus State and OU will collaborate to create academic pathways in allied health and related professions.
  • Using 2+2 as the primary design principle, we will offer courses for the first two years of the bachelor's degree. OU will provide upper-level general education courses and any lower-level general education courses needed for OU that lack a Columbus State equivalent. Whenever possible, both institutions will provide educational offerings that complement rather than compete with each other, and share resources in course delivery.

We also agreed that the partners will:

  • Strive to create same-site 2+2 academic pathways for students, recognizing that many place-bound adult learners need this option to complete their certificates and degrees.
  • Explore collaborations in clinical and simulation activities to benefit their students
  • Explore connections with area secondary schools to create opportunities for high school students to become familiar with opportunities and access appropriate programs and activities focused on the pursuit of health-care careers.
  • Create opportunities for interdisciplinary and interprofessional education.
  • Remain flexible, understanding that the scope of work and time frames associated with this partnership require accommodation and adaptability.

The board also authorized funds up to $3.1 million to furnish and equip our space in the new building and to meet our share of campus development expenses.

Between December 2014 and August 2015, we spent countless hours with our OU colleagues, developing academic pathways and working out the specifics of a tenancy. On Aug. 31, 2015, just 20 months after leaders at Columbus State and OU agreed to explore an enhanced academic partnership, we welcomed more than 1,100 students to a gleaming new state-of-the-art facility that not only holds the promise of a two-year degree, but also of a pathway to a four-year degree.

The Core of Community Colleges

In one sense, community colleges are better positioned than most to foster collaboration. Our workforce development and civic engagement missions make working in isolation a practical impossibility. But the same results are possible in any environment.

The key lies, as our president likes to say, in realizing that, "These aren't side programs, but are at the core of what we do." The collective impact multiplied through strong partnerships is far more powerful and enduring than anything we can do in isolation.

TERRI GEHR is senior vice president and chief financial officer, business and administrative services, Columbus State Community College, Columbus, Ohio.

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Making the Most of Muscle Memory

"Collaboration" is among the bigger buzzwords in higher education, and for good reason: Collaboration is an imperative, if we're to deliver what's best for our institutions, our students, and our society.

But collaboration is complicated. Successful partnerships among colleges and universities require navigating divergent academic calendars, pedagogies, delivery modalities, and price structures while we compete for shrinking student populations, state support, and positive public relations.

In developing our partnerships with universities, K–12 schools, and corporations over the last several years, we have developed a mindset and a set of tactics that ultimately encourage both sides to cooperate:

1. Be tenacious. An unrelenting focus on the desired shared outcome keeps us at the table, figuring out solutions to what can often seem like impenetrable roadblocks.
Tactic: Stay at the table, and find solutions that work for everyone.

2. Show resilience. At Columbus State, we have a boundless desire to make things work. Because we've encountered our share of partnership challenges, we've learned to bounce back from setbacks. We have acquired a muscle memory about the trajectory of partnership development. We know there'll be ups and downs, and we also know if everyone is right-minded and right-spirited, we'll get there.
Tactic: Regularly remind your team of the big picture goals and objectives, including the tenets of the partnership.

3. Demonstrate transparency in your communication. Transparency builds trust. Seeing behind each other's curtains helps both partners better understand and appreciate challenges and hurdles. Push out information to everyone involved in the work of developing and implementing the partnership.
Tactic: Regularly share information that helps each other understand strengths and liabilities. Be honest in doing so—it goes a long way in building trust.

4. Ensure that you have a shared vision and clear goals. Presidents share visions and agree to proceed based on a handshake. Their vision needs to be crystal clear, shared with senior leaders, and shared by senior leaders with team members who will be working together to make the vision a reality.
Tactic: Constantly, clearly, and consistently share the vision and goals with teams throughout both partner institutions.

5. Clarify roles. Senior leaders responsible for implementing the shared vision and the decision making must be clearly identified, and lead by example. As a partnership develops, they will be repeatedly called upon to lift teams out of the details and remind them of the larger objectives. Getting out of silos within an institution is challenging; integrating silos across institutions even more so.
Tactic: To avoid surprises, develop and maintain a work plan with clear expectations and deliverables.

6. Seek partners, not tenants. We have many partnerships that do not involve tenancies. But when there is one, it's important to not confuse the tenancy with the partnership.
Tactic: When a tenancy is part of the mix, remind everyone working on the project that the only reason the tenancy exists is to advance student success and workforce development. These reminders bring everything back to center.

7. Assign project managers. Working out the partnership details requires having the right people at the table, usually members of a committee or task force selected by senior leaders. Subject matter experts from both partnering institutions can then wrestle with realistic solutions that work for both institutions. A team's success often depends on having a project manager for each partner who wakes up every day building, sustaining, and owning the partnership.
Tactic: Select project managers who can sustain momentum by working with their teams to find solutions to the myriad issues that can and will occur. Make sure the project managers provide regular progress reports to responsible and accessible senior leaders.

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