Every organization has a certain amount of inertia or velocity with which it moves steadily forward. This forward momentum is almost never the result of one massive push, but rather many small and determined pushes that are motivated by a collective desire for progress.
I have the honor of being at the helm of Tallahassee Community College as we celebrate our landmark 50th anniversary. This institution has seen some of the most hardworking, most dedicated people come through its doors over the last 50 years, students and employees alike. Each of them have shaped the College in their own way.
Where we are today and where we are going is the direct result of their small and determined pushes forward.
Looking back is humbling
Every morning I pass the portraits of my predecessors on my way to my office. They hang on the wall just outside the Board Room and always remind me of the tremendous legacy of our College as well as that of the Office of the President. I am humbled to be counted among their ranks.
Our founding president Dr. Fred Turner was hired when we were nothing more than a legislative act and a service district and over the course of fourteen years, built us into one of the fastest-growing, most respected colleges in the state. It is said that he knew how to put people at ease, the type of man who “just got things done” which probably explains how he managed to not only create such a solid institution from scratch but also hire some of the region’s best teachers and staff. After Turner, Dr. Marm Harris significantly expanded the student experience with cultural and athletics programs though he was only here for two years.
Our third president Dr. Jim Hinson fostered record-setting enrollment and faculty retention rates while simultaneously expanding the footprint of the College. A World War II veteran honored with a Bronze Star, Hinson was well-known as a man with integrity and a great reputation in higher education circles. Over the course of his 12 years at TCC, he was able to secure some of the best legislative support to date and the highest faculty salary average in the Florida College System.
Dr. T.K. Wetherell was and still remains one of the most esteemed members of our community. His impact on TCC can be seen in the scope and beauty of our campuses and the strength of our community relationships. Never before was there a president who accomplished so much, so quickly and with such quality. And finally our fifth president Dr. William Law – a gifted leader and strategist, his passion for academics led to a substantial expansion in programming as well as the establishment of groundbreaking student support services like the Learning Commons.
What is important to note is that none of these leaders had a truly blank slate to work from. They were each faced with a unique set of pre-existing challenges when they came into office. There were countless budget cut-backs and reorganizations, legislative issues and construction delays. But there were also opportunities – to adapt, to grow, to serve.
Looking back, each president was successful in navigating the challenges, leveraging the opportunities and progressing the College, even if the hours were long and progress was incremental.
The future we build for TCC will be on the foundation laid by these men.
What we do and how we do it
Looking ahead I know that while many things will change, our College’s core values will not.
We are demand-driven.
One of our foremost responsibilities has always been to be responsive to the needs of our community, not just in the kinds of degrees or certificates we offer, but also in the method with which we offer them and the level of support and auxiliary programming we provide alongside.
The state of higher education today is such that we often find ourselves serving some students who possess better technology than the College itself alongside other students who have no access to technology or even reliable transportation and depend on our Centers and computer labs to access their classes. The technology landscape changes so quickly that we are often faced with having to choose long-term improvements over short-term enhancements as was the case with our new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. We chose Workday because we needed a forward-looking solution, not one that was built for the present.
Similarly, whole workforce industries are disappearing every year while others are just coming into existence. Tomorrow’s fast growing careers don’t exist today. How do we adapt? By staying nimble enough to make adjustments according to demand. Two years ago, no one would have ever thought we would be teaching students how to fly unmanned vehicles, but a need was expressed and we are now on our second class.
It is also vital that we teach skills that are transferable. For example, I just recently took the Presidents for Entrepreneurship Pledge as a uniquely effective way to provide students with the tools they need to succeed and help support our local economy. Entrepreneurship is not just a career path, it’s a mindset that spurs innovation and job creation.
Most importantly, we have to make sure whatever program we offer leads to a career. To this end, we have made major commitments to our service district through our county-specific workforce institutes – the Florida Public Safety Institute in Gadsden, the Ghazvini Center for Healthcare Education in Leon and the Wakulla Environmental Institute in Wakulla. These dedicated facilities are entirely focused on providing an advanced level of career training in public safety, healthcare and the environment, respectively, which are the sectors in our workforce that we have identified as strategic to the success of our district, our College, and our students.
We are student-centric.
Access is the hallmark of a community college. At TCC, we don’t have GPA minimums or extracurricular requirements, we have an open door. We keep college affordable by maintaining one of the lowest tuition rates in the state. We have always placed an emphasis on teaching as was indicated by our very first catalog back in 1966:
“The truest measure of the worth of any college is its faculty. The Tallahassee Junior College faculty is a TEACHING faculty… Their major efforts are directed toward the student in the classroom, toward helping him master his subject matter and toward helping him realize his potential.”
Access does not just mean the first step, though. Every semester we welcome a vibrant and diverse group of students with unique needs. We are here to bring out the best in them, to help them succeed from their first class to graduation and beyond. Last year, I requested an evaluation of the Black Male Achievers (BMA) program, a TCC student organization designed to empower and educate its black male students on the importance of the successful completion of their postsecondary education through the practices of academic, social and occupational excellence. I was delighted to learn that BMA members have higher course success rates, higher retention rates and higher graduation rates compared to their non-BMA peers. Furthermore, five of the program’s participants were active members of Student Government Association and of the 12 members who graduated from TCC that semester, most transferred on to a state university. We consider support for these types of programs a duty and a privilege.
Responding to our communities’ needs, keeping that door open for our students, focusing on the classroom experience, constantly seeking ways to position ourselves at the forefront of industry advancements, these are the ways we are able to stay true to our founding principles.
The next 50
It is certainly strange to think that one day our successors will look back on this year as part of our College’s history much like we are now looking back at the past half century. I hope their connections to this institution will run as deep as those who have come before them.
Part of our preparation for the 50th Anniversary has involved us combing through records and inviting many visitors from the past back to our campus. I’ve had the privilege of meeting some of them and hearing their stories. Some are funny, many are touching, but all are full of pride, and for good reason.
Over the past 50 years, this organization has represented the community with distinction both locally and nationally. For example, in 2011-12 we were ranked number one nationally among two-year colleges for graduating students with Associate in Arts degrees, and in a recent survey, 83% of respondents in our community rated the quality of education at TCC as “good” or “excellent.”
What we’ve done, we will continue to do because we are proud of what’s been built here. We will continue to be demand-driven and student-centric, we will continue to maintain a high level of quality both in the way we provide education and the way we run our enterprise, and we will continue to be your college of choice.
In honor of this momentous year, I want to thank all of our community, past and present for making TCC such a special place. We would not be where we are today if it weren’t for the efforts of so many who care about the success of our institution.
Here’s to the next 50.