Behind the Headlines – November 29, 2019

Behind the Headlines – November 29, 2019


– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines is
made possible in part by: The WKNO Production Fund, The WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – The potential and the impact of community college
in Memphis, tonight on Behind The Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] – I’m Eric Barnes with
The Daily Memphian, thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight
by Dr. Tracy Hall, President, Southwest
Tennessee Community College, thank you for being here. – Thank you for having us. – Along with Dr.
Jacqueline Taylor, Associate Vice
President of Retention and Student Success
at Southwest. – Thank you for having me. – Absolutely. Along
with Bill Dries, reporter with
The Daily Memphian. You have been at Southwest
for… since 2015. – Yes. – And then in community
colleges, we were talking a little bit before the show, in St. Louis, and
Kansas, and, where was, I’ve forgotten the
other one already. – Yes, so St. Louis, and
Kansas City, Missouri. – And Kansas City, Missouri. – And, for you, looking
at Southwest, at its best Southwest can be… what? – At its best,
Southwest can be seen as the workforce development
provider here, and a key to training our
community and students. And I think that that’s
one of the things that we have to tell more about
what we do at Southwest, and we talk about
workforce development, any conversation about
workforce development that does not include
Southwest is a mistake. And I say that because that’s the history of
community colleges. We are multi-functional, we are
comprehensive, we do it all, but one of the key parts
of our mission has always, from the beginning, included
workforce development. – And I read from a
really interesting profile of you and Southwest that
Jane Roberts did for us, and the open was that,
“Tracy Hall’s first duty “as the new president of
Southwest in 2015 was “sorting through the
issues behind seven years of consecutive
declining enrollment.” And you have turned that around, pretty dramatically. What did you do to change
that direction, and, because, actually, the
declining enrollment was during a recession where
generally colleges, and community colleges
people, ya know, it’s harder to get a job, they go back to school,
in fact Southwest was going the wrong direction in that. So what did you do
to turn that around? – Well, one of the things
we had to do was just to take a look at ourselves. There are a lot of factors
that impact enrollment in the communities, and
there are a lot of factors that are beyond our control, but there are a lot of things that we
could do internally. And so what we saw and had
been seeing, really, for years is that our processes
were broken. Students had been
telling us for years that it was hard to
become a student, it was hard to be
enrolled, and all of our paperwork, and
things getting lost, and so that was a challenge. So we just looked at what
we could do to change, and so one of the
biggest decisions was to become members of
Achieving The Dream, and that’s a national education
reform network that looks at transforming institutions,
not doing boutique programs, not tinkering around the
edges, and fixing this or fixing that, looking
at the entire college, and that’s what we did. And so, from recruitment
all the way to completion and beyond, we looked
at all of our processes. So that’s what we did,
we fixed ourselves. – Dr. Taylor, you joined
in 2016, I believe, – Yes. Mhm. – And in the last three years, the enrollment right now
I think is 9,500 or so, And it’s been rising over
these last three years. From your point of
view, what was your role in looking at, hey,
we’ve got a problem, we’ve been declining,
there’s new leadership. What was, what was your
role in turning that around? – Well, two months into
starting at Southwest, Dr. Hall called a team of us in and she explained what
Achieving The Dream can do for us, and said,
“This is the work.” And so my role was
to really look at the student supports and
wrap-around services. Our systems were broken,
and it was important for us to really think about what
are the true challenges our students have
outside the classroom. So, we added a mental
health counselor, a social services coordinator, that had not been done
before at Southwest. We increased our
mentoring culture, that has really improved
our retention over time. So students who are mentored actually are retained
at a higher rate, and they have a higher
graduation rate. We created a veteran’s
support center, we’ve created a Mom’s
achievement center for single mothers. So we really looked at
what our promising student populations need and did
a lot of work around that. Professional advising? All students have an assigned advisor
now to walk with them throughout the graduation
and matriculation process. – Let me bring Bill in. – I think you’ve
got, ahem, I’m sorry, I’m a little bit
under the weather, so I’ll sound a
little strange today. [panel laughs] But, uh–
– That’s allowed. You got to Southwest
a little bit before Tennessee Promise, the state
program that guarantees two years of free
community college, or at the TCATS, The Tennessee Colleges
of Applied Technology. What kind of a role has
that played on reversing the downward trend
in enrollment there? – Well, we’ve seen an
increase in our student population in terms
of younger students, coming directly from high
school, which has always been a challenge in
community colleges because a lot of times in the
high schools, they focus more on four year
institutions and we don’t necessarily get a lot
of information provided to the students
about what we offer. And I think some of that
has to with counselors and they may have never
had an experience with community college, they understand the four
year process and systems and so that’s where they
direct the students. And so Tennessee Promise
had them look at us because it removes the
financial barrier for students, and so then parents who
may have only thought about sending their children to
a four year institution, they started to give community
colleges a second look. – Mm-hmm, and Dr. Taylor,
what have you seen in terms of retention of these younger
students specifically? – For Tennessee Promise,
we have really ramped up our retention in that area, specifically with
our Bridge programs. We’ve been able to have a
summer bridge at Whitehaven. Last year the retention
was 100% for those students and this year, this
past summer, about 92%. – So it’s a program
between their first year at Southwest and their second, you could say.
– Absolutely – It bridges them into
their fall semester, and to have those type
of retention rates for bridging the gap, so to
speak, in their academic preparedness has really
been amazing for us. – Dr. Hall, do you
have to compete with the younger students in
terms of them just seeing a lot of ads on television
for the for-profit schools that are out there? Is that a factor? – Well, actually, we
compete not only with other institutions, but,
I say this often, we compete with the streets. Because there are options
that students see every day, and they see people who are
quote-unquote “successful” maybe, to them, that
aren’t going to school, and so that gets
their attention. Quick money, fast money,
so that’s our competition, and that’s how I have
always looked at it. And, of course we do
have other institutions of higher education
that compete, but look at the number of
students, or potential students, that are not going anywhere. In every city in which I’ve
lived, I’ve gone through some of the more
distressed areas looking at people who are
just kind of hanging out in the middle of the day. And those are the people
that I want to come to Southwest. I don’t believe that there
are throwaway people, but we have to find
a way to engage them, so to me, the streets,
that’s our competition. – I don’t know if you
have the exact number, but I’m curious how many
people come to Southwest, or start the process,
or begin to explore and don’t realize that
they may qualify for this Tennessee Promise? That they might be able
to do this for free? I mean, how many walk in saying, “I don’t know if I can
afford this. I’m interested.” and then are surprised to learn there’s this Tennessee
Promise program? – Well, I think the
positive thing about Tennessee Promise,
another of the positives about Tennessee Promise,
is that the high schools are very supportive and so they have to begin the process
– (Eric) They’re communicating, students learn this option.
– Absolutely. So they have to
begin in high school, so the high schools
are telling students about Tennessee Promise. They’re also telling, well,
for the older students, being over, I think,
24, they are aware of Tennessee Reconnect, and so
that’s for the adult students. – So, what percentage, I
mean, I don’t know… I should have looked this up,
but I’ll ask the experts here. Is Tennessee Promise,
it’s income based, right? It looks at your income in part, and if you don’t qualify
for other dollars, it’s a last dollar
program, is that, am I saying that correctly? It’ll fill in any gaps
that a Pell Grant, or other financial
aid doesn’t cover. – Right, and so students all
have to fill out the FASFA, and so based on what on
their expected family contribution will be,
they typically, our students, because our students are amongst
the poorest in the state. The EFC or Expected Family
Contribution for students that come to us is around $875. – For a year? – For, that’s their, And so their families can
only afford about $875. – Okay. – But you look at
it across the state, it’s about $4500, $4600. So we have an extremely
impoverished population, so most of our students
receive Pell Grant, full Pell Grant to cover,
but for those students that they will not
receive a full Pell Grant, their families can
have a higher EFC, then the Tennessee
Promise funds kick in, and it is a last
dollar, as you said. – And about how many
students, I mean, how much does it cost? Sorry, we talked about
the number of students, what does it cost, a full
year, before any… assistance or financial aid? – About $4500. – Per year. – Per year. – And all the degrees
are two year degrees? – Two year degrees, but we
have short term certificates, as well. So we have, you
can get Career in a Year, we have about 20
programs where they are less than a year. – You talked a lot about,
you know, the counseling, and the support services. How many students at Southwest, I would imagine it’s very high,
that they are also working? – Most of our students work.
Yeah. – We… conducted some
qualitative focus groups last spring and we
found overwhelmingly that our traditional students
just coming out of high school and our adult learners
said they have to work. And so, when you look
at that EFC comparison, we realize that poverty
is a major factor for us, and so in the last year, for our adult learners,
in particular, we’ve been able to
get grant funding for books, and access
codes scholarships, because… the last — – Say that last thing,
access…? – Access codes. – Access codes? – So that is a type of
online access to textbooks. – Okay, gotcha. – And so, what we found
was we removed the barrier of tuition for Tennessee
Promise and Reconnect students, they come through our doors, but they can’t afford books. – And, as someone who
has two kids in college, – Yes. – It’s astounding!
[laughs] What, what — – Absolutely. – I mean, my son’s in
Computer Engineering, and my daughter… I mean, the book
price is, is really… Eye opening.
– The first semester of books may be $1000, and
so that has been one of the things…
– And Tennessee Promise, I’m sorry to interrupt
you, Tennessee Promise can’t go towards that? – It does not, no it does not. – Not at all. Not at all. – It does not cover books, and so people don’t know that. So they know it’s a
tuition, but all the other support that the student
needs, like books, so we have our foundation. We award over about $150,000
a year in book scholarships and it’s still not enough. – And I would imagine,
I mean, back to this declining enrollment
and coming back, I mean, things like
that, if you’re working, working poor, and then suddenly
you’ve got a book bill. I mean, that could
send somebody to throw their hands up and say, this is, “I’ve already got to get there, transportation is difficult.” I mean when you
start piling up those daily difficulties,
and daily impediments to being in class, – Right.
– Absolutely. – The $500 worth of books a
semester, just is, ya know, “I just can’t do that.” – And then, you have to think, we’re in a technology
age, right? We have worked really
hard to increase our Chromebook check out
program, so students that… – The Chromebook, the
Google Chromebook. – Yes, the Google Chromebooks, they can check them
out for a semester, and use them the whole
semester for free. And we found that students
who check them out multiple times, plus have those wraparound
mentoring supports, and other layers of support, they are retained at
much higher rates. And so we know that
holistic student support is critical for us. – Let me bring Bill in. – Let’s talk about jobs, and the jobs that
are out there now. Are those going to be
the jobs of the future? Or is the Memphis economy, as we’ve heard from some people, in store for a big change and maybe an emphasis
away from logistics? – Well, I think
given our industries that are located here, I think we will always
have a logistics and transportation
as a main industry. But I think that we will be neglectful
in preparing for the future if we don’t focus
on more STEM related and IT careers. And when we look at what
students are interested in, being exposed to those types
of high wage types of jobs, and that’s… When I’ve spoken to students, and they’re not in school, one of the things that
they are saying is that we don’t offer what they want, or we’re not focusing
on what they want. So there may be jobs
available, but if students, or potential students, aren’t interested in those
jobs, we have to find out what are we preparing them for. We want to make… At Southwest, what we
focused on the first couple of years that I was here, we focused on the “what”, and so fixing the
declining enrollment, fixing our processes, but what we’re focusing
on now, it’s our “why”. And it’s moving
people out of poverty, and giving them viable options
to not be on the street, not doing things
that are illegal, what can we provide in
looking towards the future, so we’re talking more about IT, And our Cisco Academy, that’s at our
Maxine Smith campus. Also we have very
strong allied health and nursing programs, and actually, our
nursing program? It’s our most popular program. And our business program, it’s our second most
popular program. So we have to expose
students to not just transportation and logistics, understanding that that
industry is very strong here in Memphis, but also expose them to a
variety of opportunities for them, so that they can earn family sustaining wages. – Dr. Taylor, your
thoughts on that? – Well, one of the things
we did in the first year of the ATD was look at our
co-curricular programming, that out of classroom
support, and we decided that we really needed an
internship program. We’ve really ramped that up
over the last couple of years, built some great
partnerships for our AAS degree
programs, in particular. – (Eric)
AAS? – Those are the Associate
of Applied Science, so students are ready
for the workforce as soon as they get that degree. But, those interns, at
a rate of about 40%, when they intern with a company, they’re eventually hired
with that same company. So, we’re teaching
our students that that’s the three month
interview, right? So that they can
really become socially and economically mobile
in the Memphis area. – Go ahead. – And why that’s important
in terms of our “why”, it’s because we’re
focusing on equity. And so, you have
students that come to us under prepared academically,
but they’re also under prepared socially. They also don’t have
the safety nets in place that some students
that may have families that are already, if they’re
not first generation, they already have connections, and so it’s important for
us to get our students into the workforce through
these internship opportunities, because when you’re
talking about closing achievement gaps, you’re talking about
closing equity gaps, this gives them an opportunity
to have experiences of someone whose
families already maybe can get them connected
into the business. – And I would assume, I mean
we have had people on the show, and we’ve written about it, and politicians and business
leaders talking about, you know, there’s a number
that gets thrown around a lot, 16,000 unfilled jobs
right now in Memphis. Although we have poverty,
and all kinds of issues, I mean, unemployment
is very, very low. So, I would assume the
businesses are all over this, many of them, in terms of “Yes, we are struggling to
hire in these Tech jobs”, Not nes- I mean, in these kinds of jobs
you’re talking about. There’s, you know they
always talk about the, the, welding, they talk about
the… medical device, they talk about, you know, manufacturing is not
what it used to be. So, do you have a
whole effort to go out and talk to businesses and say “Hey, will you host an
internship program?” And then, is there a
shaping of the internship and the curriculum to
meet that company’s needs? Or is it, “Hey,
here’s our program, do you, the business,
fit into it?” – No, absolutely
not, and that’s, I’m glad that you
mentioned that, because I think that’s
a common misconception is that in higher ed, or maybe at community
colleges specifically, we teach what we want to teach, And that’s absolutely not — – That was the question
I was struggling to ask. – Yes and that’s absolutely not
our perspective at all, because the goal is for
every student to get a job. And so, we can’t teach
what we want if that’s not what the industry needs. And so, with all of our
career and technical programs, we have advisory committees. Those advisory committees
are comprised of people from business and industry. They inform us about curriculum. They inform us
about the equipment, the latest equipment
that we need, and through those
advisory committees, that’s how we have
those partnerships to get our students internships. So, no, it’s absolutely
the opposite. The business and industry
has to be engaged with us, we have to be engaged with them, and so we can know when
our students graduate, that they are work ready. – And I would assume
some of that dynamic is a part of retention, right? I mean, some of it comes
down to dollars and cents. You’re going to go to this
school to get this degree, spend the money that
you might have to spend, and the hassle, and the trouble, and all those difficulties, and there’s a job
waiting out there, right? I mean, that’s part
of your carrot, in terms of keeping people
going in this process. – And what we’re trying
to do is expose students before they graduate, right? We hope to get to a point
where students are getting at least two internships
before they graduate, because it’s more than
just having expertise in the discipline, and knowing
how to use the machinery, or do accounting, it’s
about soft skills, and critical thinking. Do they know how to
communicate, and collaborate, and be part of the team, and lead when it’s time to lead, and follow when
it’s time to follow? So those experiential
learning opportunities allow us to really
cultivate our students by intellect, but also within their
character, as well. We want to be known for
sending out great people with great attitudes,
great skills, to be a part of the
Memphis workforce. – Let me go back to
Bill, six minutes left. – All right, Dr. Hall, Southwest tried
something that a lot of institutions are
trying, and that is a a college high school,
I think it’s called, and that didn’t work out. Will there be another
attempt at that? And what were the lessons
learned from this? – Well, so let me say
first, this was my third Urban community college,
and my third time starting an early college model. It worked in Kansas City. It worked in St. Louis. Unfortunately, it
did not work here for a variety of reasons. But, one of the things is that because I’ve had experience
doing that, I knew, that if students – this is a very rigorous model. If students aren’t provided
the necessary supports in high school, they will not be ready when it’s time for them
to take college classes. They have to have qualified,
certified teachers. They have to have the
wraparound support services. If that’s not provided
in high school, they’re not going to
be ready, so the goal was to do just as I’ve
done in Kansas City, where it’s been successful, and in St. Louis, where
it’s successful, here. It didn’t work. – Will there be another try? – We are ramping
up our partnership with Shelby County schools
and we’re in discussions about what happens next. But, I will say we’ve
gone from about 600 or so dual-enrollment
students last year to over 1000 this year, so we have not abandoned
our partnerships with K-12. In fact, it has increased, not only with SCS, but with all of our
suburban districts as well. When we’re talking about
exposing students to careers, it does not just begin
when they get to our doors. And so we have to work
in the high schools and have students to see what an advanced
manufacturing job looks like, what mechatronics is, before they get to us. So we are currently doing that. I will always feel
that this has been a, one of the great
disappointments of my career, the failure of this particular
early college high school. That will not deter me from continuing the
partnership with K through 12. – And when you talk about
student preparation, you’re talking about students
at a much earlier stage, before they get
to your doorstep. – Absolutely, if
we start talking- And so that was the beauty, and that’s the beauty of
early college high school, because you start talking about
college before 11th grade. A lot of times in
dual-enrollment, we start when they
are in 11th grade. We have lost too many
students before then. If students don’t know how- and even going before
the ninth grade, what Dr. Ray is doing with
the whole reading initiative, it is critical- – That’s Joris Ray, the head
of Shelby County Schools – The Superintendent, yes. And what the city
is doing with Pre-K. That’s all, it’s a system, and so if students
don’t know how to read by third grade, then
they are disadvantaged their entire educational career, and so that’s why the early
college model is critical, but even more, and sooner, to work, to get students
ready for college. We have to start in preschool. – With just a
couple minutes left, you mentioned mentoring. Who are, are the mentors
internal faculty, are they outside
business people? Who are the mentors? – Our professional staff
and faculty volunteer, actually, they
give of their time, without expectation for
a stipend or anything, to support our students. And since 2016, we have
ramped up our mentoring model from 24 students to well
over 700 in that program, and over 100 actual mentors
that support our students. – You mentioned
veterans offhand, what percentage of veterans… What percentage of Southwest
students are veterans? Do you have any sense of that? – We have about 150 students, so it’s a relatively
low population, but we know that veterans
need that additional support. Coming back from active duty, getting transitioned
into college, it’s really critical
that we hone in on serving promising
student populations. We appreciate the
service of our veterans, and so we have been very
intentional to wrap that up. – I did not know
this, I should have, until I read this article, that there are seven
actual physical locations. I mean there’s the, people think
of the building along I-40, that’s the primary
campus, but there are… Talk about these
other locations. – We have seven locations. We have the Macon Cove
campus, it’s off 40, we have Union Avenue campus, and those are our
two larger campuses. And then we have
smaller campuses, one in Whitehaven,
one in Frayser, and one in… [panel murmurs] Okay, we have one in
Whitehaven, Frayser, and then there’s Maxine Smith
which is near Southwest. And then we have locations
in which we partner, so we have a space
in Millington, where we share space with
the University of Memphis, and then we recently opened
our Somerville location, which is, yes, in Fayette
County, with UT Martin. – And are there more
locations on the way? – No, no, well, no.
[laughter] Well, stay tuned. Because we’re trying. We have done – We think we have saturated,
almost, Shelby County, but now we’re looking at
Fayette County, as well. – Okay, we’ll get you
back and talk about that when that happens.
– Thank you. – Thank you both for being here. Thank you, Bill. Feel better. And stay away from everyone. And thank you for
joining us, join us again next week. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]

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