Robert Buller has contributed a thoughtful post to get the conversation going on the strategic theme of Community Responsiveness. Thank you, Robert.
Click "Read more" to see the entire post, then please add your comments to the discussion. New to blogging? See How to post a comment.
Over to you, Robert. --Scott
Community Responsiveness - from Robert Buller, Dean of Commerce and Business Administration
Douglas College has strong links to the community but the term "community" begs definition. We need a contemporary understanding of community and how Douglas College might better relate to community needs. What infrastructure changes would be needed to facilitate this?
Any time a strategic review is conducted – and sometimes just as a matter of regular scanning – an organization stops and looks at how it responds to the public.
Are we doing what is expected of us? How do we know?
But that, of course, begs the question: whom do we actually serve? And do we know what they want and expect from us? Do we have more than one public to serve?
The easiest answer (and maybe the laziest) is that we serve our current students. We exist to meet their needs for an education.
But that’s not the only answer. Many career-oriented programs are structured to meet the needs of the profession and of the potential employers. Colleges structure their programs so that their grads meet minimum standards of accomplishment suitable for a chosen professional and career path. We need to listen to employers too, don’t we?
And look again at who pays for an advanced education. Student-paid tuition accounts for only about 1/3rd (one-third) of the total costs of a College program as the government pays the remaining 2/3rds. Shouldn’t we listen to the government carefully about what they need from us?
Government is just a collection of taxpayers – they support education because it has always been shown that education is good for society – and it even pays for itself over time in increased economic wealth. Shouldn’t we be listening to the general public about their expectations?
The best possible answer is that we should probably be listening to all the key groups that we touch. The question becomes how and how often.
Colleges meet with governments all the time. We get good feedback from the public service regularly, and from elected officials occasionally. We have a fairly good idea of their expectations, though they sometimes can change and we feel on occasion their expectations are unrealistic. But we do talk.
Professional groups likewise, have regular discussions with us. We are always striving to meet the professional content and standards of many dozen bodies that govern professional life. We strive to meet their needs and are subject to regular reviews for accreditation (Nursing, Accounting and Social Work come to mind).
Employers are more difficult. A few individual faculty try to be active in community affairs through Boards of Trade, Chambers of Commerce and other business groups. But this is “hit or miss”. What about the not-for-profit sector?
Many of our specialty programs maintain Advisory Councils so that employers can have a forum for comment and feedback. This too can be valuable, though it can also be “hit or miss”.
We don’t ever seem to try to assess the views of the general public. Maybe we should.
There are some academics who argue that we should really only listen to ourselves. Only qualified academics can properly know how to structure an academic program, what to put in it and how to deliver it. They might argue that students will have inappropriate wants – no exams, easier readings and lower costs are often cited as typical student wants. But those kind of changes would totally dilute what we are trying to do, which is provide a valuable grounding in life that will improve the future for our learners.
But listening only to ourselves is also self-defeating. We will quickly lose touch with reality and become meaningless.
My view is that we should always be listening – and as broadly as possible.
We should consider some ongoing research with taxpayers on their expectations. Regularly and methodically, we should be sampling opinions, perhaps using our own learners to facilitate. We need a regular and systematic way of monitoring our performance against what the taxpaying public expects. This is a big job, one rarely tackled.
We should continue our communications with governments – we already do this fairly well. We generally know what they expect.
Likewise, we are fairly good at discussing these issues with professional organizations – and we have fairly good mechanisms for getting their input into academic decision-making.
What we do less well is to listen to employers generally. Colleges are, by definition, career-oriented in their work, yet we rarely ask for advice from the very organizations whom we want to employ our grads.
A few of our Advisory Councils are effective, but it is a spotty record. We should have more Councils and they need more support to be truly valuable. This will take time and effort on our part.
Why couldn’t we ask for specific feedback from Chambers of Commerce? From Community Arts Councils? From Social Service agencies?
Douglas is taking some specific steps to listen – a good start certainly – and we need to hear all the voices. Please let us know whom we should listen to – and what we should hear.
We are listening.
Now what do you think? Let's hear your comments on the theme of Community Responsiveness.