Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Community Responsiveness - let's start the conversation

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.


  1. It is important to consider all facets of the community including the contributions of employer. We are in a society that is increasingly becoming more specialized within the job market and students are striving to attend institutions that will give them that extra edge in the job market. Not only would this give Douglas College a more accurate picture of what employers are seeking in their potential employees; it would raise the level of integrity of the college amongst students. Students/potential students need to see that not only is Douglas College concerned with their quality of education but also with their level of success within the job market after graduation. It is important to note that many students do consider the reputation of the school they are attending and how that reputation is perceived in the job market. If the lines of communication are open between the college and the employer it will strengthen the depth of programs Douglas College offers while increasing the awareness of the integrity of the college amongst employers and potential students alike.

  2. I believe that while the college must consider the needs of a diverse & wide community their input should be considered on a sliding scale giving more importance to the needs of our students, future employers and the government (as they fund so much of the education system).

    While some students may be unclear in their pathways it is short-sighted to believe their input would be confined to wanting easier classes; I believe the reputation of the college, accessibility to classes and potential career options are becoming increasingly important to our students in an increasingly competitive market. We must put our students needs in a top tier when considering the future of our college.

  3. Zaheeda Merchant (Admissions Officer)January 28, 2010 at 2:37 PM

    Upon further consideration of this topic, I came up with three discussion questions that I believe to be important. My response to #1 is above. I took these questions to my team at the Registrar’s Office and have asked for their input and feedback. Their insightful and helpful comments are attached below. I hope this will create further discussion and responses regarding this topic.

    1) Do you think opening the lines of communication between Employers and Douglas College will benefit the College? If so, in what way?

    "I think that the primary way we can interface with employers is through our Coop program. The current size and scope of this program is shocking for an institution our size. The fact that we have limited it to only certain programs is a further illustration of the issue. I would like to see the size and scope of coop opened dramatically. This would aid in recruitment and retention as students are increasingly looking for opportunities to be involved in their chosen fields prior to their graduation.

    Additionally, if we are not currently members of the board of trade or the local BIA's of New West and Coquitlam we are missing a tremendous opportunity to liaise and network with those agencies. I know the Foundation has been involved with them in the past, but the mission of the Foundation is clearly financial, having a relationship with these agencies that is not seeking money would be a great idea". – Kyle Baillie (Manager, Office for New Students)

    "We need to continually ask for feedback and ask questions from all those we currently communicate with as per Robert's comments but expand to employers, no matter the size of the company. Let's review our practices of going out to the community. Can we expand through avenues including places of worship, community groups, sporting groups, arts, local government etc.". – Mary Cope (Departmental Assistant)

  4. Zaheeda Merchant (Admissions Officer)January 28, 2010 at 2:38 PM

    2) What can Douglas College do to strengthen their notoriety within the community?

    Currently, some of these ideas are being used by some faculties, but not by all, and others need some more research.

    -Post student success stories on each departmental website.

    -Post employer's opinions of DC graduates that they have hired.

    -Showcase on the website students that have obtained positions with a highly recognized organization (ex. MAC, Red Cross, JP Morgan and Chase etc. etc.).

    -Post testimonials on advertisements and local papers.

    -Have employers come to classes and speak with students.

    -Provide statistics on the website on how many graduates obtain jobs. Provide these numbers to ONS for recruitment purposes

    -Have successful students come back and give lectures and invite high school students to attend (possible as a career planning field trip for Grade 9-12 students).

    -Have more internships/practicum programs. Consider replacing a semester with an internship for course credit.

    -Continue to build on and improve the CO-OP program

    -Reach out to recruitment and staffing agencies to determine what they look for in applicants in terms of knowledge, skills and ability post graduation.

    -Have professors accompany ONS on recruitment talks which would allow potential students to see the caliber of professors employed by the college.

    -Showcase the professional achievements of faculty members and administrators on departmental website.

    -Provide statistics on departmental websites regarding enrollment numbers and competitiveness of programs

    -Encourage students/recent graduates to post their success, difficulties and challenges in the job market on DC facebook page (Any ideas how else we can use facebook?).

    "All of the above ideas have merit in their own ways but are mainly passive in their consumption (post information, testimonials, success stories etc.) meaning that we are putting the information out there will little to no actual involvement from our students or staff.

    I would be very hesitant to have faculty accompany ONS on recruitment presentations beyond what we do already where we invite them to join us in career fairs. PSIBC visits are not an appropriate venue for them to join.

    The issue that holds the most potential involvement with the community that we have not explored to this point is the development of Community Service Learning (CSL) activities. These are activities that allow our student to utilize the information and skills they have learned and developed in class in a real world setting. Examples might be marketing students helping a local merchant with a new marketing plan, finance students helping elderly people with their taxes, CFCS students helping in local Social Service agencies, etc. CSL is a huge movement in the US at all levels, and at larger Canadian institutions such as UBC". – Kyle Baillie (Manager, Office for New Students)

    "Douglas College needs to be a leader in reading the market and its employment needs for the next 7-20 years and be ready to move in that direction and be flexible to change. We need to respond to students via 'their" avenues of communication and we need to expand the COOP program to as many programs as possible". - Mary Cope (Departmental Assistant)

  5. Zaheeda Merchant (Admissions Officer)January 28, 2010 at 2:38 PM

    3) How can we make Douglas College more "fun"/appealing to potential students and boost the overall morale of the college?

    Boosting the overall morale and school spirit of the college would allow Douglas College to appeal to students and the community on an emotional level and contribute to the Colleges overall goal of increasing enrollment and community awareness.

    -Open a campus pub available to students, staff, and faculty.

    -Host more pub nights or other social gatherings such as poetry reading nights, books clubs, discussion groups etc. This could be done in either the cafeteria or the student union building.

    -Promote the Colleges athletic teams more and encourage students to attend. Make these more appealing and fun for students who are not athletes.

    -Install campus radio system or TV screens that announce events and activities that are happening around the college

    -Have a twitter page. Twitter updates can include information regarding upcoming events, contests, and lectures that would interest students.

    -Update campus clothing. Use DC initials more on clothing rather than full name. Choose more appealing seasonal colors such as baby blue, pink, purple etc. for the logo.

    -Sell other books and magazines at bookstore not just textbook. (Maybe even open bookstore to the public if inventory permits)

    -Create faculty specific attire and encourage faculty members to wear this attire during some of the lectures.

    -Create more student social spaces (some of which will be created by the new constructions plans)

    "All of the prior mentioned issues are of merit. I particularly like the idea of student spaces as we are sorely lacking them currently. We have seen that students will get involved if given the opportunity that means that the college must support campus life and activities through budget allocation". – Kyle Baillie (Manager, Office for New Students)

    "Provide more education for staff members not just faculty; thru PD Development workshops. Increase funding for education obtained outside Douglas College. This will raise the level of education amongst staff members which will be reflected thru the level of service provided to the students". – Shahnaz Darayan (Academic Advisor)

    "Create more variety of clothing. Sell DC bags, totes and other DC logoed items using a variety of colors and styles. This would appeal more to staff and students creating more team/school spirit". – Suzanne Elston (Senior Admissions Officer)

    "Douglas College needs to build on our strength of being a College and not a university. We need to celebrate our small classes and individual attention that can be given to students by faculty. We recognize that moving from high school to post secondary education or returning to school as a mature student is extremely intimidating and we are here to help with the transition. Douglas College is here to work with and remove barriers that prevent students from being successful. We need to continually review reasons for attending College including quality of education, reduced tuition costs and excellent service". - Mary Cope (Departmental Assistant)