Southern Maine Community College faces no shortage of big topics clamoring to be addressed: enrollment, budget, demographics, accreditation, curriculum, facilities, campus culture, technology. Take your pick.
But really we have only one goal: student success. When we increase student success all other topics and issues fall into place. Student success strengthens the workforce, grows the economy and improves lives for individuals, families and communities. That’s the reason SMCC exists.
So how do we increase student success? We do whatever is necessary to wrap the college around every student. It’s all about the quality and pervasiveness of each student’s SMCC experience. Despite our best efforts and intentions, if a student doesn’t feel the college wrapped around them, that individual will not likely persist and not likely succeed.
What is wrap-around support? Some like to call it community support because it really does take a village. It means no cracks or distance between any of us. SMCC is full of excellent faculty, staff, curricula, services, programs, and activities — every one of these is an essential dot in a magnificent mosaic. But wrapping the college around the student is less about our wonderful dots and more about connecting our dots to form a strong net or network of support. An entire community of support for every student, from application through graduation.
Rather than telling a student to go find their adviser at a certain time and place, we must band together so that any of us can advise and support a student anytime and anyplace. Rather than expecting students to be motivated by opportunities for better jobs and improved lives, we must suspend basic assumptions and get to know our students deeply so that we can determine what might motivate a given student on a given day.
Social workers call this good case work. Wrap-around community support means placing the individual student at the heart of the college and redesigning everything around that student — on their terms, not ours.
Not only does it take a village, but our village must be flexible. Our faculty and staff need to become one free-flowing team that moves as students move. It’s a stretch and it’s uncomfortable at first. Every one of us really needs to do things differently. If we stick to our traditional roles, functions and structures, most of today’s students will fall through the cracks between us.
Teaching and learning must occur in new ways beyond the classroom and beyond the artificial confines of the semester and the credit-bearing course. Some services and some aspects of administration must be brought into the classroom. Old boundaries must be crossed because progress begins just outside of our comfort zones.
This is the moment of truth, each of us choosing between connecting with students in new ways to build a better future, or sticking with the roles and routines that served us well for years but are no match for today’s changing realities. Together we can summon the courage to change and succeed in new ways.
Ron Cantor is president of Southern Maine Community College.