East Central College is focused on its future as it develops a new strategic plan and works to address issues cited in its accreditation.

In 2017, a Higher Learning Commission team visited ECC for a routine visit to review the college’s accreditation.

By January of 2018, the team recommended the school be put on probation for failure to meet HLC standards including the college’s handling of teaching and learning, which is found in criteria three and four; and resources, planning and institutional effectiveness, in criterion five. 

Specific problems included a lack of shared governance and communication throughout the college; rare assessments and evaluations for faculty and staff; absense of data-driven decision making by the administrative staff; no plan for retention, completion and persistence goals; and a disconnect between administration, faculty and staff. 

After a hearing in April, the HLC lessened its recommendation to an “on notice” status.

Upon learning of their accreditation status, ECC got to work and hasn’t stopped, said Dr. Jon Bauer, ECC president.

“I think the strategic planning work that we’re doing is a big part,” Bauer said. “It’s important for the institution.”

The college selected CampusWorks, Bradenton, Fla., to help with the strategic plan — SOAR to 2024.

“We were able to kick it off in the fall semester,” Bauer said. “We started where we should start, which is with the impact of students and what the ideal student experience should be at East Central. That’s central to this plan.”

The institution offered a SWOT, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, survey to faculty, staff and board in the fall semester.

“That analysis allows us to identify those priorities going forward,” Bauer said.

The Future Summit held last week at the college was a big part of the process, he noted.

“This is not just us internally looking at the college and the work that we need to be doing, but also hearing from those in the community about what they want from East Central, what they expect and what they hope to see in the future,” Bauer said.

The summit was a conference-style event that sought input from community members on the college’s strategies for the next five years and beyond.

Bauer is hopeful to have the strategic plan done and in place by the end of the summer in time for the new 2019-20 school year. 

Enrollment

Enrollment numbers were down 6.3 percent in the fall semester at ECC, but Bauer said the college did see an increase in new students in 2018.

“That’s an indicator we’re certainly reaching more students,” he said. “In years past, we saw a decline across the board including new students. So to see those new student numbers improve is an encouraging sign. As we work on our retention efforts we’re hopeful that we’ll see the overall enrollment improve as well.”

Bauer said the increase helps the college focus on retention.

“One of the priorities for us is improving enrollment at the institution and making sure when a student is here we do everything we can to support and encourage the student and make sure that he or she persists from semester to semester and year to year,” he said.

The college has been focusing more on working with high schools to reach those students. Bauer thinks this will have an effect on enrollment eventually.

“We’ll always look to reach more students, make sure we’re reaching every student who could benefit from East Central in the future,” he said. “We’re also going to be very focused on the students who are here to ensure we’re doing what we can to help them be successful so they stay with us and that they graduate. That’s the ultimate goal.” 

Other Work

The college also has been focused on assessment of student learning, cocurricular activities and nonacademic functions at the institution.

“We’re being very intentional about how we measure what happens here, how we look at the outcomes that we’re getting across the board and then use that information to drive change,” Bauer said.

East Central had a team that went to the assessment academy that’s sponsored by the HLC in 2018. The academy is a multiyear commitment for am institution to really examine, enhance and improve what it’s doing in terms of assessment on campus, Bauer explained.

Recently, the college began working with a large budget committee to look at the revenue and expenses.

“I’ve been pleased with the engagement we’ve had both with the committee and also across campus,” he said. “We asked faculty and staff for suggestions related to the budget and we received in excess of 100 suggestions.

Bauer said the committee has looked over those suggestions.

Added Staff

The college also added two administrators in 2018.

Robyn Walter is the interim vice president of academic affairs and Heath Martin is the vice president of student development.

“They have provided tremendous leadership in those areas,” Bauer said. “They have been great additions to the leadership team and the college.”

Additionally, the institution established a shared governance council in the summer of 2018.

“It is a development for the institution to make sure we have good representation and participation and input in our decision making on campus,” Bauer said. “As that process matures, I know we’ll make changes but I think it provides the opportunity to have good broad-based decision making at the institution which is so important.”

Bauer also mentioned several faculty and staff were recognized throughout the year.

“That’s always gratifying because we see the work that goes on every day,” he said. “It’s nice when they’re able to be recognized across the state.”

Mike Palazzola was awarded the MCCA’s Mel Aytes Faculty Innovation Award for The Restaurant at Prairie Dell, Leigh Kolb was named Washington Chamber Outstanding Young Professional, Bauer received the Shirley B. Gordan Award of Distinction and Jennifer Higerd earned the Emerson Excellence in Teaching Award.

The college also received three grants for specific programs in 2018.

The USDA Rural Development Program awarded a Culinary Greenhouse grant to the Culinary Arts Program.

The Arts Engagement in American Communities grant from the National Endowment for the Arts was awarded for the annual concert series and the East Central Area Literacy Council awarded a Dollar General Literacy Foundation grant to the college.

“When we receive grants I think there’s several benefits there,” Bauer said. “The funding is important to us. It’s helpful as we have projects that we want to accomplish and we can secure external resources to help with that. I think the grants also serve as a validation of the work we’re doing.”  

Accredited Programs   

The occupational therapy assistant program at ECC received full accreditation in 2018.

The culinary arts and EMT programs received accreditation visits, but have yet to get the results back.

Bauer said the EMT program has received the initial feedback and that the visit went very well.

“These program accreditations are important because it speaks to the quality of the program and helps us show to prospective students what experts in the field from outside of East Central feel about our program,” he said.

The state board of nursing also received an accreditation visit in the fall.

The HLC won’t visit the college in whole for an accreditation visit until late fall.

“I’m really confident,” Bauer said. “I know that the work that we’re doing is beneficial to the institution. We’re doing what we need to be doing with planning, assessment and governance. I think when we have a team here in the fall, they’ll recognize all of the work that’s been done.” 

Students’ Success

East Central students had a solid year in 2018.

Jamie Foutch, Hannah Bausch-McKellips and Sally Cundiff were named to the 2018 All-Missouri Academic Team.

Members of the team are selected by Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society for meeting the definition of the word ‘scholar.’

The spring semester softball team was named the All-American Team with a 3.57 collective grade-point average. 

Choir students also performed at Carnegie Hall, N.Y., in March.

Looking Forward

Bauer said there is still a lot of work to complete in the new year.

“Some of these pivotal things, such as strategic planning, we’re in the middle of it,” Bauer said. “I’m eager to see how that plays out.

“It’s been engaging and energizing so far as we’ve worked on it,” he added. “We have a lot of work to do to bring that information and shape it into the form of a plan to chart the course of the college over the next several years. I think it also lays the groundwork for where the college is going to be for much longer than just the next few years.”

The college also is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

“We kick that off in the spring,” Bauer said.

Despite the hard work the college is enduring, Bauer said he’s excited to be a part of it all.

“I’m eager to see us implement the things that we’ll identify in the strategic plan,” he said.