By Kavahn Mansouri
Missourian Staff Writer
East Central College President Dr. Jon Bauer called 2017 a productive year, citing improvements throughout the year to several programs that have expanded and created opportunities for students new and old.
“I think we made some important strides in some key areas that will benefit students not just this year, but in the future,” he said. “I think that work is paying off already.”
Bauer cited the improvements in several areas as major keys to that productivity. Dual credit enrollment, workforce development, an overhaul to the college’s scholarship program and several other projects were some of the year’s major projects.
While 2017 kicked off to a rocky start with cuts to the state’s higher education budget and enrollment creating concern about a possible budgetary shortfall, due to the increased enrollment of dual credit students the college ended up seeing an incremental increase in enrollment.
Bauer said he’s particularly happy with the progress made in the dual enrollment program. He said a core part of the college’s mission is serving the area and dual credit enrollment was something area high schools were asking for.
“Students want that experience before they graduate high school,” he said. “We’ve done dual credit for a long time, but there’s an increased interest in it.”
Dr. Russell Henderson was appointed as ECC’s first director of dual enrollment and college readiness in late July, as part of the college’s new focus on bolstering the program.
Since then, the college has increased its offerings to area students and saw a 40 percent increase to dual credit enrollment.
Bauer cited the overhaul to the college’s scholarship program as another way ECC has tried to make enrolling and completing college easier.
The changes raised the full award limit, allowed scholarships for the summer session, created retention and completion scholarship, made scholarships available for part-time students and worked toward building an emergency fund.
The new structure focuses on helping full-time students, as well as part-time. Bauer said the important part of the restructuring is focusing on improving transfer and completion rates.
“I think we’re going to see the results of the new scholarship structure in the upcoming academic year,” he said. “We placed an emphasis on persistence and completion so there are scholarships structured to encourage students to take a heavier load than in years past. We know that students taking 15 credits a semester will complete at a better rate, so we’re encouraging that.”
The college’s new concurrent enrollment partnership with Missouri S&T, which will allow students who meet the admissions requirements of both schools, was another highlight of the year, Bauer said.
“We know that’s going to be an important partnership and a good path for students who want that,” he said.
The program gives students the flexibility to take courses at both schools at the same time and allows them to access a larger selection of courses and schedules to better fit their needs.
Bauer also noted that the college continues to focus on workforce development and works with several area businesses to create new apprenticeships and help further train the workforce.
“We need to serve employees in the workforce now with additional skills,” he said. “We think this is an important area.”
Enrollment and budgetary issues are still problematic, said Bauer, adding that the looming legislative session will give the college a better idea of how the budget will look heading into 2019 and during 2018.
“Those are the challenges,” he said. “State funding has been a challenge for a long time and when early in 2017 we had mid-year withholdings — that’s always difficult because you’re in the middle of your budget and academic year.”
Bauer noted that enrollment will continue to be an issue due to the unemployment rates getting lower and lower. He said that is why the college has been searching for new ways to provide service to new students.
“Community colleges continue to face enrollment challenges,” he said. “Unemployment goes lower and people are in the workforce. That’s a population that’s difficult to reach. In years past those students would have been on campus. That’s why we’re looking at other opportunities. How can we reach students in different ways?
“We’re expanding opportunities for people who can benefit from a community college and I’m looking forward to seeing them grow in 2018,” Bauer said.