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Board of Trustees Discuss Leadership Techniques, Funds and the Future of the Campus

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Grand Rapids Community College flag on campus (Sabrina Edwards/The Collegiate)

By Annah Johnson

On Jan 18, the Grand Rapids Community College Board of Trustees met for a work session to discuss their operational leadership structure, current affairs and future plans for the institution.

GRCC President Bill Pink shared that although enrollment is down around 6%, the opportunities for more students to attend the college are on the horizon. Last dollar scholarship programs that cover tuition costs after state funding is awarded will bring in a large part of the student population over the course of the year. The Futures for Frontliners is a state-funded, last-dollar scholarship program that has reached over 120,000 applicants across the state. The Winter 2021 semester is the first term where some of those accepted into the program will be on GRCC’s campus.

“By the time we hit January, our admissions office was seeing somewhere around 1,200 to 1,400 students that were fully qualified,” Pink said. Several thousand applicants were not accepted into the program, and Pink urged that those potential students still have a place at GRCC.

Along with the Futures for Frontliners program, Pink highlighted the Michigan Reconnect program that hopes to increase postsecondary education for individuals over the age of 25 and the Grand Rapids Promise Zone scholarship program that is aimed at removing cost factors from deciding to attend college. 

“Those will be three opportunities that we are really pushing hard in outreach to let individuals know that this is an opportunity for you to access higher education in a very affordable fashion,” Pink said.

The additional factor of the pandemic uncertainties makes enrollment virtually impossible to predict. The board stressed that confidence will be the major deciding factor in students choosing to attend college. The three last-dollar scholarships could potentially impact enrollment in a positive way, along with ensuring that GRCC continues to provide a safe campus to aid in students’ confidence to continue attending.

In other business, the board members formally acknowledged which members will be fulfilling four open office positions including the chair, vice-chair, secretary and treasurer. There was a motion to shorten these terms from two to one year to allow for board members to step back if they do not choose to run again in their board position. 

A majority of the work session then focused on the implementation of a refined process to review and potentially revise policies. The GRCC Board has 20 policies that dictate what their positions entail and how to ethically execute those positions. The suggested process will ultimately allow the board to review and refine five policies a year to ensure that they properly reflect the values and integrate common language.

Past GRCC board members first decided to implement a policy governance model in their organizational leadership methods long before the current trustees joined the board. Former President of GRCC Steve Ender joined the work session to offer some insight on the college’s implementation of policy governance. 

The model emphasizes teamwork to empower board members to focus on being accountable to the institution. Ender explained that political interference on a board he worked for previously motivated him to encourage continued implementation of policy governance within GRCC’s organizational leadership teams. Ender further explained that the policy detailed the use of ethics and integrity for Ender as he led the college, and was a large reason that he was drawn to be a part of GRCC when he was offered the position.

“Having that clear definition gave me such a sense of relief that I would be coming to a college that allowed me to use my skills to lead, direct and operate,” Ender said. “I can’t imagine being in any other form of structure as a leader in a community college setting – where it is much different than a university setting in a governance perspective.”

Board Vice-Chair Kathy Crosby expressed that she had a concern with the addition of new board members over time not understanding that the policy governance model is always an active choice. During the evolution of the college, it became apparent that a solidified leadership model was necessary and policy governance has been that model to this day.

“It was time for the college to make a choice to embolden the leadership to do what needed to be done,” Crosby said. “So, to have the trustees all have a common understanding that this model was a choice that the trustees made to pursue and then reach a common understanding of the model so we can trust each other and use it effectively was certainly one of my goals in going through this education process.”

Lisa Freiburger joined the work session to discuss the operational budget for the 2021-2022 school year. The college’s budget is currently tracking similar to what was projected in the board’s October meeting.

CARES funding was a major financial change that impacted the college significantly. The addition in general funds totaled just over $3 million for the original stimulus package. This package allowed the college to waive student fees, provide personal protective equipment across campus, and implement technology upgrades and services to handle a massive shift to online instruction.

The new stimulus package will allocate an additional $14.7 million to offset COVID-19 related expenses, with $3.4 million required to be directly allocated to students. More information on how the college budget will be impacted by the new stimulus package will be available in the near future.

Overall, the college is seeing a trend of underspending as a hiring frost is in effect, student employment being down, and various other instances. These factors are anticipated to save the college over $3 million this year. 

The master planning process for the renovations on campus has been completed and will become available for public viewing in the coming weeks. The Collaborative is an architectural planning firm from Ann Arbor. Phil Enderle led the project and has completed the planning process of redesigning many spaces on the GRCC campus.

Over 150 students and staff participated in focus groups to allow their voices to be reflected in the reimagining of the campus. A large number of participants expressed a desire for more green spaces to soften the urban setting of the college’s location downtown, solving pedestrian flow issues, increased number and diverse social spaces, more parking and hopes for the architecture to reflect more warmth.

“The main focus of the master plan targets the most important people on our campus, our students,” Pink said.

Participants in the focus groups were asked to identify words that describe GRCC culture. Among them were kind, welcoming, supportive and open. When juxtaposed with the words used to describe the current campus structures, like concrete and cold, there was an obvious dissonance between what the architecture conveys and what the culture fosters.

The plan focuses on building more of a branded culture for GRCC by offering equitable parking solutions, advanced wayfinding, a more welcoming student center, and unifying the infrastructural needs with student needs. It also provides phasing information that further details the timeline over the next 10-15 years and the cost breakdown of the projects.

“We had voices from all across campus that provided input and opportunity and feedback into this version of the master plan,” Operational Planning Executive Director Victoria Janowiak said. “Their task was to translate the input and the feedback from all of the folks across campus into architecture and into design to have our campus reflect our culture.”

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