Board members should sharpen vision for Treasure Valley Community College

Treasure Valley Community College is too vital to the community to drift any longer. It’s time to hit reset, to define more sharply why the college exists and whom it should be serving. That job rests with the seven citizens sitting on the college’s board of directors.

Those citizens will gather this Thursday in an annual ritual. They will go off campus with college administrators and set their goals for the year ahead. They are good people, earnest in their service. Now, though, they bear the responsibility to act to strengthen the college that they and so many others love.

Some blunt truths need to be addressed. College attendance has been dropping since 2010. With enrollment dropping, classes have been cut and this spring witnessed layoffs of instructors. Community support has dipped, based on its latest “mission fulfillment report.” The report shows the number of donors and total they gave dropped from 2014 to 2016.

Year after year, college administrators have missed their own enrollment targets. That has forced midyear budget cuts, disrupting the campus. President Dana Young and her team have excused the drops, saying every community college in the state has suffered the same experience.

College leaders have been ineffective in addressing these declines. Treasure Valley Community College, for instance, spent money on a recruitment director the past two years to change the college’s fortunes. The impact? College officials can’t tell you. They don’t know. This spring, Young axed the job.

Local citizens can be pardoned if they are confused about where their community college is headed. There is precious little clarity on that point in the documents that supposedly guide the college leadership. The strategic plan, available on line, could be written about any college in the nation. In that plan, the college mission is simply to be “a comprehensive community college dedicated to promoting student success.”  

Worse yet are the “mission fulfillment reports,” the college’s self-review. Trying to tease out aspirations for TVCC from these isn’t easy. What is mission fulfillment? “Successfully meeting established goals of the core theme objectives, which is demonstrated by 70 percent of the success indicators for each core theme,” is the explanation. That’s not much of a rallying cry for a struggling college. Officials say it’s meant for accreditation teams, not the community.

The lack of clarity about where TVCC is heading rests with the board of directors – chair John Forsyth, Cheryl Cruson, John Hall, Mark Wettstein, Roger Findley, Darlene McConnell, and Steve Crow. The directors can fix that this Thursday, demonstrating an honest grasp of circumstances, exhibiting ambition, and holding college leaders accountable to fulfill that ambition.

The board must answer a core question: What is the potential for Treasure Valley Community College? Board members and college executives have little idea how many people in the region are potential students. In business terms, they haven’t defined the marketplace. They haven’t set a target for how much of the market they want and can get. They have no idea whether TVCC should have 1,000 students or 5,000 students. You can’t build a factory to make cars unless you know how many cars you want to make.

The board has to be much more clear about what TVCC stands for. “Student success” isn’t a strategy. We’re an agricultural area. Should TVCC aim to be the premier ag school in the West? Young is high on the aviation program. If so, should considerable resources be put into making TVCC known nationally for its pilot training? What of our Latino population? Should the college become known as one of the most welcoming, most focused colleges in America at serving this community?

TVCC doesn’t have to be just one thing, of course, but operating as a general two-year college is no longer a plan for success. 

The board also has to find a way to energize the community about the college, and we think it can. Those seven volunteers shouldn’t feel hobbled by history or tradition. The duty for all seven board members is provide the rallying leadership, to build a vision for TVCC that people can cheer and help achieve. That starts with defining clearly what TVCC should and must be. – LZ