We have elsewhere responded to concerns and suggestions about the previous set of HLC criteria by the review teams at the 2002 Reaffirmation of Accreditation Visit and the 2006 Focused Visit. Several of these responses intersect with issues addressed in this criterion. Here is a brief summary:
- The recent closing of a local steel plant, combined with a state board of education decision to transfer adult education activities to community colleges, has resulted in an approximate 18% enrollment gain for the year. Additionally, these events have provided for unanticipated operational revenues for the FY 2002 current operating budget that included a projected $115,409 deficit. While favorable to the stated budget, the revenues associated with the receipt of job-loss checks for unemployed workers are not long term. College administration should endeavor to plan for other strategies to avoid future budget deficits to ensure sound financial management for the future (2002, p. 12).
Sauk heeded this advice to its benefit. A new president and a determined Board of Trustees committed to a balanced budget and the accumulation of a cash surplus. The college has been able to operate on that basis since FY07, with the result that despite the poor economy, which has continued to provide enrollment increases, and the challenges of cutting expenses, Sauk appears to have an adequate cash surplus to weather the unreliability of state funding.
- The college’s Strategic Plan speaks directly and indirectly to the need for employee development. However, as indicated in the budget and as discussed with employee groups, sufficient resources to support this endeavor have been removed. The college should consider methodologies by which it can support its plan for strengthening the organization and achieving its stated goals (2002, p. 12).
Except for brief periods in FY10 and FY11 when all “nonessential” travel was halted for cash flow reasons brought on by defaulted state payments, the trend in support of employee professional development has been to increase and systematize it as suggested by the visiting team. Faculty professional development, in particular, was overhauled and put into the hands of a faculty committee for distribution (2B.8 and 3B.2).
- The strategic planning process at the college has improved since the 1991 Team Visit. For example, college administrator evaluations included questions regarding their contribution to stated goals. However, surveys, meetings with trustees, administration, and staff indicate challenges associated with plan achievement, plan progress evaluation, levels of employee involvement in plan development, clear linkages with other college plans, succession plans and budgets. A review of the 2000-2003 Strategic Plan reveals no provisions for persons responsible, resource implications, timeline for implementation, nor evaluative components. Annualized operational plans do provide an improved level of detail, but fail to include many of the aforementioned elements of a quality plan. The next iteration of the Strategic Plan should include the aforementioned essential elements, linkages to other developed plans, and clarity in implementation strategies. (2002, p. 12).
The college had addressed all of these issues by the time the Focused Visit occurred in 2006 and had in place a working strategic planning process with all of the elements specified by the 2002 HLC Peer Review Team. Improvements have continued since that visit and this section of the self-study describes the newest version of the Sauk strategic planning system: a rolling plan, linked clearly with other planning systems and timed to the budget cycle.
- Evidence that demonstrates that further organizational attention is required in the area of focus: “Some faculty members of OPIC reported that there is still some discomfort with their role in making budget decisions as part of OPIC. . . . A review of the number of reports that OPIC must consider during their planning process confirms that SVCC should consider a more stream-lined review process" (2006, p.12).
By FY09, OPIC’s role had been simplified, with its charge revised to focus it on strategic planning, assigning it to evaluate data to assess the success of the institution in accomplishing the Strategic Directions (2A.2).