As we look across the evidence we have presented as we measure the college against the HLC Criteria, we count as strength the extent to which we have also shown that Sauk practices the values embodied in the four HLC themes:
Collaboration: We are a good partner, both to our local service organizations and to other institutions, which also allows us to extend our capacity for service (5A.1). The organization reaches out to the local high schools (2B.6), the Hispanic community (2A.4), our business community and numerous not-for-profit agencies in the district (5C.4 and 5D.2). The self-study highlights many different types of partnerships that we have entered to our mutual advantage (5C.1), including internet partnerships that allow us to expand program access (3C.1). In addition, the integrated nature of our planning systems provides opportunity for collaborative efforts internally. The committee structure, for example, enables interdepartmental collaboration like that demonstrated by coordination of tutor training (3D.4).
Communication: As an integral part of designing strategic planning and assessment systems following the 2002 HLC Reaffirmation Visit, we sought to establish healthy internal communications (History). The means for communicating have been improved by moving most documents, procedures, and minutes to an easily accessible internal website (1D.5). Adequate time for meetings is an essential component of the planning and assessment systems (2C.4). Our planning processes have been designed to ensure cross-institutional employee involvement (2A.3). The lines of authority are clearly established (1D.1) and documented (1D.2). The learning organization principle of shared governance plays an important part in maintaining the expectation of communication (1C.1), which has been supported by increased communication of administrative meeting minutes (1D.5).
Culture of service: We are an institution made up of individuals who believe in serving others. The 62 employees who completed the 2009 employee survey named 280 distinct organizations that they serve, which seems a significant contribution to our various communities (5B.2). And we demonstrate that service ethic in the workplace, including the massive effort involved in the self-study (Process): The single parent committee arranges weekly lunches for the campus all summer to raise scholarship funds (5C.4); the members of the staff professional development committee sell popcorn weekly during the school year to supplement their budget (2B.8); faculty volunteers demonstrate classroom technologies at the tech fair and in presentations (3B.4). We realize we need to consider a way to assess whether the service we model is rubbing off on the students; however, it is apparent in the activities of some clubs and organizations: for example, the blood drive run by SGA and nursing students (5D.2) and various Phi Theta Kappa and A.L.A.S. service projects (4C.4).
Engagement with the community: We have multiple points of linkage into the surrounding community (5B.1). Because we are a unique kind of organization in the area, both as an educational institution and as a facility (5B.4), we serve the common good in as many ways as we can. We reach into the community not only for recruitment (2B.6), but also to foster engagement with the college by those who might be otherwise prevented from seeking education (5A.2). We are an important provider of workforce development services (5D.5) and local continuing education needs (5D.6). We seek to know the needs of the community through regular environmental scanning (2A.2) and including the community in evaluation of services (5D.3). Our program review ( 4C.1), internal planning processes (2D.5), and academic programs (4C.2) seek and apply input from both our students and the surrounding community. We have policies and procedures to ensure that these connections are maintained with integrity (1E.5).
Integrated planning: In the 2002 Focused Visit Report, the combined visit on both strategic planning and assessment was characterized as a “synergy” (and in a reflective context as “a gift”) because in having to bring both systems up at once, we were given an opportunity to close the loop between them. With the learning organization concept providing the foundation (1C.1), planning, assessment and budget processes are connected to each other (2D.1), and periodic reviews built into our individual systems provide the mechanism for continued growth of the systems and the ways that they connect (1D.6).
Mission-driven connections: The Strategic Directions establish service to students and the community as the foundation of all of the college’s connections (1A.3). The Shared Ethical Values direct us in how we maintain these connections (1B.1). Carrying out these connections with integrity is accomplished through clear and fair policies (1E.3). Serving the “diverse needs” of our students manifests itself in a variety of programs that help to remove barriers to education (1A.3) and promote diversity awareness among students (4C.4). Recognition of the “diverse needs” of the community leads us to provide meaningful outreach programs that serve the academic needs (5A.3) and the diversity awareness of our district (5C.3).
Subject to regulation: We recognize that we exist within a framework of various regulatory agencies. The expectations of the HLC are only one of the sets of regulations with which we are connected. The state of Illinois provides oversight through the Illinois Community College Board (1A.3), and various state and federal laws direct college policy (1E.2). We are also voluntarily a member of the Illinois Articulation Initiative (1A.5). In the case of auxiliary services, we expect service providers to demonstrate integrity in their compliance with regulations (1E.4).
Student connections: We recognize the importance of student interactions with faculty and with each other (3C.2). We offer multiple learning environments (3C.1) to allow our students the broadest possible choice of access to learning. Our recruitment programs reach out to provide help to students in seeking an education, and our support programs reach out to ensure that students are connected to appropriate kinds of academic (3C.3) and personal (3C.4) support. Underprepared students receive help (3C.5). We seek student input when evaluating services (5D.1).
Accountable: The HLC expectation that “a distinctive organization is willing to be accountable for fulfilling its unique mission” is met in our commitment to assure our fiscal honesty (1E.1) and to represent the college accurately to our stakeholders (1E.6). Annual reports provide assurance that budget and planning decisions link to the college’s Mission (1C.2). We are mindful of our relationship with the district’s taxpayers and tuition-paying students (2A.1) and our mission imperative to provide high quality education (2B.3).
Committed to improvement: The design of our strategic planning system is founded on the principles of continuous improvement (1C.1) that may be seen in the components of the various planning systems (2C.1). The Mission itself is subject to systematic review (1A.2), which is also a result of the rolling nature of our Strategic Plan (2B.2). Our annual operational planning process (1C.2) and regular program review (2C.2) provide continuous improvement opportunities for the entire college community, which can be demonstrated in the evaluation of learning resources (3D.3). Our assessment system also undergoes annual review to ensure appropriate changes occur (3A.6).
Faculty-driven assessment: At Sauk, assessment of student learning is entirely in the hands of faculty, which also control the curriculum (3B.1). Although administrators provide support and official approval of actions proposed, the faculty Core Team is responsible for design and review of our system (3A.1). The Institutional Research Office collaborates with and supplements faculty efforts instead of directing them (3A.6). The collaboration of the faculty in cross-curricular projects and discussions has enhanced the connection between assessment data and institutional improvement (3A.2). Our operational planning process provides a direct link of the assessment of the general education curriculum (4B.2) and program outcomes (1A.5) to the Strategic Directions.
Founded on Mission: Our distinctive Mission is articulated in a set of clearly defined mission documents called the Strategic Directions, which include the Mission, Vision, Shared Ethical Values, Strategic Goals and Objectives, and the Key Performance Indicators (1A.1). The Strategic Directions are embedded in the thinking of the institution by the way they are kept in regular contact with the community (1A.4). Revisions of the strategic planning system have aligned our strategic planning system with the Mission, which is evidenced by mission-linked decisions (1C.3). The operating surplus in the budget also provides evidence of this alignment (2D.2).
Honors the worth of individuals: The Shared Ethical Values commitment to “respect the worth and dignity of all people” (1B.1) is evident in our Strategic Goals and in our commitment to aid learners in overcoming a variety of barriers (1B.2). This respect also underlies outreach initiatives to Hispanic and other minority groups (2A.4 and 5A.2). We also act on this value in the way we honor student (4A.4) and employee (4A.5) accomplishments.
Reflective: Our planning and assessment systems are data influenced, but also discussion based (2C.1) Faculty are provided several avenues for discussion of curricular issues (1D.4). Support for planning and assessment includes time for a variety of meetings and activities (2C.4). All of the various planning systems involve a cross section of the campus community; for example, our committees are cross-institutional so all can feel their particular interests were represented (2A.3). Shared governance, insofar as it is defined as having a voice while decisions are being made, is embedded in our culture (1C.1).
Environmental scanning: With OPIC’s rejection of the SWOT and the work of the Dean of Institutional Research and Planning to design a data-influenced planning system, the whole organization is better equipped to be future-oriented (2A.2). Our planning activities and documents demonstrate that attention is being given to emerging factors that will affect the college (2A.2). A case in point is the study requested by the Board that looked at how the district compares to those of rapidly growing community colleges (Economic Context).
Mission-driven: Actions that we have taken over the past few years demonstrate the effectiveness of our alignment of Sauk’s Strategic Plan with the Mission (1C.3). Employees and faculty are qualified to carry out the mission commitment to provide quality education (1D.3). Our Mission is irrevocably paired with our Vision, which results in a systemic incentive for continuous improvement. This incentive can be seen in the ways the planning system allows innovation (2A.5). It can be seen in the learning organization culture that underlies assumptions (1C.1). It can be seen in the rolling nature of our planning process, which is poised to raise the bar when possible (2B.2).
Prepared graduates: The faculty has established a general education core curriculum and a set of general education competencies that prepare our students for the world in which they will live and work (4B.1). Among the general education competencies regularly assessed are those that address preparation for life in a fast-changing society (4C.3). Preparation to live and work in a diverse world is carried out in a variety of academic activities (4C.4) and outreach activities (5B.3). Relevance of courses and programs is assured through our program review process (4C.1). Curricular and co-curricular activities extend student learning outside the classroom (4B.4). We assess preparedness for continued learning or occupational skills by various means (4B.5). Planning supports this preparation (2D.4). Transfer policies support our students who seek preparation to continue their studies (5C.2).
Regular review: In order to avoid a static system that is not flexible enough to respond as circumstances require, our planning and assessment systems include regularly scheduled review (1D.6). The rolling process of our strategic planning also provides responsiveness to change needed to the Strategic Directions (2D.3). We also regularly monitor our fiscal capacity to ensure adequate support for educational programs and services (2B.4) and for the facility (2B.5).
Support for innovation: Because the need for innovation often does not fall neatly into a planning year, our system is set up to support changes initiated outside of the planning system (2A.5). Effective deployment of human resources is also an ongoing concern that often incorporates innovative solutions (2B.7).
Technology: One might think a small, cash-strapped community college would be struggling to keep up. Not so. We have identified the use of technology as a vital factor for the college to improve administrative and instructional services (2A.2 and 3B.5). Use of funding bonds has enabled us to purchase equipment (2B.4). We are continuously advancing the computer technology available to students (2B.5 and 3B.5) and maintaining an array of technology-enhanced course environments (3C.6). The Instructional Technology staff makes professional development opportunities and information readily available for staff, as evidenced by their website resources and the tech showcase (3B.4). A range of technology support is also available to enrich career programs (3B.5). The Information Services staff supports our efforts to use technology effectively for administrative tasks (2B.7), gathers and stores data (2A.5), provides access to wireless and other digital networks, including the LRC databases (3C.6), maintains website and social networking resources (5B.2), and oversees compliance with the Acceptable Use Policy (4D.2).
Assess learning: Our assessment system allows us to value what students know and can do and use those results to help improve at multiple levels: from classroom instruction to course or program changes to institutional changes (3A.4). Faculty are responsible for curriculum (1D.4) and for the assessment system (3A.1). Course outlines are based on clearly stated learning outcomes (1A.5). We provide support for personnel, time, data collection and professional development necessary to sustain the system (2C.4). We assess transfer and career programs through a variety of measures (4B.5). The design of our strategic planning system allows assessment data to influence operational planning and program review (4B.2).
Data-influenced decision-making: The learning organization context has created an expectation that our discussions will start from data (1C.1). The Strategic Directions include Key Performance Indicators that allow progress toward the Vision to be measured (2B.1), and environmental scanning forms the basis of our planning (2A.2). Assessment data is applied by faculty in proposing curricular change or budget requests (1D.4). Improvements to learning resources and the creation of a testing center exemplify our use of data in strategic planning (3D.4). We also maintain policies that allow us to track and respond to complaints in a way that supports appropriate individual response and system change when called for (1E.7).
Learning organization: Our intentional adoption of O’Banion’s Learning College model in 2005 was accompanied by professional development on the general concept of learning organizations (1C.1). Although that particular model was not sustainable given the college’s capacity (2A.1), we remain firmly committed to the central concepts of continuous improvement available to a learning organization as we have created and improved our planning systems (2C.1).
Student support: Beyond the obvious emphasis on assessing course outcomes to improve teaching and learning (3A.3), we understand that students’ academic success is also limited by a variety of life circumstances and barriers. Programs like the Early Alert System and Crisis Intervention Team are examples of the innovative response we provide to the personal needs of our students, in conjunction with an ongoing array of programs (3C.4). The extent to which we provide support to underprepared students also shows our commitment to help students be successful learners (3C.5). Continued status as a Trio SSS grant recipient recognizes this commitment to student success (5A.2). Our facility and our learning resources support teaching and learning (3D.1 and 3D.2)
Support scholarship: To the degree appropriate to a community college, both faculty and students are extended opportunities to engage in research and scholarly projects (4A.3). Freedom of inquiry for students and faculty is extended in Board policy and honored by the administration (4A.1). We maintain an honors program to encourage student scholarship (4A.3) and regularly recognize student accomplishments (4A.4). Commitment to high academic standards permeates our academic processes and practices (1A.5). Our policy and practice supports important concepts of academic integrity (4D.1), integrity of research and practice (4D.3), and ethical use of technology (4D.2).
Professional development: Sauk faculty, staff, and administrators are provided an array of professional development opportunities (2B.8 and 4A.2). Professional development supports our planning and assessment systems (2C.4), addresses teaching and learning (3B.2), and disseminates information about college policies (4D.2). Much of our in-house professional development for teaching and learning, as well as extensive technology training, is provided by the Instructional Technology staff (3D.2).
Supports lifelong learning: We promote a life of learning not only for our internal constituents but also for the surrounding community. The value we place on a life of learning is evidenced by professional development opportunities described above, but also by the efforts of the Instructional Technology Office to provide information on new technologies (3B.4) and especially by the tuition waivers that are available to employees and their families to take Sauk courses (4A.2). For students, encouragement to a life of learning comes in part through our provision of academic freedoms (4A.1) and a variety of curricular and co-curricular activities (4B.4). For the surrounding community, we invite lifelong learning through cultural events that are open to the public (5C.3) and the many outreach programs designed to increase access to education. The Personal and Professional Development Office helps over 3,000 people a year to participate in learning activities (5A.3).