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.
By the FY07 Strategic Plan, the college had committed in its planning to “financially manage the College so an operating surplus occurs on an annual basis” (Strategic Initiative 2.1). In nine of the ten years prior to the 2006 Focused Visit, the college used its cash surplus to cover its annual budget. In the first year of Dr. Mihel’s presidency, the college ran a deficit of $38,400, about 40% of the projected deficit. Each year beginning in FY07, Sauk has added to the fund surplus and no longer relies on the surplus to balance expenses (2A.1). Although the unreliability of state funding has provided several challenging situations, the Board is committed to maintaining a surplus. In addition, the significant downturn in enrollment foreseen by the visiting team has not come to pass.
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 (p. 12).
At the time of the previous comprehensive visit, approximately $300 was budgeted annually for each individual faculty member’s professional development. Some faculty attended events and remained within their allocated amounts, some personally paid the difference between budgeted and actual expenses, and others chose not to participate in professional development and did not use any of their budgeted funds. Few faculty were pleased with the small budgeted amount, as the team noted. Shortly after the visit, the limited funds budgeted for each faculty member were combined into a single pool of $20,000. The Faculty Development Committee was formed and established guidelines and procedures for faculty to access that pool of development funds. In the 2009 employee survey, most employees indicated that Sauk is moderately to highly supportive of professional development: 96% of faculty; 93% of administration; 92% of support staff; and 88% of professional/technical staff (4A.2).
Program, curricular and degree alignment are essential for a college’s instructional program and ultimately student benefit. However, a review of the college catalog, as well as through conversations with the faculty, revealed that instructors are unclear as to who directs curriculum. Additionally, it is unclear as to where the stated coursework leads with regard to the AA and AAS degrees. The college should ensure that faculty are fully understanding of their role in the ownership and direction of the curriculum, as well as provide for clarity in a student’s progression through coursework to a degree (p. 12)
One of the first transformative steps taken after the 2002 Visit was to put curriculum control firmly in the hands of the faculty: The charge of the Curriculum Committee shows it to be comprised mostly of faculty (Appendix). Faculty members serving as Area Facilitators take a primary leadership role in faculty development of course outcomes, outline development and revisions, as well as new course and program development. Faculty are responsible for the annual operational planning and the periodic program review for their academic areas, both of which require review of curriculum. These systems have also broadened the scope of faculty program evaluation to include budgetary and facilities issues related to curriculum ().
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. The recommendation of the Team: Focused visit
The HLC Visit Team’s directive resulted in the development of a new conception of strategic planning that has rooted Sauk firmly in a commitment to continuous improvement principles. The “next iteration” was being finalized, having received the Board’s approval to implement it in FY07, at the time of the Focused Visit. It built on strengths already existing in the operational planning process and added the components necessary to ensure accountability, integrate the timeline with the budget cycle, and link to program review and assessment processes. By FY09, a subsequent iteration emerged that increased the role of data in decision-making and strengthened the links between program review, assessment, operational planning, and the budget process. As the self-study concludes in FY11, the new rolling plan process is underway. FY12 should see a greater alignment of other internal processes, such as facilities planning, with the planning process (2C.1).