Community College of Rhode Island

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The week of March 19 through March 23, 2007, Community College of Rhode Island celebrated the Inauguration of Ray M. Di Pasquale as the college's fourth president.

State of the College Address

March 21, 2007
Community College of Rhode Island
Ray M. Di Pasquale, President

Good morning everyone and welcome to the 5th Annual All-College Professional Development Day. This is an extraordinary time at CCRI as we are right in the middle of a weeklong celebration focused on “Changing Lives and Achieving Dreams.”

I spent part of yesterday traveling to various nonprofit sites across Rhode Island where more than one hundred students, faculty and staff were using a combination of brains and brawn to improve conditions for those less fortunate.

On Monday evening, some very talented members of our college community participated in CCRI Performs right in this very theater.

Also on Monday, we heard from Jack Lengyel, the coach of Marshall University, who literally created a football team from the ashes. It was an inspiring and wonderful story of perseverance. Jack shared many life lessons that serve him well, even after more than 35 years.

We have much to celebrate this week, including the academic and intellectual excellence of our college, the spirit of collegiality now in great evidence, and our aspirations as we begin a new chapter in our history.

We do have much to be thankful for and I would like to begin by spending a few minutes recognizing a number of people who have made a tremendous contribution to the college.

First, I want to take this opportunity to introduce and thank our inaugural co-chairs, Dr. Joseph Amaral and his wife, Linda, and Jack Renza, and his wife, Marianne.

They have made a significant contribution to our college by opening doors to some of the largest and most progressive companies in Rhode Island. They have helped raise more than $80,000 to defray the costs of the inauguration week celebration, with the remaining funds to be used for student support and scholarships. In addition, they have spent countless hours pitching in as members of the steering committee, a laborious venture we all are very familiar with in an academic setting. I cannot thank them enough for what they’ve done.

I also want to thank all the members of the various committees who put together a magnificent week of celebration. These folks have put in long hours at night and on weekends and we thank them for their work. Will all the members of committees stand so that we can recognize you?

I also want to thank the planners of today’s event, focused on professional development. They have organized an exceptional program of workshops and displays, and bringing in an exceptional keynote speaker whom we will hear from later today, Alan Weiss. While Alan lives in East Greenwich, he is probably better known in the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies than he is in his own state of Rhode Island. I am looking forward to his presentation at 1 o’clock today.

Again, if all the members of the Professional Development Day committee would stand, I would like you to recognize them.

You’re probably wondering about this wonderful piece of artwork that was donated to the college several months ago. It’s called “Opportunity” and the artwork was donated to the college by the family of the late local sculptor Christiane Corbat Westlake. The work depicts the universal fears and hopes, as well as the individual stories, of those with cancer and other serious illnesses. We very much appreciate the family’s generosity. For those who want to study the piece further, it will be permanently located on the fourth floor near the Boardroom.

It was just over a year ago when I first had the opportunity to address you as the interim president of the college. While so much has changed over the past twelve months, many of the same subjects are on my agenda today, including the state of the budget, student enrollment, and improving collegiality and morale.

In preparing for today’s presentation, I took a look back at what occurred on Professional Development Day last March. If you recall, one of the major items we discussed were the results of the first-ever President’s Survey. I asked for your suggestions as to what you would do as president, and you weren’t shy about giving me suggestions. You said:

  • Create a more responsive leadership team
  • Build relationships and be approachable
  • Improve communications
  • Improve morale, collegiality and stability

Let’s take them one at a time.

Leadership

As you know, the leadership team at the college has changed dramatically over the year.

One of my first management decisions involved the selection of a new HR director, Sheri Norton. That was a process that had been bogged down and Sheri’s appointment was clearly the right decision for this college.

With the departure of the VP of Academic Affairs, I named Lela Morgan interim vice president. A search committee was formed to select a permanent vice president and interviews of the three finalists will be held starting in April.

The position of Vice President of Business Affairs has been vacant for more than two years, with the retirement of Bob Henderson. We had previously conducted a search for the position, but found that the salary we had budgeted was much too low. We increased the salary, began a new search, and we will begin interviewing the three finalists starting in early April.

This has been a long road and I would like to recognize business manager Ruth Barrington, who has done extraordinary work over the past two years in managing the budgeting process. Thank you, Ruth.

I have also made management changes in the Office of Student Affairs, and promoted Ron Schertz to associate vice president. We have created a new position, associate vice president of Enrollment Services, and interviews of the finalists for that position will begin in April. Both Ron and the new associate vice president will report to me.

A vacancy also occurred several months ago in the position of Dean of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Once the position of VP of Academic Affairs is filled, we will move forward in advertising this position.

My fervent hope is that all of these critical positions will be filled in time for the start of the fall semester.

Building Relationships, Being Approachable and Communications

Because I think they are connected, I am going to combine items 2 and 3 on building relationships, being approachable and communications.

For the past twelve months, I have embarked on a program of meeting regularly with every constituent group on campus, and with many individuals as well. I have truly had an “open door” policy to my office.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Deb Zielinski, my administrative assistant.

I meet with department chairs, individual faculty and staff, union heads, departments, and students on a regular basis and I believe it has opened up the lines of communications throughout our campus network.

For the first time in our college’s history, we unveiled a Web page for the President’s Office. I hope you occasionally read the information, and if you have suggestions to improve the page, let me know.

We also began the “Ask the President” feature that allows students and employees at all levels of the organization to get answers to their questions. Since we began “Ask the President” in late April 2006, more than 150 questions have been asked and answered.

We’ve also created a Budget and Resource Committee that opens up the entire budgeting process to the college community. This is a first for our institution, but one that was long overdue.

In the world outside the college, I have spent considerable time with business and government leaders, and those relationships are beginning to pay off. I have visited some of the most progressive companies in Rhode Island that are utilizing CCRI to provide training for their employees and the response has been terrific.

At the State House, I regularly meet one on one with the governor, lieutenant governor, and leaders of the Rhode Island House of Representatives and Senate. While this is a difficult budget year, which I will address shortly, all have offered their full cooperation in advancing the college agenda forward.

As an aside, in the public policy arena, the college is finally commanding respect and attention that is appropriate and comparable to our sister institutions, URI and RIC.

Morale, Collegiality, Stability

The final point has to do with morale, collegiality and stability. And while I haven’t conducted any formal polls to determine where we are on this point, it is clear to me that I see a lot of smiling faces as I make my way around the college. I think it is best demonstrated in concrete actions, and there is no clearer evidence than the success of the Mission Committee in developing a new mission statement for the college.

After more than a year of deliberations, the committee was expanded, and they attacked the project with great enthusiasm and candor. Many of the meetings were held in the conference room next to my office, and after several weeks of meetings, I began to hear laughter and clapping from the committee members, as they completed the assignment. The mission was reviewed by the entire college, and then forwarded to the Office of Higher Education and the Board of Governors for their endorsement. That was collegial committee work at its finest!

Similarly, committees studying General Education, Learning Outcomes, Assessment, Innovative Teaching, and Governance are making tremendous progress. As I said in my response to NEASC after its site visit, I feel strongly that the college is engaging in change and progress toward fulfilling its mission. The status of our issues is well known by the college community, and we are working diligently to improve our institution. Our results will be measurable and truly achievable. That is the message I will deliver when I report to NEASC in April.

In summary, I’ve taken your suggestions of a year ago very seriously, and I think we have made great progress.

What are some of the other critical areas that will have a dramatic impact on our future?

Strategic Planning

The final NEASC recommendation involves Strategic Planning, and beginning this fall, we will embark on a college-wide strategic planning process that has four components:

What students will we teach?

What will our students learn?

What resources will we need to realize our aspirations and how will these resources be provided?

How will we measure success?

Although these sound like straightforward questions, you all know from experience that the answers have many complex layers. The exploration of these complexities and the resulting plan will create a strong model for all college planning.

Budget

A year ago, we talked about the worsening state budget and its impact on higher education. We also talked about the college deficit of $1.3 million. There were no funds for capital equipment, and positions and travel funds were frozen.

However, through a coordinated effort, the budget deficit was managed by increased enrollment, a higher-than-anticipated tuition increase approved by the Board of Governors, a much warmer than average winter, and continuing to keep many positions vacant.

As we have been able to release funds, attention has been given to one-time, high priority needs – academic capital, library acquisitions, support of technology purchases, and facility upgrades. These are areas of the college that have been long under- funded.

I am also announcing the beginning of a process to hire an additional 21 faculty positions. We are able to do this by eliminating many visiting lecturer positions and transferring those dollars to full-time faculty openings.

However, we must continue to be vigilant as the budget for the upcoming year looks to be a very difficult one for us, and for the state as a whole.

Representatives of the Office of Higher Education and the three state presidents appeared before the House Finance Committee two weeks ago, and as you may have read, we may have to increase tuition by more than 6 percent. The finance committee is also asking the colleges to look at ways to consolidate some operations and services.

While the governor’s budget recommendation for fiscal year 2008 for CCRI appears to increase our state appropriation, these additional funds will be quickly absorbed by salary and benefit obligations.

However, I believe that CCRI is in a stronger position today than we were in a year ago to manage and strategize how to best align resources with academic and student service needs, thanks in large part to the hard work and sacrifices made over the past year by every one of you.

Enrollment

As you recall from this presentation a year ago, I told you that one of our biggest challenges in overcoming our budget woes was building enrollment.

Teams were created to develop specific marketing, recruitment and retention plans for every category of enrollment.

I am pleased to tell you today that our efforts have been successful, and we should all be proud of what we’ve accomplished.

Fall 2005 to Fall 2006

  • There was a 2% headcount enrollment (or 331 students) increase to 16,373 students in credit courses.
  • There was a record FTE enrollment increase of 4.3% (or 416 students) to 10,114 FTEs.
  • We broke the record for the enrollment of full-time students with 6,127 students.
  • After a full year of operations, the Newport County campus enrollment jumped more than 30% to 1,417 students.

This final number is something that we can be very proud of….we have a record number and percent of minority students. Minority students now number 3,569, or 21.8% of the student body.

Spring 2006 to Spring 2007

  • Historically, at all colleges, there is a substantial drop-off in the enrollment numbers for the spring semesters.
  • While the reasons vary, most often it’s due to academic difficulties and financial pressure.
  • However, in comparing spring ‘06 to spring ’07, I am pleased to report that we had a nearly 4% enrollment increase (548 students) to 15,143 students enrolled in credit courses.
  • Our full-time equivalent numbers increased 4.3% (373 students) to 9,066, the highest spring FTE count since the recession of the early ’90s.
  • Distance Learning credit enrollments climbed by nearly 24% to 606 students.
  • And, finally, the Newport County campus enrollment grew by 239 students or 23.4% from spring ‘06 to spring ’07.

I believe I owe you a round of applause for that outstanding performance!

In the beginning of my presentation today, I talked about not forgetting how far we’ve come in slightly more than a year. We have traveled far, but we still have a long way to go. That journey will require sustained attention and support from our various constituencies, including faculty, staff and students; public policy makers; alumni; donors; and other members from the greater Rhode Island community.

However, as the theme of the inauguration states, we are “Changing Lives and Achieving Dreams.”

We are no longer a second class institution in Rhode Island higher education. We are a “first class” institution that is sitting at the same table with our sister institutions, RIC and URI. More proof:

  • Students are now seeking us out
  • We are developing programs that are responsive to student needs
  • We are attracting highly educated and motivated employees at all levels of the organization
  • Businesses are coming to us to build partnerships
  • Legislators are asking how they can help
  • Imbedded in the college is a renewed sense of pride that has been part of our culture for more than 43 years

And we won’t be stopping there. I am confident that our momentum will earn us the distinction of becoming a “world class institution,” where we will aspire to see:

  • Graduation rates exceeding 20%
  • Faculty salaries in parity with our sister institutions
  • An overhaul of our infrastructure and the construction of new facilities, including a dedicated nursing school and an “honors college.”

In closing, let me end as I began, by thanking all of you for your support and dedication.

And let me leave you with the words of Mark Twain, who said:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Thank you!

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Last Updated: 4/17/13