Faculty and staff tout College’s growth at Spring Convocation

If there is one word to describe the prevailing message at Spring Convocation Feb. 8 in Nabors Gymnasium, it is “progress.”  Faculty, staff and administration came eager to hear about the great strides the College has made over the course of the year.  Among the topics discussed were website development, enrollment, teaching methodologies, the College’s budget, and a call for strategic thinking in advancing the institution’s future.

“We have a lot of good thinking and great work going on here and we need to talk about it and know about it,” President Tracy D. Hall said. “My plan for future convocations is to call on different people to spotlight what’s going on in our internal community,” she added, emphasizing the importance of sharing the College’s success stories and acknowledging outstanding employee performance.

Executive Director of Communications, Marketing and Community Relations Daphne Thomas opened the convocation with a preview of the College’s new website, much to the delight of everyone in attendance.  “This new content management system is nimble, agile, customizable and robust,” said Thomas. “It will allow people to more easily and fully engage with our site and Southwest.”  The website is currently in the design phase. The next steps will be to build the site, update and polish the College’s current website content, and train content managers who will contribute to the new site once it launches this summer.

“I love progress and when I heard we were launching a new website I was so excited!” said Dr. Shanita Brown, Executive Director of Enrollment Services, who followed Thomas’ presentation.  Brown gave an overview of her department’s achievements over the last 15 months since she has been with the College. “I’m happy to say we are experiencing our fifth semester of growth, thanks to the Achieving the Dream initiative and Southwest leadership,” said Brown.  She highlighted the following metrics since the College’s fourteenth day of enrollment: 8,080 students enrolled, an increase of 4.5% above last spring; a 2.9% increase in fulltime enrollment; 652 students enrolled in dual enrollment, an increase of 4.5% above last spring; and 1,387 Reconnectors and 1,303 Tennessee Promise students enrolled this semester.

Brown also noted innovative progress in creating easier access for students to obtain documentation through electronic filing.  She highlighted the success of Degree Works, Promise to Pay and NSO On the Go, programs that navigate a student through the entire academic experience, from mapping out their academic courses, to assisting them in times of financial challenge.

Dean for High Impact Practices and Innovations (HIPI) Mathew Lexow outlined the work of HIPI in engaging students as learners. “We employ teaching strategies that relate our students’ work in the classroom to real world experiences,” said Lexow.  He also mentioned the success of learning communities where students can take what they have learned in one classroom and apply in another.  Over the past two years, HIPI’s innovative teaching practices have been recognized by the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) and the National Association of System Heads (NASH).

Mike Neal, interim vice president of Finance and Administration, provided an update of the budget for FY 2020. Neal reported a balanced budget and strong financial status. “Continued growth in enrollment positively impacts our revenue,” said Neal. “However, the College remains conservative in its forecasting to ensure we remain fiscally strong.” Neal also pointed out the College’s commitment to investing in employees. “We implemented a living wage at the start of FY2018—long before it became a popular call to action,” he said.  “And we have increased it every year since,” Neal added, to the applause of everyone in the room.  He announced that the College plans to continue to move forward with its living wage and other compensation initiatives to ensure Southwest compensation attracts and retains the best employees the market has to offer.

President Hall commended the progress outlined by all the speakers and the strategic thinking that continues to elevate Southwest.  She referenced the book, “Chess Not Checkers: Elevate Your Leadership Game,” by Mark Miller, to draw an analogy of how higher education has changed over the years. “While checkers are fun and reactionary, chess requires a heightened focus and deepened level of thinking,” said Hall. “In a similar way, higher education has become more complicated,” she added.

President Hall says institutions today are held accountable for a variety of metrics and funding is performance based. It’s not all about access anymore, but also about how many students graduate and what they do after graduation.  “Hearing the progress we’ve made over the year is a testament to our shared vision of an institution that is innovative and responsible,” said Hall. “We are winning at the game of chess.” 

Daphne Thomas

Daphne Thomas

Matthew Lexow

Matthew Lexow

Dr. Shanita Brown

Dr. Shanita Brown

Mike Neal

Mike Neal