Many Northeast Community College employees have commended the college’s student focus but feel it can improve on aspects of institutional structure.

The college recently received data from a 2020 employee campus climate survey designed to show the top strengths and weaknesses of community colleges for strategic planning.

The survey is used nationally and is beneficial during a change in leadership, said Leah Barrett, Northeast president. It was supposed to be administered in the spring of 2020, during Barrett’s first few months on the job, but was delayed until September because of the pandemic.

“This to me is a benchmark for my presidency,” she said. “We will use this strategically to work to improve the experience for our employees.”

Almost 275 faculty and staff members described Northeast’s top strengths — the top three were that students receive an excellent education; the college prepares students for a career; and employees feel their job is relevant to the college’s mission.

The top three weaknesses reported by staff members were how employees are able to influence the direction of the college; how information is shared; and the extent to which decisions are made at the appropriate level.

“I’m not sure I was completely surprised by the results based on what I have seen with my year,” Barrett said. “Even though we were in a middle of a pandemic, the strengths and weaknesses of our college came fairly apparent very quickly as we worked through responding to crises.”

Barrett said she’s now implementing focus groups and discussions with employees around the survey results. The college will form a committee that will work on analyzing the data and making recommendations to improve the college’s climate.

Administrators also have taken extra steps to improve other issues from the survey over the past year, including a new weekly employee newsletter and expansion of college committees. Staff members have had more opportunities to participate in virtual professional development, which was also something employees noted they needed in the survey.

“The other thing that I think it really showed us is that our faculty and staff want to be involved in the strategic direction of the college,” Barrett said. “And they want to learn and understand how their work every day connects to our work as an institution.”

‘Vision 2021’

Barrett said she is going to incorporate more employees in the college’s future planning as administrators are expecting to release Northeast’s next strategic plan in May.

Vision 2020, the college’s current strategic plan published in 2015, was extended to the end of 2021 because of the pandemic.

The plan encompassed 13 goals, including increasing student engagement, retention, enrollment and completion; supporting the region’s rural revitalization efforts; and providing a workforce, among others.

Some of the objectives have been accomplished over the past five years, such as increasing enrollment and completions. In the fall of 2015, the college had 5,051 credit-seeking students enrolled, according to national education data. In the fall of 2019, the college had 5,258.

But the college didn’t reach all of its goals, such as creating a center of excellence. Northeast’s grant application for a center of excellence was denied, but administrators are planning on applying again in the future. Any goals Northeast is still working on will be transferred to the next strategic plan.

Barrett said the plan would be an integrated model. Every department will have initiatives that they will be managing with other divisions on campus. While Barrett doesn’t know if it will be more work than Vision 2020, she said every part of the college will be involved.

The plan is still in its rough draft stages and will soon be distributed to hundreds of students and faculty before it's released this spring.

“The strategic direction will be more high-level concepts, where each department in the college is going to be able to connect to it, based on their goals and responsibilities and relationships they have,” Barrett said. “The model relates directly to the climate survey feedback, where people want to be engaged in planning work.”

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