Staying True to Our Heritage As We Embrace the Future
Tarrant County College District will celebrate its 50th anniversary
On July 31, 2015, Tarrant County College District will celebrate its 50th anniversary. On that day 50 years ago, residents went to the polls and voted to create the Tarrant County Junior College District (TCJCD) in Tarrant County, a seven member Board of Trustees and approve an $18.1 million bond issue to build two campuses. The board chose Joe B. Rushing to lead the new district. He was a visionary and a great educational system architect. Just two years later, the district opened the doors to its South Campus with a record enrollment — the largest first-day enrollment in the history of the United States at that time. The college received notable accolades for attracting so many students to an opportunity to earn a college credential. And just one year later, the college opened its second location, the Northeast Campus to a very large enrollment of 2,711.
Seven years later, in 1975, the College opened its Northwest Campus; the only college campus opened in the United States that year, and thus was commissioned the Bicentennial College by the U. S. Bicentennial Commission. In 1996, the College opened its fourth campus — Southeast — which was out of space the very first year of opening. And in 2009, the college opened its Trinity River Campus in downtown Fort Worth, and within two years, minority students were the majority of the student body. The college opened its Trinity River East Campus for the Health Professions in 2011.
These milestones show that Tarrant County has a very rich heritage of fulfilling the needs of its community. You can also see that there was a pent-up need for TCJCD almost 50 years ago. And every subsequent opportunity offered to our citizens was grabbed immediately upon opening another campus. Rushing led the college to national prominence before he retired after 25 years as president. His title was changed to “Chancellor” during the first five years of his leadership. C. A. Roberson, with a stellar reputation as one of the best financial minds in community colleges, had worked with Rushing from day one to build the college financially and physically. He served as chancellor for nine years and when he retired, the college had one of the best balance sheets among community colleges in the nation. Leonardo de la Garza served as chancellor for next 13 years. He led the Board of Trustees to adopt a pay-asyou-go system of funding the needs of the college. That philosophy is still in place.
I inherited this great legacy, along with the responsibility of managing unprecedented change in the life of Tarrant County College. Over these almost 50 years, the college has enjoyed great tenure among faculty, staff and administrators. Long tenure brings with it long memories of how things used to be. And TCC remembers well. Perhaps there is a nostalgic longing to stay truer to our past when the majority of our students didn’t come with developmental education needs; when they“kinda” knew what they wanted to do and if they didn’t, arena registration gave the faculty and staff an opportunity to help them decide by: suggesting a specific focus; not allowing them to sign up for a course without having taken the prerequisites; advising them about course sequencing and about their load for each term. In other words, there were two to four hightouch points for each student each year. In many instances, students got to see the faculty members from departments where they were taking most of their courses. This high touch was a significant advantage for students.
But that was when Tarrant County Junior College was significantly smaller and was significantly less high-tech. Now, almost everything we do with students is high tech. Online application to college, online registration, online financial aid application, online catalog, online courses, online student handbooks and online campus guide rule the day. These high-tech tools complement what colleges can do today to better serve our students. Still, we know that high tech without human high touch for many of our students is not enough to give them what they need to be successful. Tarrant County College is one of many community colleges that opened around five decades ago. Each one focused on serving its various constituencies. Those rich legacies formed by so many community colleges over the past 50-plus years tend to be indelibly stamped in the hearts and minds of faculty, staff and administrators who were a part of building those colleges and their legacies. Those legacies will continue and the foundations on which they were built, caring for students in very personal ways, are strong enough to continue to support our colleges. But those foundations must be built on a different set of assumptions. The adoption of different assumptions about our students will determine how rich our next 50-year legacy will be. How to do that in the face of the necessity to embrace technology as an aid to respond to the large number of students and their diverse needs remains our greatest challenge.
For the past two years, the American Association of Community Colleges has led our member colleges to address these challenges by giving serious, thoughtful, and strategic consideration to ”Reclaiming the American Dream – Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future.” It has provided a blueprint to help community colleges rewrite the script for the 21st Century student. A simple start for any of us, no matter what strategy or implementation process is used, is to have all employees who touch a student form an alliance similar to what we have done with dual credit students, Early College High School students, and career and technical students. In each of these areas, every employee in every area of the college who touches these students has formed an “Inside Connection” partnership for the benefit of every student in those categories.
These are several examples where we have formed powerful “Inside Connections” with our students. The first example is highlighted by our excellent external partnerships with public and private schools to help students become college ready and prepare to enter college. We offer academic and career and technical dual credit courses to thousands of high school students each year. We have an Early College High School on each of our five campuses.
We partner with business and industry experts to help ensure that our career and technical students are job ready when they leave us in order to keep our economy strong.
Our Cornerstone Honors Program is extremely high touch and students do very well, including earning scholarships to complete their bachelor’s degree when they graduate from TCC.
In all the cases above, we have built strong internal and external connections for all of these students, and we enjoy very high success rates in each of the categories. Students feel these “Inside Connections” and they soon come to expect that someone is always going to be around when they need help.
We know how to design an “Inside Connection.” Our challenge is to bring the design to scale to meet the needs of all our students in all categories. And when we do, we shall be in a great position to continue to build on our legacy of great service to all our students.
The author is the chancellor of the Tarrant County College District, a multi-campus, single district college headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas that serves more than 100,000 individual students annually. This article is the continuation of a series authored by principals involved in the Roueche Graduate Center, National American University, and other national experts identified by the center.