Cottey plots goals for next 10 years

Friday, February 26, 2016

Nevada Daily Mail

What will Cottey College be like in 10 years?

That question, one of seven, is being put to a number of different groups as college leaders seek to identify the college's challenges and needs and refine its goals.

Monday night, the Cottey College Planning Committee hosted an open community focus group, soliciting input.

College President Dr. Jann Weitzel served as facilitator. Other members of the staff were on hand to answer questions.

Dr. Weitzel told those in attendance that community feedback was an important step in the process, which will include meetings with faculty and staff, students, alumnae, and members of the P.E.O. Sisterhood, owners of the college.

"We will look at all the goals," that come from the process, gauging what's realistic and attainable.

"Once the plan is completed, we will share with our Board of Trustees."

It made sense to undergo this process at the current time, she said, given that she herself is new to the college, and that Cottey also has three new vice presidents.

In addition, she said, college leaders are looking toward new property and expanding athletic programs at some point in the future.

"It takes an entire community, from the campus community to the town community, to educate our students."

One of the first questions centered on whether Cottey would retain its emphasis on liberal arts, with Dr. Weitzel answering with a strong affirmative.

"I can't see our focus changing."

Even so, college leadership is open to including other areas, she said.

Various audience comments targeted careerist training, with the president noting that the college had considered nursing but found the cost of adding that program was prohibitive, in terms of licensed faculty and the lab equipment required.

Another questioner raised the possibility of reaching out to non-traditional students; those who have put their education on hold for varying reasons and are looking to go back to school.

Dr. Weitzel said the college presently had about 20 such students.

Another brought up adding adult education, providing classes for personal enrichment.

In response to a question regarding online classes, Dr. Weitzel noted the school was making several of its classes available online for the first time this summer, with the aim of providing students greater access, especially in subjects that are graduation requirements.

Still another area broached was expanding the college's four-year degree programs.

At present, Cottey offers eight such degrees -- business, English, environmental studies, health sciences, international business, international relations, liberal arts, and psychology, with the latter presently drawing the most students.

While Dr. Weitzel said the college would continue to offer its two-year programs, which comprise six degrees, new four-year programs were being discussed, with secondary education being given the most consideration, based on recommendations the college had received.

Forty-six percent of the college's students are enrolled in four-year programs, said Dr. Weitzel, a figure that surprised a number of those in attendance given the relatively short time the college has been offering these degree programs.

Several audience members raised the possibility of the college adding degree(s) in science, technology, engineering and math, with the added benefit of possible partnerships with 3M and Nevada Regional Medical Center.

"We've discussed adding this emphasis, but it's not on the agenda for the present," said Dr. Weitzel.

Continuing with the question of how will Cottey need to change to address the needs of its students, several of those in attendance asked about job fairs for the upperclass students.

"We met with our students and talked to them about what you can do with that degree," said Dr. Weitzel. She said the school was working to navigate the "changing nature of education to match with the professional world."

She said Renee Hampton, the school's experiential learning coordinator, works with third and fourth-year students on their resume and interview skills. Hampton also takes the students to two career fairs annually.

Hampton also coordinates the internship program that places a number of students with community businesses.

"We're always looking for new opportunities for internships," said Dr. Weitzel.

As the college grows the number of its third and fourth-year students, hosting its own job fair would be "the next step," stated another audience member.

The question was asked if Cottey tracked the placement of its two-year students. "Where do they go and what have they gone on to accomplish?"

A "Wall of Fame," honoring notable Cottey alumnae with photographs and plaques and the years they attended, would be a possible outgrowth of such tracking.

Increasing the school's student base was another goal that was discussed.

Getting the word out about the quality of education and the empowerment and leadership opportunities available through the school would help do that, audience members said.

"We offer our students many services that other schools don't," said Dr. Weitzel.

She singled out the LEO (Leadership, Experiences, Opportunity) certification program for first and second-years and the Serenbetz Institute for Women's Leadership, Social Responsibility and Global Awareness that focuses on third and fourth-year students.

Another advantage is Cottey's 10 to 1 student faculty ratio, she said.

The school also provides an annual trip for second-year students during spring break, with recent excursions to Spain, England and Italy, with France this year's destination.

"We need to make the community more aware of the transformation the girls go through at Cottey," said local businessman and Board of Trustees member Greg Hoffman.

"It's a unique institution," agreed another audience member.

Having "a greater presence in the community would help," said those from Nevada city government.

"Engagement by Cottey staff on city committees," has been missing, said another.

The school does have a partnership with the Housing Authority with its STOMP (Students That Open Minds To Possibilities) after school program and with its annual leadership program with Nevada High School.

"We need to integrate the Cottey girls more into Nevada and Vernon County," suggested another audience member.

"I just don't think the community understands what all you have to offer," summed up another.

In the area of increasing attendance, Dr. Weitzel said Cottey was working on a transfer agreement with Crowder College, as well as other community colleges.

A greater outreach to cities and high schools in Missouri and Kansas, and particularly those in the immediate geographic area such as Joplin, Springfield, Carthage, Kansas City, Fort Scott, and Pittsburg, as well as Nevada, drew discussion.

"You need more local girls," said one audience member, which drew agreement from others.

One way to do that would be to "utilize your students to do recruitment of other students."

Having such peer efforts would prove beneficial, they said, especially given the quality of the Cottey students.

While increasing recruiting efforts regionally would pay off, said several, they praised Cottey for attracting students across the U.S. and abroad.

Dr. Weitzel said 15 percent of the students come from outside the U.S.

Other ways to entice students would be to modernize the two residence halls that don't have air conditioning said one speaker, with another suggesting, "offering student housing in a different format," noting Drury University in Springfield offers an apartment style complex for third and fourth-year students.

"We have additional property that we own that could be developed," said Dr. Weitzel for new housing.

According to the college, Cottey's three residence halls have a total of 34 suites and most suites can house 10-12 students, for a capacity around 400. At the beginning of the school year, there were approximately 325 students, with a number of those being commuters.

Beyond housing and facilities, another way to attract potential students is to host competitions and events on campus in areas such as academic quiz bowls, music, drama, and dance.

Expanded sports offerings would provide another recruitment aspect.

Cottey currently has volleyball, basketball, softball and cross country, with the latter sport being the newest.

Dr. Weitzel said in an earlier presentation that she hoped to see other sports join the Cottey fold, possibly golf, tennis, and soccer, in the coming years.

She said as Cottey transitions to more of a four-year degree granting institution, the athletic program would also transition, moving from junior college status to NAIA, which consists of smaller four-year schools, and is headquartered in Kansas City.

There are approximately 300 NAIA member schools, playing 13 sports. Fourteen of those schools are in Missouri.

While the future may bring new athletic offerings, today has its own needs, said one audience member, stating there needs to be better communication between the school and the local press and media.

"I realize you don't have the funding for a sports information staffer, but we're not getting the information we need on the teams, the games and the players. We need more from coaches."

The school does have a public information department that regularly sends out press releases and photos of student and faculty academic accomplishments and entertainment and events that occur on campus that are open to the public.

Those offerings drew praise from several in attendance, with comments citing both the quality of the entertainment and its affordability. A suggestion was made that public events start at 7:30, rather than the present 8 p.m. time, given that most of the activities were family oriented and an earlier start time would likely increase attendance.

The last question for the evening asked those in attendance to identify current and future threats to Cottey.

The school's uniqueness in providing an education for women brings its own challenge.

According to the Women's College Coalition, there were only 47 women's colleges in 2014 in the United States and Canada, down from 230 in 1960.

Wikipedia puts that number at 43 today.

Another challenge the school faces centers on managing the cost of attendance.

In an earlier Daily Mail story, Dr. Weitzel said that, "Ninety-five to 96 percent of our students receive some kind of financial aid."

That assistance comes from scholarships, grants, and loans.

"We're at an average rate, so it's comfortable," Dr. Weitzel told the audience. "We track that discount rate, and the amount of money given to students.

"We want to be affordable but we're a business, so it's a balancing act."

Like most educational institutions, she said Cottey gets the majority of its funding from tuition, with a small percentage from endowment, and 7.5 percent of the budget coming from the P.E.O.

And like most all community, civic and philanthropic organizations, the P.E.O. faces declining membership.

While noting that funding would always be a challenge, Dr. Weitzel said the school is in a solid position, with no debt, a strong endowment and a balanced budget each year.

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