Nursing program now accredited, Owens president says PDF Print E-mail
Written by PETER KUEBECK/Sentinel Staff Writer   
Tuesday, 13 August 2013 11:13
Comparing his institution to General Motors, Harley-Davidson and Apple - corporations that famously floundered before finding their footing - Owens Community College President Michael Bower on Tuesday acknowledged recent challenges in the school's past even as he offered ideas for the future.
Bower delivered his first State of the College Address before gathered faculty, students and administrators at the Center for Fine and Performing Arts.
"They went through some rocky times," Bower said of the companies, "but they survived and they flourished."
"I'm up to it and I'm glad to be here."
Owens has faced a series of difficulties of late. Enrollment has been slipping for the past three years: from 11,157 in 2011 to an expected 8,727 this fall. This means a decrease in income of more than $8.2 million, despite an already-announced tuition hike. In an effort to save about $7.5 million dollars during the 2014 fiscal year, 30 administrative staff members were let go and an additional 30 were to be reassigned. Further, in 2011, 83 students in Owens' nursing program filed two high-profile lawsuits against the institution for failing to inform them that the program had lost its accreditation in 2009.
Among his first statements Tuesday, Bower announced that the nursing program has regained accreditation from the National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission.
"I know you've been waiting a long time for it," he said, leading a standing ovation in recognitions of staff members who he said "worked long and tireless hours to make this happen."
Bower also tackled head-on the issue of the recent layoffs, saying "I'm very aware that some emotions are running high," and acknowledging that many in the audience may be feeling "survivor's guilt" regarding their former colleagues, or experiencing anxiety over the ultimate fate of their own jobs.
"These are difficult times and we need to discuss it," said Bower. "It is very difficult to lay off people, and it's unfortunate."
To help the school improve, Bower outlined three areas of focus for the institution.
First: Marketing.
"We will be the higher education institution of choice," he said, relating a story where one prospective student was amazed when he learned of Owens' low tuition rates, though he previously hadn't been looking into attending the school.
"Affordability is something we need to emphasize."
To further the point, he later pointed out some potentially confusing elements in branding Owens or related programs. Among the issues: the fact that the main Owens campus is often referred to as the "Toledo campus" - despite being located squarely in Perrysburg Township, in Wood County.
"At some point in time we'll definitely have to look at that" to alleviate student confusion.
Secondly, Bower said that the college will focus on employee support with training, information and resources - but also expect more from employees as a result.
Third, he said that the college will seek to maintain the trust of its constituents, which will be accomplished through responsible management.
He said that, among one related initiative, will be the transition to a full-campus police force at both the Perrysburg Township and Findlay campuses - hopefully by January.
"I am concerned always about your safety," he said, citing violent incidents at schools throughout the country in recent years.
Bower pointed out areas of improvement for Owens to work on as well.
The 2014 budget, he said, will be of utmost importance, as state share of instruction continues to fluctuate.
While the budget had previously been examined at the end of each semester, "now we monitor it weekly" in an effort to be more nimble and respond to issues as they crop up.
Further, a business plan template has been developed and is being "beta-tested" around the campus. Eventually, "everybody will be required to work with that plan."
Bower also said that the physical plant and organizational structure will be looked at, too.
Third, he pointed to a looming issue - enrollment - and the need for a revolution in how it is viewed on campus.
"I want you from this point on not to think of numbers," he said, noting that with the new state funding model, institutions will receive money not based on the number of students they enroll, but on the number that graduate. He exhorted attendees to instead focus on relationships with students, and on retention. A strategic enrollment management team has been established that is working on strategies for successive years. Owens additionally has plans in the works to adopt a full-time advising model.
"Each of us has the ability to affect a student in front of us," he said.
Further, the college is looking into a concept that has been talked about for some time: the possibility of a residence hall for students.
"We're exploring the idea," he said. "It's baby steps, folks. We want to make sure it's the right idea for us."
"I think we've been working on communications and relationships," Bower said of his speech's focus during an interview with media after the event.
"We need to be more involved with our students, engaged with our students."
Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 August 2013 09:31

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