Registration By the Numbers

Do you know who our students are?  Not who our students were a decade ago, but who our students are today.

If you look at the registration summary for Fall 2019 (dated 11/4/2019), you will see that our credit headcount is 41,232 students.  Of that, 11,682 students were new to ACC:  a 4.1% increase over Fall 2018.  Of the “new to ACC” students, 4,156 were in high school programs:  a 14.4% increase over Fall 2018.

Re-read that last sentence.  Our new students in high school programs (dual credit, P-TECHs, Early College High Schools) increased by 14.4% this Fall.  By contrast, this Fall there are 7,526 traditional students who are new to ACC, a slight decline over last Fall of -0.8%.  

What about continuing students?  We have 4,372 continuing students in high school programs this Fall, an increase of 7.0% over last Fall.  We have 25,178 continuing traditional students, a decline of -4.0% over Fall 2018.

What about Distance Education?  We have 12,416 students in Distance Education classes this Fall, an increase of 11.1% over Fall 2018.  2,580 are new to ACC, and 9,836 are continuing students.

These numbers are not an aberration or an anomaly.  They reflect a trend – our student population is changing.  As of today (12/11/2019), our Spring numbers show an increase of 16.7% in new high school program students, and a decline of 6.0% in new “traditional” students.  Our continuing high school program numbers have jumped by 12.9% over Spring 2019, while our continuing traditional student numbers are currently -2.0% below last Spring.  Our Distance Education numbers show an overall increase of 7.9% to date over Spring 2019.

In other words, our Distance Ed students make up approximately 30% of our overall enrollments, and our dual credit students make up slightly more than 20% of our overall enrollments.

These numbers mean we are serving different students in different settings than we did in 2009.

Do these numbers mean we should be thinking differently about how we help them learn?

Should we be thinking differently about what it means to be a college student as we head into 2020?

Should we rethink our understanding of our student population?

Should we celebrate who they are, rather than thinking nostalgically about who they were ten or twenty years ago?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Image credits:  Gerd Altmann from Pixabay; TheDigitalArtist from Pixabay

A Day in the Life of an AVP: Gratitude

While a modern Thanksgiving often turns on football, family, and food, it is also a time to be grateful.  So this month’s edition of A Day in the Life is about gratitude.

I am grateful for good people doing good work at ACC.  Today I met with Grant Potts and Estrella Barrera, who have led the roll-out of our faculty student mentoring program. They are two very good people who have done very good work.

I am grateful for colleagues who drop into my office and distract me – or who let me drop into their offices to help me think something through.  This one is always a long list (!), but today the list includes Gretchen Riehl, Charles Cook, Rich Griffiths, and Tammy Chalermpued.

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the mission of Austin Community College and help change the trajectory of our students’ lives.  We make the difference for students who find their paths into a career or program of study that fits their interests and talents.  We make the difference for students who need to learn English, or pass a high school equivalency exam, or change careers, or upgrade their skills, or learn how to read, or pass their math class.  We make the difference for students who are the first in their families to go to college and who discover that ACC is, indeed, for everyone.

I am grateful for challenging projects, and bosses with high expectations, and friends and colleagues across the college who help me, brainstorm with me, listen to me, and support me.  Our work matters, and if we do it well, then we are doing it together.

My thanks to each and every one of you.   We get to come to work every day knowing the impact we can have – and it’s a wonderful thing to be grateful for.

Yay ACC – We’re Stars

On Friday, November 22, Austin Community College was designated as a 2019 Star Award recipient for our work around open educational resources (OER), and in particular for our efforts to create Z-degrees (zero textbook cost degrees) that help our students stretch their financial resources.  Z-classes and Z-degrees mean that our students’ finances can go farther because they are not paying $200 or $300 for a textbook.

Earlier this year we asked students how they would use the savings from their Z-classes.  Here’s a very small sampling.






We sometimes forget to ask how our students are managing to pay for everything that college requires – not just tuition and fees, but textbooks and lab manuals and courseware access codes and calculators and nursing scrubs and a chef’s toque.  We also know that many of our students experience food insecurity and housing worries and child care expenses.  Our ability to help them juggle all these expenses through the course materials that we choose can have a remarkable impact.

To date we have saved our students approximately $4.5 million in textbook costs (using $100 as an average savings).  The Star Award recognizes the commitment of faculty and staff who believe in the goal and who take a chance on something different like OER.

Thanks to all – and yay ACC! We’re stars.  

An AVP’s Aspen Journey: Chapter Three

I am four months into my Aspen Fellowship, and about to leave for the second convening of the 2019-2020 cohort.  The Aspen Institute offers robust, rigorous, and challenging professional development for community college professionals who want to be transformational leaders.  It is an honor to be part of the current cohort, full of passionate, dedicated, committed, brilliant community college leaders who will indeed transform colleges across the country.

39 of us are gathering Wednesday afternoon at a conference center outside of Washington, D.C., where we will learn, eat, talk, practice, present, and learn some more, until we all scatter for home Sunday evening.

Among our homework assignments for this second convening was to develop and debut to our colleagues a 5-minute presentation around data.  We are each asked to tell a story with data from our college as a means of pitching a high-level, big-picture idea to an external partner.  In essence, this homework is a rehearsal for our April “capstone” presentation that is to be 15 well-prepared, well-conceived, well-rehearsed, well-timed minutes, complete with compelling visuals – and perhaps video.  Again we will pitch a high-level, transformative idea that has the potential to alter the trajectory of our students and support significant improvement in our student success outcomes – however our students define their success, whether it be a better job, transfer without loss of credits to a four-year institution, or both.

Additional homework included reading The Transfer Playbook and completing the self-assessment tool, as well as reading The Workforce Playbook and completing that self-assessment tool.  My thanks to my colleagues at ACC who offered ideas and perspective on both assessments.

So – wish me well.  I’ll let you know how it goes and some of the things I learn when I write Chapter Four of my Aspen Journey.

A Day in the Life of an AVP – the Pinball Edition

What is it like to be a pinball?  I think I know – because I often describe my AVP days as “pinballing”.  I go from one thing to another to another, back to the first and then over to a fourth thing.  I zig and zag and zig again.  And  sometimes (but not often) I feel like I’m going down the drain.

This month I thought I’d give you a feel for a day of pinballing.  I’ll save the gory details – but I’ll highlight the work.  The key to understanding why I feel like a pinball is knowing that I rarely get to spend much focused on a single thing.  I start one thing and then have to zig over to another, more pressing thing.  I work a bit on that thing and then have to zag to a meeting.  I leave the meeting and zig to issues that arise via email.  I get through a few emails and than zag to a new problem that requires me to make some phone calls and put out a fire.  I get the fire under control and zig to another meeting about something different.  I get back to my office and zag back to the first thing I started with.  And so it goes.

Here’s a sample list of a single day’s zigging and zagging.   Just to state the obvious (one more time) – the day wasn’t one of methodically moving from one thing to the next, which is what a list implies.   It was a day of pinballing back and forth and across and over and around and back again to these tasks and meetings:

  • Editing and updating the full-time faculty hiring manual
  • Drafting a formal response to a faculty complaint
  • Offering comments on a draft Bellwether award application for ACC’s OER work
  • Attending a meeting about how to trumpet more effectively (and more broadly) the benefits of the Texas A&M Chevron Engineering Academy so that we can recruit our allotted 100 students
  • Recruiting folks to participate in a “transfer self-assessment” that ACC is working on
  • Drafting the answer to one of the questions for the Leah Meyer Austin award application that ACC submitted
  • Offering advice to a dean about eStaffing issues
  • Sending off a brief description of a presentation I’m giving at the upcoming Texas Pathways conference
  • Offering advice to another dean about a personnel issue
  • Prodding some folks about a looming deadline for gathering initial information on campus moves
  • Sending some information to the Grants Office for an addendum to the Texas Corequisite Project grant
  • Inviting a couple of faculty to attend THECB’s Star Award luncheon in November (ACC is a finalist for our Z-Degree/OER work)
  • Meeting with colleagues in IT about the infrastructure needs to support an effective early alert system
  • Etc.

Pinballing between and among and across and down and over through all of the above.  It was a typical day!

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay.  No attribution required.

Liberty to argue

When I travel, I take pictures – lots of pictures.  I take pictures of buildings and signs and lampposts and steeples and arches and flowers and a perfect espresso and quotes carved on cornerstones. And I have my desktop preferences set to rotate through my thousands of travel pictures, one at a time, so that each day I see a different picture from my journeys.

Today’s picture was of this quote:  “Give me liberty to know, to utter and to argue freely according to my conscience, above all other liberties.”  Milton

Here’s the picture that’s serving as today’s desktop decoration. 

Milton had it right, didn’t he?  We are sorely in need of greater understanding and acceptance of the liberty to argue freely according to our understanding.  I would add, of course, that we should also argue respectfully, which also seems to be lacking these days.

Isn’t that one reason we work at an institution of higher education?  To foster the ability to “know, to utter and to argue freely according to [one’s] conscience”?

I believe that education is the key to a good life.  It is the key to a thriving economy, to creativity and innovation, to an engaged citizenry, to a functioning democracy, to acceptance of differences – but most importantly it is the key to liberty.  So when I spin and churn at work, when I go from a meeting about a new initiative to hearing a complaint from a faculty member to writing a report about another initiative to responding to an argumentative email, I do it because I believe in the power of education to change things for the good.  And yes, I believe fervently in liberty, including the liberty “to argue freely [and respectfully] according to my conscience”.  And I expect that you do too.


Football in Texas, like politics, is a contact sport.  Love it or loathe it, the sport involves the physical impact that one player (a defensive tackle, for instance) can have on another (the running back, for instance).

While football is all about physical force and impact, what we do in our work  at ACC is about a different sort of force and impact.  Here is a nice article from the Austin American-Statesman about a football player at LBJ (middle linebacker Lamael Hicks) that illustrates my point.  

When asked which of his high school courses would benefit him the most after graduation, Lamael replied this way:

“I would say the Early College Program, which allows students like myself to enroll into (Austin Community College) and get a chance to earn college credits while still taking high school classes at the same time.”

When asked about his future plans, Lamael had this to say:

“I’ll be going to a four-year university and major in wildlife biology and minor in architecture.”

Early College High Schools – like football – are all about intentionally directed force and impact.  We enter into partnerships with area high schools that serve students who are less likely to go to college.  The goal is to reduce barriers to college access and support greater equity in pursuing the benefits of a postsecondary credential.  We all believe that education is the doorway to a good and fruitful life.  And our work in Early College High Schools is one illustration of that belief.

Raise a glass to the impact of education.  And wish Lamael luck in his pursuit of his dreams.

In Praise of Libraries

When I was in college I worked in a public library.  I have always loved libraries – every time I return to my hometown I drive by the old public library where I worked and I remember not only my work there, but the summer book clubs and story hours that I participated in growing up.  When I drive by the old public library, I still recall the feeling from childhood that walking through those doors meant I was entering other landscapes full of exotic and interesting people.  Here’s a picture of that old library (which is now retail property).

I love libraries – did I mention that?  I especially love public libraries for their democratic mission, and community college libraries for their central role in our educational mission.  The Institute for Museum and Library Services, in conjunction with Ithaka S+R, has produced a report on the impact that community college libraries can have on the success of their students.  You can read about this research in Inside Higher Ed, The Chronicle of Higher Education (paywall access only), the Library Journal, and the Ithaka S+R blog.

There are a lot of insights to be gleaned from this research, but here are two or three.  First, students’ needs outside the classroom ARE academic needs because they can have a significant impact on their academic success.  We know this – we know that a student who struggles to pay the rent or get her car repaired with likely struggle with her school work.

Second, students view college as a means to an end (a good job) but ALSO as having intrinsic value.  They highly value both their attainment of knowledge and the advancement of their career as a result of their community college experiences.  And they see the library, academic advising office, and tutoring center as important service providers in addressing unmet information needs, both curricular and non-curricular. For students, in-person services to help them find information for navigating college, completing coursework, finding child care options, paying for food or housing, or gaining access to social services could all flow from their college library.

From the Chronicle article:

“Institutions often look at graduation, transfer, and job-placement rates to gauge success, said Christine Wolff-Eisenberg, manager of surveys and research at the nonprofit group Ithaka S+R and a co-author of a report on the survey’s findings. She said the group wanted to better understand how students themselves characterize success.

“’What we saw was students equally valued their learning and mastery, and their being able to grow as people through the educational process,’ Wolff-Eisenberg said.”

The central idea is to see libraries and librarians as the connective tissue between instruction and student affairs, supporting students’ learning and mastery and growth as individuals.   The goal of the research is to strengthen “the position of the community college library in serving student needs.” (Ithaka S+R)

Libraries are accessible.  And libraries are central to student success – they always have been central to the success of our students, and they will continue to occupy this central place.  This current research provokes additional thinking about how we partner with our libraries to best meet the needs of our students today.  So be sure to send your students to our libraries (either online or in person).  Be sure to say “thank you” to the next librarian you see.  And join me in celebrating the great and good work of our libraries.

The Power of Clear Writing

It is, perhaps, a bit of folly to write about clear writing – what if I’m not clear?  Nonetheless, I can’t resist this brief New York Times article that highlights the power of clarity in the written word.  The written word, in this case, is the whistleblower’s complaint that is now dominating the Twitterverse (and every other media universe).  While no one has a reliable crystal ball, this piece of clear writing could ultimately provoke a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on impeachment charges against the sitting president.

The article is written by the Director of the Harvard College Writing Center.  (The existence of which serves to remind us that ALL college students need help with their writing, not just community college students.)  Please read Ms. Rosenzwieg’s complete article.  She highlights the power of structure, active verbs, and strong topic sentences.  She also reminds us that we live in a world that requires the ability to write clearly and effectively.  Whether we write memos, reports, emails, plans, proposals, tweets, blogs, or summaries of meetings, the written word is still the key to delivering a message that has impact.

As we help our students learn how to combine words into a meaningful whole, please remember that they can seek help from our own Learning Labs at every campus.  And join me in celebrating our various roles in helping our students develop their writing chops.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

A Day in the Life of an AVP – the Procurement Edition

I have devoted several days this month to the procurement process.  Sounds fun already, doesn’t it?

Procure to Pay (P2P) is part of Business Services here at ACC.  P2P consists of Procurement (which does exactly what you think it does), P-card Administration, the Small Business Development Program, and Accounts Payable. 

When the college is looking at a significant investment of resources, the procurement process is particularly rigorous.  All purchasing at ACC follows rules and processes, but procurement on a larger scale includes more voices, more steps, more training, and higher-level approvals (up to and including the Board of Trustees).  The process that I have been involved in included an RFP (Request for Proposals) that was advertised and open for a certain time period, allowing interested vendors to submit proposals (which can run to hundreds of pages).  Proposals are reviewed or scored for adherence to the solicitation’s specifics.  Based on that review and scoring, vendors are then invited to present their wares in person.

Here’s a current list of publicly advertised solicitations.  You’ll see that some involve significantly more information and specificity than others, but the general idea is that vendors respond to the solicitation and the responses are rated or assessed.  Top-rated vendors are then invited to make formal presentations on their product.  Those presentations follow a pre-determined script to ensure that each vendor is responding to the same set of questions or scenarios and helping ACC employees who are making the procurement recommendation understand whether any vendor’s product will meet our needs.  To participate in this procurement process, you must complete procurement training and sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

Because I’ve signed an NDA, I can’t tell you much more.  Just let me say that from 8:00 to 5:00 on three separate days this month I’ve listened to vendors respond to – or not – our scenarios, and answer – or not – our specific questions.  It’s been both interesting and tedious, worthwhile and tiring.  But it’s all part of the life of an AVP.

Picture attribution (Alaska Purchase):  Edouard de Stoeckl and William H. Seward [Public domain]