The Times They are A-Changing

Many alumni visiting Rio Grande comment on how much the campus changed over the past few decades. Though each graduate sees the college and university through his/her own lens, most share one thing in common – memories of a time in your life where you learned, matured and found many new friends. I once asked my family to join me for a basketball game at my undergraduate institution. By the end of my tour, my entire family was breaking out the chorus of “Memories,” from the musical “Cats.” I did not care if they teased me; I thought they were privileged to experience the place that meant so much to their mother and wife!

The same reactions are heard across the University of Rio Grande/Rio Grande Community College by our alumni, whether it is a first visit back or they live around the corner. Research proves we are driven by our five senses to remember moments that profoundly impact our lives – a sound, a scent, a vision, etc. It is a great pleasure as your president, to realize the impressions and memories the campus brings back to each of you.

But just as you notice there are new buildings, or one so special in the “old days” is now worn down some – higher education itself is going through transformative change. On the national level, there are two issues which dominate the landscape – the cost of a college education and the growing focus on accountability (the college completion agenda). While Rio remains very competitive in its costs, there is a national debt for students borrowing money to attend college that now exceeds credit card debt. We cannot continue to burden our students with a lifetime of debt without assuring they are receiving a high quality education and the ability to find good jobs. The Recession of 2008 shined a very bright light on this challenge.

The Rio faculty is doing an excellent job focusing on quality, as you will learn through the many student research projects, the revitalized Honors Program and the focus on assuring all students are successful in their academic endeavors. These efforts bring into play the critical need for assuring “college readiness” of our learners, as well as the journey toward “completion.” The entire funding formula for our in-state students attending the first two years is moving away from enrollment-based funding to course completion and graduation. State and federal leaders are pushing for assurances that students actually earn a degree versus just rewarding colleges and universities for recruiting new students and growing enrollment. We actually welcome both these agendas, recognizing our own responsibilities to serve our learners with a high-quality, outcomes-based education.

But none of this is easy. Higher education is increasingly competitive. Students today have many choices. Despite this landscape, Rio was one of only two community colleges in the state to grow in enrollment last fall and the only one this spring. The university student numbers are also growing. Beginning fall of 2014, the requirement to live in a dormitory, which was eliminated in 2003, will be reinstated. It took a change of state legislation to do this because the State of Ohio does not require (or allow) state community colleges to require residency in dorms. An exception was made based on our unique public-private partnership. We know this is the best direction for our learners – those who live in dorms have greater completion rates and become part of the institution more readily. And this is a great part of the “memories” of the educational experience.

For all colleges and universities, success is often measured by the active participation of their alumni. Rio intends to reinvigorate that agenda and actively welcomes your ideas and participation. While we want you to come “home” and visit the campus, we are also very willing to come to you – forming new alumni groups as well as actively participating in the many already in existence. I hope you will enjoy this new version of Tower and Times, and in your own special way – take a walk down memory lane. Please feel free to let me know how I can carry on the traditions and include you in our future. I am very proud and humbled to be Rio’s president, and welcome any opportunity to hear from our alumni. While the times may be changing, this is (and always will be) your home.

Barbara Gellman-Danley, Ph.D.