In ATD-Hosted Webinar, More Than 50 College Presidents Move Toward “Scenario Planning”

Earlier this month, more than 50 presidents and chancellors of Achieving the Dream’s Network colleges came together for a webinar hosted by ATD President and CEO Dr. Karen A. Stout. The importance of a strong network and community was demonstrated not only by the webinar’s large attendance and strong engagement, but by the many shared experiences across colleges – even the panelists took heart knowing that other presidents were facing similar dilemmas. They shared their successes and their challenges, and seemed to realize in real time that, regardless of location, student demographics, and resources, all were facing unprecedented challenges together during COVID-19. 

Dr. Stout was joined by Dr. Monica Trent, ATD Vice President of Network Engagement, who moderated the discussion, and by three leaders from ATD Network colleges: Dr. Sunita Cooke, Superintendent and President of MiraCosta Community College District; Dr. Mike Flores, Chancellor of Alamo Colleges District; and Dr. Tracy Hall, President of Southwest Tennessee Community College.

Share Best Practice to Understand Student Stories and Embed Equity

Dr. Stout underscored the need for community college leaders to share best practices during this rapidly-changing landscape. 

“I hope that this is the first of many presidential conversations as we try to build a community of practice so we can learn together as we move into … what will be a new community college movement after COVID. I can’t think of a more urgent time to build this community of practice.” 

She stressed that community colleges serve as a star and compass for our students – and our communities. “While COVID-19 is attacking our communities, it’s not attacking what we do best as community colleges. Our primary strength is a strength we must leverage now more than ever, and that is our localness.” 

Dr. Stout noted that COVID-19 has significantly disrupted colleges’ equity work. “We knew our students were vulnerable, but I think we’re learning that our students are more vulnerable than we ever could have imagined. As leaders, it’s really essential that we understand their stories, and that we think about their intersectionality more intentionally, that is, that they aren’t just disaggregated data points. Their stories cross many of those data points – and beyond – some of the data points we collect.” 

She stressed the need to embed equity in all of our practices and detailed three key takeaways from these conversations: 

  1. The colleges that have focused on the seven fundamentals in the Institutional Change Assessment Tool (ICAT) have been best prepared to respond to COVID-19 and to think about the ICAT framework as a way to accelerate their student success work. 
  2. Colleges that have been strategically intentional about their pre-COVID-19 distance learning strategy had a much faster and smoother transition this spring. 
  3. Colleges are at a point where they’re trying to adopt a learning orientation based upon work pre-COVID, what they have changed during the pandemic, and how they are thinking strategically about how to sustain positive gains in the future.

Scenario Planning 

Dr. Stout detailed the trajectory of leadership, student services, faculty, and data teams in moving from crisis response to strategic planning to scenario planning. 

Dr. Lynda Villanueva, president of Lee College, remarked on Dr. Stout’s comments on how many colleges are changing their planning: 

“How thoughtful to consider the shift from strategic planning to scenario planning. Huge paradigm shift.” 

Dr. Stout emphasized that leadership has taken the largest step toward scenario planning, while faculty are beginning to reflect on what worked well in content delivery, at the same time student services plan for holistic student supports and helping students maintain progress in a more virtual environment.

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In her remarks, Dr. Cooke stressed MiraCosta College’s investment in Holistic Student Supports during COVID-19, referencing the college’s Caring Campus Initiative, where the entire campus community is a part of the effort to identify students with needs and connect them to the college’s case management department. “Every student who dropped either units or all their classes … immediately got personal phone calls to see what support they needed and how we could get them engaged back in school.” 

As a result of the college’s equity focus, they disaggregated the data looking at all students who received emergency supports and phone calls, most of those students represented historically-marginalized populations.

Dr. Cooke’s comments reflected an earlier observation from Dr. Stout stressing that our students are more vulnerable than we can imagine, and that they are not just disaggregated data points. Their stories cross these data points, going beyond these data points in many cases, reinforcing the need for equitable supports to be infused across our work this summer.

Dr. Hall reiterated this idea, sharing concerns that the majority of their students are African American, a population disproportionately affected by COVID, and that this data will inform their decisions about the future. 

Scenario planning certainly underpinned many of the comments on the call, stressing the need for communities of practice in the ATD Network to come together and share successes, challenges, and practices. In his closing remarks, Dr. Flores reiterated a call for presidents and college leaders to continue to support each other. “We know what we know, but it’s also good to know what we don’t know. I’m affirmed by who we keep company with and where we’re going.” 

Community is Central

The takeaway from the webinar was one centered on community – the communities ATD colleges serve, but also the importance of the ATD community itself. Panelists shared their unique stories of and experiences with COVID-19, but a similar theme occurred throughout: the ability to pivot based on the needs of the community. 

The webinar elevated the prominent role that ATD’s seven fundamentals have played in preparing colleges for unprecedented responses to community needs during COVID-19 – in some cases accelerating responses – and guiding colleges and leadership in decision making. Dr. Stout closed the webinar on this note of community, encouraging presidents to continue to stay engaged and work together, and to share ideas within this community to help bolster our collective work in spite of current challenges.

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