San Juan College will hold virtual conference as part of development of new 5-year plan

FARMINGTON — Efforts by San Juan College officials to develop a new five-year strategic plan for the institution will kick into high gear later this month when the school presents a virtual conference that will feature presentations by the leaders or former leaders of four colleges from around the country.

College officials hope to have a new strategic plan adopted by May of 2022. The San Juan College Future Summit is designed to serve as a major milestone in the process of developing that plan, which will serve as the college's guide in directing its goals, priorities and objectives over the next five years, according to a news release.

The summit will feature a presentation by college President Toni Hopper Pendergrass on her vision of the institution's future. It also will feature presentations by Robert Vela, president of San Antonio College in San Antonio, Texas; Falecia Williams, president of Prince Georges Community College in Largo, Maryland; Michael Baston, president of Rockland Community College in Ramapo, New York; and Tim Nelson, president emeritus of Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, Michigan.

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Vela, Williams, Baston and Nelson will address specific topics that came up when San Juan College held a series of focus groups with students and other members of the college community earlier this semester when the strategic plan development process began.

Ron Jernigan, senior director of institutional research and strategic planning at the college, said that list of topics will include the development of K-12 partnerships and the effort to encourage more local students to complete a level of academic achievement beyond a high school diploma.

Ron Jernigan
Ron Jernigan

"After that, the participants will break into groups by topic for further discussion," Jernigan said.

The new strategic plan is expected to result in the identification of three to five initiatives that college officials will concentrate on completing over the next five years, Jernigan said. Different initiatives are tackled each year, he said, and at the end of the year, the college produces an annual report that examines its progress.

"Did we accomplish them? Do we need to continue them? And what were our results?" Jernigan asked rhetorically, outlining the tenor of those annual reports.

During the last strategic plan update five years ago, Jernigan said the school came up with an initiative to develop seven pathways designed to streamline and simplify the academic experience for San Juan College students. The idea, he said, was to help students select a career and funnel them into the classes they needed to get a degree suitable for that career.

"We improved our retention, we improved our graduate rates and our students got through school much quicker than before," he said.

Jernigan said one step the college took in achieving that initiative was through the elimination of developmental courses in some disciplines. Students who once were required to take those courses because they fell short of testing standards were allowed to enroll in college-level courses if they met certain standards based on their high school grade point average. If they struggled in those courses at the college level, they were provided with supplemental academic support that helped them keep up.

"We've seen good success rates from that approach," Jernigan said. "It eliminates three or four (developmental) courses out of a student's educational career. It ends a lot of the frustration we used to hear about. If you face several courses before you actually start, that's pretty disheartening."

The input derived from the focus groups and from the summit will be compiled and presented to the San Juan College Board of Trustees, which is expected to digest that information, provide its own input and, ideally, approve a new plan midway through next year. The process of adopting the plan is being facilitated by CampusWorks Inc., a Bradenton, Florida-based company that provides information technology and planning services to higher education institutions across the country.

Ed DesPlas, the San Juan College executive vice president, said CampusWorks was awarded a nine-month, $85,000 contract to provide comprehensive planning services, including the staging of the summit.

Another aspect of the new strategic plan development process is the creation of a student experience statement, Jernigan said. That one-page document will outline what all the San Juan College community stakeholders want a student to experience, he said.

"We want them to have the least amount of confusion from our first point of contact with them to graduation and, we hope, employment," he said. "That will kind of be, I guess I would call it, our North Star."

San Juan College is only the latest local institution to go through the process of developing a new strategic plan. The cities of Aztec and Farmington both adopted new comprehensive plans earlier this year that are designed to guide those municipalities for the next 20 years.

Jernigan acknowledged that the plan the college will adopt is designed to guide its future for a much shorter time period, but he said that is typical for higher education institutions.

"Things change," he said, explaining the landscape for colleges and universities shifts much more quickly than it does for municipalities. " … This gives us more of an opportunity to react sooner. And our plans are pretty action filled – we try to accomplish a lot within these five years to address those things."

The San Juan College Future Summit will be held from 8 a.m. to noon on Tuesday, Nov. 16. San Juan College students, alumni, community members, supporters, educational supporters and work force development leaders are invited to participate by visiting and registering under the "San Juan College Future Summit" link.

For more information about the strategic plan, call Jernigan at 505-566-3035.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.

This article originally appeared on Farmington Daily Times: San Juan College officials hope to adopt new 5-year plan by spring