As I prepare to conclude nearly a decade at the helm of Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), I want to look back at key milestones in my time of service. Yet it is my desire that these reflections will not be past-oriented but shine a light to a future of greater achievements for our students, our college and our community.
My colleagues and I have reshaped the institutional culture toward a continuous improvement model of change. Using the “One Door” framework, we made great strides in improving student achievement and addressing diverse initiatives by involving groups and individuals throughout the institution. We have built a focus on lasting, ongoing process improvement into everyday operations.
However, it became clear that these cultural changes, while vitally important, would only be part of the picture. Tri-C’s footprint spans Cuyahoga County, with four campuses and numerous educational centers, placing higher education close to residents. Yet more than 80 percent of those facilities are more than 25 years old, and many building systems required significant investment in infrastructure, repairs and updates to meet current and future educational and workforce needs.
Therefore, in 2017, with the lead of the college’s board of trustees, Tri-C placed a 0.5-mill capital bond on the ballot, asking the public for $227.5 million in new funding for projects to strengthen access to higher education and modernize workforce training to benefit both students and local employers.
This effort required the dedication of innumerable friends of the institution, including the commitment of college employees who volunteered to spread the word across the county. In November 2017, Cuyahoga County voters overwhelmingly supported the proposal, with 68 percent in favor of the bond.
Through this bond, Tri-C has expanded and modernized facilities for the benefit of students and the community. Westshore Campus in Westlake received a new 85,000-square-foot building with a focus on health care and technology. West Campus in Parma built a 60,000-square-foot STEM addition and student learning space. The Public Safety Training Center constructed a new Tactical Village training facility, and a substantial expansion bolstered manufacturing and engineering programs at the Metropolitan Campus. We created a new Transportation, Distribution and Logistics Academy, grew the successful Automotive Technology program and strengthened corporate and community education experiences through a new Master Kitchen Lab. Classroom and lab renovations and new academic technology investments improved the educational experience across the institution, particularly at the East Campus, alongside extensive infrastructure maintenance needs.
The success of the capital bond is a testament to the tireless work of volunteers. It was only possible through our commitment to continuous improvement and the resulting increases in student achievement we had built over the preceding years. These efforts increased the strong brand and relationships Tri-C has built during nearly six decades of service to the community.
Our work, however, was far from over, even as the dust of construction cleared for the gleam of new facilities. As 2020 opened, we discovered just how essential our culture of change and strengthened technological infrastructure would be as we faced one of the greatest challenges in the institution’s history. In my next column, I will consider how this groundwork prepared us to meet the COVID-19 pandemic head-on. ●
Alex Johnson, Ph.D. is president of Cuyahoga Community College