Guest column: Disrupt or be disrupted — Lake Tahoe Community College is embracing change (opinion) | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Guest column: Disrupt or be disrupted — Lake Tahoe Community College is embracing change (opinion)

Jeff DeFranco
Guest Column

Fall classes are underway on the campus of Lake Tahoe Community College, where we're welcoming our first wave of Lake Tahoe College Promise students.

They are at the start of a tuition-free year of college and heading down a path toward a more promising future as a result. The Promise program is just one new innovation our students are taking advantage of this school year, along with many more that I highlighted in my recent State of the College address. You can view a complete version of the address online at http://www.ltcc.edu/SOCA.

Being innovative and welcoming of challenge and change is vital to this college and community, more so now than ever before. In my speech last week, entitled "Disrupt or Be Disrupted," I described a number of outside forces — the result of national policies or state-level initiatives or local conditions — that are disrupting how LTCC does business.

Some of these are negative forces likely familiar to you. South Lake Tahoe's housing crisis poses a huge challenge to our community's workforce and to LTCC's student body.

Other outside forces that are changing our way of doing business include a new California community college funding formula based on outcomes rather than purely on enrollment numbers, and a new Guided Pathways initiative to help students navigate college more successfully and graduate sooner.

These are more positive disruptions but they still call for LTCC's staff and faculty to make major adjustments to the way we do things.

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While LTCC cannot keep these challenges and changes from coming our way, we can and will do everything possible — including doing some disrupting of our own — to continue to increase access to college and create an environment at LTCC that is welcoming and accommodating to locals juggling jobs, family, and education.

One of the most visible game-changers on our campus is the newly opened Lisa Maloff University Center, home to various bachelor's degree programs, a teacher credentialing program, and very soon a master's in education program. Our students can now complete their associate's degree either for no tuition cost or low cost, then walk over to the University Center on LTCC's campus to continue their education without having to disrupt their lives by leaving the community.

An additional $100,000 donation from Mrs. Maloff in August made it possible for us to make that transition even more affordable for students, when we launched the Maloff Scholars program to provide additional scholarships to support these bachelor degree seeking students.

Given how housing and other factors have influenced LTCC's enrollment, we have gotten smarter about scheduling classes and providing clear pathways to help students get into the right major, take the right courses for it, and enhance their ability to graduate on time.

An example of how we're changing our practices to achieve this is with our combined summer/fall class schedule, which was mailed out to the community back in May. With class options in hand much earlier in the year, we were able to help more students register before they left for the summer, thus avoiding the "summer melt" many colleges suffer from when students leave for summer break with no fall plan in place.

Taking steps like this encourages students to persist and to graduate. And these efforts are working: LTCC was one of a handful of community colleges in California that actually saw an increase in enrollment, including face-to-face, in academic year 2017-18.

One of the joys of delivering the State of the College address is in sharing a few great surprises and seeing the reaction they receive. LTCC's Foundation has been fundraising to be able to offer the College Promise to our Nevada neighbors in the Tahoe Basin so they too can take advantage of free tuition at the college located closest to them, though it's across the border.

We envisioned launching this in fall 2019, but thanks to an anonymous Nevada-side donor, we now have $200,000 to use in this effort. So no waiting: as I announced in my address, we're moving fast to make this Promise available to Nevada Basin residents as soon as possible, and in the process becoming the only college in the country with a bi-state Promise program.

Organizations that cannot respond to disruptions and shifting tides can and do fail. Some examples: Blockbuster Video (they're down to their last store in Oregon), which became irrelevant with the rise of cable and streaming technology via Netflix and others. Sears is another: with hardware, clothing, and everything else now available through a click at Amazon, traditional large box retail stores have become dinosaurs.

This will not be LTCC's fate. We recognize change and celebrate it. We see what the disruptors are and welcome them.

We know adequate workforce housing is a huge problem in this community, and we embrace taking a leadership role in solving it — not just to secure our own future but that of future generations of local college students. I have challenged our staff and faculty to take ownership of known problems and to solve them.

In the coming year, we will be at the table with our community partners to address this and other problems. The health of our community and college depends on it.

Jeff DeFranco is the superintendent/president at Lake Tahoe Community College. Visit his Twitter account at http://www.twitter.com/jeffdefranco and email him at president@ltcc.edu.