Revisiting Campus Master Plans: A Deeper Dive into Rethinking Strategies
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Brian Trainer, Host: Welcome to Trends + Tensions presented by BHDP, where we discuss trends in architectural and interior design and the competing priorities or tensions that arise from integrating new ideas into existing organizations, enterprises, and institutions. In this episode, “Revisiting Campus Master Plans: A Deeper Dive into Rethinking Strategies,” we are joined by Ron Schumacher, President of Terra State Community College, Jennifer Fehnrich, Vice President of Development at Terra State Community College, Todd Hernandez, President of Northwest State Community College and Tom Sems, Client Leader at BHDP. I'm your host, Brian Trainer, and Senior Strategist for BHDP. Let's get started.
Brian: So, we're coming back to revisiting the campus master plans a year later, bringing back some familiar voices from community colleges. So, if you would, I'd like to start with you, Todd; tell us who you are and what you do. Remind us, please.
Todd Hernandez: I'm Todd Hernandez. I'm the President of Northwest State Community College in Archbold, Ohio.
Brian: Thank you, Todd. And Ron?
Ron Schumacher: Ron Schumacher, President Terra State Community College in Fremont, Ohio.
Brian: Thank you, and Tom?
Tom Sens: I am Tom Sens. I'm a Client Leader with BHDP, and I had the honor and privilege of working with both Ron and Todd very closely on their campus master plans almost exactly a year ago.
Brian: That's great. Your role has changed since we last spoke to you. So, Jennifer, if you're still with us, can you tell us who you are and what you do? Absolutely.
Jennifer Fehnrich: Good morning. I'm Jennifer Fendrick. I'm with Terra State Community College, and I am the Vice President of Institutional Advancement. And I get to work with our donors and our community partners and build relationships to help the college fulfill its needs.
Brian: Thank you, Jennifer. So, where we're gonna get started is that about a year and a half ago, we spoke about master and strategic planning and the potential future of community colleges. So, looking back, what would be different now? Are there any lessons, learns, wins, like what's happened since we spoke last?
Tom: I guess to add to that question, again, it's been a little more than a year since the master plans have been completed. Maybe think about are there any early wins that have taken place based on the outcome of the master plans? And if so, what would those wins sound like or look like?
Todd: I can start with this one. So, as far as lessons learned, and the master planning process was great, so there's not really much I can say about lessons learned of the process itself. There were a bunch of quick wins for us. The master plan identified that our trash area on campus was facing the highway, and you could see it, and it was just ugly, and it just hadn't dawned on us. And that came out during the master planning process. So, we put up some landscaping and a fence and hid that. So, the campus looks much better when just driving by. But we also had some comments about just the drab base colors all over campus. And we were able to do some painting over the summer. We also engaged with Soaring Art Studios, which is a local studio here. In Napoleon, Ohio. They have developmentally disabled artists that do paintings, and we bought dozens and dozens of paintings from Soaring Art Studio, hung them all over the building, which there was a student comment that the building is where dreams go to die, because it was so drab and dark. And so, there's none of that; the campus is much more colorful, much more lively. It's interesting the way that a space just changes someone's attitude and mental state. So yeah, lots of quick wins, didn't cost a lot of money, used local resources to do some painting, and we were able to get some nice paintings to put up.
Tom: That's great, Todd! Space really does impact emotions, behavior, and even academic outcomes. So just a little bit of paint, some art, along the walls in it's just a huge improvement for a small fee. So that's great to hear.
Brian: And it's great that you connect it to the community to find those resources. It's like you took something that was the space where dreams go to die and added dreams from the community, so that adds a little bit of hope. Do they have a little plaques about the artists and things too? Is it like a museum gallery? Or is it just the art on its own?
Todd: Each piece of art is signed, but we kind of opened it as if it was our gallery, so we hung it up, and then we invited the artists to campus, did photos, showed them their paintings up on the wall, and guess from that press release out of it that way?
Brian: Very cool. Thank you, Todd. What about you, Ron? Any quick wins for you in this last year?
Ron: I think kind of similar, you know, we put a focus all during COVID on manufacturing center on campus building I throughout that process. And again, this is going to include paint and epoxy and reconfiguring a room that was turned into a dance studio in a manufacturing center. So, building an E, fresh paint on the walls, fresh paint on the floors, we took out all the carpeting, and really brightened up the building and took over the old CNC lab that was turned into a dance studio that has now back into the CNC lab. You know, we shared our vision with a local company and our service district. And they provided some additional dollars in support to continue with the vision that we had in mind a lot of opportunities like that, across other programs across campus.
Tom: Ron, you had mentioned the donor. And I know in both the master plans for Terra and for Northwest State, partnerships were very, very important. And just wondering if you could touch on any, you mentioned the donor, are there any partnerships that were forged since we completed the master plan in the fall 2022?
Ron: Yes, and it doesn't even include what work we did in building it. And it included some work that we were doing to add capacity to our welding lab. And, again, since Jennifer's arrival on campus, we've done a really nice job of making sure we have these grand opening celebrations and two pieces there. One, we were working with a local company, and they were going to send us 100 employees a month to come and do welding training. We didn't have enough space. We were able to work with the state pretty quickly, to devise a plan to increase the number of welding units that we had on campus to go ahead and provide this space. And I won't steal thunder from Jennifer. But, when we did the grand opening and introduced this new space to our partners in the community, Jennifer, do you want to talk about what that prompted somebody to do?
Jennifer: Yeah, as a result, we've been able to establish an endowed scholarship specific to the welding program. And we have a second one in the works. I think that as college presidents and administrators, and leaders, we cannot underestimate the value of a campus master plan and being able to put some of these projects into fruition. And doing those in concert with our community partners. We heard both from Todd from Northwest State and again now from Ron in terms of these partnerships and how we're able to leverage those projects and further them to have an even greater impact. And so that's what's exciting, you know, coming out of the master plan, as well as, okay, great master plan, how are we going to fund it? You know, how are we really going to prioritize this and make it come to fruition? But one of the ways that we do that is through our community partnerships, especially at a community college, where we're so engrained, sometimes more so than our sister, four-year institutions. And so, it just has a greater impact in a lot of ways. I think that's one of the just real key takeaways that we just continue to see, as we implement these projects with a master plan. It's that community partnership aspect.
Tom: Jennifer, it's gotta be rewarding. I'm just thinking back to how the master plan actually took place that you were working alongside me developing the master plan. So, we develop together in conjunction with leadership, the priorities, and then for you to be able to start to take those priorities as a leader at Terra and, you know, as you said, make them come to fruition. That's got to be rewarding.
Jennifer: It is, and I think that's the takeaway as other presidents and college leadership. Maybe listening to this podcast is the takeaway, right? I mean, so maybe the specific projects that priorities are unique to each campus, across Ohio and other states, the similarities and the common thread is our ability to build relationships and leverage those relationships. And I know that President Hernandez and President Schumacher each would have many, many, many examples of that. And not all of those relationships were built overnight. And not all of them have been easy. But the value and the return if you stick with it, and focus on those, you're able to grow can mean all the difference.
Brian: Thank you for that story. I remember hearing about that welding lab and thinking it was a big deal, because we were curious how community colleges fund their projects different than state college. And so those partnerships are critical.
Jennifer: Correct? Yeah.
Brian: That's interesting how that came together. It's like, you have to identify it and be able to say, hey, sort of like through something in a master plan. This is something that we need to do. And then, when it goes out to the community, you see who comes back in to help.
Ron: It's got to be one of those things that tugs at the heartstrings of the donor, right? There's got to be an attachment to why I am doing so in this case. The attachment was welding because the late husband passed away and was big in the trades that were begun in this program. So, like I said, this piece wouldn't have occurred without the work that Jennifer did on this and inviting as many community members to the event that she did, and really put a focus and put us in a great light at Terra State, but also the welding lab and the welding center that we created on campus.
Tom: So, Ron, you had mentioned the funding from the state just curious as the master plan that we developed as a tool, has it helped to be able to persuade the folks in Columbus to really think about giving a good amount of money to the primaries that you've developed? Or is it just something that's another thing that we've just done, and it hasn't helped?
Ron: So, Tom, ask me in 12 months. On Friday, we have to deliver our six-year capital plan. And a large majority of our conversation stems from not only the master plan but also the strategic plan and how the capital plan fits and is a piece to that puzzle in terms of our direction and vision moving forward.
Todd: Ron, to build on that a little bit, I can remember the state capital plan submission prior to having a master plan. It's so much easier with a master plan. It would be a number of conversations at the vice president level who would go down to the deans who'd go to work for us. Then, we try to collect all that information and data and submit a coherent request to the state. Well, now, if you have the master plan complete, and all those conversations, all that work, all the stakeholder input, it is already there. So, it was really just a matter of pulling out that master plan and giving it a brief review. Okay, how much, if anything, has changed? And since ours is only a year old, there really wasn't anything. And building that narrative to submit to the state is so much simpler, so much easier to get done this year than in previous times.
Tom: That's great to hear. And I think you just had mentioned all the work that went into the master plan. It really shows the folks in Columbus that you've done your homework, that you've built that shared vision, you've met with stakeholders, and that this isn't just your idea, this is the concept in the master plan of, you know, the community that is Northwest State Community College.
Jennifer: You know, when we're also applying for grants and other funding opportunities outside of the traditional reimbursement from the state, it's critical that we have that in place so that our community partners understand, you know, we're not making decisions in a vacuum. We are being thoughtful, and we're discerning over those priorities to ensure sustainability as we move forward.
Ron: Tom, Jennifer brought up something that we didn't touch on, and that is the grants. Right? Terra State is fortunate we're involved in an NSF grant right now. Just recently, we were awarded an Ohio Board of Nursing grant, as well as a different nursing grant. So, the Iowa Board of Nursing grant is going to allow us to build evening and weekend programs part-time for our folks who are wanting to get into nursing, who otherwise might not be able to finish their degrees in the full-time program that we have. The other LPN to RN grant that we're working on with Fisher-Titus, and EHOVE is a $4 million grant that covers some of the wraparound services that students may need in order to realize that this educational goal that they have is attainable. And we can provide some of those grants to those students. So, the grants are a huge part of allowing us to accomplish some of those things laid out in the master plan.
Todd: Ron mentioned a couple of grants that were kind of capacity building, and Northwest State has those, and that's very important to community colleges, but I think it speaks to the affordability of community colleges from a student's perspective. Because we're able to get the support through donors and granting agencies, we're able to keep our tuition and the overall cost to our students very low. So, Northwest State has a lot of apprentices that are generally funded by the employers. Those students don't pay any tuition. Many of us have dual enrollment, which is significant dual enrollment from our high school students. Those students don't pay any enrollment. We did a study at Northwest State if I take those two populations out and look at the total cost. Each student has to come to Northwest State; 40% of my students pay zero out-of-pocket costs. So, the remaining 60% pay an average of $103 per credit hour to come to Northwest State. The granting agencies, the support from the state, the donors out in the community, yeah, they help us with our facilities and our master plan, but at the end of the day, it's our students that benefit from all of that.
Tom: If you recall, when we initially did our visioning session, we developed success measures, and one of them was to look at its increased revenue stream via foundation assets, sponsorships, and grants. So, we can definitely check the box for that success measure; he was done very, very well.
Jennifer: It's remarkable to be able to have that affordability because, at the end of the day, that is always going to be the number one, you know, separator for us at the community college level, as it should.
Brian: The interesting thing about the way community colleges are funded is that it doesn't sound like it's a burden to the students. I had something I was gonna ask later, but I want to ask it now: community college is generally stigmatized in public opinion, as it is second to traditional colleges. Are there any is there any data that supports the success of community colleges? Because one, I would call that, you know, the zero tuition or, you know, what was 100 and something dollars per credit hour, a huge success, any other data that supports community colleges?
Todd: The Aspen Institute has recently released a study that demonstrates that the kids who start college classes in a dual enrollment model, College Credit Plus, are more likely to complete a four-year degree than those who don't. Achieving the Dream has got some data that demonstrates that our graduates, our community college graduates who transfer to a four-year degree, have a higher success rate. So, the quality is there. In speaking of master plan facilities, if we didn't have good facilities, we wouldn't have good programs. So that's part of it. For Northwest State specifically, we engaged a company called Light Cast to do an economic impact study. Our students, for every dollar they spent at Northwest State on their education, they received $3.03 back in return. Our graduates earn $9,900 on average more per year than peers that don't go to college, which translates almost into $400,000 lifetime earnings. From a taxpayer perspective, for every dollar that we receive in tax funding, the taxpayers receive $2.70 in return. We're, and I say we, as a community college sector, answering the call. We're very affordable, and we have high-quality programs. And our graduates that choose to transfer on are very successful.
Brian: Thank you for that, Todd.
Tom: Looking at the success measures, one was increased enrollment growth. And I'm just asking. I know it may be a little premature, but it's been a year. But has there been any correlation to your enrollment and some of the projects that have been implemented as part of the master planning process?
Ron: You know, over the last two years, we've seen this controlled growth coming to us, really focused. Todd mentioned the College Credit Plus program, putting the focus on some of those students who are coming onto our campus for that program to really put a focus on increasing the matriculation of those students. We're really bringing a lot more folks onto campus. We want to show off what we're doing on campus because I think with all the improvements that we have made. It's really that outward appearance.
Brian: We're going to add something there, Todd?
Todd: Well, I was just going to speak in terms of enrollment. Tom's original question, you know, has a master plan contributed? And I would say yes, one of the programs that had a very similar story to Ron's in the welding for us was agriculture. We're a very rural community, and agriculture is a big part of who we are and in our area. So, we launched a new agribusiness and agronomy program on campus; it kind of had been outsourced before. We started with just six students, but year after year, it grew from six to 17 to 30. Now, we have over 40 students in that program. But by having the master plan and demonstrating that we intend to put in a true agriculture lab, what we did is shoehorn it into a corner of our engineering lab. But by demonstrating that we're committed to this program. We're going to build a true lab. We were able to garner more enrollments because the students believed, okay, this program is up and coming, and they're going to do it the right way. Not only that, we were also able to generate community support through the foundation. The agriculture lab is just the utilities getting water, and drainage to it is $275,000. That's not even talking about the space, by showing the commitment through the master plan that had that built into it. We were able to show our commitment to the community and to our students. And so, it's helped garner donations and enrollments.
Brian: That's a great story. I wanted to ask after working through your strategic master plans because you've been working on one for a while, and you're working on your next one within the community college. What is your advice? If another community college happens to be listening and wanting to do the same thing, what would you tell them?
Todd: I did the master plan first, and the master plan was an input to a new strategic plan. And for us, that worked pretty well because we were able to kind of get all the input from the different stakeholders on, you know, what do they think that their facilities need to look like for Northwest State five years down the road, ten years down the road. Then, we could take that and help drive conversations with the strategic plan.
Ron: So, Todd, we did ours in reverse. We initially came in, did this strategic plan, and laid it out. And remember, then COVID hit. And so, all of a sudden, during the end of the strategic plan, we got hooked up with Tom and Jennifer. And then, boy, did it make sense, then to sit here and have the campus master plan feed into the reboot of the strategic plan that we're just finishing up. So, I think my advice is to do it in the order Todd did it. It was a little easier to really sit and focus on, "Alright, we know from a campus master plan, and this is where we want to go." How does that fit into the strategic plan? Get input; the more input you can get from individuals, I know there'll be some people that say you're crazy. Input leads you down the road of buying. As a president, we want as much buy-in as we can get from not only campus constituents but also our community, our potential donors, and our potential grant award members that we have out there. I think it opens up a whole bunch of avenues for us, as presidents, that we can walk down this road and go, you know what, we had this group of students, we had faculty, we had staff, we had community members, we had board members, foundation board members, we had community members for the three or four counties that we provide service to, I think it's a must. And, you know, whichever order you are doing it, you just make sure they're kind of in lockstep and that you can share that with those, whether it's your state operating board or a grant award that you're writing. They can see that you have these plans, and they're working together and that you've included everybody that you could to be a part of that.
Todd: Yeah, Ron, we had a strategic plan that was approved in April of 2020. So right after COVID hit, we had one; we didn't need to reboot it. So maybe that's why the sequence worked out. But to your point, it creates buy-in, getting all those voices. But for me, it uncovered some blind spots. As President, you'd love to think you knew everything, but obviously, you’re only human, and you don't. Right. So, getting all those voices in a few blind spots. I had heard whispers about how we need an event center and our auditoriums nice. I personally didn't think we had a need for a new event venue. But if you talk to our students, if you talk to our staff and faculty, our board, and our community, I'm dead wrong. And so that made it into the master plan. So, creating that buy-in, but also showing you your blind spots. I think I got a lot of value in that way.
Tom: Todd, I remember that “aha” moment. When we were talking, you were like, I did not see that coming. I had no idea that Building E was an issue. But we found that was where dreams go to die. And then the idea that an event center really was a priority and was only by reaching out the different constituent groups and having them share what their vision is, particularly the community groups, I think they really said that, hey, if we if you provided us with a community center place that we could be able to have events, we could really, really be a partner, a true partner with Northwest State Community College. So that was a great “aha” moment.
Jennifer: And I would just complement what's been said on both fronts in terms of, you know, advice. As an institution looks at undergoing a campus master plan, I think, regardless of timing, if the Campus Master Plan helps drive the strategic plan or if the strategic plan helps drive the master plan, I think the real takeaway is that there is tremendous value to any institution to have both in place because they complement each other and support each other. But independently, they allow you to accomplish even more things unique to just a campus master plan versus unique to a strategic plan. And I think we've heard many, many examples of those.
Tom: I just wanted to touch with Jennifer on the process. It sounds like, on the surface, reaching out to all these groups could be a really arduous process that could take a lot of time. It actually was very, very efficient. If you recall, we did all these different focus groups through what came out of COVID, through MS Teams meetings. We were a great partnership, Jennifer; I would be doing the facilitation, and you would be typing literally by the end of the hour. We had minutes that we could share with both Todd and Ron. I thought it was a very effective process that enabled us to reach out to a lot of groups very, very efficiently.
Brian: Are there any other big takeaways you would want listeners to have when it comes to strategic plans and master plans? Are there any other key takeaways you would want people to hear?
Todd: Ron mentioned earlier, get a lot of voices, get a lot of input. I just reiterate that it is a lot of work to have those community sessions, those listening sessions, but it's more than pays for itself on the back end. When it comes time to like submit a grant proposal or to submit your capital requests to the state, you're gonna do the work one way or another, right? If you don't have the master plan, you're gonna have to create that buy-in on the back end. And that's never the right, appropriate time to try and create buy-in.
Ron: Or it's looked at as a top-down decision that was made, right? And knowing you, knowing other presidents that are out there, I don't think anyone wants to go down that road. Todd mentioned the work upfront; if we do the work upfront and we put the right process in place, the output is going to be even better. And I always use that analogy with folks who listen: if we include everyone that we can, and we make people not only feel but see and believe that we are listening and we are looking at different things, Todd's “aha” moment with the event center on campus. Prime example. Right? I guarantee you, if anyone did a survey on Todd's role as president, his points would have went up after that, right? Your approval ratings would have went way, way sky high that you listen to people, and we appreciate that. Yeah, it does take a little more work. But it's worth it. Because you're not trying to convince people that this is the right path; they've already given you the information. And they were a part of it in the very beginning. I'm not a big believer in putting band-aids on things. There are times when you have to. Yeah, but I'm a bigger believer in finding a road to resolve the one, two, or three issues that a particular department or division would have to resolve that issue in totality, not just a partial.
Tom: I guess my final thought, I agree 100% in really casting a wide net. But, having a core leadership group lead the master plan, I think both Northwest State and Terra State had a very, very passionate and really committed leadership group. And then, you enabled us to reach out to the groups that you needed us to reach out to to enable us to create a shared vision for both master plans. So, it's been a pleasure to work with both of you.
Ron: So, the other bit of advice I would give to any President that's listening or Vice President that's listening to this podcast is be transparent with your exec team and make sure you’ve got an exec team that is empowered to make decisions and make them feel comfortable with addressing the key issues that you're faced with.
Brian: That's wonderful. Thank you for your time. I appreciate it. I love talking with you all. And I like the community of community colleges that you've built, and it seems to be working in your favor. So, continued success to you all.
Tom: Thank you, everyone.
Todd: Thank you, guys, and I really appreciate you pulling this together.
Jennifer: Thank you.
Tom: Take care. Bye.
Brian: Thank you for joining Trends + Tensions presented by BHDP for this episode, “Revisiting Campus Master Plans: A Deeper Dive into Rethinking Strategies,” with Ron Schumacher of Northwest State Community College, Todd Hernandez and Jennifer Fehnrich of Terra State Community College and Tom Sens of BHDP. If you appreciate what you've heard, please rate, subscribe, and give us a review. I'm Brian Trainer, your host, and I hope you'll join us for another episode of Trends + Tensions to see what topics drive design.