FLC is forward with the strategic plan, Fort Lewis College President Tom Stritikus said in an interview with The Indy after his Oct. 3 Town Hall meeting with students, faculty, and staff.
This year marks Stritikus’ second year as president, and during his presidency the entirety of the campus has come together to make students the priority of FLC, Stritikus said.
“Last year was a very successful year for us in a lot of ways,” Stritikus said.
One success Stritikus nodded to was the fact that the campus, including the faculty, staff and students, came together to discuss what the strategic directions and priorities of FLC are, coming to the conclusion that students are the priority.
“That has been a big shift, that we focus on what's best for students when we talk about making decisions,” Michele Peterson, the associate Vice President in finance and administration said. “It’s looking at decision-making on campus and saying, not what's best for me as a staff member, for my workload or what I believe, but it’s what is best for students and what's going to help them succeed here.”
Although faculty members have always cared for students, Peterson said, this shift accounts for how FLC operates bureaucratically.
“We've always cared about students,” Peterson said. “If you talk to any faculty member, you know that they care about their students.”
What the strategic plan entails
FLC instituted its new strategic plan during Stritikus’ first year at FLC, which is comprised of three separate goals: student success, community responsiveness and knowledge in action, Stritikus said.
These goals have been instituted to ensure that FLC is consistently evolving and improving its quality as an institution, he said.
With the student success aspect of the strategic plan, FLC is attempting to evaluate its programs and classes to prepare students for current college experiences, as well as life after graduation, by receiving student feedback about these services, Stritikus said.
The administration wants its services, such as the Office of Student Success and Advising, a newly established First Year Launch program and classes to actively contribute to students by building the skills needed while attending FLC and the skills for success in the future, Stritikus said.
The intent of the strategic plan is for current FLC programs to evolve alongside contemporary society so students are better prepared for careers after graduation by having FLC program work with the surrounding community, Stritikus said.
The community responsiveness aspect of the strategic plan is to evaluate the types of programs FLC offers to connect them to societal needs or opportunities, while examining what FLC should be offering or change to fit the changing society so students can find future jobs, Stritikus said.
“It's always important for a college or university to keep updating itself and keep thinking about how it makes itself better,” Stritikus said.
The strategic plan also focuses on knowledge in action, meaning students can actively apply what they’re learning in classes with hands-on experience, he said.
“We make sure that our students are getting out there in the real world,” Stritikus said. “It is really the core of who we are. We talk a lot about experiential and hands-on learning, and how amazing it is to be here in the Four Corners, culturally, linguistically, historically, geologically.”
The creation and implementation of the strategic plan is intended to actively alter the retention rate of FLC, which over the past six years has remained between 50-60 percent, Stritikus said during the Oct. 3 Town Hall meeting. During the event, Stritikus announced that the goal of the college is to raise retention rates to 80 percent.
The reasons behind the low retention remains varied among the student population. FLC is actively attempting to implement services to combat the low rate, Stritikus said in the interview.
“Retention is a very complex issue that relates to individual students’ circumstances and that relates to things in institution can do better,” he said. “FLC has been trying to identify what these factors are and put solutions in place against them.”
New and Potential Resources
In an effort to raise retention rates, FLC has implemented the First Year Launch program, a new class for first-year students to better connect and become accumulated to FLC, Stritikus said.
“If students feel a sense of connection and belonging to their campus, they're more likely to come back,” Stritikus said. “In the first-year course, we will have those faculty instructors actually reaching out to all the students in their first-year course towards the end of the semester trying to make people feel like they have those connections.”
A new plan for second-year students that connects students with interdisciplinary field work in related majors or interest clusters is in discussion now with various faculty and board members, including FLC’s provost and Vice President for academic affairs Cheryl Nixon, Stritikus said.
“We will have something in place next year,” Stritikus said.
In addition to the First Year Launch courses, FLC also offers the Skyhawks Persistence Grant to aid students in sudden extreme financial need due to emergencies or unseen circumstances to ensure students are able to remain in school.
“We work so hard to raise the money for the Skyhawks Persistence Grants, that provide students with $200-800 of quick support that might be outside of your financial aid package for some emergency that you have,” Stritikus said.
A new tuition change was announced at the Oct. 3 Town Hall meeting in which any full-time Colorado resident who comes from a family whose annual income is $60,000 or less will come to Fort Lewis tuition-free guaranteed, using a combination of their Pell Grants, the Colorado State Need Grant and then Fort Lewis College filling the gap, Stritikus said.
“Fort Lewis uses part of its overall budget to give institutional aid to students,” Stritikus said. “We will pay for this through institutional aid, not raising fees or tuition for other students.”
Starting Fall 2020, FLC will utilize and review current and new students’ FASFA information to determine eligibility for the tuition promise, Peterson said.
The FLC tuition promise will not raise student fees for students and will be available for current students, meaning it serves both retention and recruitment goals, Stritikus said.
Graduate studies at FLC was a common topic brought up at the Town Hall meeting, specifically about expansion and marketing of the program.
As of 2019, FLC offers graduate studies in teacher education. Currently, FLC is discussing expanding graduate programs to include public administration and adding a principal certificate program, Stritikus said.
“Many of our students are interested in pursuing and do go off to pursue graduate degrees,” Stritikus said. “Sometimes it be would be good for them to go other places but, for certain degrees, we want to make sure that we have enough of an offering to serve the current student population as well.”
FLC is also partnered with two different organizations, TRIO and Entangled Solutions to offer student and institutional success. During the Town Hall event, questions were posed by staff members regarding both relationships with these organizations.
TRIO is financed by a federal grant, and it supports first generation and low income college students both before they come to college and once they are here, providing success coaching advising and other services student’s need, Stritikus said.
“Our TRIO program has been incredibly successful here at Fort Lewis College,” Stritikus said. “When you look at the numbers in terms of retention rates, TRIO students do very well versus students who don’t receive TRIO’s support. One of the big issues that we're exploring is how we can learn from TRIO and incorporate them in our standard advising.”
During the summer of 2019, FLC participated and won $2 million over the course of two years’ worth of consulting services from a consulting firm named Entangled solutions, who were requesting proposals from institutions, Peterson said.
“Consultants are on the forefront of cutting-edge thinking,” Peterson said. “They have the ability to help us analyze things, and to give and help us with tools to help higher education institutions to solve problems and help them get better.”
During the summer of 2019, Entangled Solutions held a national competition in which Fort Lewis College participated and won, receiving a $2 million of in-kind consultation support to help FLC increase its success and effectiveness, Stritikus said.
“We have a consultancy that's helping us think through how to accelerate our progress around some of the goals that we've outlined, particularly relating to students,” Stritikus said.
Entangled Solutions is going to provide more solutions of how to best serve our students, so students will see direct benefits of the strategic plan, Lauren Savage in FLC’s public relations said.
“What’s so special about our arrangement and why they chose us, ultimately is that they saw the work we've done in the last year with the strategic plan, the initiatives, and the momentum that we have,” Savage said. “They're going to be able to come in and work with us on things that we already have in place and we just need acceleration. They're going to bring in their expertise to make sure that we get to the goals that we set out with a strategic plan.”
FLC plans to continue to work with TRIO and Entangled Solutions given the success the institution has seen by working with them, and the aid FLC has received in regards to student success in the strategic plan, Stritkus said.