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News Education WCU, SCC take to the community for ideas

SCC’s president Dr. Don Tomas welcomed the public and members of SCC’s Vision 2017 and WCU’s 2020 comission. Photo SubmittedStrategic long-range plans to benefit both institutions.

Western Carolina University (WCU) and Southwestern Community College (SCC) are partnering in a long-range strategic planning process for the betterment of each institution, as well as for the benefit of the community at large.

WCU’s new chancellor, David Belcher, is working closely with SCC’s new president, Don Tomas to establish a comprehensive and cohesive plan for the role the institutions will have in the areas they serve.

“This gives us an opportunity to join forces as we plan our visions for the future.” said Tomas. “Our students are Western students, and we want to work close with the university to ensure a smooth transition.”

Both WCU and SCC have formed strategic planning committees, the 2020 Commission and Vision 2017 respectively, to solicit public input and analyze the information gathered from public hearings throughout Western North Carolina to plan for the future of the institutions.

The committees reached out to Macon County citizens early last week, and held a public hearing in Jackson County on Tuesday. During both meetings, the committees welcomed public comment regarding the operations and future plans of the institutions. “This really is a chance for us to hear from you all and we look forward to your input — good, bad, ugly, fabulous, whatever,” explained Belcher.

Vance Davidson, an SCC trustee and community activist, believes the partnership is essential in successfully providing higher education for the region. “We are a lot better together than we are apart, said Davidson. “We need great communication, which hasn’t been as strong as it should have been in the past.”

WCU staff member Anna Fariello emphasized the importance of the roles the institutions have in the community. “No matter what they do, either good or bad, it impacts the entire region,” said Fariello. “We have to keep that in mind when making these decisions.”

Several citizens of Jackson County spoke to the committee in hopes of continuing to grow the relationship with the institutions. Clark Cowan, a board member for the Town of Forest Hills in Cullowhee, addressed the board with concerns of connecting the university with his neighborhood. “How do we connect our small subdivision with the university so it can be walkable,” asked Cowan. “The university isn’t directly connected with any neighborhood and we [citizens of Forest Hills] want to know what we can do in conjunction with Western to fix that.”

Julie Spiro, executive director of Jackson County Travel Tourism for the Chamber of Commerce, addressed the committee and suggested that they develop a comprehensive economic development report, similar to what the university had done in the past, but hadn’t done since 2005. According to Spiro, the comprehensive report will help attract students and business to the area by allowing them to have a greater understanding of the effect the institutions have on the region’s economy.

The 2020 Commission is geared toward a 10-year strategic plan that will promote university growth in both size and quality, while managing budget cuts on the state level. The 36-member committee which is comprised of WCU students, faculty, staff, and community leaders are leading the strategic planning process to guide the university’s direction and development over the next decade. The 2020 Commission is headed by Melissa C. Wargo, assistant vice chancellor for institutional planning and effectiveness.

SCC’s Vision 2017 committee is focusing on a five-year strategic focus for student success. Vision 2017 will work to identify areas of growth for the college, which according to previous interviews with Tomas, have been identified as the Macon County campus, which is at full capacity once again this semester.

Tomas described the process at SCC, which begins with Phase I, the Preplanning in which the steering committee is appointed, along with establishing a timetable and teams. Phase 2 is the Information Gathering, which includes the community forums. Phase 3 is the Analysis where results from community hearings, focus groups, and surveys are interpreted. From there will come Phase 4, Building the Plan which includes the vision, mission, values, goals, and strategic initiatives. Phase 5 will be Approval, followed by Phase 6, Implementation.

“In just 10 years, more than 60 percent of all new jobs will require a college education,” Tomas told his committee. “Will we be ready to meet this challenge?”

“The future of North Carolina — and of thousands of its individual citizens — depends on the commitment of community and technical colleges to dramatically increase the number of students who successfully persist in college, attain credentials, and/or transfer to four-year colleges and universities,” he added.

WCU has more public hearings scheduled for the Cherokee Reservation, Bryson City, Waynesville and Asheville areas they invited SCC to join the meetings for the betterment of the region.


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