SANTA ROSA -- Santa Rosa Junior College is embarking on a multi-year strategic planning process that participants say is of unprecedented scope in the college's 95-year history, with hope that widespread community participation will strengthen a longstanding spirit of collaboration between the college, the regional business community and other stakeholders throughout the North Bay.

[caption id="attachment_51571" align="alignleft" width="270"] Dr. Frank Chong[/caption]

Currently in its early stages, the process will result in a series of specific goals that college President Frank Chong, Ed.D. called a guiding "North Star" for accomplishing the best possible outcomes for students and others at a time of historic budgetary challenge. The outcome will address multiple facets of the institution's historic mission, and how to sustain those elements in the coming years.

"We have spent almost the entirety of the fall semester laying the groundwork of a strategic plan that is all-inclusive," he said. Compared to accreditation self-studies conducted every five-to-six years, "this will be a deeper process. It will be much broader, looking inward and outward, on how to meet the educational needs of our community."[poll id="53"]

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The effort was an early priority for Dr. Chong, who began his role as president in January 2012. Having served as the president of two community colleges and most recently as deputy secretary for community colleges under the administration of President Barack Obama, Dr. Chong said that the nation's community colleges have been forced to be increasingly strategic in accomplishing their goals amid reductions in public funding.

"We're facing declining funding from the state and increasing demand from our industry partners for well-trained workers," he said. "We have excellence in teaching. That's what sets our college apart. But do we have the equipment? Do we have the faculty? It's not rocket science, but it is daunting."

Amid those budgetary challenges, as well as new state mandates, many community colleges have been forced to change registration priority and restrict class offerings to focus on the "core mission" of helping students graduate from a certificate program or transfer to a four-year institution, said Dr. Robin Fautley, president of the college's academic senate.

"In the past, we were all things to all people," said Dr. Faultley, noting high levels of community participation in theater and other courses. "Part of the strategic planning process will be -- 'What will our new face be like? How will we be the community college that best serves our community?'"

While specific goals will be determined in the coming months, the plan could describe pathways for achieving greater rates of student completion, offering training for skills demanded by regional employers and nurturing the role of the two-campus college district as a resource to the broader community.

Dr. Faultley joins Dr. Jane Saldaña-Talley, vice president overseeing the college's Petaluma campus, in heading the committee charged with developing the underpinnings of the planning process.

The plan includes six overlapping phases, stretching to the ultimate implementation of the plan in late 2014 or early 2015, and lasting through 2019. With the preliminary phase complete, participants are now assembling data to support the process and forming six work groups that will focus on elements that include communication with outside stakeholders and review of the college's mission.

Leaders in the process have avoided hiring outside consultants as a cost-saving measure, instead drawing inspiration from other strategic planning initiatives for community colleges and leveraging the college's existing staff. The approach has inspired widespread enthusiasm, with around 130 college employees volunteering to serve on committees or otherwise support the initiative, Dr. Saldaña-Talley said.

Approximately 75 individuals are now directly enlisted in the planning process, with further input expected from regional groups representing education, business, culture and public safety.

"We've spent a lot of time developing the process," Dr. Saldaña-Talley said. "By engaging our broader community, we will create an expectation of collaboration. If the process is right, the product will be excellent."

While the outreach effort to groups outside the college has just begun, some of those groups, like the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, have long expressed support for the college and acknowledged its role in the broader economy.

It was the Chamber, nearly one century ago, that was instrumental in the gift of the land that now hosts the college's Santa Rosa campus, said Jonathan Coe, chamber president and chief executive officer.

"Our involvement with the JC goes back to its inception," he said. "The business community knows the value of supporting the institution, and the role it plays in supporting our local economy."

Santa Rosa Junior College has created a website for its strategic plan initiative, with further information available at libguides.santarosa.edu/strategicplanning.