President sheds light on future of college

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President Robert Vela responds to architectural engineering sophomore Alexandra Pena Almaraz’s question about finding a better place for smokers during a Hot Potato lecture Tuesday at the Methodist Student Center. Vela said because this campus is smoke-free by policy, it cannot provide a designated smoking area.  Photo by Neven Jones

President Robert Vela responds to architectural engineering sophomore Alexandra Pena Almaraz’s question about finding a better place for smokers during a Hot Potato lecture Tuesday at the Methodist Student Center. Vela said because this campus is smoke-free by policy, it cannot provide a designated smoking area. Photo by Neven Jones

Architectural engineering sophomore Alexandra Pena Almaraz asks President Robert Vela a question during a Hot Potato lecture Tuesday at the Methodist Student Center. Almaraz spoke on behalf of the smokers who congregate at the “smokers’ corner” outside of the center. The smokers want to work with this college to find an area where they can smoke without too much foot traffic, she said.  Photo by Neven Jones

Architectural engineering sophomore Alexandra Pena Almaraz asks President Robert Vela a question during a Hot Potato lecture Tuesday at the Methodist Student Center. Almaraz spoke on behalf of the smokers who congregate at the “smokers’ corner” outside of the center. The smokers want to work with this college to find an area where they can smoke without too much foot traffic, she said. Photo by Neven Jones

This campus aims for fewer high-risk courses and an increase in student graduation rates.

By Ansley Lewis

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

Faculty and student collaboration, along with graduation rates, were the focus of President Robert Vela’s Hot Potato lecture Tuesday at the United Methodist Student Center.

Vela, who became president of this college Aug. 18 after former President Robert Zeigler retired, was invited to lecture for the center’s last Hot Potato session of the semester.

Vela’s PowerPoint lecture focused on the future of this college and the success rates for transfer students and graduates.

He touched on course completion rates and the goal of having successfully completed the classes in which they enroll.

“When we look at course completion, we look at how many of our students are completing the courses they sign up for,” Vela said. “So we’re at 88 percent. Our target this year was at 90 percent.”

Vela’s PowerPoint slide for completion rates showed this college’s standing for the period between fall 2013 and fall 2014 at 88.4 percent with a target of 90.1 percent. The completion rate for fall 2014-2015 is 92.6 percent and 95 percent for 2015-2016.

Vela said students often feel they need to compromise their expectations, or sacrifice their personal lives, to meet these goals, and he stressed that is not the intent.

He said faculty and staff need to be more involved with this college’s students and provide them with the necessary guidance.

“Faculty and staff need to be more attuned with what’s going on with students,” Vela said. “To be able to refer them when they need a referral — to be able to, in essence, just have a relationship with the student and say, ‘Hey, I noticed you were out today. Is everything OK?’”

For productive grade rates, Vela said, “We’ve got some work to do.”

At this college, 74.1 percent of students have a C average or higher out of a targeted 76.6 percent. The goal for fall 2014 and 2015 is 79.3 and 82 percent.

“We’ve got pockets of departments that are doing real well. Other ones, just by the nature of the course, it’s difficult,” Vela said.

Regarding high-risk courses, Vela said these classes are intentionally being reduced to help with productive grade rates.

These courses are the “gatekeeper,” or basic, courses required for all incoming freshman. They are usually reading and writing intensive.

“We don’t want our high-risk courses going up,” Vela said. “These are courses that have 100 or more students enrolled in that course — several sections — but their productive grade rate might be low. We want to eliminate these courses.”

Vela acknowledged how some students are concerned with the quality, or challenging courses, being removed.

“Students kind of see that there has been a reduction in academic challenge, but what we hear are faculty saying they are doing more and more collaborative work — groups and team projects — and that might be seen for most traditional students as maybe not something they’re accustomed to,” Vela said.

He added employers are looking for graduates able to work in a group and successfully complete team projects.

Vela touched on degrees and certificates and showed the number of degrees awarded since fall 2009.

According to his PowerPoint slide, 2,994 degrees and certificates were awarded in 2014, which he said was a good thing.

“This is a big plus because in 2013 we had 2,495 graduates. We set a goal, internally, to get to 2,741. We actually exceeded and almost had 3,000 graduates,” Vela said. “We are constantly challenging ourselves to get more and more students.”

Vela said enrollment strategies — such as partnering with SAISD to get students college ready — are very important.

“We want to be more intentional about ensuring that students from our own neighborhood — our own backyard — are coming to school,” Vela said. “If you look at where our students are coming from at SAC, they’re not even from our own backyard.

“They’re from different zip codes on the north side, northeast side, but they’re not even from our own zip codes here. We need our inner city schools around here to come to school.”

Vela said the college will implement a new advising model to help students.

“We’re going to take a case-managing approach,” Vela said. “Right now, your advising consists of what?”

After scoffs of annoyance from the audience, Vela nodded in agreement and added, “Good luck, right? You can go over and wait in a line. … You’ll have to go look for someone to help until you maybe stumble into somebody. No, that’s not working.”

He said the new model works with one adviser assigned to 300 students, enabling students to have one designated adviser they will know by name.

Cameo Salazar, business administration freshman, said, “You were talking about implicating a strategy, or plan, with the high schools. How exactly do you guys plan on doing that if the gap between high school and college is so large?”

“One of the things we’re doing now very successfully is engaging students much earlier on in the college experience through early college high school and through our dual-credit program,” Vela said.

Vela said these programs make the transition into college life easier, and increase the number of students who attend school.

Kinesiology sophomore Patrick Hernandez asked whether the reduction of Friday and Saturday classes would financially benefit building renovations and add parking.

Vela said reducing these classes was not for monetary gain because faculty and staff are still working and getting paid.

He said the goal was to give faculty and staff the time to prepare for their classes and work on their course curriculum.

As this was the last Hot Potato session of the semester, the Rev. Johnny Silva passed around a flier with a list of possible issues to vote on for next semester.

The list included: NSA: Is Privacy Worth the Price of Freedom; The Modern Man; Gaza: The Real Story; net neutrality; gun laws; Is Same-Sex Marriage Inevitable?; Legalization of Marijuana Revisited; and Smoker’s Corner and SAC’s Smoke-free Campus.

For more information on Hot Potato events, call the center at 210-733-1441.

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