A NACCE Entrepreneurial President Profile
At Gateway Community and Technical College (GCTC), Ed Hughes has a tiger by the tail. In a newly released analysis of U.S. Department of Education enrollment data, his four-campus school ranked No. 36 among the 50 fastest growing community colleges with enrollment between 2,500 and 4,999 students. The ranking was based on enrollment growth between fall 2007 and fall 2008, when GCTC's enrollment grew from 3,130 to 3,477. With this spring's enrollment expected to approach 4,000, look for GCTC to appear on future fast growth lists.
"We've been growing at a rate of 23 percent a year for the last three years," says Hughes. "You have to be entrepreneurial when you're dealing with that kind of growth and you've also had six budget cuts and are facing a seventh. Our budget has grown through enrollment growth, and we've been very entrepreneurial in the way we've gone after grants and contracts."
Hughes joined the school in 2001 to transform what had been three independent vocational schools into a multi-campus, comprehensive technical community college. The change was part of educational reform begun in 1998 that joined all community and vocational schools in Kentucky into a single entity, the Kentucky Technical and Community College System. The system has 16 colleges and 67 campuses. GCTC has developed over 100 new programs, degrees, diplomas and certificates during Hughes' tenure and received its initial accreditation from the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools last year.
Entrepreneurship Starts with Core Values
While GCTC is still in the process of establishing an entrepreneurship program, the ethos Hughes has sought to ingrain in his school is very much about entrepreneurship. It all begins with the school's Core Values statement, which describes GCTC as "an entrepreneurial-learning community." The core values would be easily recognizable to any entrepreneur; they include, among other things, a commitment to teamwork, collaboration, interactive learning, innovation, productivity, mutual respect, inclusiveness, and open communication.
"When I took this job I said to the staff I know you all want to know what makes the new boss mad," Hughes recalls. "The one thing that will upset me is to violate the core values that the institution stands for: our primary focus on learning, putting students first, treating everyone with respect and acknowledging that we all have dignity and value."
An Entrepreneurial Learning College
"Because we have a values statement that says we're an entrepreneurial learning college, that permeates what we do," says Hughes. "For example, we developed strategic teams when we were working on the second iteration of our mission and vision and on our strategic plan. Everyone joined a team. We call them MV2 teams, for Mission/Vision 2. One team came up with the idea of having the Spirit of Innovation Awards. They identified 20 projects that various teams were undertaking and gave awards to the top three. They also submitted those top three projects to the League for Innovation in the Community College, which chose to recognize one of our initiatives with an award."
The initiative that was honored was the school's very innovative approach to its library. "We don't have a main library," Hughes reports. "What we've done is create a partnership with three county libraries, a private institution, Northern Kentucky University, Thomas More College and the Kentucky Virtual Library. This partnership provides our students with access to about 40 million volumes 24/7/365. The idea was that we had a rich library and learning resources already in our community; why would we built a duplicative library that would be full of resources that would start to be out of date the day the library opened? We have a good collection of technical and occupational resources, so we add those volumes to the overall collection that is available in the community. That's our addition into this whole library consortium and it makes a lot of sense for our students and for our stewardship of limited resources."
Keeping the Values Alive
"I've learned when you're at an institution that is new or relatively new and has multi-campuses, you've got to have times when you bring everybody together; otherwise you tend to find the campuses will develop their own sense of who they are," says Hughes. "Six times a year we close the college down for College Wide Learning Symposiums. We take a topic and do a mini-conference that day; the topics come from our initiatives of the MV2 teams.
"This is a way to keep hammering away at our mission, vision and values and part of that is entrepreneurialism," Hughes adds. "Even as part of the planning for our weekly cabinet meetings, we ask ourselves: are we planning things to enhance our vision and that match up with our values? Are we discussing things that match our mission because, if we're not, then we have to change the mission, vision, values or we have to not talk about those things. The agenda includes questions that are related directly to our mission, vision, values. How does this decision support our values? How does this new process support our values? If it doesn't, it shouldn't be on the agenda."
"Sometime early in my career the values thing became really important," Hughes explains. "We're required every four to five years by our state-wide governing board to review and, if necessary, revise our mission statement. Every time we do that we also go back and look at the vision and core values. I spend more time talking about the values because that tells the board of regents how we're operating. The mission statement says what we're doing, but I'm a firm believe that people will remember how they were treated more than they'll remember a program you started or a building you built."
Working with NACCE
Reflecting on his school's participation in NACCE, Hughes says, "NACCE enables us to remain on the cutting edge for entrepreneurial activities at the macro and micro levels. Some of our staff have attended NACCE conferences and returned with ideas that we have found to be useful in our own work. The sharing that occurs among the NACCE members is invaluable."