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Community College President's Spotlight | Donald Snyder | Nov. 2010
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A NACCE Entrepreneurial President Profile

Donald W. Snyder

President, Lehigh Carbon Community College, Schnecksville, PA

Lehigh Carbon Community College (LCCC) serves students in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley through locations in Schnecksville, Allentown, Nesquehoning, and Tamaqua. During the 10 years Don Snyder has been president, LCCC's enrollment has tripled to more than 10,000 students in credit programs. Another 17,000 take part in credit free programs each year.

Being a graduate of LCCC himself inspires Snyder's work every day. "I know what this college has done in terms of giving me opportunities that I never would have had," says Snyder, who received the NACCE Recognition Award in the Entrepreneurial President category at the 8th Annual NACCE Conference last month. "I know we're giving every student I see here the same key to their future. We need to be sure we open as many doors as possible for them."

A Region Transformed

Schuylkill County, in the southern part of the region the college serves, was once a major manufacturing center, where Bethlehem Steel, General Electric, Bell Labs, Air Products and Chemicals and other big corporations employed tens of thousands of people. As these companies began sending jobs elsewhere in the 1970s and as the U.S. steel industry began its sharp decline, the Lehigh Valley - unlike many regions that watched helplessly as their manufacturing base evaporated - successfully transformed its economy. It was helped by the fact that it lies in a major logistics corridor, just 50 miles north of Philadelphia and an hour's drive from New York City.

"The area successfully transitioned from heavy manufacturing to smaller technology companies and to the services industries," says Snyder. "We now have companies in pharmaceuticals, banking and financial services, and lots of small start-up technology companies that have spun off from work done at the area's universities. Today, the largest employers in Schuylkill County are health care and education."

This new economy depends on a highly skilled workforce, and the area's two community colleges play a role in creating that workforce. "In addition to our school, Northampton Community College and a number of major universities also serve the area," Snyder says. "We all help provide the workforce that has been able to attract new employers. The community colleges in particular have played a major role in providing a great percentage people for health care services occupations."

LCCC also serves Carbon County in northern Lehigh Valley, an area that faces a much different set of challenges. "It is more rural with small towns and boroughs," says Snyder. "They are still relying on a few large employers in those areas and right now the jobs don't require much higher education. We have our challenges there to develop those workforces for the 21st century employers who are going to pay higher wages."

Still Plenty of Challenges

Overall, the region's economy has weathered the recession better than many parts of the country, but the downturn has still posed challenges for LCCC and the people it serves. "The economy is driving more students to us, but it is making it more difficult for us to advise them in terms of where the jobs are going to be in the future," Snyder says. "The economy is keeping people from retiring or moving on to new jobs," says Snyder. "As a result, more people are enrolling in traditional academic programs such as education, because they're not sure about job prospects in the specialized career programs.

"Just a couple years ago, the local hospitals were going to need 200 to 400 new nurses a year, but now most nurses aren't leaving their jobs," Snyder says. "The same thing is true with people at other major employers. It is hard to convince students that more opportunities than ever will exist in such career fields as baby boomers begin to retire, which they eventually will."

In response, LCCC is working on partnerships to develop bachelor's degrees in the applied science and technology areas. Also, the college is looking into new areas. One example is its new Green Energy Training Center. Because LCCC didn't have resources to set up a whole new program, the college partnered with a finance company that was creating a product for people who were looking for funding for home energy audits and energy efficiency improvements. The finance firm wanted to make sure the people who do this work had the right training so the college set up a certification program.

"Another recession-related impact that we're seeing is that many of the people who have been laid off have considerable skills and experience," Snyder says. "We see Ph.D.s getting laid off, teachers laid off due to state budget cuts, and middle-management people from banks and other financial services firms that have cut their staffs. Whereas before we were trying to enhance people's skills for a career path, now we're working with people at different stages of their work lives who are trying to find a whole new career path. This is a growing need in our region."

Along with struggling to keep up with annual double-digit growth in the number of students served, LCCC has witnessed a dramatic change in the make-up of the student body that also put pressure on the school. "In the past, a large percentage of students were part-time and now higher percentages are full time," says Snyder.

"Also, the state removed the school from state funding five years ago; we are now funded by the local school districts, which themselves are under budgetary constraints," he adds. "So we're learning how to do more with less while simultaneously facing significantly higher demand for programs and services."

Building an Entrepreneurial Culture

In response to the dual challenges of rapid growth and shifting community needs, LCCC is trying to become more entrepreneurial as an institution - trying to be more creative and innovative and making people more comfortable with change. "To keep up with growth we needed to have our entire workforce be highly goal driven," Snyder says. "In 2008, we went through that process to develop a strategic plan that takes us through 2014. We looked at our needs and weaknesses. The entire institution participated; hundreds of people provided input as to where we should be as an institution - what our goals should be. That process fostered support for the strategic plan." (The LCCC strategic plan can be downloaded at http://www.lccc.edu/about/college-mission-vision-and-goals.)

"Our goal is to create an entrepreneurial environment that allows for forward thinking processes and rewards innovation to meet the constantly changing market needs," Snyder says. "In an entrepreneurial environment what you need to do is get the decision making down to where people have ownership and are interacting with each other. With the strategic plan we put a system in place that allows people to adapt to the changes, supports the creation of new initiatives, and rewards those who are becoming entrepreneurial in the way they approach and solve issues."

Impact of NACCE

According to Snyder, his active participation in NACCE has played a pivotal role in his thinking about the need to create an entrepreneurial culture at LCCC. "I started attending NACCE conferences maybe five years ago," he says. "First I went with the idea of learning more about how to help students and people in the community start businesses. But what I ended learning from NACCE was how to transform an organization to become more effective, more productive, and to have employees who feel more engaged. Being around leaders who shared that vision and commitment resulted in us changing our organization over the last two years to implement an entrepreneurial culture that drives decision-making down in the organization.

"We replaced top-down leadership with a whole new leadership team of associate deans and directors and a faculty council that works with the administrators to create an academic plan," Snyder adds. "All of the priorities for funding and for new initiatives come out of that leadership team and work their way up so the ownership is at the middle management and faculty levels. We also have lots more cross-campus input from all departments. For example, the technology committee interacts with everyone. We have totally transformed how we communicate, how decisions are made, and how funding is driven. Our people feel empowered. I credit NACCE with inspiring us to create that new culture."

Advice from the Corner Office

Asked what he would advise other community college presidents who want to initiate a similar cultural transformation, Snyder says, "It's our job to inspire, to guide the organization, to integrate people who are involved with your vision and strategic plan, to listen, and to cut down boundaries and keep everyone fully informed and involved. We need to make sure decisions are made at the lowest appropriate level by the people who are closest to our students and the community. Also, in the current economy, we need to help people find new ways of doing business while still providing a high level of service without having to hire more people. Despite our rapid growth, our staff hasn't grown so we're doing much more with the same number of people.

"The president's job is to create a culture of empowerment," Snyder adds. "This fall, we're having a retreat based on trust. You can't have empowerment without an element of trust. You have to trust that your people will do what has to be done. You have to have trust between each other so communications are open and, at the same time, people are held accountable for doing what they say they will do. You have to have an organization that is highly goal driven and people who are looking for opportunities and are action oriented. It doesn't happen overnight; it takes years sometimes. As a leader you have to have a lot of patience and see this as a long-term process."

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