College’s future ‘bright,’ despite setbacks

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 28, 1999

Despite lower-than-expected state funding, higher tuition fees and decreased enrollment, Riverland President Gary Rhodes is confident the community college has a bright future ahead.

Wednesday, July 28, 1999

Despite lower-than-expected state funding, higher tuition fees and decreased enrollment, Riverland President Gary Rhodes is confident the community college has a bright future ahead.

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Added in-state tuition to Iowa students and new programs needed by the community work force will bolster the college’s revenues, he said.

Because of some one-time money that could not be renewed, Rhodes said the college did not get as much state funding as it had hoped, but expects it to go back up in the next couple of years.

While tuition rose 4.5 percent, from $1,946 to $2,033, the college is still slightly below the average two-year state college tuition fees of $2,065.

&uot;The students supported the tuition increase,&uot; said Rhodes, who will soon celebrate one year as president of the college. &uot;They didn’t jump up and down about it, but they understood that it was necessary.&uot;

Rhodes said Riverland was well below the average cost for two-year college tuition. The increase still has the institution offering education at a lower than average rate.

It’s also a good deal for Iowa residents who will now be offered in-state tuition as part of a three-year pilot program.

Rhodes said the distance from home to school is the most important concern for many students considering two-year degrees. Particularly now with the average age of Riverland students being 29.

&uot;We are one of four Minnesota colleges allowed to offer in-state tuition to Iowa residents,&uot; Rhodes said. &uot;It opens up some major possibilities to us.&uot;

With evening and weekend classes, Rhodes said the college is better able to serve its students, many of whom are looking to gain more skills in their related field.

&uot;The typical student is not an 18-year-old right out of high school,&uot; he said.

Rhodes said the lower enrollment is to be expected at this point for several reasons.

&uot;We have the lowest unemployment rate in the country. Just about everyone out there with a heartbeat is working,&uot; Rhodes said.

When the economy faces a recession, he said the numbers will jump back up.

The conversion from quarters to semesters also played a part in the decline.

&uot;A lot of students took extra classes so they could finish before the switch to semesters. So there’s an increase right before we switch, and then enrollment temporarily drops,&uot; Rhodes said.

With all state institutions on the semester system, students probably won’t face any hassles transferring credits to other institutions, he said.

While the decrease funding and enrollment are not likely to continue to be a problem, the college must still streamline its expenses, Rhodes said.

&uot;We don’t anticipate any major layoffs, but we may look at a program or two,&uot; Rhodes said.

For programs that are &uot;enrollment challenged,&uot; Rhodes said the college plans to beef up the marketing and draw more interest.

The merger may have stirred things up for a while, but Rhodes said improving communications has been one of the most important goals.

About a third of the staff has attended training to implement a team building process and consensus decision making. Plus regular meetings between representatives of all campuses have created a more cohesive group, he said.

The senior management team meets for what Rhodes calls the President’s Round Table, since a round table has long been symbolic of non-confrontational discussions.

Since the three campuses are working more closely together, they have begun to tackle some rather large projects.

Rhodes said the college has recently completed its academic plan and has a firm working on a facilities master plan, for which 138 staff members were interviewed.

&uot;We’re in the process of developing a technical master plan. And we are going to formerly begin a strategic plan, which ties it all together,&uot; Rhodes said. &uot;It’s kind of like a road map for the college. It tells the community and the college where we are going.&uot;

Rhodes expects the process will take six to nine months to complete.

As Rhodes heads toward his first anniversary on the job he began Aug. 15, he said he’s had fun and looks forward to the future.

&uot;We have a healthy spirit here,&uot; he said.

Rhodes said he used to compare his college administrator career to that of an air-traffic controller, sending people out to fly and monitoring their progress and well-being.

&uot;The problem with that metaphor is that air-traffic controllers don’t fly,&uot; he said.

&uot;Now I think of myself as more of a conductor of a symphony,&uot; he said. &uot;I know exactly where every section is and I still set the tempo. But I am also a part of making that beautiful music.&uot;