Potential Next Steps
At the moment, the individual Colleges have much stronger brands than the EICC umbrella. In fact, many forum participants were unaware of the relatedness of the Colleges under the EICC umbrella. Some even suggested that EICC and its Colleges suffer from an identity crisis. Establishing an identifiable, relevant brand will not be easy, but it is critical in making EICC and the Colleges a first or deliberate choice as opposed to a back-up plan. Some employees also suggested that identifying a uniform brand could create cost savings and greater efficiencies in the future. The purpose of this report is not to suggest what a “new name” should be or even if there should be a “new name” at all. This call for re-branding considers the underlying message or goal. How do EICC and the Colleges want to be known to its consumers? Based on feedback from forum participants, EICC consumers include (or should include) the following categories of individuals: (1) high school graduates selecting a community college to defray costs and/or better prepare themselves for a transfer to a four-year institution; (2) high school students seeking college credit; (3) lifelong learners / non-degree seeking learners; (4) non-four-year degree seekers for whom a community college serves as the gateway to employment within, among others, manufacturing, healthcare and technology careers; and (5) employers looking for continuing education and training for their employee base.
In addition to the "name" issue, forum participants shared strongly that branding and marketing efforts must address the difference between the terms "value," "affordable," "inexpensive,” and "cheap" when used to describe the Colleges. "Affordable" is a positive draw; "cheap" is not.
EICC needs to be known as a first-choice selection for education to all consumer groups listed above. Unfortunately, each group may want or need different packaging around their education. And obviously, the substance of the educational packages will be different depending on the consumer group served. The upside is that when all of those consumer groups are receiving quality education (wrapped in a package that is attractive to them and worthy of the “first-choice” stamp of approval) from their "community’s college," the region served will be well situated to support economic development. Can EICC be the answer to all of the consumer groups? The answer must be yes not only for the consumer groups, but also for the community as a whole. The next phase of this project will explore best practices among community colleges serving all constituents well and suggest a strategic direction for EICC to re-brand thus attracting the right consumers and serving them well.
|B.||Soft Skills Response
Soft skills development is screaming for attention! 10 EICC’s strategic plan must consider the issue and how it can support the needs of business and industry. The expressed bottom line on the issue seems to be that an EICC graduate without soft skills is unemployable. Forum participants urge that EICC must consider its commitment to deliver marketable students. EICC certainly did not create this problem facing the community, but it is viewed as perhaps the key ingredient in solving it.
|C.||Strategic Communications Plan
A multi-faceted strategic communications plan is critical as EICC moves forward into the next stage of being. Improved web-based information and substantive, regular electronic communication should be considered as part of this initiative. The plan must consider internal and external constituents. Many individuals shared that they had no appreciation for the vast array of services EICC provides. In this sense, EICC is a hidden asset for the community that must be dusted off and revealed.
|D.||Community Advisory Committee Launch
Community leaders, including members from business and industry, expressed a desire to be more substantively involved with EICC. At a minimum, robust community advisory committees, routine focus groups or some other way to substantively engage community leaders in curricula discussion is imperative.
|E.||Additional Stakeholder Input
Moving forward into the strategic planning process, it was noted that feedback from high schools students, recent EICC graduates / students, parents and high school counselors should be included.
|F.||Blong Model Duplication
"Blong Model Duplication" is a term intended to highlight something that EICC has done well and encourage duplication of that model focusing on current employable careers, current technology and high quality pedagogy. Perhaps the notion is better phrased ascreating “Centers of Excellence.” Call it what you wish, internal and external constituents alike rave about the John T. Blong Technology Center.11 The mission of the Blong Center is compelling: "support[s] the economic future and vitality of area manufacturers through human resource, technology and industrial development." The key drivers of it success from external constituents seem to be the intended connection between industry needs and student engagement. On the other hand, at least one key driver of its success from internal constituents seems to be the focus on student scheduling needs (i.e., shorter classes, afternoon, evening and weekend options). Overall the Blong Center seems to deliver on its mission and is useful, relevant and appreciated by business and industry.
Business and industry forum participants encouraged strong focus on careers that exist (or will exist) in our region. While this seems obvious, the focus should be not simply of high quality, current pedagogy utilizing up-to-date curricula, but also coupling the internal quality with external marketing around the viability of the careers creating a compelling need and answering with a compelling product. Of note, business and industry generously extended offers of support ranging from co-development of curricula to co-teaching to co-marketing. EICC is well positioned to accept the offer of support and engage business and industry leaders in their offers of support in helping the Colleges go from "good" to "great" and expanding upon the success of the Blong Center model.
|WRAP UP: In summary, EICC and its Colleges have the potential to serve as dynamic, vital community gems for the region serving students, employing quality people and supporting economic development. While some question the ability to “be everything to everyone,” delivery on the underlying community college mission requires thoughtful examination of just that. The next strategic plan for EICC must address the complex issues facing it: (1) strong, forward thinking and united branding; (2) a commitment to excellence; (3) dedication to the core mission coupled with responsiveness to emerging community needs; and (4) aggressive marketing sharing who EICC is and the important mission it delivers.|