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President Mathews addresses SMC employees

Addressing staffers as they returned from spring break April 8, Southwestern Michigan College President Dr. David Mathews reviewed two tools the Board of Trustees deployed March 25 in its long-range planning performance evaluation — a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis and the 21-metric Institutional Report Card.

His presentation in the Student Activity Center theatre let employees step back and see where they fit in the big picture by “looking at the forest and not just individual trees.”

“We are just one boat going down this demographic-challenge river all colleges are going down. The number of Michigan high school graduates is declining and will continue to decline,” he said. “We must figure out how to thrive, not just survive. The SWOT analysis is a good tool because it reminds you of things you do right that you don’t want to stop doing because they didn’t happen by chance. They happen by people doing the right thing over and over across the institution.”

Mathews seasoned his remarks with historical perspective.

“Fifty-five years ago people in Cass County voted a tax on themselves voluntarily so they could have a college here with access to affordable education and job training to make the community better. SMC’s academics remain very strong,” Mathews said, “and it’s not just me saying that. We have evidence from national and state benchmarked external data that shows, for example, our course success is much higher than the national average. Our transfer success of how well students do when they go to a state university is much better than most other colleges. Our retention rate puts us in the 90th percentile in the nation for community colleges.”

Referring to Ruffalo Noel-Levitz, Mathews said, “SMC is above average in all eight measures of student satisfaction.” SMC has administered the RNL survey every two years since 2012. “It’s something we can all be proud of because it’s a cumulative measure of how student-centered we are. We’re looking hard at Gen Z research because our students have grown up differently than most of us grew up, with different communication tools.”

“We value academic enrichment beyond the classroom,” whether it’s sending four students to present to the American Chemical Society in Orlando, criminal justice students competing at SkillsUSA in Grand Rapids or a group which toured Springfield, Ill., and St. Louis.

“Engaging them in things they’re excited about, we’re more likely to retain and to graduate them with a more robust set of experiences. That makes SMC a special sort of community college,” Mathews said. “Helping new students we get connect to resources and feel like SMC is where they belong is a huge deal.”

Mathews said despite the smaller pool of students to recruit from, “The number of students we’re graduating is going up. We’re at a new plateau of 350-400 graduates each year. In 2001 we were graduating 225 students a year. We never graduated more than 300 students until 2011. This new plateau reflects that SMC has done extraordinary work with student success over the last decade. If we keep working together in each area to attract and retain students, the powerful cumulative effect will keep providing lots of good opportunities for our students and our community.”