Since July 2011, Anoka-Ramsey Community College (ARCC) and Anoka Technical College have been undergoing changes.
But they are not changes that the academic staff or students are seeing.All of colleges’ operational departments are going through the alignment process at this time, said Dr. Jessica Stumpf, interim president for both colleges.
While both colleges will keep their own names, separate missions and be accredited independently, the non-academic departments, like marketing, customized training and business offices, will be headed by one department head for both colleges, she said.
It is a cost savings and efficiency move for the colleges.
Only one president will be needed, not two, and only one department head rather than one at each college, according to Stumpf.
Like all organizational changes, the alignment does have its challenges.
It’s mostly a cultural challenge and there is a concern by some people that one college could be represented more than the other when it comes to leadership selection, Stumpf said.
Those people want to keep the colleges on equal footing in the aligned state and are not looking at the talents and abilities of the new leaders, she said.
“They are (starting) to get over that,” Stumpf said.
Some people are concerned the larger ARCC is taking over the technical college, she said.
“It’s not about taking over the (Anoka Tech). It is about best practices (and) having one process,” Stumpf said.
The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) Board of Trustees has made a commitment that the colleges will not be merged academically and that the technical college will continue to focus on technical programs, she said.
There are a lot of stories in the news right now about the skills gap and the training that is needed the most is in the technical fields, according to Stumpf.
“There could not be a better time to be in technical education because of the strong need,” Stumpf said.
Unlike other technical colleges that became community colleges, Anoka Tech will remain a technical college, she said.
In some cases, the challenge has not been aligning as in the case of the president’s cabinet, Stumpf said.
Although the original plan was to meet with the individual college cabinets, all too often Stumpf found she was repeating herself or it was mentioned “too bad (this person from the other college) wasn’t here.”
Within two months of becoming Stumpf becoming interim president for both colleges, the two college cabinets had been aligned and Stumpf was holding one meeting rather than two.
“The alignment happened organically,” Stumpf said.
After a while it does not make sense to meet separately, said Stumpf, who has been overseeing both colleges since July 2011.
Alignment is about having consistent policies at both colleges, such as when school closure decisions are made, she said.
At the ARCC Cambridge campus the weather can be much different than it is in Anoka or Coon Rapids, but the closure decision deadline was set at different times.
The policy was changed so it was consistent for all the campuses and set the guidelines for when the closures happened and who is to be contacted, Stumpf said.
Some departments, like information technology (IT), began their alignment before Stumpf took over the dual presidency.
When the lead ARCC IT person took another job in January 2011, the Anoka Tech department leader took over, Stumpf said.
However, some positions were not filled until the alignment process began.
The colleges delayed hiring for open positions because the alignment would include eliminating some positions and “we didn’t want to fire people,” Stumpf said.
The biggest challenge Stumpf has had is getting both colleges on the same technology level.
Anoka Tech needs to get a new phone system that will allow staff working at both colleges to access the same telephone numbers and computer system, Stumpf said.
While they are working around the issues, it can cause confusion with outside communications, according to Mary Jacobson, marketing and public relations director for both colleges.
People can get confused because staff members working at both colleges have two e-mails right now, Jacobson said.
If they ask a questions about ARCC and get a response back from an Anoka Tech e-mail, it can be confusing, she said.
IT is still trying to get the e-mails combined, said Stumpf, who divides her time between Anoka Tech and ARCC’s two campuses.
For Anoka Tech, alignment has meant adding a new department: Research.
While ARCC had a research department to collect institutional data on the college, student enrollment and other data, Anoka Tech did not, Stumpf said.
The ARCC department leader started a group at Anoka Tech.
Departments at the two colleges with the same head person are marketing, public safety, business office, facilities management, IT, research and customized training.
But the customized training alignment, which has the same head person, is experiencing some cultural shifts.
At ARCC, customized training was more about serving the community needs.
Anoka Tech was about profit-making courses, like plumbing and sheet metal work, Stumpf said.
With the ARCC department leader taking another position, the Anoka Tech customized training leader now heads up both departments.
ARCC’s program will still be about meeting community needs, but now it will have to become, at the very least, a break-even program, Stumpf said.
“Now everyone is responsible for providing (programs for) business and industry, but we have to be responsible that our expenses are not more than our revenue,” she said.
What that means for the program is the non-credit classes will have to have a minimal number of students signed up before the class runs, Stumpf said.
Each college will continue to have its own customized training programs as they offer different non-credit training to met the needs of corporate and industry as well as some overlap non-credit class, she said.
Only student services and human resources departments remain unaligned at this time.
They are the two biggest departments and they are still doing the preliminary work, Stumpf said.
Before they are aligned, it will have to be determined what the best way to process things is and how to create similar processes, she said.
“It will be a while before they are aligned under one leader,” Stumpf said.
Helping all the departments to align is Melissa Erickson, a consultant from JPO and Associates.
Having a consultant helps department members speak freely about what is and is not working, Stumpf said.
Erickson’s experience with merged colleges and businesses is also helpful to assist the colleges in navigating the changes, she said.
In addition to finding out what is and is not working, she is helping find the best practices for the department and streamlining the efficiencies, Erickson said.
Although they do not see the changes, the alignment could benefit the students, according to Stumpf.
By cutting costs, the colleges will not have to reduce student services and may keep tuition from increasing as much, Stumpf said.
Tammy Sakry is at firstname.lastname@example.org