Changing Perceptions: Taking Control and Being Proactive

Occupational Education Committee Chair

Perception: to understand or be aware of. Have you asked anyone lately what community colleges do? Have you asked them about our "vocational" programs and what type of student enters these programs? It can be a real eye opener! "It's for the students who cannot go to college"; "it's for the student who is not prepared for the college level courses" are just a few of the statements. Wheeler North's article discusses how many of our vocational fields such as automotive and nursing have changed so dramatically. He notes that our programs demand a higher level of skills and knowledge than in the past. Yet some of our students enter our programs ill prepared for this and are not successful.

Does the world know what we do? Do our students know what will be needed to be successful?! How can we inform them of what we are doing and the skill set students need to be successful? In our ever changing world we as faculty struggle to keep up and keep informed. As instructors in the vocational/career fields this is even more of an issue. We must keep up with the ever changing workforce needs and requirements; improve upon our teaching techniques to help students learn, and maintain high academic standards. At several recent meetings where workforce representatives have been present, we have had the discussion of the need for students who exit our programs and enter the workforce to have critical thinking skills, communication skills, and professional behaviors that involve a higher work ethic. Yet some professional/career programs are being pressured to lower their standards and higher education requirements by outside agencies. Others complain that we are not setting the standards high enough and we are "letting just anyone in" to our programs. The world, whether it is workforce, our fellow faculty, our students or the community, has a perception of what we do and it does not match what we are really about. This week a report was released from the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy (located at CSU Sacramento) titled "Rules of the Game" ( The report contains many misconceptions about community colleges. The report authors seem to think our only mission is to transfer or issue associate degrees. They do not appear to understand our students, our mission, and how our system works. More importantly recommendations made in the report are based on incorrect perceptions. The Chancellor Mark Drummond responded to the report, but we faculty need to be active in counteracting these misperceptions. This report is missing information such as data just collected in the review of research for the Basic Skills Initiative, input from CCC faculty and students, and a discussion of how well prepared our students are to enter college whether it be a CSU or CCC. We faculty must take action now to begin to change these false perceptions and let the world know what we do, how we do it, and that we do a great job with our resources. How do we educate and inform to change people and their perceptions? Start local with your own campus.

1. Participate in student orientations and speak about your program and its requirements.

2. Be a mentor to students interested in your field and mentor them as they go through their prerequisites.

3. Present to the student government and clubs.

4. Arrange joint meetings with your counseling and GE faculty. Share with them the details of your curriculum and the skills sets and competencies your students need to be successful. Plan together how you can help your students be prepared to enter a vocational program and increase their success.

5. Present to your curriculum committee and senate about your program and what it does. Program review and curriculum review are perfect times to share this information with the curriculum committee.

6. Present to your Board of Trustees and bring some of your current students, past graduates and members of the business community. Not only will they learn about your program and the wonderful things it does but hear about your needs.

7. Meet with your local high school counselors and faculty and educate them about your program and the educational level needed to succeed in them. The Senate's Career Pathways is one way we are starting this discussion, but we can do this without this mechanism. (

8. Utilize your advisory committees to educate the local business leaders. Include on your advisory committees counseling, GE faculty, high schools faculty/counselors, and CSU faculty and invite a trustee to attend.

9. Ask to speak at the Chamber of Commerce meetings, the Elks, and other groups.

10. Have your senate arrange for a joint meeting day with your local CSU faculty and sit down and start a discussion about our programs, students and colleges.

Well, that's what you can do on the local level; now for the state level. We cannot rely upon the System Office to do our work. They try but they need loud and strong voices with them to reach the broader world, Governor and Legislature. We cannot rely upon groups like our regional consortia, EWDPAC, CCCAOE and others to relay our message. Their mission is different then ours and we need to speak up for ourselves. We can join together to fight these misconceptions and win. So here is how to be active at the state level:

1. Check out our legislative page at our Senate website and track legislation that affects our campuses and students. ( Better yet go visit the Legislature and make your voice heard. Write a letter and offer solutions. Don't just complain.

2. Go attend a Board of Governors meeting and listen to the conversations.

3. Learn about the different groups who are at the power level and what they stand for and want. Get to know some of the members and educate them about who and what we are. One way to get involved is to let the Academic Senate know what you are interested in and volunteer to serve on Academic Senate committees or as an appointment to other groups. When there are openings and requests for faculty members in these groups you may be called upon to serve.

4. Attend your statewide career advisory committee meetings and some of your local regional consortia meetings. You have a great opportunity to meet some wonderful people and to let them know about your program. They have resources you are unaware of and you have needs they are unaware of so share!

This is just a few ideas and you can keep adding to the list! As faculty we get frustrated with students who do not participate in class and are apathetic. This is not the time to be one of those students. As Dante said, "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality". Apathy and saying nothing are not going to win this battle and we must get involved. We need to start now-this semester, this week, today!

We need to be the professionals we are and ensure our presentations are accurate and utilize quality teaching techniques.

Develop professional looking presentations and handouts. Share your enthusiasm for your profession, your students and your college with others. Take it from a nurse, you can "infect" others with your ideas, your passion and your caring. Reach out and touch someone and change their mind and perception. We can do it and do it now!