My view: Taking time to reflect on JWCC

Mike Elbe is president of John Wood Community College
By MIKE ELBE, John Wood Community College president
Posted: May. 17, 2020 2:31 am Updated: May. 17, 2020 2:46 am

For the past four years, I have written during the month of April sharing with our community some highlights as we celebrated national community college month. 

Well, April has come and gone, and we sure did not celebrate community college month in an ordinary way. 

The past month has been full of challenges and unexpected circumstances, but I want our community to know that this community college has dug in its heels and shown some grit and grind in serving our community and most importantly our students. 

I would like to take this opportunity to share with each of you where we are as a college today and some of my thoughts on what the future holds for our community college as I enter my seventh year as president and 25th year overall at John Wood Community College.   

First, let me start with the present. I am proud to say we have a group of committed faculty members that has worked diligently to transition all our “in person” classes to an online format in a matter of weeks. They have continually gone above and beyond the call of duty to serve our number one strategic goal, student success. 

I have seen our dedicated staff get organized and set up in their homes to work remotely and deliver advising services, tutoring services, disability services and counseling services.  

Our advisers continue to register students for summer and fall semesters remotely, and our admissions staff is actively recruiting students for the summer and fall in all our transfer and career technical education programs in a remote format. 

I want to publicly thank all our faculty and staff members, full-time and part-time, tenured, and associate faculty members for their commitment and dedication to our mission to enrich lives through learning. 

I am proud, and this community should be proud, of all faculty and staff members during this pandemic situation. We truly value and appreciate all they do for our community and for students in their educational journey.

Since March 20 and the stay-at-home executive order, our college has been on remote operations and 100% online learning. The college has found creative ways to function at an extremely high level for the past eight weeks. This past Friday would have been our formal commencement ceremony.  We will have the opportunity to publicly recognize the Class of 2020 at a later time, but I want to congratulate all the graduates in the Class of 2020. I want our community to know that the college conferred over 600 degrees and certificates this past week. Those graduates will be transferring to four-year colleges and universities and entering the local workforce after completing a career and technical program of study. 

As the chief executive officer of this community college, I want you to know that I feel good about how our college is serving our students and our community. We have a lot of work to be done, but the college is functioning at a high-level during these unusual circumstances. 

Now for the future of education.  Although I don't have a crystal ball, I do have some strong feelings about what it may look like in the months ahead for higher education specifically at John Wood Community College. 

I see the need for our students pursuing transfer degrees to four-year colleges and universities to remain strong. John Wood Community College is accessible and affordable, and our Board of Trustees has made a strong statement by holding the line on tuition increases in each of the past 4 fiscal years. 

With this COVID-19 renormalization process, I see students and parents having a desire to remain closer to home during this transition period. 

Choosing a very safe learning environment to pursue their educational goals is vital to the success of students. 

I remind our community that John Wood Community College was recognized this past year as the second safest community college in Illinois by the National Council for Home and Safety and Security. Online classes made up approximately 25% of all our course offerings before this pandemic situation. I do expect online classes to be of great preference, especially in the fall 2020 semester, which will increase our online offerings. JWCC was ranked as the number one online community college in Illinois by the SR Education Group this past year.    

Also, I expect more adult students to look at opportunities for retraining and possibly for a new career path. These opportunities might be in the health care field, manufacturing industry, transportation/distribution logistics areas or agricultural sector. 

Overall,  I do see our career technical education programs growing, and I do expect our workforce partners in the tri-state area to work with our college to expand current career and technical programs and develop new programs for what this new workforce may be in the very near future. 

The fact is that we will be operating under a new normal, and we will see a continually changing world including education. Our college stands ready to serve our community, our businesses, our educational partners, and most importantly, the people in our community. John Wood Community College will continue to be “Trail Blazer strong” during this time of adversity and look at our situation as an opportunity to grow, an opportunity to be creative, and an opportunity to find ways to better serve you. 

Thank you to each of you for your continued support of John Wood Community College. As a lifetime resident of this community and Adams County, I am honored that the JWCC Board of Trustees entrusted me to lead this institution. I stand hungry and humble to serve you as we all work together to have a healthy, vibrant and growing community. 

May God watch over you and your loved ones during this time. Stay safe out there and as always stay Trail Blazer strong!  

P.S. I would be remiss if I did not publicly acknowledge, recognize and thank those essential employees and businesses who have continued to work in the trenches to serve each of us and our community during this extraordinary time. 

To all those health care workers who show up every day to work on the front lines, please know how much we appreciate and value your professional services. My attitude is one of gratitude to each of you working in all those essential positions.

Thank you.