On today’s episode of the Illumination by Modern Campus podcast, guest host Shauna was joined by Matthew Bodenschatz to discuss the importance of strategic partnerships and the creation of pathways to help serve their modern learners.
Voiceover (00:04):Welcome to Illumination by Modern Campus, the leading podcast focused on transformation and change in the higher education space. On today's episode, we speak with Matthew Boden Shatz, who's director of Recruitment and Admissions at Pennsylvania Highlands Community College. Matt and podcast guest host Shauna Cox discuss the importance of strategic partnerships and the creation of pathways to help serve modern learners.
Shauna Cox (00:30) Well, Matt, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. It's great to be chatting with you.
Matt Bodenschatz (00:34):Thanks for having me. I'm looking forward to the conversation.
Shauna Cox (00:36):Absolutely. So we're just going to kick it off here. And so why is it important for higher ed leaders to focus on strategic partnerships within their community?
Matt Bodenschatz (00:46):As we dive into an uncharted territory of having difficulty of finding new students at the high school wage across the United States, northeast, and really across the country, we need to find new ways to find students. So developing strategic partnerships with the community is one great way to look to students who are outside of the traditional age range and outside of the traditional high school realm of recruitment. But it goes beyond that, and it rules into the idea of giving back to the community and assimilating within the community and helping keep those who are from the region within the region by giving them opportunities to educate and then seek employment. So by having these partnerships within the community, what we are finding is that our students are having more opportunities to seek employment within the region and stay here as opposed to leave and go elsewhere.
Shauna Cox (01:49):Absolutely. And I want to dive into that a little bit more here. How has the Pennsylvania Highlands Community College started to foster some of these strategic partnerships that have given a positive impact on students' lifelong learning journeys?
Matt Bodenschatz (02:04):Sure. So our path, at least since I've been with Pennsylvania Highlands Community College for the last three years, kind of began in earnest with a program that we call Career Fest. And what we did was we looked at local businesses and industries, and we looked at our academic programs, and what we tried to do was bring local business and industry leaders to campus so that they would have an opportunity to speak with students. So in broad, we would bring a large group of students to campus, would bust them in from their high schools that arrive at campus, and then they would have an opportunity to choose three different academic programs and learn the academic process for those programs. And then they would move on to another area where they would have the opportunity to step in and participate in three business industry leader presentations. So they could pick three that align with the three academic programs they chose, or they could kind of expand their horizons and pick three academic programs in three completely different career fields.
(03:10):The idea was to connect students with their potential job opportunities. And the biggest part of that from our perspective was a lot of times high school students do not understand what opportunities exist within a field. So when you think of a convenience store, you might think of just the person that stands behind the cash register. What you might not think of are the marketing teams that help to market those, the chefs that help to create the recipes for the quick to go snacks, the business office lawyers that help to keep everything legal and so on and so forth. So there's a lot that goes on with a lot of businesses that's behind the scene. And what we find is that students think that if they're going into, let's just say accounting, they might have to work for an accounting firm, but the reality is they could work at a hospital, they could work at a college or university, they could work at a high school, they could work in a business office.
(04:10):Sure, they could work for an accounting firm, but the options are kind of endless. So building upon Career Fest last summer, Penn Highlands Community College developed a program called Grow Our Own, serve Our Own, and it kind of is a sister program to career fest. And the difference is, instead of bringing students to the college to kind of explore a large grouping of majors, what we are doing is on a year to year basis, we're taking a smaller segment of programs, a pathway of programs is what we call them here. Last year we took the social sciences Education and Criminal Justice or the human services as we were calling them.
(04:54):We put together a group of professionals in those fields, and we created a caravan, is what I called it. It was basically a panel of professionals, a rotating panel. We would contact high schools and say, Hey, listen, do you have an interest in us coming and presenting to your students and the schools that were interested? We would go and we would do a presentation that fit their scale. In some cases, the presentation was 20 minutes to 20 students. In some cases, we did four or five back-to-back presentations to the entire high school population. And so it gave us that opportunity to kind of go to the students and pique their interest as opposed to bringing the students to us and giving them a more broad interest.
Shauna Cox (05:42):Absolutely. And it sounds like there's so much that goes into that and so much behind the scenes that obviously we're not seeing there. So what are some of the challenges that either you guys experience or some more common challenges among the higher ed space when it comes to trying to foster those strategic partnerships with the community?
Matt Bodenschatz (06:02):Sure. I think first and foremost, as a community college, we struggle with the reputation of community colleges being maybe inferior to a four-year college or university. And in our case, we are in a very higher education saturated market, despite the fact that we're in a relatively depressed region. So within our county alone, which is seeing declining population for years, we have four higher education institutions including Pennsylvania, Highlands Community College. And so some of those institutions are attached to larger institutions. They're branch campuses of large state institutions, and some of them are well established in reputable private colleges or universities. And so in our area, we struggle with the basically little brother or little sister mentality. And so part of what we're doing is trying to help people understand that an associate degree is not inferior to a bachelor's degree. Certainly a bachelor's degree can take it to another level, but a lot of students can earn an associate degree and have a very lucrative career, and in some cases more lucrative career than with a bachelor's degree.
(07:20):So that's one of the problems that we struggle with regard to students. But in terms of strategic partnerships, that kind of goes in the same direction. A lot of times businesses might look at us and say, well, why would I partner with you when I could partner with a four year college or university? Or maybe they already are partnering with a four year, and they're saying, why would we also want to partner with you? So that's part of the problem. And then the other part of the problem is identity. People sometimes just don't understand who we are or that we even exist. And that is a major challenge of trying to spread the word that, yeah, we do exist and no, our education is not inferior, and the outcomes are not lesser than.
Shauna Cox (08:04):Absolutely. Yeah. There's still a stigma around community colleges that's underlying when in reality, community college can be the answer for somebody just for one time. Community colleges can be a stepping stone for people like you mentioned Pathways before. So yeah, it's definitely tough to overcome that stigma. So in leading to that, what are some of the best practices to overcome some of these obstacles and then better equip students to become lifelong learners?
Matt Bodenschatz (08:33):Yeah, I think the biggest thing is just hitting the ground, running and pounding the pavement for the lack of better words, getting out there, meeting people, introducing them to the college and what we have to offer and founding or finding, I guess I should say, partnerships that can be used as examples for what we can do moving forward. We do have one very strong partnership with an automotive group in the region. Thomas Automotive Group was our first partnership. And what they've done is they have a leadership at the automotive group that have a background in education. Multiple of their HR people and or vice presidents have degrees in education and have taught in either higher education or K 12 education. What that has resulted in is them understanding the value of an education even for somebody, or even for positions such as car salespeople who maybe don't need a degree.
(09:35):We were able to partner with them for a short-term customized program, which we called the Thomas Business Certificate. And essentially it is an 18 credit certificate that is six credit shy of an actual business certificate from the college. So they aren't actually earning a credential from the college. They're earning a credential from Thomas, but they're gaining 18 college credits. And so that gives Thomas employees the opportunity to A, get an education for free or at a very reduced cost because Thomas is paying for that. B, it allows them to potentially have upward mobility. And C, it threads into the idea of lifelong learning because they are getting 18 credits, which now puts them just six credits away from a Penn Highlands Business certification. So now when they get that business certification at 24 credits, they're just a stones throw away from a 60 credit associate's degree.
(10:38):And then once they get that 60 credit associate's degree, they're already halfway toward a bachelor's degree. And if they get that bachelor's degree, they may be just a year away from getting an M B A. And so the idea behind these programs is to foster lifelong learning opportunities. And by partnering with a company like Thomas Automotive, what we are able to do now is go to other businesses and say, these industry leaders are saying, yes, we think that an education is valuable, and we're able to then take that to the next place and say, see what they're doing. We could do something similar for you. And the best quote I think that came from that was the leader of Thomas Automotive when we ruled out this program in his press conference, he said he'd been asked by somebody within his staff, somebody, a senior member of his staff that said, what if we educate these people when they leave? And he said, my response was, well, what if we don't educate these people and they stay? And that's a really kind of telling quote about the value of an education.
Shauna Cox (11:45):Absolutely. And I love that it also ties back in this situation to the value of the community college because like I mentioned before, it's the stepping stone to getting that associate's degree, that bachelor's degree. It is still an option, but this might just be a more reasonable or tangible thing in the moment to get, because maybe not everyone can just go to a four year institution right away. And this allows them to get it really at their own pace. I love that.
Matt Bodenschatz (12:14):Yeah. And so not only are we talking at their own pace, certainly at their own pace, but also at a very affordable tuition, often at no cost to themselves because of a place of employment helping them or because of federal and or state financial aid that helps to bring that tuition down to zero. But also yet, it can be a stepping stone to a four year college or university, but it can also just be a degree in and of itself that leads to a career. And there are so many students that whether they're traditional 18 year olds or whether it's a 50 year old looking for a second career, there are so many people that can benefit from a community college in ways that I think a lot of the community doesn't quite realize exist.
Shauna Cox (13:04):Absolutely. So then what role does the institution play when it comes to these strategic partnerships?
Matt Bodenschatz (13:13):Well, I think in general, it's up to the college to be out there and working to develop these partnerships. I think to kind of go back to what I had just said, a lot of times in the community, people don't necessarily realize what the community college can offer. As the saying goes, you don't know what you don't know. And so for us to be out and about building partnerships, building relationships with business and industry leaders, and that starts at the top down. Our president, Dr. Steve Nunez, is phenomenal with building relationships with community members. Our vice presidents at the college do a wonderful job of sitting on boards in the community. So not only are they reaching out to businesses and industries on one-off events, they're also working side by side with them on boards within the community. And then all of our locations that we have here at Pennsylvania Highlands, whether it's our Richland and Evansburg locations in Cambria County, or our Somerset location or our Huntington location, or our Blair County location, all of them have advisory groups or advisory boards that are made up of business industry leaders as well as educators from within that region.
(14:28):So we build partnerships with them from that standpoint. We also listen to what they have to say. So if they're telling us, Hey, you don't offer this academic program, and maybe that's a good idea for you to add it, we're hearing there's a lot of need for that, or we have a need for that, that gives us an opportunity to hear it directly from the source as opposed to us going out there and trying to make decisions without those informed people backing those decisions.
Shauna Cox (14:55):Absolutely. So just a side note question, when you're going to these advisory committees, are they checking in with your programs once they say they have a need for this and you guys go and create the program or make sure it's there? Are they constantly checking in with each other, or is it just you come back when it's finished?
Matt Bodenschatz (15:13):No. So one of the great things that we do at the college is we really do try to leverage partnerships as much as we possibly can. So in the event that we're building out a new academic program, we would create a separate advisory board for that academic program. So we would grab experts from the field to help us develop a curriculum based on what they see as the needs within that field. So we're not building an outdated program or so we're not building a program that looks like it's great, but really doesn't have the bells and whistles that are needed. But then we keep those people on board, and there is an evolving group of people for all of our academic programs that are part of academic program advisory boards. And so typically the academic program advisory boards meet a couple of times a year. Advisory boards for our locations meet four times a year. And then we also have our board of trustees, which is made up of business and industry leaders within the community that meets throughout the year as well. So we really are tied to the community. It's just a matter of taking those next steps and being innovative with how we pull them in and not just in a way that benefits us, but also benefits them.
Shauna Cox (16:27):Absolutely. There's a lot of intention and thought behind what you guys are doing there, and I know that you mentioned before the impact that these have on a 55 year old and 18 year old and what they can do with these types of programs. So just kind of tying it off here, what impact do these strategic partnerships with the community have, not only on the institution as a whole, but also its learners?
Matt Bodenschatz (16:55):Yeah, so I mean, I think most importantly, we're giving members within the community the opportunity to obtain an education, whether that be a one semester certificate or a two year associate degree or beyond. We're giving them that opportunity to experience an education that maybe they otherwise felt was unattainable. And so that benefits the learners. And of course, anytime we benefit the learners, then that can benefit the institution because it creates a better learning experience the larger our institution is, while still keeping the class sizes small and keeping in an intimate setting. But the more students that we can have, the better experiences we can provide for those students, whether it be through classroom experiences or out of classroom experiences, internships, externships, clinical shadowing, student observation for students within education programs, or whether it's clubs and activities and sports. The more students we have, the more we're going to be able to offer.
(18:03):So whether those learners are traditional aged or not, the more we have, the better the experience is and the better the experience is for the students, the more students we'll get. It's kind of this never ending cycle, and it's a chicken or the egg thing as well. What comes first? Does the great experience come first or do the students come first? And it's kind of tough to decide. It's kind of tough to manage, but ultimately what we're trying to do is enroll students, and as we continue to enroll students, we continue to offer better experiences for them and better opportunities beyond graduation.
Shauna Cox (18:41):Absolutely. Well, Matt, that's everything I had for you. It was great chatting with you, and I really appreciate you taking the time to come on the podcast today.
Matt Bodenschatz (18:50):Yeah, thank you so much. It's been a lot of fun and I really enjoyed talking about this topic, and I look forward to talking with you in the future.
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