For college president, education changes everything

By Vicki Hyatt | Apr 23, 2014
Photo by: Deborah Davis Barbara Sue Parker, Haywood Community College president, was willing to climb a steep hill to have her photo taken with this sign that sums up her belief in what she does. In the end, the sign had been moved and was more easily accessible.

It’s been nine months since Barbara Sue Parker, a Haywood native, took the helm at Haywood Community College. In that time, she’s pulled out all the stops to make sure students can succeed.

A recent sign that greeted those who entered the campus said it all for Parker. “Education changes everything.”

When named college president, Parker had a lot of work to do to get up to speed on higher education issues. Her background was in secondary education, so her first few months on the job were spent asking questions “to understand whys behind what we do,” she said.

After the initial steps to build relationships with faculty, staff, students, the college governing board and foundation leaders, the next task was charting a course for the future.

Rose Johnson, the previous college president, had built programs around sustainability, something that is now part of the college’s every day way of doing things.

For Parker, enhancing programs needed by the community that will lead to new opportunities for those attending the college is a priority.

The college is offering new opportunities for students, such as the GED program at North Canton Elementary and customized training projects with local industries, she explained. There have also been steps taken across the state to streamline remedial programs students had to spend time and money to complete.

Incoming college students are tested to see which specific parts of subjects such as reading or math, for instance, they need additional help in, and can take modules of targeted information as opposed to spending an entire semester on a subject.

“That really focuses on the student and shortens the amount of time they have to be in development course,” she said. “It saves the student time and money, and it saves the system time and money. That was happening when I came, and it is an example how we are constantly evaluating what we do and asking how to do it better and more efficiently.”

Parker said if she had to summarize her vision for the college, it would come down to  meeting the needs of the community.

“We need to meet the needs of the business community, the needs of public schools, the needs of seniors who want to take courses for personal enrichment, the needs of our adult learners who maybe never finished high school,” she said. “And we need to provide access for everyone.”

Challenges ahead

There are hurdles to cross in accomplishing any plan, and funding is one of the challenges.

As with all community colleges, Haywood depends on state funding for operations and staffing, and relies on the county government to cover capital improvements and maintenance.

With the short legislative session coming up, community colleges across the state are putting forth a unified agenda to help educate and retrain employees of the future.

A priority is getting the state to agree that cost savings realized from the targeted remediation program should be reinvested in the schools, a departure from current practice.

“Colleges would like to offer more support for student success managers. We’ve identified key times at which students, if they reach a certain point, their chances of finishing are even better,” Parker said. “We want to target the struggling students, coach them and provide wrap around services to help them be successful.”

At Haywood, the average age of the student population is 31. The average age of the continuing education student population — those who take enrichment classes such as art, music or other life-enriching classes — is 42.

“Knowing the age of our students, we realize many are well into life, with children and jobs,” Parker said. “Some are veterans and many students have life circumstances that are barriers to completing their education, but for the most part there are more challenges than barriers. Our goal is that once they get in the door, we keep them here and help them realize their goal.”

During challenging economic times, community colleges see an uptick in enrollment.

That’s partly because classes at around $70 a credit hour are seen as a good value. Also, when people lose jobs due to an economic downturn, many often use the time as a chance to pick up another, more marketable skill.

“During tough economic times, we flourish,” Parker said. The improving economy means enrollment is dropping off slightly, but the 5 percent downturn is consistent with what is happening across the state, she said.

Parker has devoted her entire career to education, and is thrilled to be at the helm of her hometown community college.

“I strongly believe education changes everything,” Parker said.  I have seen the impact of education. It makes me so proud of every story I hear from our students — and they all have them. I am so happy to be here and see their success and their perseverance and their commitment. I can‘t think of a better place to be.”