As the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to be able to embrace change and foster innovation. Those were among the thoughts shared by the president of Edmonds College and his vice president of innovation and strategic partnerships during the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce’s virtual lunch meeting Wednesday.
Featured speakers were Dr. Amit Singh, who has served as Edmonds College president since 2018, and Danielle Carnes, who joined the college in 2016 and now oversees its innovation and strategic partnership initiatives.
Singh began with an overview of the college, which now gives students the option of 63 associate’s degrees and also has five bachelor of applied science degrees either being offered or soon to be offered.
“Offering bachelor of applied science degrees is new for community colleges and…is what drove us to change our name,” Carnes said, noting that the college’s new name took effect last year.
The college’s first four-year degree — in Child, Youth, and Family Studies — has been available to students for the past five years. The other four-year degrees in the pipeline include Application Development, Advanced Materials and Manufacturing, Robotics, and Artificial Intelligence and Behavioral/Integrated Health.
The college has a range of other other programs that serve students from high school, to pre-college, to adult basic education, to continuing education certificates that build workforce skills. The college also provides on-campus housing, a Head Start program, dual enrollment programs such as Running Start (which allow high school students to enroll in and receive credit for college courses), a program for inmates at the Monroe Correctional Complex, a Veterans Resource Center, on-campus child care and athletics.
The college is currently serving 14,000 students annually, a drop from approximately 18,000 a few years ago, with 85% of its students come from an eight-mile radius. Like all other higher education institutions, the college has been facing declining international student enrollment — dropping from 1,500 students several years ago to the current enrollment of 689. “It’s been declining for a while, is not just us, it’s everywhere,” Singh said. “And of course, COVID-19 made it much, much worse.
“The good news is, we have seen an uptick (in enrollment), people have been opening up their economies, their countries, and people around the world have more interest in coming to the U.S. for study,” he added.
Singh also shared photos of two new buildings the college has opened recently: the 70,000-square-foot Hazel Miller Hall, which hosts the college’s science, math and nursing programs, and Triton Court, a 220-bed college residence hall located across from campus.
Singh then invited Carnes to talking about the college’s commitment to “leaning into the future.”
Noting that “everything around us is changing so rapidly,” Carnes said that “it’s imperative that we keep looking at what is happening around us and adapt accordingly.”
When Singh came to the college in 2018, he was committed to ensuring the college was prepared for the future, Carnes said, “and it really helped us when the pandemic hit. We were much more resilient and able to see some opportunities and leap forward.”
Under Singh’s leadership, the college has adopted a new strategic planning model “that is not your traditional five-year plan that. you research and you put on a shelf until it’s time to do it again,” Carnes said. “He really encouraged us to think about the idea that opportunity doesn’t knock once every five years and innovation is always happening all the time.”
The college has a two-sided comprehensive plan — one side for operational planning and an innovations side — refreshed annually — focused on “things we aren’t yet doing but maybe we should be thinking about.”
In her role, Carnes said she “looks at what’s happening on the horizon, what are the trends that are happening in industries, what’s coming down the pike that we should be watching as a college and as a leadership team to help us get ready for tomorrow’s students and tomorrow’s workforce and tomorrow’s employer needs.”
To assist with this effort, the college also launched an Idea Lab — a think tank for faculty and staff — “seeing what’s next for academic structure, academic delivery and programs,” Carnes said. The Idea Lab pitches ideas to the college leadership team, which usually picks at least one of two of those ideas that become part of the college’s comprehensive plan.
In addition, Edmonds College is launching a Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which supports new business or people who want to start a new business.
The idea, Carnes said, is to change the narrative around innovation, which is change management. The old narrative is that change is coming and it is something to survive until it stops and goes away. “People tend to prepare for change by taking cover,” she said. Instead, the college is working to view change as “a constant thing, it’s never going to go away. It is an opportunity to train for it, it is an opportunity to flex our muscles for resiliency and embrace it.” That approach, she added, puts people “in a much better position to respond.”
Carnes then shared top priorities that the college is working on, including:
– Addressing enrollment declines, which are being experienced at colleges nationwide. “College-going behavior is changing,” Carnes said, noting that families are quesitoning whether a higher education degree is worth the investment. “Community colleges tend to come out of that conversation pretty well because we don’t have a lot of barriers,” she said. “We accept everybody, our tuition’s fairly affortable, we have a lot of options for students.”
– Closing the performance gap “to make sure that all of our demographics are succeeding at the same rate,” which they currently are not, Carnes said. The college is focused on “identifying where our inequity gaps are and what do we need to do to target some support around the students and the groups that are not succeeding at the same rate.”
– Helping students who are coming to the college with “increased basic needs,” including food and housing insecurity and homelessness, and mental health issues. Thanks to a grant from the Verdant Health Commission, the college has hired two additional counselors to provide mental health resources. The college is turning its food pantry — which provides food to those in need — into a one-stop Triton Resource Hub, which also will include resources for veterans and a 211 navigator through Volunteers of America. “It’s really hard to learn if you are trying to struggle with where you are going to sleep tonight,” Carnes said.
The college also prides itself on working with its community partners. Carnes pointed to a partnership with the City of Edmonds — funded through federal pandemic relief dollars — to offer up to $5,000 per year in training grants. The grants will assist Edmonds residents who have suffered a COVID-related job or wage loss to pursue job retraiming or other job prepration or obtain career advancement skills through the college. The college also is offering a constrution pre-apprenticeship program — started last fall in coordination with the City of Lynnwood and Sound Transit — which is a free, 10-week program that prepares students for a paid union apprenticeship in the construction trades.
In closing, Singh shared a quote from Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.” That was followed by a video of horses running across a meadow, with the statement “If you don’t create dust, you eat dust.”
— By Teresa Wippel