THE STRATEGIC PLAN OF RICHARD BLAND COLLEGE OF WILLIAM & MARY
“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.”
– Abraham Lincoln
What is the role of a selective, two-year, residential, liberal arts transfer institution within the higher education landscape of the Commonwealth of Virginia? This is a key question that must be answered to ensure the success of Richard Bland College (RBC) and the constituency that the College serves. The 2020 RBC strategic plan’s primary objective is to answer that very question so that the College, the community and the Commonwealth can engage successfully within this identity and purpose to the benefit of all.
RBC has long been identified as the hidden gem of higher education in Virginia. The hidden adjective is based both on its relative obscurity—few are aware of RBC outside the Tri-Cities region—and its rural setting featuring 750+ acres of wetlands, bucolic forest, and the state’s oldest and largest pecan grove. Additionally, on average, a student of Richard Bland College travels a mere 36 miles to campus. This keeps the knowledge of RBC in a tightly focused radius. The gem moniker refers both to the College’s reputation for excellence and the undeniable sensation that the campus often elicits in its students, visitors, faculty and staff, the feeling of a warm and palpable embrace of care, compassion and support.
That sensation is where we start.
According the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), 99% of the 11.5 million new jobs created since the great recession require workers to have more than a high-school education. Students with a bachelor’s degree have an earning potential almost double that of people with only a high school education, and yet only 17% of residents in the Petersburg area have a bachelor’s degree, 15% below the national average. The obstacles in the way of education have been exhaustively researched and include financial challenges, academic under-preparedness, low self-esteem, slow college assimilation and immature levels of self-efficacy.
To combat this growing problem, Richard Bland College initiated a pilot program to determine the viability of a data-driven approach to improve retention and graduation rates. The program ultimately effected a cultural, organizational and operational shift at RBC, resulting in a personalized model of student support, the Exceptional Student Experience (ESE@RBC).
Originally many of the practices that RBC used as the basis of ESE@RBC were adapted from the four key principles found in the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) Pathways Project: 1) map pathways to student end goals; 2) help students choose and enter a program pathway; 3) keep students on path; and 4) ensure that students are learning. Unfortunately, limited resources made it necessary to skip some primary elements of guided pathways and instead to focus on a specific, high-priority project that was immediately available for implementation, dedicated student support.
This strategic framework reimagines the way that RBC serves students, faculty and staff within the context of our existing culture, the principles of guided pathways and a hybrid work-college experience. Rather than thinking of a two-year college as a pipeline to a four-year university, this vision describes a more expansive menu of well-defined pathways to high-demand fields, all radiating from a curriculum constructed around the development of soft skills that define the liberal arts experience: critical thinking, written communication, analytical reasoning, civic engagement and oral communication. Furthermore, the impact of meaningful work is a resonating theme, providing avenues to participate in career-focused internships and jobs that develop important life & work skills, confidence, and character.
Richard Bland has tested its entrepreneurial mettle and its capacity for transformation in recent years. The College was among a select few Competency-Based Education sites established by the U.S. Department of Education. We were ahead of the curve using predictive analytics to improve student retention and success rates, and online enrollment now makes up nearly 20 percent of course offerings. It may be counter-intuitive, but these and other deep-level institutional changes still to come will ensure that Richard Bland College remains true to its original mission. We prepare our students for a lifetime of endless potential.
Debbie L. Sydow, Ph.D., President
Richard Bland College of William & Mary