Interim COS president looks to the future

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

As College of the Siskiyous begins the 2012-13 school year, interim president Dr. Robert Frost responded by email to interview questions posed by reporter Skye Kinkade.

Previously the school’s vice president of student learning, Frost is filling the president’s position on a one-year interim basis following the resignation Randy Lawrence.

Frost sees COS as “a college on the move,” making improved use of technology, re-staffing some areas that were cut in recent years thanks to a better budget picture, and advancing science education in the new science building that opened last spring.

He said “career programs are really on a roll, with new energy in law enforcement, fire technology, welding, and the nursing programs.”

Frost said the school is moving forward after last year, which he described as “a dark time that involved numerous frustrations over finances and the limitations that posed.”

He said leaders and faculty have been lost “as a result of the negativity in recent years. We own that; we have to correct it together.”

He cites community partnerships that are benefiting the college, including “the work we do with the county sheriff in law enforcement education that extends to the Bay Area.”

Frost said he is excited about “the additional focus on learning support services we want to develop over the next 1-2 years.”

Beyond efforts to strengthen transfer education, basic skills and career programs, Frost said COS has “the most beautiful outdoor learning laboratory in the world,” and he wants to promote the “college and community through building programs that are known for a mix of classroom, outdoor, ‘on the mountain’ or ‘in the field’ activities.”

He said Dr. Gregory South, last year’s Dean of Student Learning, is filling Frost’s previous role as Vice President of Instruction on an interim basis this year.


Q: What are the things you’re most excited about/looking forward to in the upcoming semester?

Frost: We always look forward to August because we meet people who have been inspired to take greater control of their lives, make a big decision, and either start, or return, to college. It is so cool to see a new student completely jazzed about a new opportunity in life. And in some ways, it is just as inspiring to see a staff person beaming from ear to ear when she helps a student through an enrollment nightmare, or find a professor, or succeed through a tough financial aid challenge. This is a place that changes lives, so August is super inspirational for us.

Q: Any new classes or programs, or changes in classes or programs you’d like to point out

Frost: There are some great offerings this year. Like never before, the college is advancing science education through programs in our brand new science building. This is a place where, during the summer, faculty go off and do field work in geology, habitat and environment studies, and then bring their experience back into the classroom. Also, the career programs are really on a roll, with new energy in law enforcement, fire technology, welding, and the nursing programs. But what may be most exciting for me personally is the additional focus on learning support services we want to develop over the next 1-2 years.

With the recent passage of the Student Success Act, we have a renewed challenge to provide “just-in-time” learning assistance to students.

When a student is involved in a 17 week “marathon” semester, often they are stumped by new concepts. When this happens, unless they get help quick, their lack of understanding quickly compounds and they fall way behind, and then have to drop the classes. We do NOT want students to drop classes, as they are only allowed three “takes” by the new state rules. So, if we can supply learning assistance “just-in-time” for them to make the learning connection, then they are more likely to succeed in the class.

Once students start seeing these connections over several classes, they gain confidence, and learning skills, to complete a certificate or degree program. We want to do everything we can to support student learning just when they need it, and this is why we have a college-wide Academic Success Center set up for their learning support. Hundreds of students, I think who have over 6 credit hours, pay a $5 materials fee and otherwise they have access to the Center anytime its open for English, math, computer, or other tutoring services.

Q: In the college’s press release when you were hired as president, you are quoted as saying, “This will be a year for us to really pull together.” What steps are you taking to help make that happen, especially in light of last year’s vote of no confidence?

Frost: The no-confidence votes are rarely mentioned; we move on. Last year was a dark time that involved numerous frustrations over finances and the limitations that posed. The first step for us to move on was to recognize that we all share responsibility for both our past and for improving our future.

Secondly, we are putting tremendous energy this year into resource development and student success, so we have both money and students for years to come.

Additionally, it seems everyone I speak with is offering a “personal commitment” to help improve our climate, so faculty and staff are a great inspiration to me. The college has lost leaders and faculty as a result of the negativity in recent years. We own that; we have to correct it together. As president, I have to give everyone, and I mean everyone, an opportunity to join the team and move forward with us.

Q: In an interview after your hire, board president Bob Rice said: “Frost has helped the college develop contracts with other community colleges through which COS provides distance learning for its law enforcement program.” He said that has increased FTEs, bringing more money into the college that has “helped considerably on the income side.”

Could you give me more details on this?

Frost: Bob Rice was correct and this refers specifically to the resource development goal I mentioned earlier. If we sit and wait for students to show up, we will shrink. We have to attract new students, new revenue sources. Last year, almost 20 percent of our enrollments came from new agreements. We need to continuously seek new students, new programs, and new revenue sources, as we know our local high school populations are trending downward.

At the same time, and this is just as important, we are working diligently in the schools to convince more young adults that they must prepare for, and proceed into college, full-time, right out of high school. As a result of these investments and creative leadership in online learning, new relationships, and high school recruitment, our enrollment was back up to 2010 levels.

This year, we expect enrollments to be stable and maybe even a little better.

But if I can digress for a moment, even as the college needs to attract new enrollments in a global education market, we also need to work with Siskiyou County leaders to attract more young families to move here, start businesses here, and raise their children here. The work we do with the county sheriff in law enforcement education that extends to the Bay Area is just one example of a great partnership of professionals who are helping us provide wider educational opportunities. So, on a local level, I also want to learn how I can help, and partner with our communities in this great challenge.

Q: How is the Student Success Act affecting the college?

Frost: The new Student Success Act is both a carrot and a stick for us. It provides funding incentives and draws our attention to the key success indicators, especially retention and degree completion, that for us is “keeping our eye on the ball.” It also, through an online scorecard, shares our retention and completion results out to the public. But it also shows very clearly how, if we choose to ignore the evolving expectations of the state, and the competitive market we are in, we do so at our own peril.

In the most immediate, it has inspired renewed investment in our counseling and advising support to students. We recently hired two phenomenal new advisers to the college, and we will no doubt continue to invest in similar student support positions as our funding climate improves.

Q: What is the picture as far as finances and budget for the upcoming year? Has the college “pulled out of the spiral?” Have there been any positive changes? How is enrollment?

Frost: The budget picture is better due to improved enrollments, a rosier state forecast, and the new partnerships we are attracting. I see faculty and staff energized to recruit students like never before. THAT is a big positive change; that if we learn from our recent past, maybe we won’t have to return to “the days of the enrollment crisis.” We are also making better use of technology than we were three years ago, but we have to get back to full staffing to sustain what we have learned.

So for us academics, in the way of a positive change, this becomes a great inviting challenge: how to integrate our budget, staffing, and planning decisions in just the right way that propels the college into a more adaptive, dynamic culture of learning. Of course, the funny part about colleges is, with so many smart people in the room, it becomes an even greater challenge to figure out which “best ideas” to marry together into the right system. But this is the fun of my work, and that of many others at the college.

Q: Have you made any decision about how to fill the VP role you previously held?

Frost: Thanks for asking! We are doing everything we can to both hire the brightest talent, but also to manage costs as we build back to wherever normal is over the next five years. Because I am in a one-year interim position, we made adjustments across the organization chart to offer new opportunities to current administrators and faculty. The core idea within all of our HR decisions is to continuously grow our talent from within, and hire the best person for every job.

Dr. Gregory South, who was the Dean of Student Learning, will serve this year as interim Vice President of Instruction. Both Dr. South and I are working with faculty on several designs for their providing further management support to the academic programs.

But to support Greg and re-staff areas we had to cut in recent years, we are or will soon advertize for a permanent Dean of Career and Technical Education, a Director of Research, and Associate Dean of Student Success, and several administrative support positions, among others.

I am working with the faculty leadership and our Student Learning Council so we have their recommendations for filling faculty positions going forward as well.

As you can see, this is a college on the move, and we see will do our best to apply staff in parallel to the reliability of funding going forward. It is important to mention that it has really helped me to work with people who planned for the improved economy, so many of the pieces we are putting together now were in our discussions and dreams over the past 2-3 years as well.

Q: Where do you see the college going in the next 3-5 years?

Frost: This is the key question to our internal dialogue. We are an “academic village,” where we thrive as a result of direct human interaction and learning together. Therefore, I am most interested in bringing more people, more students, to our college. Growing athletics would bring people to our college. Rebuilding our international student program would bring diverse peoples and viewpoints to our classrooms. These are long-term projects that take multi-year commitments.

We are a college, so strengthening our transfer education, basic skills and career programs has to come first. Additionally, we have the most beautiful outdoor learning laboratory in the world, so I want to promote our college and community through building programs that are known for a mix of classroom, outdoor, “on the mountain” or “in the field” activities.

This county has always attracted great people through our natural environment; we could do that in education also.