Finding the Future: South Suburban Community College Community-Centered Strategic Planning | Maher & Maher
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Finding the Future: South Suburban Community College Community-Centered Strategic Planning

We recently completed another strategic planning engagement for a college in Illinois, and I was moved by the engagement, interest and passion this group brought to the task of finding a better future for their institution and the community it serves.

South Suburban Community College brought about 100 leaders together from this region just south of Chicago for an intensive, 2-day event designed to drive innovation and planning to guide the institution’s next five years. Using our Community-Centered Strategic Planning Process, stakeholders from the community representing K-12, the university system, economic and workforce development and employers joined those internal to the college (including students) in the effort.

This process is intense, it is time-consuming and it isn’t for everybody. It just works.

We use the essence of the “Re-Claiming the American Dream” report from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in concert with a participatory process that engages stakeholders and converts them to “stockholders” in the college’s success. We ask questions, we listen and we invite employers, educators, students and others to tell us what is most important, and in return we promise to innovate and change – to be more nimble, review and revise curricula and make other changes to drive both student success and community prosperity.

Teams of college leaders sat in workgroups, debated priorities and made recommendations that will form the essence of the next strategic plan for South Suburban.

But perhaps more importantly, a new level of engagement an alignment happens between partners. New partnerships are formed, and new ideas are un-earthed. (South Suburban’s President Don Manning has already been contacted to explore new partnerships stemming from the event.)

In the on-going debate about the need to create opportunities to grow the middle class and lessen the income inequality gap, perhaps more attention needs to be paid to how community colleges can help. Post-secondary credentials (not just AA and BA degrees) can be on-ramps for good, family-sustaining career pathways. That makes community colleges an economic development asset and a driver of future community prosperity.

When college leaders see their role in a new way, good things can happen. I think our friends at South Suburban have set a path to realize that potential, and we wish them Godspeed!


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