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The Sanpete Messenger

Foundation laid for Snow College’s long-term role

Snow President Brad Cook briefs Lisa Michele Church, a member of the Utah State Board of Regents, on what the screen shows as “Utah’s Wicked Problem: Urban-Rural Divide.” One of Cook’s goals is to make Snow College “a major factor in helping our communities survive and thrive.”

 

Foundation laid for Snow College’s long-term role

By Suzanne Dean

Publisher

12-23-2020

 

EPHRAIM—In the 18 months since he became president of Snow College, Bradley Cook has directed a rewrite of the school’s strategic plan, reorganized the top administration, and launched initiatives in vocational and on-line education.

Although those efforts have attracted less attention than how the college has managed the coronavirus, they have set the course for the longer term future, Cook said in an interview with the Messenger last week.

“The foundation is set,” he said during the interview Wednesday Dec. 16. “…We have a lot of work ahead of us, but now we’ve established the flag on the hill,” or in other words, the goals for the future.

Traditional undergraduate education is already in good shape, he said. The fall headcount on the Ephraim and Richfield campuses combined was 5,800, the largest enrollment in history. That spike came after a three-year enrollment decline.

And in January, 2020, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the respected newspaper that covers higher education nationwide, released its rankings of colleges on various measures.

Snow College was ranked “best in class,” or first in the nation among two-year schools, for student success. Eighty-five percent of students who enter Snow complete an associate degree or other credential, or transfer to another institution, as opposed to  dropping out. And Snow was 5 percent above the next institution on the list.

One of the goals Cook listed in his inaugural address in November, 2019 was raising $5 million for need-based scholarships. Just recently, the college hit the target.

But Snow has another role besides shepherding the 97 percent of its current students who are 18 to 21 through their first year or two of college, Cook said.

“One thing I’ve felt is that Snow College is a front-line institution in the battle of rural economic development, “ he said.

He said he has asked himself, “How do we connect Snow College’s curriculum with local needs? How do we become a major factor in helping our communities survive and thrive?”

That has led to the initiative in vocational education called “Snow Tech,” scheduled for launch next fall.

A lot of high school students in the Six-County Area don’t see themselves as “college types,” Cook said. Yet they are interested in earning a certificate in fields leading straight into a job.

It’s unrealistic to think such students will move from Delta or Loa, to Ephraim or

Richfield, for a program that may take a few months, he said. So Snow is developing what he calls a “wheel-and-spokes” approach, where the programs will be administered on the two campuses but delivered at local high schools.

Snow has identified about 15 areas in which it hopes to develop certificate programs for delivery at local sites, including certified nurse assistant, phlebotomy, welding, cosmetology, cybersecurity and construction.

“For students who can’t get their heads wrapped around a two-year or four-year degree, it’s a place they can start,” Cook said.

“Let’s meet students where they are. Let’s provide an experience where if they want to get a job, they can. But encourage them that they can ladder that into a degree,” he said, because lifetime earnings and life satisfaction are much, much higher for people who have degrees than for those who don’t.

Once Snow has established a presence and is offering education at high schools, he said, it can reach out to adults in the same towns who are working in low-wage jobs and need a little education to get ahead.

Another group the college is targeting, Cook said, is adults who have some college but no degree. Sadly, he said, Utah leads the nation in the percentage of the adult population in that category. There are 370,000 Utahns who fit that description.

That’s where an initiative called “Accelerated Online Learning” comes in. The program is being piloted now with 400 students with the goal of launching it officially in the next few months.

In the present pilot, online courses aren’t a lot different from courses offered on campus, where students take tests and turn in papers. But increasingly, Cook said, courses offered through the program will be competency-based. A students will be able to progress at his or her own pace by demonstrating skills at required levels.

“Think about someone who is now in a position in their adult life to go back and finish their degree, what that could do in terms of their employability (and) life satisfaction,” Cook said. “But for so long, higher ed has said, ‘You need to come to us. You need to fit our mold.’

“Higher education and Snow College need to say, ‘How do we reach out to you? How do we serve your educational needs? And what platform would work for you?’”

Cook said the college’s finances “have never been better” than they are now. Still,  he’s always looking for ways to conserve.

In the past, Snow had three vice presidents—one for academics, one for student success, and one for finance and administration.

He has collapsed the academic and student affairs positions into one, with the title “provost.” Melanie Jenkins, who has been at the college over 20 years, and was formerly an English professor and associate vice president for academics, has been named to that post.

Dr. Carson Howell, former chief financial officer for the Idaho higher education system, is vice president for finances and administrative services.

To head up the Snow Tech program, Cook has named Stacee McIff as vice president for technical education and workforce development. The college has received special state funding for the position, he said.

Long-time athletic director Robert Nielson has the title “special assistant to the president for campus services.” That includes housing and the bookstore. He is still in charge of athletics and still coaches men’s basketball.

Besides the administrators listed above, Cook’s cabinet includes Teri Clawson, assistant vice president for enrollment management; Josh Hales, human resources director; and Marci Larsen, senior assistant to the president and public information officer.

Cook said he doesn’t think his cabinet is any larger than previous presidential cabinets. “I’ve just included more voices. They are positions that were already here.”

The cabinet meets weekly, he said, to stay on top of the strategic plan and measure progress toward goals.

“I really feel the campus is well positioned for the future,” Cook said. “The foundation is set, from our leadership to our faculty to our staff…The flag on the hill keeps our focus…That means we continue to grow and provide opportunities for students and remain accessible to underserved populations.”