BY: BRETT FRIEDENSON
As County College of Morris president Dr. Anthony Iacono devises a new strategic plan for the school, he is encouraging students and faculty to voice their opinions on what they want to see continue and what they want to see change.
Iacono hosted meetings Wednesday, Feb. 8 and Tuesday, Feb. 14 in an effort to gain insight on what the college needs to revamp as the administration builds the new strategic plan, which acts as a blueprint for the college’s way of operating to meet the priorities on which the college will focus in the next few years. Iacono expects the plan to take about six months to fully develop.
Some of the issues that arose in these meetings were increasing accessibility for students who struggle to move around campus because of physical disabilities, registration difficulties for military personnel, community college stigma, and the quality and enrollment of CCM’s honors classes.
“Part of really developing a good strategic plan is taking time to listen to lots of people who are the stakeholders, which is anyone who has anything invested in the institution, so that might be someone who works for the college; it could be students, members of the community and so forth,” Iacono said. “So what we really want to do is have a chance to really listen, to hear what’s on people’s minds, so what we’re looking for is things that you think are working really well and things that you feel that we should do more of. It’s great to share that. Things that you think we’re not doing at all that you think we should be giving some attention to, we want to hear that, and if there’s things that you think we’re not doing that well, we want to hear that, also.”
Marisa Goglia, a CCM journalism major with cerebral palsy, said that one major problem within Accessibility Services is the lack of accessibility to both the third floor and the bathrooms.
“I have to ask people to open restroom doors for me, and I like being independent,” Goglia said.
Iacono voiced interest in increasing accessibility at CCM, citing that about 1,000 students utilize Accessibility Services. He said that he would look into installing accessible door buttons for the bathrooms and creating means to making the third floor accessible to students with disabilities.
“It’s a really important population, and we need to focus more on it,” Iacono said. “It’s hard enough to go to college, but for some students, it can be even more challenging than that because you have to learn the campus, what are the resources, and where are the resources.”
D’Angelo Torres, a soldier in the New Jersey National Guard and engineering major in his first semester at CCM, said that many soldiers experience an unwanted surprise when first registering for classes at CCM. Torres said that despite the Guard paying for its soldiers’ tuition at CCM, no one makes it abundantly clear that the Guard does not pay for additional fees, and many soldiers do not know that they need to pay for this until they submit their waiver documentation to the bursar’s office.
“I already knew that I already had fees and extra stuff to pay, so I wasn’t surprised, but at the same time, I didn’t really see anybody telling me that I had extra fees and all that other stuff,” Torres said. “But I did ask, and the veteran’s office, they were really helpful with everything, but there wasn’t anyone informing this, what the extra fees were until we got to the bursar’s office.”
Dr. Bette Simmons, vice president of student development at CCM, said that students have complained about this before, and she said that there is a disagreement on who holds the responsibility of clarifying this. Simmons said that some believe each soldier’s commander should hold the responsibility while others feel the obligation should rest on CCM.
Iacono asked Torres where he thinks this information should be available and asked if the college should add it on its website as the site undergoes reconstruction.
“It’ll happen in two phases,” Iacono said. “One is just to tweak it out a little bit and make the registration process easier, what have you, and get our catalog online, and then, after that, we’ll spend about a year redoing it, and there’ll be some listening sessions with the committees and so forth as well. Is that where it should be? Where should we be telling people? Because you would not be too thrilled if it was just a sign right in front of the bursar’s window. It’s a little late at that point, right? Where can we make you aware of that?
Torres said that both CCM and the National Guard should make soldiers’ necessary payments clear to them.
“I feel like it’s on both sides,” Torres said. “The commander, they should really emphasize that, ‘Yeah, we pay for the college but just the tuition not the fees and whatnot,’ and it’s just really a communication between the military and state schools. Online would be nice, maybe registration’s office at some point, at some point before the bursar’s office so that when you go there, you already have a good idea of what you’re paying and why you’re paying it.”
Iacono also acknowledged the stigma surrounding attending community college, and took suggestions for how to combat that stigma.
“There’s roughly 1,300 community colleges around the country, and they’ll all tell you, if there’s one thing we all have in common, it’s the stigma factor,” Iacono said. “Talk to us about the stigma factor. Did you experience that? What does it sound like? What is the stigma, really?”
Brian Gilligan, a criminal justice major at CCM, said that he noticed many students in his high school considering themselves more elite for attending universities; however, he said that many of these students have not had successful academic careers.
“Usually the kids that perpetuated the stigma, they went to a university and failed out in another year,” Gilligan said. “I think that if someone’s at a university, they think it’s more elite. Like, they go to Rutgers, and they think they’re more elite than the community school, and it could be wealth, like, ‘Oh, my parents have enough money to afford Rutgers, and so I’m richer,’ so it’s wealth-based, or it’s elitist, kind of.”
Sussex County resident Arrik Leman said that many students and faculty members pushed stigmas of community colleges, directing those stigmas especially at Sussex County Community College (SCCC). Leman said that this was one of the reasons he decided to attend CCM over SCCC.
“When I was in high school, there was a huge push of if you’re going to county, go to CCM, which is good for you guys,” Leman said. “The big problem when people look at county colleges is that they are not reliable is the feeling I get, and that’s why a lot of people from Sussex County end up coming here because they’re worried that if they get into a program, a class that’s required to graduate won’t be able to fill up, and the class won’t be available, and they’ll have to wait until next year or next year.”
Leman expressed satisfaction with choosing CCM over SCCC.
“It’s normally worth the drive, and it’s more professional because this is comparable to a real school,” Leman said.
When Simmons asked students for ideas on how to combat community college stigma, Gilligan said that CCM should publicize some of its successful alumni.
“We need to find success stories of people graduating and from here and going to some good school or getting a really good job,” Gilligan said. “And maybe that might help. And advertizing it.”
Jodi Petrakian, a humanities and social sciences major who takes honors classes at CCM, said that she would like to see more enrollment and consistency in CCM’s honors classes.
“I think that we need to maybe push them,” Petrakian said. “There’s not a lot of students in them … There are some professors who have just decided to do whatever they want, and it doesn’t always turn out well, or it’s just kind of gibberish that you’re listening to for a while.”
Iacono said that he was considering creating an honors program at CCM rather than only having individual honors classes.
Petrakian said that an honors program would benefit students.
“Definitely, I think an honors program would benefit a lot of people,” Petrakian said. “I think a program would be nice to be able to say that you’re doing it even and then to be able to have specific classes that are a little bit more rigorous and a little more attentive.”