Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Happy Trails! A message from Chancellor Cindy L. Miles

Dear Colleagues:
It’s hard to believe that we’re already starting another academic year! I hope you had some time to relax this summer and see some new places, whether you took a “staycation” in beautiful San Diego County or got a chance to travel someplace new or special to you.
I love to hike, and I took a trip to Northern California in July to explore the incredible Sierras. As I was enjoying the breathtaking scenery, it occurred to me that there are many similarities between a successful hiking trip and a successful community college district.
Be prepared. Any experienced hiker knows that you can avoid much pain and discomfort by planning ahead – wearing good hiking shoes, putting on plenty of sunscreen, packing for weather changes, and bringing along lots of water.
Good preparation is also vital for a college district, and our Governing Board and budget teams have ensured that we are ready no matter how rocky the path ahead may be. Our 2011-12 budget reflects the worst case projected by the state finance department if the remaining $4 billion state budget deficit is not filled by December 15. For us, this would mean $6.3 million in cuts over last year -- on top of $15 million in cuts we’ve had in the past two years.
From the beginning of the process, we’ve taken a conservative approach to putting together our budget and assumed that the rosy predictions for state revenue wouldn’t come to pass. Our doubts have held true so far: California’s July revenues were $539 million below forecasts. We don’t want to get halfway up the hill to find we’re running short of water, so we’ve already factored midyear cuts into our budget.
Sadly, our students will keep feeling the brunt of these budget shortages. They’re paying more for their courses ($36 per credit unit, up from $26) while finding it harder than ever to get the classes they need. We could only offer a bare-bones summer schedule, and we’re down 200 course sections over last fall, but our good planning allowed us to at least add a few last-minute classes with savings from last year.
Set your goals. When hiking in unfamiliar terrain, it’s easy to get lost unless you’re clear about where you want to go and what trails will get you there.  A compass or a GPS can help you make sure you’re heading in the right direction.
For the college district, our strategic plans are our compass that guides us toward our goals. The remarkable achievements you all made last year in the face of great challenges are testimony to your commitment and focus. This year, we’ll finalize new Educational Master Plans for the district and each college that will provide the blueprint for our future. I encourage everyone to get involved.
Be flexible and adaptable. On the hiking trail, surprises appear no matter how well prepared we are. During my summer hike in the Sierras, I didn’t expect snow that would completely obliterate the trail and double the energy and time needed to reach my destination. Still, all that slipping and slogging brought with it a bonus of beauty and exhilaration. 
No doubt, we’ll encounter plenty of unexpected ordeals and opportunities this year. My sense is that the only difference between the two is how we choose to react to what we encounter and how charitably we treat our fellow travelers.
Celebrate! I keep a photo of my hike handy so I can tap into the inspiration of the mountains when my energy wanes. We’ve got lots of exciting things going on to keep our spirits high, too. Convocations and professional development activities last week at both colleges were fabulous. The new Week of Welcome (WOW!) at Grossmont and Cuyamaca’s Welcome Back Involvement Fair are sure to get our students off to a good start. We’re launching a new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council to help everyone feel welcomed and included on our campuses, and we are forming parallel DEI committees at each campus. [Tomorrow, we’ll have a major announcement about our selection for a national project to help us in this work. Stay tuned!] We have new ways to stay connected and get out the news with Facebook pages for the District, Grossmont College, and Cuyamaca College. We also have a district blog, and we’ll be unveiling our redesigned website very soon.
Above all, let’s celebrate the 24,902 students to whom we open our doors today! Sure, we’re distressed that we won’t be able to serve as many as we did last fall and that our wait lists still have 24,718 requests. But, our classes are 96% full, and the good work of our new automated waitlist registration system has moved over 7,500 students from waitlists into classes.
We’ll have some tough hills to climb this year, but we can also look forward to many rewards. I’m always rejuvenated by the mountain air and the satisfaction of huffing it up that last big rise to see the beauty that only the top of the mountain can offer.
Happy trails to you ALL, and best wishes for an enlivening fall term! 
Cheers—
Cindy L. Miles, Ph.D.
Chancellor, Grossmont–Cuyamaca Community College District

Doubly happy, however, is the man to whom lofty mountain tops are within reach.
-- John Muir