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Colagross: Phil Campbell campus part of NWSCC long-range plans

When the chancellor of the Alabama Community College System appointed Dr. Glenda Colagross as acting president of Northwest-Shoals Community College in October, it wasn't the first time he'd called.

Colagross was appointed interim president at Southern Union State Community College in 2013, a position she held for more than four years. While she enjoyed her tenure with Southern Union, a college with campuses in Valley, Wadley and Opelika, Colagross was ready to come home to northwest Alabama and the college she's called home since 1992.

A 1979 graduate of Cherokee High School, Colagross was class valedictorian. She attended the University of North Alabama, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and English in 1983. Colagross received her Master of Arts in Education degree from UNA in 1990 and her Doctoral degree in Higher Education Administration from the University of Alabama in 1996.

She has been part of the NW-SCC faculty since 1992, when she was hired as a developmental studies instructor in math and English. Colagross became Dean of Instruction in 2001, Vice President of Instruction, Institutional Effectiveness and Development in 2008 and was named NW-SCC Vice President in 2012, a position she's kept even while serving as interim president at Southern Union.

Colagross sat down with the Franklin Free Press recently to discuss her return home, the state of NW-SCC, the future of the college's Phil Campbell campus and several other topics.

Franklin Free Press: Now that you've been appointed interim president of Northwest-Shoals, will you see the position permanently?

Colagross (GC): “Right now, I'm acting president. Once Dr. (Humphrey) Lee retires, I'll become interim president on January 1, 2018. As far as becoming president permanently, I don't know about the timeline on the search. There are several colleges in the system with interim presidents, so we'll wait and see what happens.”

FFP: Although the recent Reduction in Force (RIF) was announced before your return to NW-SCC, what does the loss of 16 employees and the elimination of the physical education department mean about the status of the college?

GC: I think enrollment was taken into account in that decision. Even before I left, the last time I looked at enrollment numbers by program, physical education numbers were low.

With changes in financial aid, it forces our students to do more pathway programs to keep on the pathway from community college all the way to four-year universities.

FFP: With the elimination of physical education, some students have expressed concern about whether intramural sports, a big part of the campus here at Phil Campbell, will continue. What will happen with intramurals?

GC: Most student activities are handled through Student Services/Student Life. We'll find someone else to pick those up because they're so big on this campus.

FFP: What are some of the changes or improvements recently completed or in the works for Northwest-Shoals' Phil Campbell campus?

GC: Of course, those are tied to the budget. But you've always got to start new things, especially in the career technology area. We're constantly looking at program enrollment, doing program reviews and sometimes you have to make hard decisions.

We started a machine tool program here and a welding program. We built a new building for the machine tool program and we interviewed companies like Tiffin Motor Homes and G&G Steel when we started our tech program.

We've seen a new roof on the Occupational Building. There is an ongoing roofing project on the Administrative Building and a new roof on the Bevill Center. The floor has been installed in the gym but there are no bleachers yet.

I think the improvement with the biggest impact here is with the Student Success Center renovations. The students rave about the impact it's made in their lives from managing time to studying.

FFP: The Phil Campbell campus has a special relationship with Franklin County and a historic place in Alabama's community college system. There is concern that NW-SCC administrators are phasing out Phil Campbell and it's not part of the college's long-term plans. Is this true?

GC: If that were the case, we would have some evidence of it and we wouldn't be making improvements. If we planned to close (the Phil Campbell) campus, we wouldn't be spending money to improve it.

We wouldn't be improving the Student Success Center and writing a Title 3 grant for tech if we were closing the campus.

I've worked here a long time and the Phil Campbell campus will remain an important part of this college.

FFP: There are some who question why, if reduced enrollment has required a reduction in force, would NW-SCC administrators pursue a new building located in Lauderdale County if finances are so tight. How do you respond to those concerns?

GC: I think what happened is we looked at non-credit for career tech areas and always wanted to expand those. If we could have a place offsite, where if you work full-time but want a 40-hour class from 8-5 for two weeks, we'll have a place to offer it.

That idea started while talking with legislators about the need for a place to do some of that training. There's still a lot of discussion left about this. Career tech is not meant to take away from either campus what we do there. If we expand career tech and non-credit courses that can be used as a way to attract new industry into the area.

FFP:Enrollment has decreased in the last five years at both campuses of NW-SCC. Are you concerned about this trend and how do you plan to stop this trend?

GC: I'd like to start some initiatives on increasing our enrollment and our recruiters need to plan different ways to recruit. I'll invite them to come to the president's cabinet to talk about new ideas. We can increase visits to high schools and we need to develop ways to get non-traditional people on campus.

Everyone is a recruiter. At Southern Union, we gave awards to ones who spent personal time recruiting. All the president's cabinet had to work on a way to increase enrollment. After seeing a decrease of 3-5 percent each fall for several years, we saw enrollment (at Southern Union) up 10-12 percent this fall as a result of our efforts.

You have to recruit because there's so much competition out there today.

FFP: What type of relationship should the president of Northwest-Shoals Community College have with the Franklin County community?

GC: What I'll try to do here is be out in the community as much as I can be. That includes chamber of commerce events. I want to be active in the local chamber. Any time there's a ribbon cutting for a local business or industry you want to attend as many of those as you can.

FFP: Dating back to the merger of Northwest Junior College with Shoals Community College, some critics have been concerned that the merger was not in the Phil Campbell campus' best interests. How do you respond to that?

GC: I believe the thought behind consolidation was a good thing. Consolidation has helped save rural colleges. Those efforts have saved some of the smaller campuses. Our chancellor's vision is to start sharing services system wide to save money so we can keep campuses in smaller communities open. For example, we do more shared purchasing now as a system to help toward that end. I don't see consolidation as a threat. I think it helps us keep a lot of smaller college campuses open.

FFP: The outgoing president pledged to return athletics to NW-SCC by 2016. Obviously, that didn't happen. What are your opinions about the return of athletics to Northwest-Shoals?

GC: There are still colleges in the system getting rid of athletic teams. That makes it more expensive with travel. We would have to have a real good recruiting effort to change the budget to include athletics.

FFP: Obviously, you enjoyed your four years at Southern Union. While you didn't actively seek the appointment at Northwest-Shoals, how does it feel to be back home?

GC: To be honest, I wanted to come home. I consider this my college. I wanted to be back here at home in some role. It's exciting to share the things that were successful at Southern Union. That is the ultimate networking.

But, yes, I'm glad to be back home.


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