GOCC board meets new Community College Assoc. president

CENTREVILLE — Glen Oaks Community College’s Board of Trustees were visited by a special guest for their meeting last week.

Thursday, the board heard a presentation from Brandy Johnson, the new president of the Michigan Community Colleges Association (MCCA), who discussed a number of different subjects with the board, including her plans for the organization, the organization’s new strategic plan, and some legislative updates that could affect community colleges in the state.

Johnson, a native of Phoenix, Ariz., said her attendance at Thursday’s meeting is part of a commitment for her to visit board of trustee meetings at all 28 Michigan community colleges this year. Glen Oaks was her eighth stop this year. She said the association is currently in the middle of the strategic planning process, something she asked the MCCA board to do when she began her tenure.

“MCCA’s last strategic plan had been done in 2019, and it feels like the world has significantly shifted since then and a lot of conditions have changed and there are a lot of new opportunities,” Johnson said. “Our hope is to adopt a refreshed strategic plan for the association at our summer conference at the end of July.”

Johnson has a masters degree in public policy from the University of Michigan and prior to taking the presidency of the MCCA, was the founder and director of the nonprofit Michigan College Access Network and eventually helped lead education policy work with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in early 2020 until April 2021.

Most of Johnson’s current job with the MCCA, she said, has been working in downtown Lansing with government relations and advocacy for community colleges, meeting with state legislators about certain issues, including legislators on the appropriations and higher education committees.

Johnson said there is a “significant amount” of funding potentially available for community colleges in the state, both on the state’s balance sheet and about $3 billion in unspent funds from the American Rescue Plan. She gave an update on the state’s budget process, where the House, Senate and governor’s office have finished their budgets and budget recommendations for the upcoming year and are now in the process of putting together a final proposal.

“Within the next couple of days, we’ll figure out who’s going to be on the conference committee for the higher ed and community college budget to help shape what the final budget is that goes to the governor’s office for signature,” Johnson said. “We’re on track to get a budget by June 30, that hasn’t yet happened in this administration, but everyone’s committed to trying to get done by July 1.”

Johnson said the current proposals show increases in the higher education and community college budget. She said the governor’s office is proposing a 10 percent increase, the House is proposing a 7.8 percent increase with changes to the funding formula she said the MCCA will be “pushing back on,” and the Senate proposing an 11 percent increase, something she called a “much healthier increase than community colleges have seen in a long time.”

There are possibilities for student aid in some of the budgets, Johnson said. One possibility proposed in the House budget, Johnson said, would dedicate $147 million of federal dollars to temporarily lower the age of Michigan Reconnect from 25 to 21 years old for the next three years and allow more students to sign up for the program. Another possibility in the Senate, the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, would provide $3,000 for all students starting with the Class of 2022 to enroll in community colleges and $6,000 to enroll in four-year colleges and universities.

Another thing the MCCA is working on, Johnson said, include advocating for community colleges to independently confer baccalaureate degrees in nursing, something she said they’ve received “political roadblocks” on.

“I’ve been working with my legislative committee, the executive committee, the full board as well as all the presidents to design an alternative that would provide additional resources to community colleges who hosted BSN completion programs in partnership with a university,” Johnson said.

In addition, Johnson discussed the MCCA’s advocacy for bills to make changes to the Michigan New Jobs Training Program, and participated in a hearing on a potential bill for collegiate sports where students in the Early Middle College program would be eligible to participate in community college sports during the “13th year” of high school or fifth year of the EMC program.

“It’s interesting and pretty cool to have if these students have exhausted their athletic eligibility,” Johnson said.

Finally, during a question-and-answer session with the board, Johnson talked about the 60 By 30 program for post-secondary graduation attainment, a goal to have 60 percent of Michiganders have a high-level degree or certificate by the year 2030. The program is primarily focused on adults 25 or older who have some college under their belt, but never got a credential or degree. So far, she said the program is going well, with the state currently at 49.1 percent, but one of the main focuses has been the Michigan Reconnect program.

“I think the focus will grow over time with 60 By 30, but at this moment because of this bipartisan gift of Michigan Reconnect to make community college tuition free for adults age 25 and older, that’s where the focus has been,” Johnson said.

In other business…

  • The board approved an update to the college’s English proficiency test for international students. Instead of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) test currently used, the college will now be using a new test created by Duolingo to assess English proficiency.
  • GOCC President Dr. David Devier discussed updates on the college’s capital outlay project, south side renovation and maintenance building construction. With the capital outlay project, he noted that the new skin for the north end of the college recently came in, and said people will “have an opinion” on it once it goes up, anticipating people asking “who picked those colors.”
  • Science professor Ren Hartung, during public comment, discussed starting a new group at the college called Vikings Outside, in which participants will explore possible outdoor activities at GOCC for students and the community. The first meeting of the group was Saturday.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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