How does a school become the community's college? By waging an all-out battle to respond to the needs of students and employers.
There's a new library on campus, but it's not filled with books.
Books only account for about 20% of the space in the new Library and Learning Center at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota's Bradenton campus. It's a different kind of library for a different kind of world and a different kind of school. It's a school that has had to regularly evolve, like with a library that doesn't have a lot of books, to meet the changing demands and needs of students.
SCF's library is a place where students from a variety of walks of life — traditional high school graduates or 26-year-olds returning to school — will come to study, use computers and meet classmates.
Before the school broke ground on the library in October 2016, SCF President Carol Probstfeld says she and her staff hosted focus groups with students and got input from faculty about what was needed.
The result is a 63,000-square-foot space with a 270-degree visualization studio; a film production suite; an editing room; 3-D printers; and a community room. It's the largest building on SCF's Bradenton campus, built with $17.9 million in state funding, and $1 million raised locally for the library's technology.
It's not meant to be a quiet library. It's meant to be an intersection between business, students and faculty, with space for each group. The library is also symbolic for the overall mission at SCF: to be the community's college, a place that helps individual students on their personal paths and responds to workforce needs.
It's an evolution
During the course of SCF's 60-year history — the school celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2017 — it has had three separate identities.
When it was established in 1957, it was known as Manatee Junior College. In 1985, the name was changed to Manatee Community College. That was also the year the college opened a Venice campus in Sarasota County, increasing its reach. Its third campus, in Lakewood Ranch in east Manatee County, opened in 2003. It also plans to open a Parrish campus, and purchased 74 acres there at the end of 2017. The latest name change for the school, to State College of Florida, came in 2009.
The name changes ushered in some branding challenges: How could the school link graduates of MCC, MJC and SCF, plus connect the school to community members who got used to the old names? It was important, Probstfeld says, to continue to value the graduates who don't have SCF on their diploma. The challenge, she says, was “How do we create an image around SCF but don't lose who we were?”
As part of SCF's 2015 to 2020 strategic plan, the school implemented a new, more forward-facing communications and marketing strategy. It included a new logo, new collateral materials and encouraged the community to use SCF instructors as subject matter experts in the media. On the last point, Probstfeld says the school now gets about two calls a week from newspaper and television journalists seeking SCF subject experts.
Another big branding step: announcing a new mascot in 2008, Maverick the Manatee. Mike Kiefer, dean of SCF's Bradenton campus, says the mascot fits because students are mavericks who aren't satisfied with their own status quo. The term maverick, Keifer says, also applies to the institution's mindset. It can't rest on its laurels, he says. It has to keep evolving.
SCF's branding and marketing evolution isn't over, either. It's an ongoing task, partially because of the area's demographics. “We live in a community where people are moving in constantly,” Probstfeld says. “We have to continue to let people know who we are.”
Because students come to SCF from different backgrounds, at different points in their lives, there's no single customer demographic the school serves. Individual customer service, or what SCF calls “a concierge-style student experience,” is key.
Kiefer says individual service to students starts early, beginning at orientation and moving to establishing links to faculty advisers. “We try and lay the groundwork from the very beginning,” he says. “The concierge-style experience is unique. You don't hear about that in higher education.”
Part of the service also includes helping students with challenges outside the classroom, such as navigating the financial aid process. Because many of the students are new to college, Kiefer says, they need some help with the process. “Once they get going, you see them flourish,” he says.
That's why Probstfeld says one of her passions is to make sure SCF doesn't create barriers to student success. “The hardest part about being a student should be the academic rigor in the classroom,” she says.
Programs are also structured in a way that's tailored to fit diverse student needs. Keifer says SCF offers weekday, weekend, online and in-person classes so students with jobs, family responsibilities and other obligations can fit programs into other aspects of their lives.
“Every student will come in with a different need,” Probstfeld says. The college's job, she says, is to get them where they want to go, whether that's a four-year college or joining the workforce.
Building a workforce
To be seen as the community's college, it's crucial, school officials say, to respond to community needs — particularly those from employers. “We are consistently looking at employment needs and regional needs,” Kiefer says. “That's kind of our partnership, our role in the community — to be responsive to those things.”
SCF receives and reviews reports on a quarterly basis about employment in the area. Advisory panels and labor statistics also help the school identify needs, Kiefer says. Probstfeld and other school officials talk to employers about their needs, too.
Kiefer says the college tries to get new programs up and running as soon as possible after identifying a need. Sometimes there are hurdles, and sometimes the obstacles are time-intensive, such as the state-approval process.
Probstfeld says she thinks the largest employment gap in the area is in nursing. She says SCF is “working hard to create more nurses” through its nursing programs, including its new accelerated Bachelor of Science in nursing program.
There's also a new associate of science degree in risk management that Ryan Hale, academic dean at the Venice campus, says is responsive to regional needs in the insurance industry.
Hale is working to respond to regional needs in another way, too, through the Gator Engineering program at the Venice SCF campus, a collaborative program with the University of Florida. The program aims to give students a pathway to UF and encourage more people to get into engineering as a career.
Kiefer adds the school's response to community needs is also about creating opportunities for SCF students to stay in the area after they graduate. “We see the talent,” he says, “and we don't want it to leave.”
'In good hands'
Before she was a college president, Probstfeld was in oil.
She worked for Shell Oil, dealing with the logistics of moving crude oil and getting it ready to refine. That involved dealing with complicated schedules and organizational details. It also involved wearing steel-toed boots.
Her career also included stops in business and finance for the health care industry, and in working in higher education at colleges in Ohio and California, the state where she grew up.
After 10 years as vice president of business and administration services at State College of Florida, she was named president in 2013. She liked working behind the scenes at SCF, managing money. “I never dreamed I'd be a president,” Probstfeld says.
Her promotion to the top role came after tensions on the board that involved trustee and area homebuilder Carlos Beruff and former SCF President Lars Hafner. The board eventually ousted Hafner.
Probstfeld and the board have a better relationship, she says, and there have been no public spats.
Since being named president, Probstfeld found that one of her favorite parts of her job is interacting with students and faculty. She particularly likes talking with students about their dreams. When she does, she says, “You know the future is in good hands.”