Durham Tech explores potential changes to plan

Jan. 31, 2014 @ 09:16 PM

Should Durham Technical Community College’s mission be to prepare students for work?

Or should it exist, as its mission statement indicates, solely to “enrich students’ lives and the broader community through teaching, learning, and service?”

Those questions received the lion’s share of the attention Friday when the college’s Board of Trustees met for a half-day retreat at its Orange County campus to talk about revising its strategic plan.

Students, staff and faculty already have weighed in with ideas about possible changes.

The community will have an opportunity to do so in the spring.

Durham Tech President Bill Ingram said he hopes to bring revisions to the board for approval sometime in June.

Trustee Aaron Nelson, president and CEO of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, touched off a robust discussion when he said he supports the current strategic plan with the exception of its mission statement.

Nelson said he would like to see it changed to reflect a stronger commitment to economic development and workforce readiness.

“The mission itself is not one that is terribly inspiring for me,” Nelson said. “Simple enrichment is no longer satisfactory to me.”

But Trustee John Burness, the board’s vice chairman, said the school’s mission doesn’t have to be either workforce readiness or intellectual enrichment.

He said Nelson might have a point if he means to say that the economic times dictate that the college places more emphasis on economic development and workforce readiness.

“I don’t disagree with you that we need to come to grips with that issue, but characterizing it as either doesn’t get us there,” Burness said.

Trustee Willie Covington said it’s noble that the college places a lot of emphasis on preparing students to transfer to four-year colleges.

But Covington said that is not the reason the college was founded.

“I think there is a huge market [for skills training],” Covington said. “In fact, a lot of college kids are coming back to get skills at technical institutions so they can get a job.”

Eileen Baccus, a coach for Achieving the Dream that works with Durham Tech, reminded the board that community colleges are institutions of higher education and should be viewed that way.

“Durham Tech and Duke University are accredited by the same agency,” Baccus said. “There’s very little difference except for the research pieces. We all have to reach the same standards.”

Ingram said he thought the board had a great conversation.

“This is the time to make sure we find consensus around what the mission is and who our customers are,” Ingram said.