Tony Robinson is set to end a 35 year career at Clover Park Technical College at the end of the month. Here he talks about the changes that have occured in the world of education in the South Sound and gives his forecast of things to come.
How has the downturn affected the Clover Park Technical College?
The downturn has affected us in that we are now serving more students with less money. The interesting thing about a downturn is that people realize they need to continue their education or be retrained and flock to institutions like ours throughout the state to have that opportunity. The state, however, has significantly reduced our budgets, and we are expected to serve more students with less money. The colleges in the community and technical college system have always had an open-door policy and do not like to limit enrollments, so this is a very new and interesting challenge for all of us, but it is one that we will find a solution for.
How had the college reacted and what are its outlooks for the future?
Unfortunately, the college has reacted by reducing some program services and personnel. When 85 percent of your budget is tied up in personnel, it does not take long for any major budget reduction to impact the personnel of the college. We have combined services and operations and are running as a very lean organization yet not affecting our core mission. We will come out of this stronger.
What did this recession “teach” both students and faculty there?
I would say that this teaches us how dependent we are on taxpayers for support and that we have to make our case to the legislature to realize that reducing educational funding does not help the economy, but in fact can slow its recovery if we have less qualified employees available or we are not able to transfer skills from one discipline to another. This greatly weakens the employment pool of the state.
What did you learn during your 35 years at CPTC that you wish you’d known in the beginning?
The college serves all of Pierce County and with declining resources that we have now and have had from time to time it is very important that you have good relationships in working with your constituents so that you are looked upon as a reliable solution to problems. It is also important when working with the business community that they believe what you say and that they will rally around and help you achieve the needs of the institution.
What is the most surprising thing you have learned in your career?
That there are so many dedicated people both in our community technical college system and our community that put the best interests of all ahead of their own personal interests. You sometimes hear that nobody cares about anything but what they do, but it is surprising that I have come across so many people that are willing to do whatever they can to help without putting their personal desires first.
How has the college and higher education changed since you started?
On the good side, we have gotten more business-like, and we are more efficient and organized in all of the things that we do to manage an institution. We have had to become more flexible in both the types of programs we offer and how fast we offer them, in order to meet the changing needs of the employers and business community. This has caused us to be more in tuned with our community and the businesses we serve. It has been good for both sides. Additionally, keeping up with technology with less dollars has been a great challenge but one that we will continue to work on.
How will that change continue?
The change will continue through us getting better at applying better management skills, using technology, online courses, and other methods that we have available to deliver quality products in education to our community with less resources.
What have been the biggest challenges at the college during your tenure there?
The biggest challenges have always been to make known the needs of the college to the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and the legislature. Changing from a K-12 vocational technical institute to a technical college has meant that we have taken our campus from a World War II Navy Supply Depot to what I feel is the best technical college in the state. The challenge has been to do that in competition with the other institutions throughout the state that have as much need as we did. Although it has been a challenge, it has been a rewarding experience to see the outcome.
What else should South Sound businesses know about you and your company?
I think they need to remember that we are part of this community and that we are flexible and responsive to community and business needs and that we are capable of rising to almost any opportunity that is given to us if the community makes their needs known and works with us. In today’s trying times, it is important that the college provide the services to retrain the existing workforce and provide new workers for new careers in the area, so we can expand our employment pool within the State of Washington and not have to go outside. We are the solution.