Valencia Announces New Initiatives at Academic Assembly

What’s up for the coming year at Valencia?

Administrators are urging faculty to find ways to cut textbook costs for students, the college will urge faculty and staff to adopt energy-saving habits, and the college will go smoke-free on all its campuses by 2012.

Those new initiatives — along with the addition of 31 new full-time tenure-track positions — were announced by Valencia President Dr. Sanford Shugart at Valencia’s annual Academic Assembly, held Thursday on the college’s East Campus. In addition, Shugart said he will begin holding regular online conversations with 36 Valencia students who’ve been handpicked to provide the president with input on the college experience.

Financially, the upcoming year will be a challenging one for Valencia College,  but one that the college can weather,  Shugart told the assembled faculty.  “So far, we’ve managed to navigate through the budget area rather well,” Shugart said, but he warned that the coming year will be tight  and it’s unlikely that the college will hire many new faculty members next year.

Because rising textbook prices are students’ highest expense after tuition, Shugart urged faculty members to work together to find solutions — whether that means collaborating to write textbooks, using textbooks that can be rented, or agreeing to use the same textbook, which would reduce the resale price of the book.

Some faculty members are already working toward that goal. Biology Professor Robert Gessner has written his own textbook for his microbiology classes — and by using Powerpoint presentations and extensive notes that he provides to the students in lieu of a textbook, he has cut the students’ book costs for his microbiology class from $240 to about $90.

Shugart also announced the launch of a new video contest for students, with the winners receiving free tuition. The contest, which will launch on Sept. 1, invites students to submit videos about their lives and their college dreams  — why they chose Valencia, why they want to attend college, how they’ve struggled and been motivated to continue. The videos will be submitted and viewed on Valencia’s Facebook page, with students voting for their favorites via Facebook. A team of judges will select five winners from the top 10 vote-getters — and on Nov. 15, five winners will be named. Each will receive free tuition for the remainder of their Valencia careers — up to 60 credit hours.

Among the other changes that Valencia students, faculty and staff will see in the coming year:

  • The college is continuing its push to go green. By Earth Day 2011, the college had recycled 1 million pounds of paper, cardboard, plastic and metal. Changes already undertaken in the college’s air conditioning systems are saving $900,000 a year and an estimated 1 million gallons of water a year.  Next, the college is asking students, faculty and staff to start changing their behavior. “We think there’s another million dollars to be saved, but it will be through behavioral change, the little habits that we can change,” Shugart said.
  • Valencia is launching its new James M. & Dayle L. Seneff Honors College and expanding the honors program on all campuses.
  • Inspired by the popular TEDTalks videos available online, Valencia will create a series of 4-minute videos that tell the stories about the work that individual professors are doing.
  • Although this is the final year of a three-year, $743,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the college’s Developmental Education Initiative will continue to research the best ways to provide remedial education and support for students who aren’t ready to tackle college coursework. The goal is to increase the number of students who graduate from college — particularly those who come from low-income homes.
  • Valencia continues to expand — adding a new campus at Lake Nona, a new building at the Osceola campus and a new building on the West Campus, which will house Valencia’s continuing education division.  Valencia is also exploring new sites in Apopka and Poinciana, as well as a potential location at Horizon West in west Orange County.
  • The college will decentralize some of its academic operations, giving campus presidents more authority to innovate.  “Our capacity to innovate is being limited by our size,” Shugart said. “The people who’ve been trying to nourish innovation are finding it immensely difficult to coordinate with 19 deans.”


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