New leaders at Evergreen State College focus on enrollment

Fifty years ago, the experiment known as Evergreen State College – a college that did not aim to teach single study courses, but to include a number of different areas in each course offering known as Interdisciplinary Studies – got its first course.

Fifty years later, the college embarked on a new experience, hiring not one leader for the college, but two in the form of Interim President John Carmichael, 55, and Executive Vice President Dexter Gordon. , 66 years old.

Carmichael has long been associated with Evergreen as an undergraduate and graduate student, as well as more recently as the college’s vice president of finance and operations. Gordon spent nearly 20 years at the University of Puget Sound, where he was Director of the African American Studies Program and Founding Director of its Race and Pedagogy Institute.

The two were reunited over the summer after the three presidential finalists to replace former President George Bridges withdrew their candidacy. Carmichael and Gordon are now focused on what has been Evergreen’s biggest challenge lately – increasing enrollment.

Fall enrollment at Evergreen was 2,116 students, down 7% from last year; the college enrolled over 4,000 students ten years ago.

A new idea for the college is an tentatively named school of vocational studies, which would offer a series of short-term certificate programs for non-traditional students looking for a focused course of study that could quickly be used in the field. world of work.

The college is still developing the curriculum and it must be approved by the board of trustees, but this fall it introduced three programs in audio production, transformational leadership, and anthropozoology. If approved by the board, the number of certificate programs could reach 15 by next fall, Carmichael said.

Other potential diploma courses: business administration and entrepreneurship, environmental solutions and IT.

In Thurston County alone, tens of thousands of people have earned college credit but have no degrees or titles to prove, Carmichael said.

“It’s an opportunity to retool and focus in this direction,” he said.

The Olympian has spoken to Carmichael and Gordon about their work so far.

Question: What did you share on Evergreen and your impressions of Evergreen?

Carmichael: The Evergreen education model is almost unique in the higher education landscape, and it still works. Fifty years later what we can see is that this is an effective way to engage students, and the model I’m talking about involves a deep commitment to interdisciplinary education, so we are layering different disciplines and are eclectic in terms of the disciplines we bring. to real world questions. And what we do know is that it deeply engages students and leads to deep learning.

This model is sometimes anchored as if it were about certain students who would not succeed in other educational contexts. It is true that we are reaching students who otherwise would not be able to access higher education, but it is not true that this model only applies to a small group of people. Rather, we teach and learn this way because it is how the world is organized. This is how people’s brains have evolved to understand and work in the world. We are a public college that can serve all students.

Gordon: I shared with him that I’m surprised Evergreen is being challenged the way he is with student enrollment because I think Evergreen is uniquely positioned to deal with this moment, a moment. where we are talking about an education open to a range of demographic groups that have historically been outside the scope. Evergreen has been doing this work for a long time. I find in Evergreen the kind of college home I want to embrace and advocate for. Evergreen promotes the kind of education that takes the community seriously.

Q: What did you want to explain very clearly to each other?

Carmichael: This loss of registrations over a long period of time creates financial and political challenges, and it is important work to be addressed.

Gordon: He was clear about this and the implications for the college budget. But given the challenges, I asked, what is possible? For me, I look at Evergreen and I see that it was created in the late 60’s, a great time of change, and yet it has been successful. I have the impression that this is an institution that has in its DNA the will to look directly at the challenges and say OK, what are we going to do?

Q: Will the college merge with another school?

Carmichael: The college is not merging, but we are in an area where we are actively trying to engage partners from this community to do a good job together.

Gordon: My answer is to say that at the moment we want to show that Evergreen is an asset for the state. We are stabilizing and preparing for the next 50 years.

Q: Will Evergreen change its name to Evergreen State University?

Carmichael: None of us have the power to change the name because it requires legislative action, and the board did not approve the name change. We’re not going to change the name as part of a marketing and re-branding project. If we are a substantially different institution going forward, and a different name is needed to describe this, I would not categorically rule it out. We would need the board to tell us to prepare a legislative proposal and we are not doing it for the 2022 session.

Q: How about expanding graduate programs?

Carmichael: I think it’s very much in the realm of possibilities – a Masters of Fine Arts program, for example. It may happen in the future, but in terms of the business model it’s a more difficult proposition, so it’s not the first thing we’ll be working on, but expansion could be underway.

Gordon: The only area of ​​growth has been graduate programs, so it makes sense that Evergreen is looking at this and we will.

Q: What do you attribute the drop in registrations?

Carmichael: I sometimes say it’s the Murder on the Orient Express because there are a lot of suspects. Liberal arts colleges have been challenged in recent years to demonstrate their value proposition. Nationally, higher education institutions are operating at 75% of their capacity and we are proof of that.

COVID-19 is another major contributor and it has had an uneven impact depending on the institution. Colleges and universities that serve older, lower-income students, students of color – in other words, our students – have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Q: How much of this decline do you attribute to the Day of Absence controversy?

Carmichael: What the college experienced in 2017 was a taste of what the country experienced much more widely a few years later. There was a time when we felt unique in this regard. Now it feels like what we’ve been through is part of a bigger whole. It’s not really specific to Evergreen.

I think this set up some tough years for us in terms of recruiting students and certainly raised questions about the reputation of the college. The way you deal with reputation issues is to do a good job over an extended period of time. Four years later, I think we’re working on this set of questions. I hear about it every now and then, but I don’t think it’s a priority issue for students who choose Evergreen or any degree program.

Q: What message would you like to share?

Carmichael: Partly thanks to gratitude. We have a lot of people supporting us in this community, and it’s heartwarming to know that we have a lot of support in the community. The other thing I want people to know: We have a plan for the future of the college, and we’ll be here for the next 50 years, and part of that plan is to re-engage in the communities we serve and the communities that support us.

Gordon: John says “gratitude”. I would add “vision and foresight” to that. This is a time when Evergreen means as an institution: we are an asset to this state, and we want to say to our community, let’s face it together. We have to share this little blue planet together. We love to educate you alongside your peers who will be different from you, and that difference is part of what Evergreen wants to highlight. We want to recognize, affirm, examine and celebrate the difference because we believe it is our strength.

Rolf has been with The Olympian since August 2005. He covers breaking news, Lacey’s town and business for the newspaper. Rolf graduated from Evergreen State College in 1990.

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