President Gonzales started off the final “Meeting with the President” of the Spring 2014 by asking how Uvalde students how they enjoyed the “Grill with the President” event held the week prior. Students responded enthusiastically, with one student suggesting that SWTJC feature the Grill-Off every semester!
Suggestions, by student attendees, of other activities included “anything involving food,” sports events, job fairs, and any events involving instructors. Several students emphasized the need for events to occur during a period where no classes are held, or through the whole day – many agreed that one of the big factors in attendance is whether students have classes during an event.
One student asked about whole-campus wi-fi. SWTJC Eagle Pass is 100% wifi enabled, Del Rio is partially enabled, and Uvalde is only covered outdoors. The SWTJC IT Department has plans to make all three campuses fully wireless-capable.
The conversation took a serious turn, when a work-study student asked how SWTJC determines tuition costs. Dr. Gonzales explained that SWTJC first looks at what nearby competitors (other colleges like SWTJC) charge for tuition, and then tries to keep out-of-district costs lower so that students living in the SWTJC region will get the best value by attending SWTJC. Another contributing factor to tuition costs is SWTJC’s practice of keeping tuition static for three years. Many colleges increase tuition every year; SWTJC tries not to do that.
President Gonzales noted that SWTJC has suffered from decreased state funding (as have all colleges in Texas) as well as reduced enrollment. Rather than trying to make up the lost money by increasing tuition, SWTJC has been cutting costs in other areas. To counter the effects of low enrollment, President Gonzales explained, “we are working on better recruiting of new students and better retention of existing students.”
Several students asked about ways to pay for tuition. This part of the conversation was largely student-led as multiple students asserted that EVERYONE should apply for financial aid. Even in the unlikely event that a student does not qualify for any financial aid awards, one participant explained, almost all students qualify for low-interest student loans from the federal government. But to have access to any of that, students must complete a FAFSA. Dr. Gonzales added that a second round of scholarship applications will open in August 2014.
The group returned to the topics of enrollment, retention, and a positive campus environment. One student indicated that he very rarely participated in campus events when he first started at SWTJC because he never knew when or where they were occurring. Dr. Gonzales and Director of Student Engagement and Success Randa Schell both responded to that comment, explaining that advisors and instructors were getting better at communicating campus events. Other students chimed in, indicating they would like to get the information from other students, as well. Students also identified Orientation as an opportunity for the college to be more engaged and generate more excitement about SWTJC.
Two students presented compelling evidence of the need for increased maintenance at the Uvalde dorms. President Gonzales responded with a commitment to investigate the matter further and remedy any outstanding issues. He encouraged both the two presenting students and all other students in attendance to be proactive in improving all aspects of student life, including student engagement opportunities, activities, and student success.
Dr. Gonzales closed with a charge to student attendees: “Don’t wait for these meetings to start a conversation.”
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