The U and SLCC partnership: A conversation with President Deneece Huftalin

Deneese Huftalin

On the "U Rising" podcast, President Ruth V. Watkins engages in insightful conversations with students, staff, faculty, alumni and community stakeholders who are at the center of the state's flagship research university. President Watkins also connects with other leaders to give listeners a fresh take on top issues and innovations in higher education in Utah and across the country. You can subscribe to U Rising via iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and other podcast streaming services.

The University of Utah and Salt Lake Community College have a great partnership—and will be working even more closely in the future as the Herriman campus becomes a reality. Recorded on Thursday, April 2, 2020. Music by Taylor Hartley. Thanks to Brooke Adams and Dave White for technical assistance.

President Ruth Watkins: Welcome to the U Rising podcast, where you have the opportunity to meet individuals who are helping the university on its upward trajectory. Many times, we host guests who are from The University of Utah, but today we have the special privilege of one of my closest colleagues—the president of Salt Lake Community College, Deneece Huftalin, who is our guest.

Deneece, I happen to know that you have a long and proud University of Utah history, in addition to your Salt Lake Community College history. Tell us a little bit about that, and about your background.

President Deneece Huftalin: I do. I was a proud University of Utah alum as an undergrad. I had a fabulous undergraduate experience there. I worked in the Student Union, exact same union as is still standing today, way back in the day. I left for a while, then I came back and actually worked at The University of Utah in the residence halls, back in the day when Van Cott was still standing. And then I came back even later and did my doctoral degree there. So, I am a very proud Ute.

President Ruth Watkins: Well, we are very proud of you, and the many accomplishments you've had in your career. Now, President Huftalin and I get to work together a lot on how we help our students succeed. We have many of the same goals and we have a lot of collaboration, so we're going to talk a little bit about those things today.

Deneece, I'm guessing this time is as difficult for you and your students, as it is for the University of Utah and our students. Tell us a little bit about what you're doing to stay connected to your students, to reach out to them, and to keep people on the path towards completing their degrees.

President Deneece Huftalin: Yeah, first of all, I have to say I'm really proud of our students. Because they, like our faculty and staff, although it's hard, they very much have rallied and decided, "You know what, we're going to make this work. We're going to get creative."

Our Globe newspaper, that editor has reached out and she's trying very hard to keep the community spirit alive, getting students to talk about how are they engaging differently? What are they learning about themselves in this new learning environment?

So we're using, I think, our faculty, who are fabulous on the front lines, but also some of our student newspaper, our student life and leadership office, our food pantry folks, to still connect in with students and make sure, not that they're just completing their degrees and their academic work, but that they're holding onto their spirit. And staying healthy mentally and physically, and recognizing that they'll get through this, and we'll be back on campus hopefully soon.

President Ruth Watkins: Well, that is something you and your colleagues at Salt Lake Community College do very well. I commend you for those efforts to think about everything a student needs to stay in school and be successful.

If we turn the page ahead to fall—and we are optimistic that we'll all be back in our more regular setting in fall semester of 2020—one the things that will happen at the University of Utah, is that somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 people will join us, who are coming to us from Salt Lake Community College.

We're proud of that. We value so much the presence of transfer students on our campus. You and I have worked together a lot on what we can do to support students in that process of transfer. We also know it's a bit of a national issue, that there are students who start out with the aspiration of transferring from a community college to a four-year institution and they don't all make it.

So, I'd welcome your insights into some of the things that we have been able to do together, that are showing effectiveness. And how you see the landscape of what more we could do to support students transfer.

President Deneece Huftalin: Yeah, I appreciate that president. I think first of all, I'll say this, and that is that we've been long-time partners with the University of Utah, at Salt Lake Community College.

I've been at the college for almost 27 years, and I have never experienced—and I've been in administrative roles for much of that—and I've never experienced the kind of outreach and partnership that I have experienced with you as president, your senior leaders, your faculty, your deans. They have really rallied with our faculty, to look at where are the barriers to transfer? Why isn't that happening smoothly? And what can we do together, to create that academic experience to be much more seamless

So, I have to give credit to your folks and our folks, that have really decided these students deserve to be able to come and complete quickly, and feel engaged, and stay successful. Watching the transfer partnerships really evolve and emerge and strengthen, has been really gratifying.

I think the other thing we're doing is really helping our students, early on, identify their intention. We've had a lot of students for a long time that have just taken general education courses and wandered and felt like they were in college, but if you ask them why, some of them couldn't explain why.

So now we're trying really hard to get our students on a path much earlier. Have them declare that path, help them understand where their strengths are, where their passions are. And get them on a path sooner, so that we can guide them to reduce their time with us, and get them to you guys faster, so they can finish with you. And just trying to really help them stay to that path, and move into a transfer student position much sooner, and much more successfully.

President Ruth Watkins: It's a very interesting insight, and our data at the U show exactly the same thing, that students who find their path sooner, that identify their major by the end of their first year, are far more likely to stay and finish their degrees. Those who accumulate a large number of hours, without a certain path, are very much at risk. So, we appreciate the chance to work on that with you

One of the things we've been working on for several years, where we've had some big success in this last year, really pertains to that point. And we believe this project that is happening at Herriman may be the first time in our state that two institutions of higher ed have joined together under one roof, to work together to help students find that pathway more quickly, and to stay on it.

We are so pleased that the Utah Legislature is investing in us in this project, and we'd love to hear your perspective on it.

President Deneece Huftalin: Yes, so we, the college, invested in 2011 in 90 acres in the Herriman community. Back then there were just lots of fields, nobody could really see it [the potential]. We knew it was going to happen. We had some good demographer information, but wow, if you've seen that area over the last two years, it's just exploded.

So, we have 90 acres. We've been working with the university very closely to identify high-demand programs that lead to high-demand jobs. Where should we be putting our efforts in that southwest quadrant? Working with the city of Herriman, who've been fabulous, working with donors who've stepped up, and certainly, as you mentioned, the Legislature this year found a way to fund us.

We'll have this amazing facility, where a student who walks in the door can get their two-year degree with us, and can move right across the hall and finish their baccalaureate degree—and I think, even more importantly, stay in their neighborhood, stay close to their families, stay close to their place of work, and be able to navigate fitting higher education in alongside all of their other obligations, which as you know, many of our students are trying to do.

So, it's a win-win, I think, for all of us. And I'm just so pleased that we can hopefully move forward, and get that thing planned.

President Ruth Watkins: President Huftalin, I know we want to serve Utah's workforce needs with our project in Herriman. What are you seeing as the high-demand majors that will be very important for us to offer at the Herriman campus?

President Deneece Huftalin: Well, one of the things that we did is we worked with our faculty and our demographers, and even the industry leaders in that southwest quadrant, and identified the high-demand jobs. And then we tried to engineer the right programs to feed into those jobs.

So, for instance, we're going to do a lot with computer science and software engineering to try to help strengthen the IT workforce. We're looking at teacher training to help with our teacher shortage. We're looking at RN to BSN, economics—programs and majors that really feed into the local workplace and the larger Utah economy, but with an eye towards really helping that southwest quadrant and meeting the needs of those partners out there.

President Ruth Watkins: That makes perfect sense. Let's talk a little bit about the timeline for this project. What are you anticipating?

President Deneece Huftalin: Yes, so we were approved, as you mentioned, this legislative session, and we've got an active group right now from both the U and Salt Lake Community College designing and thinking about the building. And we're hoping that we can start construction July of 2021. So, we're on it. We're ready to start planning and getting creative, and we're looking forward to working together.

President Ruth Watkins: It's an exciting project and that timeline will be so helpful because it will put many people to work in our state, as construction projects do.

President Deneece Huftalin: Yes. It's an unintended consequence, but a very nice one for sure.

President Ruth Watkins: Absolutely. Well, we're grateful that you would look to us as a partner in this endeavor, and we're really honored to be able to embark on this project with you. I couldn't agree more that it has a high probability to help us, help more people complete their degrees.

I think we will see individuals returning to college, who started but were not able to finish, and also students coming right from high school, from that area, with, as you point out, such high population growth

We have been partners in so many endeavors, and maybe the most important one is helping more students complete their degrees. I know it's been a sharp focus for Salt Lake Community College, as it has been for the U. We know that the big benefits of college come from completing a degree—associate or baccalaureate—and that students who get part way through really don't enjoy the same benefits and privileges.

Any particular insights that you've gained from Salt Lake Community College about both the value of a degree and the importance of completing and finishing that degree?

President Deneece Huftalin: I say to students all the time, a lot of our students cannot come full time. I mean, no matter how much we try to entice them, we've got the SLCC Promise, which you can access if you're a full time student.

Even with all of those kinds of incentives, there are some students who have to work full time, they have other obligations. Community college is designed for those kinds of students. So, what I say to them is, "Okay, if you can only do nine credits, or you can only do six credits, that's okay, but come every semester. Do not take a semester off. Don't think you're going to drop out for a couple of semesters and then come back."

Because what we see is life gets in the way. And the paycheck, the 40-hour paycheck and managing your kids and your life and your family—it can be a lot. And to carve back time for education becomes more and more hard. So, my appeal to students is, "Try to come full time if you can. If you can't, at least be consistent in your enrollment patterns, and you'll get there."

And we have very resilient, wonderfully talented students who know they need that degree to better their lives, and their family's life, and it's a great trajectory for them. So, we try to accommodate wherever they are, but where we can, we try to really encourage them to be consistent with their schooling.

President Ruth Watkins: I would say, President Huftalin, that is very sage advice. You are such an important leader in our community, in the higher ed community. We all respect you and appreciate you as a partner. I'm just delighted to have been able to have this conversation with you. Thank you so much for your time and your willingness to join us, and to provide this opportunity for our listeners to hear from you, about the partnerships that we have and our shared mission to help people earn their college degrees. So, special thanks to you.

Listeners, thank you very much. I hope you'll listen again soon, and thanks for spending time with us today.

President Deneece Huftalin: Thanks for the invitation. Go Utes!

President Ruth Watkins: Go Utes!