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EXERCISING THE POWER OF PERSUASION

by Ronald A. Williams, President

The October 31, 2002, edition of The Washington Post included an article written by Bob Levey called "What Should Be Done With Landover Mall." Many of you may have read it.  For those of you who didn’t, Mr. Levey suggested that the nearly-vacant mall be used as a satellite college campus.  Prince George’s Community College came to mind first, but he quickly dismissed the idea calling the college "a little skimpy and a little cramped, especially when you consider that total enrollment at PGCC is 12,693."  He said that Prince George’s Community College is "heavily subsidized by the Prince George’s County government . . . but enrollment has declined."  Mr. Levey finally concluded, "PGCC doesn’t need the additional space because it doesn’t have surging demand."

At first, I was very disturbed by the inaccurate statements and misleading assumptions made by the journalist. But then I was reminded of a quote by African American publishing pioneer John H. Johnson who said,

"It’s better to get smart than to get mad.  I try not to get so insulted that I will not take advantage of an opportunity to persuade people to change their minds."

So I seized the opportunity.

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT

When we embarked on our strategic plan last year, we renewed our commitment to conveying the college’s benefits, vision, and mission to audiences externally as well as internally.  We accepted the assignment of letting those inside and outside our world know about our nationally recognized achievements, our intellectual vibrancy, and our value to Prince George’s County.  We took up the charge of persuading people to reacquaint themselves with Prince George’s Community College.  It was in this spirit of awareness-building that I penned a letter to Mr. Levey.

First, I corrected the misleading information he presented.  As you know, the figure used in the article, 12,693, represents only credit students for the fall 2002 semester and, in reality, more than 37,000 students attend Prince George’s Community College each year.  I was pleased to share that our credit population is the highest it has been in nearly 10 years—19,908 students enrolled in credit courses at the college this year.  I reminded Mr. Levey that while numbers have fluctuated over the last decade, all community colleges in the state of Maryland experienced a decline.  This is consistent with the historical community college trend of declining enrollment during periods of low unemployment.

In response to the suggestion that Prince George’s Community College is a "little skimpy" and "cramped" place with sluggish demand, I commented that our growth has prompted us to open a nationally recognized facility, Chesapeake Hall, on our main campus and to open two new sites, Prince George’s Metro Center and Laurel College Center, in partnership with Howard Community College and the University of Baltimore.  (As a sidenote to those of you who may be wondering if our efforts to increase access to the college include Landover Mall, I wish to state that we are not considering the mall as a satellite campus.  Our goal remains to seek opportunities to serve potential students in the eastern and southern regions of the county.)

Next I addressed Mr. Levey’s statement about county government funding, informing him that Prince George’s Community College receives less funding from the county government than any other community college in the state.  I mentioned our efforts to work with the county to obtain additional funds so that we can reduce the financial burden on our students.

Finally, and most importantly, I invited Mr. Levey to experience Prince George’s Community College first-hand.  I encouraged him to spend some time talking with our faculty and staff, or visiting a class with a student.  I asked him to tour our facilities, see our fine arts theatre and art gallery, library, and athletic facilities.  I would like him to see for himself how Prince George’s Community College plays a vital role in enhancing the potential of thousands of individuals, businesses, and government agencies in this area.  I hope Mr. Levey will accept the invitation because I trust that he will find this to be an institution which is not only viable but thriving, a college where excellence is expected and achieved daily.

HAVE YOU DONE YOUR HOMEWORK?

I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to personally respond to Mr. Levey. I hope that our exchange will help to foster mutual understanding and support between our organizations.  However, while reaching one individual may eventually have an impact on thousands, I will never be able to reach everyone who needs accurate information about who we are, what we do, and why we do it.  At least, I will not be able to reach them alone.

Just one day before the Washington Post article was published, we celebrated Professional Development Day.  I gave you a homework assignment at that time, and the article serves to highlight the importance of that assignment.  I asked how much do you really know about Prince George’s Community College.  I challenged you to discover the wonder of the college, to be well informed and to be able to articulate our vision and mission.  Have you done your homework? Can you answer questions about the college or correct misinformation?

This is an exciting time to be part of Prince George’s Community College.  It is a time to challenge traditional approaches to two-year education, a time to chart a new course for educational excellence, a time to rise as a national leader in higher education.  Yes, we have an ambitious vision. And yes, we have obstacles to overcome.  But you are part of a team of talented and committed faculty, administrators, and staff of which I am very proud.  I am confident that together we will continue to create an intellectually stimulating, learning-centered institution, which is responsive to the needs of our community and serves as a valuable resource to our region.

I continue to encourage you to raise the bar of educational expectations by expecting the most from yourselves, your students, and each other.  Celebrate Prince George’s Community College’s successes as a nationally recognized, intellectually vibrant institution.  Your quest for excellence in your classrooms and in your professional pursuits coupled with your ability to cite the college’s purpose, goals, and accomplishments can be powerful tools for persuasion.  As I said during Professional Development Day, a well-informed team of employees can change more minds than any lobbyist or publicist.

Are you ready to persuade others to change their minds about Prince George’s Community College?

 

The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 18, No. 2

Spring 2003