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JUNE 5, 2017 - VOL. 52 No. 9

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Southeast Technical Insitute

Robert J. Griggs, J.D. became President of Southeast Technical Institute on September 1, 2016.


Tell us a little about the history and mission of Southeast Tech.

Since 1968, Southeast Tech has been instrumental in the development of South Dakota's workforce for the southeast region of the state. Southeast started with just five programs and slightly over 100 students and today we are approaching our 50th anniversary in 2018 with over fifty different programs of study and approximately 2,800 students. The campus moved to its current location in 1989 and has been growing in the number of students, programs, faculty, and facilities ever since.

We just opened our newest facility, the Hub Building, a 100,000 square foot training center that hosts our automotive and diesel technology programs last October. In addition to providing state-of-the-art training facilities, the HUB also provides food service for the campus and a 500-seat theater, which is available to host trainings and other special events for the community.

Southeast Tech's mission is to provide an education for our students that leads to rewarding careers that meet the workforce needs of our region. We have outstanding career and technical education programs because our faculty not only have the necessary academic credentials to teach in their field of study, but also have significant industry experience that they can draw upon to help educate and instruct our students. As evidence of the quality of our programs, for 2017 Southeast Tech was ranked 7th out of 800 two-year institutions by a college review publication called Niche.Com that reviewed factors such as cost, educational quality, and student experience.

In May, 714 students participated in commencement and joined over 17,000 other proud graduates of this institution who live, work, and enrich our region's communities.

How does Southeast Tech measure success?

I think one of the best indicators of our success as an educational institution is the success of our graduates. In a recent survey of employers who have hired our graduates, Southeast Tech achieved a composite average score of an "A" (score of 90 percent or higher). The survey asked for employer feedback on our students' educational preparation, career readiness and job performance. Southeast Tech has enjoyed a 98 percent placement rate of our graduates and I think that is directly attributable to the excellent instruction students receive in their academic programs and great support from career services staff and our student success advisors.

Southeast Tech has also developed a number of Key Performance Indicators, which we use to help us assess and measure student learning and the effectiveness of our student support services. As part of our continuous quality improvement efforts, we regularly evaluate data related to student learning outcomes, enrollment rates, retention and graduation rates, graduate placement rates, and student and employer satisfaction surveys. All of these evaluation instruments help us continually monitor and assess our performance as an institution as well as the performance of our graduates.

Once students make the decision to attend Southeast Tech, we do all we can to help them be successful. In fact, Southeast Tech was just named one of three national winners of the 2017 Lee Noel-Randi Levitz Retention Excellence Award. The purpose of the Noel Levitz Award is to identify and recognize the most successful student success and retention programs in the country, and to share those programs nationally. The award demonstrates our strong commitment to our students and to the success of our campus-wide effort to connect students to the academic and student support resources they need to ensure their success and to help them graduate.

Which of your many responsibilities is your highest priority right now? Why?

Reaching out and connecting with our business and industry partners and community members is one of our top priorities. In order to better serve the region's business and industry workforce needs, we need to know what those needs are, how they are changing, and what opportunities exist for new partnerships and collaborations to address the skilled workforce shortage that so many companies and employers seem to be facing today.

The number one economic development tool in any community is an educated and trained workforce. We are committed to serving our students and our region by providing accessible and affordable high quality career and technical education training opportunities that are important to our region's economy.

The landscape of higher education in Sioux Falls has gone through a lot of change within the past 5 years. How have these changes affected Southeast Tech? Are there any current or future disrupting forces that you will be keeping your eye on?

Last fall, South Dakota voters approved Amendment R, which amended Article XIV, section 3 of the Constitution. The revised South Dakota Constitution now provides that "postsecondary technical education institutes that offer career and technical associate of applied science degrees and certificates or their successor equivalents and that are funded wholly or in part by the state shall be separately governed as determined by the Legislature." With the amendment to the Constitution, the 2017 South Dakota Legislature created a new nine-member Board of Technical Education. Beginning July 1, the Board of Technical Education will provide state-level oversight of South Dakota's four technical institutes, taking on the functions currently served by the Board of Education which includes providing direction on matters related to academic programming, setting tuition, and approval of new facilities. I am excited to see how the new state structure will help Southeast Tech and the other technical institutes communicate the importance and vital role technical education plays in the workforce. The new Board is made up of dynamic leaders from across the state who can help advocate for technical education and the employers and communities we serve.

As far as disrupting forces, we continue to work to change the perception of technical education as a second tier option. South Dakota's technical institutes provide incredible career focused educational opportunities that lead to employment with some of South Dakota's best employers. Many of our graduates this year reported having two or three different job offers, which also reflects how strong the demand is in the region for our graduates.

Locally, we are working hard to establish new partnerships and collaborations to expand access to career and technical education programs with the Sioux Falls School District and the Career & Technical Education (CTE) Academy. With strong support from the Sioux Falls School District, we have been able to expand career focused dual and concurrent enrollment opportunities for high school students, increase scholarship opportunities that tie into the statewide Build Dakota initiative, and launch a new apprenticeship program in partnership with the Sioux Falls Home Builders Association. We are also excited about emerging opportunities to partner and align programming with the University Center and to develop new 2 plus 2 degree pathways for our graduates that will make it easier to pursue baccalaureate options for career advancement.

From your perspective, what does the relationship between Southeast Tech and the Sioux Falls community look like?

I believe that Southeast Tech has enjoyed a very strong relationship with Sioux Falls and surrounding communities. However, one of the comments I have heard both on our campus and in the community since I arrived last fall is that Southeast Tech is too quiet about the success of our programs and graduates. Part of our push this past year to develop new collaborations and partnerships with the Sioux Falls Chamber, Forward Sioux Falls and the Sioux Falls School District is to build upon that foundation of success and expand awareness of the many outstanding career and technical education programs that Southeast Tech offers.

I have had the great privilege to meet with many influential business and community leaders this past year and I am greatly encouraged by their willingness to lend their insight and expertise to help guide and direct our educational efforts so that we can better serve our students and meet the workforce needs of the region.

Talk about the role of post-secondary institutions, and in particular your institution, when it comes to community and workforce development strategies. In a time of low unemployment and a competitive job market, what are some ways that Southeast Tech can help in addressing workforce development issues in Sioux Falls and South Dakota?

Workforce development is the core mission of our institution and the only way we are going to be successful in accomplishing that mission is if we are closely aligned and connected with our business and industry partners in the communities we serve. Southeast Tech certificate, diploma and two-year program offerings need to be focused on meeting the needs of our regional business and industry partners. Each of our academic programs have community advisory committees that provide direct industry input into our curriculum. In order to be effective, Southeast Tech needs to be on the cutting edge of job creation and job training.

I strongly believe that providing access to high quality, affordable higher education opportunities that respond to our area's workforce needs means that students who graduate from our academic programs are going to have access to great jobs, good wages, and fulfilling careers. I am extremely proud of Southeast Tech's faculty and staff because they are the individuals that make that happen.

What are some ways to foster further collaboration between educators and employers?

This past spring, we started a series of what we call "sector breakfast" meetings which provide an opportunity for community members and employers within an industry sector (healthcare, transportation, construction, information technology, business, manufacturing) to come to campus and provide direct input from their perspective on three main topics: what is Southeast Tech doing well; where are there areas that we need to improve; and what ideas or opportunities for training or workforce development should we be developing to address area workforce needs. What's exciting about these sector breakfast conversations is that they are being sponsored and promoted as a collaborative effort between the Southeast Tech Foundation, Forward Sioux Falls, Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and the Sioux Falls School District.

So far, we have held four sector breakfast conversations with representatives from healthcare, transportation, construction trades and information technology. Each of the sector breakfast conversations have been led by a panel of experts from the different industry sectors and facilitated by a panel moderator. The discussions have been extremely well attended and the ideas and suggestions that are emerging from these conversations will help guide and direct the development of future certificate, diploma, and two-year program offerings, as well as short-term custom training opportunities. We are very grateful to the many industry professionals that have attended these events and we are planning additional sector breakfast meetings for next fall in other industry sectors including manufacturing and business.

Please describe your vision for Southeast Tech in its service to students, the community and the state. What will Southeast Tech look like in 10 years if you are successful in implementing your vision?

Southeast Tech is an incredible resource for the Sioux Falls region. We have a wide-range of extremely high quality programs, outstanding faculty and staff, and state-of-the-art facilities and we are committed to working collaboratively with the Chamber, Forward Sioux Falls, Sioux Falls School District and our business and industry partners to address the region's skilled workforce needs. Several new certificate, apprenticeship and custom training offerings that we will be bringing forward next fall are in direct response to conversations and discussions that we have had over the past several months with regional employers on how to help address the shortage of skilled workers.

South Dakota's skilled workforce shortage has impacted individual industries and the state economy as a whole. By being directly responsive to business and industry needs, I believe Southeast Tech will see continued growth in the number of students served and in the variety of programs offered in the coming years. Our goal is to continue to build upon a long and successful history of providing high quality career and technical education training opportunities for both traditional and non-traditional students across South Dakota. I look forward to the opportunity to meet and learn more from business and industry professionals throughout the Sioux Empire regarding how Southeast Tech can do an even better job of providing a skilled and highly trained workforce for the region.


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