The Ottumwa Courier

November 20, 2013

Sprouse: Changes to focus on students

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Indian Hills Community College has a set of goals for the future, but the new president feels some of those items need attention sooner than others.

"Our strategic plan for the college has already been laid out, before Jim [Lindenmayer, the former college president] left; it's adjusted or at least reviewed every two years," said President Marlene Sprouse.

The school's former executive vice president, Sprouse was picked by the board of trustees in May to take over. Lindenmayer retired last month.

"I view the future as [having] a map; it's up to us to implement that plan," Sprouse said. "More specifically, our strategic plan contains parts that are very important to me, and that we will concentrate on."

First, there's an education initiative that is spreading across the country: Completion. It may sound obvious, she admitted, but there tends to be more focus on the other end of the educational process.

"So we're not always asking how high the enrollment numbers are," Sprouse said. "We want to [increase] the number of students getting degrees or certificates."

In order to make that happen, she said, "we want to be sure to provide the support and guidance students need to 'complete.'"

She also wants to look at the school's programs to ensure students are challenged, and kept interested in their studies; that'll help keep them in school.

As the president of a community college, she acknowledges there are some special challenges compared to a four-year school. For IHCC students, finding the time to attend school can be tough, as community college students are comparatively more likely to have jobs, and perhaps have children as well. Money can be tight for adults now, too.

But that also leads Sprouse to her next task, which is making sure students will get a good value for their investment of time and money.

That means streamlining student services, like registration and other "business" related tasks. It also means getting students into their majors more quickly: Some people come to The Hills requiring basic classes to get them college-level skills. There are ways to make that process more efficient, Sprouse said.

"We each have our strengths," Sprouse said when asked about the differences between her and Lindenmayer.

For Sprouse, that's a student-centered approach. It doesn't mean she won't oversee improvements and expansions on the college's campuses, nor does it mean she won't continue to have IHCC encourage economic development, two things Lindenmayer was known for. But the first things she'll tackle, and keep close watch on, are related to enhancing the student experience.

The experience of employees may be different under Sprouse, but because she'd served in leadership positions at Indian Hills, she doesn't believe there will be many surprises for them.

As for being the first woman president in the almost 50-year history of the school, she's aware, she said, but feels The Hills and education in general have seemed to have good diversity for many years.

"More significant to me than being the first female president would be that in nearly 50 years, there have only been four presidents," Sprouse said.

What does it mean to have such low turnover in the position?

"That this is a really good place to be," she said, "and that the people who take this job are really dedicated."

— To follow reporter Mark Newman on Twitter, see @CourierMark