GET SMART – J. DAVID ARMSTRONG, JR.
President | Broward College
In the 10 years you’ve been with Broward College, the school’s become one of the top community colleges in the country. When you first arrived, what did you feel should be your first order of business to improve and strengthen the college overall?
The impact our college system has on the workforce and the economy is often underestimated. When I was appointed, my first goal was to address the misconception that Broward College should be a last resort for the pursuit of higher education. Previously, it was seen as the option for those who did not qualify for, or could not afford to attend, the institution of their choice. During my first two years, we worked to change that perception. This involved not only a name change but improving our programs and services. The approach included streamlining courses, adding new areas of study and working with local businesses to align our curriculum with their human resource needs. We actively engaged the community in a number of areas. Today, Broward College ranks highly not just within the Florida College System (FCS) but across the nation. This year, we were honored by the Aspen Institute as a College of Distinction, officially validating us one of the top three community colleges in the United States.
What would you consider to be some of the most important changes or implementations you’ve made, that have made the most impact thus far?
First, let me say that the successes we have achieved are not only the results of my effort but of a great team of executives, academic leaders, faculty, and administrative staff. Our primary goal is the success of our students and all our measures are geared towards that. This means keeping abreast of academic trends and job market demands while remaining affordable and accessible to anyone who wishes to pursue an education.
We have continually been at the forefront of academics, including launching 12 in-demand bachelor’s degrees and restructuring our educational paradigm into a much more student-centered model called Pathways. The program guides our students from the point of acceptance to selecting the right courses and programs to achieve their academic and career objectives. We also have kept tuition affordable by accepting challenges from Governor Rick Scott, like the 10K Degree Challenge and transitioning to online open resources to keep textbook costs low, and we’ve brought creativity to the approach of education through expanding our online program and offering blended courses to accommodate busy schedules. We also have strengthened our community relationships through targeted events such as our annual Speaker Series and Village Square panel discussions. Volunteerism is another fabric of our culture, with signature endeavors like the MLK Day of Service and lending support to a wide variety of nonprofits. We also foster business development through two innovative programs: Business Incubator and Accelerator.
What would you say have been some of your more challenging objectives, and how did you go about overcoming those obstacles?
The College has multiple campuses and centers and a diverse student population, which made streamlining our plans and activities an initial challenge. To address the issues, we implemented a number of measures that have proven very effective. We established weekly GOAL calls, where departments across the College report ongoing initiatives and share ideas of best practices. We have increased our communication with faculty and staff and provide ways to garner feedback from students so they can help us serve them better.
Another challenge remains the declining budget from our Legislature. Each fiscal year, we are faced with limited resources to accomplish all the projects we would like to implement for our students and the community. In spite of this, with the help of our dedicated faculty and staff, we manage to develop annual spending plans that put our students first. Our priorities continue to remain focused on improving the student experience by enhancing opportunities to successfully enroll, graduate and achieve employment.
Aside from topnotch academics, what do you consider to be other factors crucial to an excellent college experience?
The college experience is far more than what is taught in the classroom. Every higher-education institution should strive to produce graduates who have been afforded the chance for personal development and civic engagement. This transitions our students into responsible and active citizens. They must be motivated to get involved in student government, sports, volunteering and philanthropy, cultural presentations, and if possible, study abroad. After all, college is a time to broaden your horizons and build real-life experiences.
What sets the Broward College experience—as opposed to other community colleges—apart for students?
At Broward College, our academic programs are ranked among the best. We have a number of student support strategies and extracurricular activities, which supplement the classroom experience. Our Academic Success Centers, advising teams, specialized tutoring, and mentorship supports the academic experience. Additionally, our Career Centers create partnerships with the business community to provide students with valuable work experience through internships, on-the-job training, and job placement.
We also have a rich student life network that offers community outreach initiatives, fun activities, and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to participate in events the college hosts. For example, Broward College has been the location of political debates, including the state gubernatorial and senate debates where students sat in the audience, served as stand-ins for the camera crew, and volunteered in various roles including runners for the candidates.
What else should prospective students, their parents and engaged community members know about?
We are ranked as one of the top three best colleges in the nation because we are always finding new ways to improve our programs and keep our curriculum tied to the job market. In the last year alone we added eight new programs. Among them is the New Media and Communication associate degree which will start this fall. We are the only college in the state to offer the program. In fact, our art, design and film programs recently received accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), making us the only one within the Florida College System (FCS) and one of only 28 colleges nationally to have this designation. We are also looking forward to welcoming the inaugural class of the Bachelor’s of Aerospace Sciences, a field which is seeing an increased demand in the region.
In addition, there a number of recently completed expansion projects, such as our Aviation Annex, a 13,500-square-foot facility that houses classrooms, faculty offices and shop space at North Perry Airport; and the Automotive and Marine Center, an 18,000-square-foot complex on our Judson A. Samuels South Campus. We are also upgrading our campuses and facilities, the most notable being the redevelopment of our downtown campus in Fort Lauderdale. Soon, it will be a state-of-the-art commercial and classroom space, creating a dynamic way of serving the community and our students while finding additional revenue to keep tuition affordable and provide improved service.
Let me just add that our college is more than just the programs it offers. We recruit some of the brightest and most qualified faculty and staff, who are committed to serving our students. In fact, just a few weeks ago we were ranked on Forbes’ “America’s Best Employers 2017 – Midsized Companies” list.