PALM DESERT — Less than two months on the job, Laura Hope, Interim President/Superintendent at College of the Desert, embarked on a listening tour that would span five months and she isn’t done yet.

The tireless leader has two more sessions in December.

  • Monday, Dec. 18 — 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
    Virtual Sessions – Zoom links TBD
  • Tuesday, Dec. 19 — 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
    Donald and Peggy Cravens Student Services Center, Multipurpose Room, Palm Desert Campus

COD 1Each meeting is an open-forum discussion with an update provided by Hope. Attendees are encouraged to come armed with their most pressing questions and comments. Expect the conversation to be open, respectful and full of candor.

Uken Report (UR) reached out to Hope to see what she has gleaned from the listening tour so far.

UR: What has been the constant/consistent theme from all the listening sessions?

HOPE: We have picked up a few recurring themes from our listening sessions. I think accountability, innovation and enrollment encompass the feedback we are receiving.

When it comes to accountability, people want to hear from the college. They want to know what we are doing and planning. For innovation, they want to see more workplace learning and partnerships, like internships and other on-the-job programs.

For enrollment, the community is concerned about accessibility. Are programs relevant, available where potential students are, and are they affordable in terms of time and finances?

Among the requests and feedback we receive, we are getting to hear many student success stories. Hearing first-hand how College of the Desert helped set someone up for success reignites the hope we intend to stoke into a wildfire.

UR:  What is the takeaway for you as Superintendent/President?

HOPE: Following our listening sessions, I have a few key takeaways. Firstly, I am encouraged by the sense of belonging and purpose College of the Desert already holds in this valley. We have a group of passionate community members that want to see the school do good. This is truly a community college.

Listening Tour Uplifts COD Superintendent HopeSecondly, I want to reinstate people’s hope in leadership here at College of the Desert. Certain events have conditioned people to view COD’s leadership team with a sense of suspicion and cynicism. Whether or not that was warranted in the past, I intend to give people a reason to trust now and in the future.

Thirdly, I see a need to expand our dual enrollment opportunities. These programs are pivotal to meeting the community’s expectations for accessibility, enrollment, and innovation.  We are already reaping the benefits of several such programs. Therefore, we have plenty of reasons to expand such opportunities.

Fourthly, we will be creating more access for students. This means looking at different transportation options to help complement our partnership with SunLine, keeping our free bus rides but also providing a new direct shuttle service between campuses. The reality is we can’t recreate Palm Desert campus in every city.

UR: What, if anything, surprised you?

HOPE: Several things surprised me at the listening sessions, and by surprised I mean pleasantly surprised.

COD’s Public Safety Academy has been very influential in Coachella Valley. We received tremendous feedback about that.

The Child Development Center has been the gift that keeps on giving. Both students and community members get to benefit from it.

Finally, this is a full circle community. We want to live, work and eat here, in our home valley. Resources are directed towards opportunities that can benefit students and the community long term. We look towards local and regional businesses to see where the labor supply lies and where students have the prospect of bettering their lives and therefore bettering the lives of other community members.

UR: What was the average turnout at each session?

HOPE: We are so grateful for all of the community members and government agency partners who took time to attend and even helped disperse information. My time in the Chancellor’s office gave me first-hand knowledge of community involvement across all California community colleges, and College of the Desert’s community involvement surpasses all others.

UR:  Were you satisfied or disappointed with the turnout?

HOPE: The diversity of the group, from students to community leaders, allowed for a great cross section of our stakeholders. We are very appreciative of the input they provided.

UR: What will you do with all of the information you gathered?

HOPE: The information we gathered is already informing decisions related to accessibility. In 2024, we will have a campus shuttle to augment the SunLine service, and to move students between the various campuses from Desert Hot Springs to Mecca/Thermal. We are also expanding access for students who are still in the K-12 system, and this is especially demonstrated in our effort to expand our dual enrollment opportunities to three models.

UR: What were you hoping to accomplish with these listening sessions?

HOPE: My goal was to identify challenges so that I could create meaningful success. I need input and feedback to achieve both. To have measurable success you need to have honest dialogue with all stakeholders.

UR:  What’s next?

HOPE: We are focusing on enrollment recovery. This comes in four tiers. First, we will be doubling the capacity of our dual enrollment program from 1,500 to 3,000 students. Second, we will be future casting with our Strategic Educational Master Plan. Third, we intend to keep our community close through community building. We want every community member to feel they have a right to an education and access to it if they so desire. Fourth, we will be looking to offer a bachelor’s degree as part of our future Palm Springs campus offerings.

UR: Anything you would like to add?

HOPE: Student outcomes are our key performance indicator. Everything we do keeps student success in mind. We want to see them succeed in whatever path they choose after leaving COD, whether that’s transferring to a four-year university or pursuing a career.

I do want to note that we are held to our mission through our accreditation. The programs we seek to initiate must align with our overall mission.

With that, we do seek to create identity around our campuses, starting with our Mecca campus. These are the lifeblood of the College of the Desert experience and they are the place to which community members look to gauge how COD is doing.

Image Sources

  • Listening session: COD
  • 2023-COD-Listening-Tour-A-800×568: College of the Desert