Christy Ponce

Temple College President Christy Ponce poses for a portrait at the Temple College administration building on Tuesday.

A community college is first and foremost a place of education.

However, by its nature, a community college is much more — it’s a place where the older student with responsibilities of a job and family comes to receive further education or certification to enhance their earning potential, or the first-generation college student who tentatively comes on campus without any guidance of an experienced family member.

Temple College President Christy Ponce has been on the job for six months and understands that TC, like many other community colleges, has to evolve and put in place the programs that make for seamless registration and all that involves, which looks different for each student.

Ponce said the TC staff was already actively involved in advancing innovative programs when she arrived on campus in January prepared to take on the president’s role.

“We were able to hit the ground running on lots of different projects, including a facility master plan and goal setting on future programs and future buildings,” she said.

The staff is open to try new things and is committed to student success.

“It’s been refreshing experience to collaborate with the college community on all sorts of issues,” Ponce said. “The student enrollment team is redesigning its offices and the processes to improve the student experience.”

The first six months at Temple College have been an incredible experience, Ponce said.

Ponce has spent that time getting to know the community and TC faculty and staff.

She has been hosting coffee chats with faculty and staff on campus and has had some interesting discussions.

“I’ve been getting their ideas on what the future holds,” she said.

Ponce has spent time getting to know community leaders and partners.

She has joined the Workforce Board, the Temple Business League and has been meeting regularly with Temple Economic Development Corp.

“I have noticed how active many of the residents are,” Ponce said. “They are involved in both civic organizations and in working with city government on master plans and with the economic development, coordinating with others so all are working toward like goals.”

TC is in the process of hiring a new executive director of business and continuing education. The position has been slightly redesigned it to have a bigger workforce focus to connect with businesses.

“We’re a community college so we’ll be responding to needs for customized training for business and industry,” she said.

Ponce said her past community college positions and education prepared her to lead TC.

Prior to coming to TC, Ponce was executive vice president at Lee College and worked with all of the vice presidents on strategic planning and goal setting for the campus.

Ponce also participated in the Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence and received her PhD in educational administration from the Community College Leadership Program at The University of Texas at Austin, where she did internships at colleges across the country.

Expanding programs

TC continues to work with Texas A&M University-Central Texas in Killeen on expanding programs. The two schools partnered to offer bachelor’s degrees in music and the goal is to come up with similar programs in other fields of study.

Ponce meets regularly with Marc Nigliazzo, president of Texas A&M-Central Texas, who is a former TC president. Administrators from both schools also are meeting.

TC administration along with community leaders in Hutto and Taylor are considering what signature programs would work well in those areas.

As new courses and programs are added to the college schedule, Ponce wants to be assured that the school districts TC serves have an opportunity to align their curriculums.

Temple College is one of 12 Texas community colleges chosen to participate in the Texas Pathways Project, an initiative to help more institutions transition to guided pathways that provide students with information on courses they will be required to take and when, to achieve a degree or certification in a particular subject.

TC has developed guides for students to use when setting up their degree plans that spell out what courses need to be taken and what will transfer to various four-year schools.

The degree plans are available to area high schools for students who want to take advantage of dual credits.

In addition to planning academically, the college wants students to consider the financial side of education, including sharing the potential earning possibilities of certain careers, Ponce said.

Helping students

Community colleges are more likely to serve students who are financially insecure.

“We want to help our students through graduation and into the workforce,” she said. “That means helping them throughout the process and could mean helping them find housing, paying for college and addressing food insecurities.”

“This isn’t just a local problem and I love that Temple College has jumped into those efforts, because it is essential in helping students succeed,” Ponce said. “It’s incredible to see that commitment on campus to make sure we’re providing wrap around service for students.”

TC is seeking a grant that will fund a social worker and other staff who can have one-on-one conversations with students about their needs and offer information about available resources through the school and community.

“As a college we’re always looking to improve and be innovative,” she said.

Right now is a good time for Temple College because it is looking at its quality enhancement plan and determining what programs are needed to improve student success.

Shorter courses

TC is considering offering more eight-week courses, Ponce said. Students who struggle with semester-long courses typically begin to falter around six or seven weeks. If eight-week courses are offered, the student is more likely to finish because the end is in sight.

To better serve students better options and schedules are needed, she said. Keeping students enrolled through the summer semesters is another success indicator.

TC will be documenting how the switch to eight-week classes for its Quality Enhancement Plan, which is required for its Southern Association of College and Schools accreditation.

“We’ll document the entire process in case it’s useful for other schools who are implementing the change,” she said.

“TC has a long history of offering good programs and I want to grow that legacy,” Ponce said.

Heart of the community

Ponce wants TC to be that community college that is the heart of the community and provides those education opportunities in high school and after high school in partnership with the university partners.

TC has some aggressive and achievable goals because it is well positioned to grow and offer lots of new programs that would be beneficial to the community, she said.

TC trustees are very active and involved.

Soon after Ponce arrived in Temple, she attended a retreat with the board’s chair and vice chair and looked at short- and long-term goals. Goals were set and several activities were put on the calendar.

Holding a data summit was one of the goals. The summit was held and lead by TC’s Achieving the Dream coach. Faculty and staff participated.

One of the outcomes was the development of scorecards, which are data snapshots that include desired goals and the metrics of certain programs. The cards will be updated often.

“We decided to develop scorecards on campus resources, ongoing graduation rates and other efforts that are important to the trustees,” Ponce said.

The TC trustees will participate in a retreat with Temple ISD school board in July and will look at regional goal setting and other topics.

Ponce wants TC campus to be a location where families and individuals come for planned activities.

“There are many opportunities where we can partner on community events,” she said.

Ponce will be speaking at the American Association of Community Colleges Future Presidents Institute in Washington, DC, later this month.