Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Seattle Community Colleges seek help to improve image

by Matt Rosenberg May 31st, 2012

Last winter in the wake of contentious anti-corporate protests led on its Capitol Hill central campus by Occupy Seattle, Seattle Community College District officials were beginning to grapple with proposed legislation from its teachers union that was introduced in sympathy with Occupy’s goals.

A “Resolution In Support of Business Practices Congruent with The Message of the Occupy Movement” was raised for preliminary consideration by Seattle Central Community College instructor and teachers union leader Karen Strickland at the board’s January meeting and then discussed in a February board study session. It called for the district to adopt an ethical purchasing policy and also condemned district vendors such as the Bank of America, and the Georgia Pacific paper company owned by the controversial conservatives, The Koch Brothers.

RFP for banking services could result in replacement of B of A
The resolution authored by the American Federation of Teachers, and the board’s preliminary discussions, have’t yet resulted in a district purchasing policy emphasizing corporate responsibility, but the district did quietly serve notice – in a staff memo on page 86 of its May meeting agenda packet – that it will be issuing a request for proposals for banking services and appointing a related evaluation committee. This could pave the way for replacement of Bank of America as the district’s banking services vendor. The company is reviled by Occupy protestors for what they characterize as B of A’s evasion of corporate taxes.

Contractor currently being sought to help the district re-brand
But at the same time it tries to respond to student and faculty concerns about ethical business practices, the district also wants to repaint the face it presents to potential enrollees and donors. lt is looking for a public relations advisor to do three months work for up to $50,000 this summer – to lay the groundwork for burnishing its brand image.

In anticipation of a major fundraising drive approaching in 2017, one that will surely depend on corporate and philanthropic largesse to compensate for declining government funding, the three-school district of two-year community colleges within Seattle’s city limits has issued a request for proposals from prospective bidders titled, “Positioning, Visibility and Brand Development.”

The proposal specifies the SCCD wants help “defining an institutional brand identity” and in “development of strategic core concepts…positioning statement, and brand promise” to promote the district especially to funders.

Positive attributes not well understood
The RFP says the district’s strengths include a large student body and two million alumni, a reputation of innovation and abundant course offerings, plus its “enormous impact on the region.” But the district adds its attributes haven’t been well defined or communicated internally and externally, a problem exacerbated because each of the three main schools (Central, South and North) market themselves independently of each other. In “an increasingly competitive market, a perceived lack of recognition is costing enrollment, partnership and grant opportunities,” the RFP adds.

Enrollment declines in last two years
An enrollment report presented at the district’s March board meeting underscored some of the concerns. Enrollment of full-time students in the district dropped versus the prior year in both Fall 2010 and Fall 2011. The latest decline, of six percent, was one percentage point worse than the statewide average for community colleges. Worker retraining enrollees in the district were down 15 percent in Fall 2011 versus 16 percent statewide. Since 2008, declines in overall fall quarter enrollment in the district have significantly exceeded such losses at U.S. community colleges on the whole. The report says the declines for the district appear largely due to continued tuition increases and in the last two years, slight increases in King County employment.

New offerings coming in IT, health care, more
In a report presented at May’s board meeting, district staff accent that 24 percent of the region’s adults have attended some college but lack associate’s degrees they might well now want and need in response to emerging requirements of the job market. As a result, the report says, the district will aim to build program capacity in business information technology, health care, logistics and transportation, international trade, and industrial skills and manufacturing.

Responses to the district’s “Positioning, Visibility and Brand Development” RFP must be submitted by June 28. Work for the winning bidder is tentatively scheduled to begin August 1 and conclude November 1.

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