He came. He listened. Then he left with a better understanding of where Monroe County residents want Florida Keys Community College to go.
College President and CEO Jonathan Gueverra in October and November conducted a "listening tour" through the Keys, to take in ideas to help formulate the institution's 2013-16 Strategic Plan.
The sessions took place Oct. 23 in Key Largo, Nov. 6 in Marathon, and Nov. 13 in Key West and were, in the words of Gueverra, "very, very involved events."
"We had at least a dozen individuals at each of these meetings," Gueverra said. "There were city officials, people from the chambers of commerce, students, teachers, general managers. In some cases people were asking us to do things we aren't doing. Sometimes they asked us about things we are already doing."
Among the issues brought up was the lack of connection between Key West High School and FKCC.
"We don't seem to have a contiguous education system in that regard," Gueverra said. "There is something of a disconnect between the high school and FKCC. This is an issue that we've been working on with [Monroe County Schools] Superintendent [Mark] Porter."
Another point that kept coming up was flexibility in the delivery of programs and courses.
Gueverra said the college is looking at alternatives to "face-based" instruction by offering more online courses, hybrid courses and accelerated classes.
A major challenge for the school is just getting word out to the public about what the college actually offers.
"There were people who did not know we had housing on campus, or that it was available to people who already live in Monroe County," Gueverra said. "We need to do things a bit differently so that people understand the housing is available to all."
Scholarships and what they're used for is also a concern for the college president. Many of the people with ties to programs and organizations that raise and distribute scholarship money admitted that most of the scholarships were designed to send students directly to four-year degrees from universities outside the county instead of encouraging them to stay in the Keys and go to FKCC.
New programs Gueverra discussed included vocational and technical programs, and hospitality, which has long been on the agenda of many Keys business leaders.
"We have to be smart about that one," Gueverra said. "It's very important that when we do offer the program, that it is sustainable. In the past in programs like certified nursing assistant, we had more graduates than there were jobs available for them, and some had to leave the county. That's a situation we'd like to avoid with things like a hospitality program."
Clustering the administration of programs in places other than the main campus is another idea Gueverra is working on.
"We're going to move the Institute for Public Safety to Marathon," he said. "We'll still offer the program at the Upper Keys Center, and in Key West, but we want to look at other such programs, to see which ones we can anchor at our centers."
On a related note, Gueverra also wants the college to take over Adult Basic Education, which is taught at FKCC, but run by the school district.
In a broader sense, Gueverra has a mission statement in mind for the entire FKCC system.
"What is the college's role in Monroe County and the Florida Keys," Gueverra asked. "Our role should be as an anchor that helps develop not just educational opportunities, but also to foster economic development. We're the only option for higher education in the Keys. We can't be all things to all people, but we can certainly show them what the road looks like. So, we're going to keep pushing the economic development. We should be producing students with the entrepreneurial zeal to create new businesses."
Gueverra noted that in recent years, the trend towards university grads furthering their education by returning to community colleges to gain specific skills, may be picking up.
Gov. Rick Scott has pointed out that on average, university graduates who go back to school at a community college, earn an average of $10,000 more per year, as keeping up with new technology makes them more valuable employees.
"We are absolutely focused on turning out graduates for careers in high-tech, high growth areas," Gueverra said. "It's what we do."