Smart people think five steps ahead. I often heard this from my grandmother; she knew you had to look ahead to stay ahead.

So did Tulsa-area leaders. Fifty years ago, they had a vision of access to public higher education to move the community forward. The realization of that vision, Tulsa Community College, or as it was known then, Tulsa Junior College, shaped northeast Oklahoma’s workforce.

At the public launch for TCC’s 50th anniversary celebration, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum wondered what our community is doing now that in 50 years will be considered as having the same transformative effect that TCC has had in the last half century. What a great question! Let me tell you what we’re doing today to ensure that TCC is still changing lives in 2069.

First, this is not a mid-life crisis. It is an intentional and necessary shift based on national trends in higher education. Five years ago, we took stock of our progress and began implementing changes to prepare for our next 50 years.

TCC’s strategic plan and our acceptance into the Guided Pathways Project provided the framework for redesigning all that we do based on what is best for students and their learning. Our community stepped up through its support of a $20 million capital campaign, historic investments in student advisement services and a clear prioritization of equity in student outcomes — just to name a few. Our prioritized changes have been based on working smarter, being intentional and, yes, working five steps ahead.

Thanks to Tulsa voters, Vision Tulsa funded the creation of our first Student Success Center on TCC’s southeast campus, which just opened. Already, it is revolutionizing how we serve students by increasing individualized service and removing physical barriers. Three additional centers on the metro, northeast and west campuses will be funded through our $20 million Campaign for Completion.

Within these centers, you’ll see more academic advisers — as we have improved the student-to-academic-adviser ratio.

Focused on student success, we have been doing big work. And these changes are working. We have seen a 20.9% increase in credentials awarded since 2015 and our fall-to-fall retention rates have increased. Also, the percentage of students completing 24 credit hours of college-level coursework in their first year has grown significantly.

Our mission is building success through education. It speaks to our purpose to create an educated, employed and thriving community. Five beliefs drive our behavior: You Belong Here, Everyone Can Learn, Community is Our Middle Name, Quality Education is Affordable and Excellence is Our Culture.

Too many families in our community don’t yet believe their son, daughter, mother or father should go to college. But decades of wage statistics prove that the more you learn, the more you earn. We know that with the right infrastructure, support and encouragement, the student of color, the first-generation student and the single parent can all succeed at TCC and create their own successful futures.

Higher education is changing and changing fast. Our community is different now, our students are different now, our political environment is different now. I am confident TCC is poised for today and the future.

My grandmother would be proud of the steps — multiple steps — we have taken to prepare for the next 50 years. We continue to design and deliver a sustainable model of higher education — preparing ourselves to pivot to what students need and what employers need. Together we are building an educated, employed and thriving community.

Leigh Goodson, Ph.D., is president and CEO of Tulsa Community College.

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Leigh Goodson, Ph.D., is president and CEO of Tulsa Community College.