19. Shamil Rodriguez Shares What It Was Like to be on The Board of Trustees for a Community College
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Shamil Rodriguez

 

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About This Episode

Shamil Rodriguez, co-founder of StartNoo.com and Co-host of The Student Loan Podcast shares his experience of being on a community college board of trustees at the ripe age of 23.

Sit back and enjoy this episode because we take the scenic route into Shamil’s higher education experience in hopes that you can take away some of the perspective he’s gained over the years.

THIS EPISODE COVERS:

  • How a College Board of Trustees impacts the cost of education
  • How can students best prepare to share their ideas with a college board
  • The main way that colleges and universities can improve retention
  • How e-learning is shaping the future of higher education
  • And much more…

Enjoying the show? Leave us a rating and review. Every comment helps! Drop in your IG handle so we can thank you personally!

 

Shamil Rodriguez (00:00): Universities need to listen to their students. It's important in the end, your stakeholder, your most important stakeholder is your student. Your student has decided to bring their talents to your school. And I think a lot of times, a lot of schools get confused and think we're offering our resources to students. And they're lucky to have us select them.

The Student Loan Podcast Intro (00:24): Welcome to the student loan podcast. Here, you'll find practical advice on tackling student loan debt, paying down your higher education expenses and inspiring stories about paying off student loans. We're your hosts, Daphne, Vanessa and Shamil Rodriguez.

Daphné Vanessa (00:42): Hello everyone. And welcome to the student loan podcast. Today's episode is going to be interesting. We interview our very own co-hosts Shamil Rodriguez. Who's going to tell us what it was like to be on the board of trustees at the very ripe age of 23 years old. Please join me in welcoming Shamil Rodriguez,

Shamil Rodriguez (01:06): Awkward moments. No, thank you so much for, for having me on and I'm looking forward to jumping into it. So where do want me to,

Daphné Vanessa (01:17): So Shamil, we've spoken a little bit about parts of your journey, but I don't think the audience really knows your entire story. Do you mind telling the audience about yourself and sharing your journey?

Shamil Rodriguez (01:31): Sure. So, like you said, in the intro, I was 23 years old, which feels like a lifetime ago. Now at this point I was 23 when I had the opportunity or I was selected to serve on the Mercer County community college board of trustees. So I was fresh out of college as an undergraduate from St. John's university. I had moved back after working in New York city for a little bit to New Jersey, had the great opportunity presented to see if I wanted to serve on the board of trustees, uh, as like a local resident I grew up in, in Trenton, New Jersey, uh, you know, I have family that have graduated from Mercer County community college. Uh, so I was really looking to make an impact in my local community. Uh, and so that was one of the opportunities that was available to me during that process. I actually had to go in front of the mercy County border freeholders, uh, which would be like the equivalent of like Congress on a local level, like very, very local. So I was 23 at the time and I was the youngest, uh, selected to serve on the board of trustees for Mercer County community college, uh, at that time.

Daphné Vanessa (02:49): Wow. So you're a big deal basically. Um, that's fantastic. So just talk to us about the process, the value of mentorship. What do you think of the value of relationships was in this entire process?

Shamil Rodriguez (03:08): I would say it played a huge role, right? Because I mean, how many connections do you really come out of college with at that age? Uh, for me, it really stemmed from having people open doors for me and, uh, and present opportunities for me to make an impact based on what they saw in my potential. Right. Uh, because it wasn't like I came in with a laundry list of a resume. And even for the freeholders, there were a lot of people that just didn't know who I was, but knew that I was being nominated by the County executive and his team, um, that, you know, the, that came across me based on referrals from my mentors. Right. And so that was a huge like decision for them to take a chance. Right. They took a chance on a young promising, uh, young man, right. As it was described to me, like, uh, they were framing it for me and like saying, Hey, look, we know this is different.

Shamil Rodriguez (04:05): You know, a lot of the, the board members are much older than you are and have different life experiences, but we think that having your perspective and what you've shared with us and like the vision that you have for higher education, and now you want to make that impact. Uh, we think that would be a fresh perspective to have on the board. Um, and ultimately I think that's what, you know, I was on the board for over five years and had the chance to be in leadership roles on the board as well. I think that it really was something that really served to my advantage for what I brought to the table for the other board members and for the college administrators as well.

Daphné Vanessa (04:41): Fantastic. There must have been a lot of leading from the middle of leading from the side, you know, when you come in that young and you're serving with people who are pillars in the community, can you talk to us and share how did you lead as somebody that was very young that may not have had the, I did not experience.

Shamil Rodriguez (05:10): Okay. I think that's, uh, you know, I think that's something about, um, you know, understanding your position when you come in. Right. And I, I guess I'll try to stay away from sports analogies, but it's something that works well for me, or at least some of the leadership books that I've read, um, right. You're coming in and you have to earn the respect of your peers and no matter what leadership structure you come into. Right. Uh, and so even though I may have thought I was hot stuff right. Coming in, I didn't really, you know, I knew my place in terms of, okay, like I'm new, I'm new to this world in terms of like, I've been a student, but I've never been in the administration. Um, and like you said, these people were literally pillars in our, still our pillars in the community, right?

Shamil Rodriguez (05:56): These are, these are members of, of the community like that. Some of them are very successful entrepreneurs that have, you know, family legacies that have been, uh, generations in the community, serving the community, uh, people that are involved in politics in one way or another. There are other people that are involved in higher education, right. PhDs that are, uh, serving that were at the time serving in leadership roles at our state universities. Right. I said, we just had people that were very impressive and that, you know, we had journalists that like, you know, statewide and regionally known journalists on, on the panel as well. So each of those individuals to me were great role models in their own way. That's how I came in. I was like, how can I learn from them? Unlike what, uh, an ideal board member is in terms of like the mechanics, right. That's how I looked at it. I was like, there's, there are gaps in my, in my knowledge here now doesn't mean that I'm going to try to be a robot and just follow what they tell me to do. No, but there are, there are things, there's a system, there's a culture in place. And I don't need to just set things on fire because I'm young. Right.

Speaker 4 (07:11): What do you need, what are you talking about? That's the millennial gen Z revolution, right. I guess you're not on the same page. I mean, in certain areas, I get it, but no, but for the college,

Shamil Rodriguez (07:24): Uh, Mercer County community college has a special place in my heart because there are a lot of family members that have graduated there, especially in my, in my home. Right. And so it was, it was a way for me to impact people that I went to high school with that that took advantage of the opportunity of my family members and for other people that, that looked like me, that grew up where I grew up literally in the city. Um, and I thought it was just, uh, it was such an honor to have that opportunity to impact the school and my community in that way. So, yeah. So you said how to lead from the front, the side, the middle for me, it wasn't when I first got there, it was learn, listen, I was very quiet at first. Like obviously it was still myself, but I was watching a lot of watching and observing.

Shamil Rodriguez (08:11): And then over the years, uh, once I started to understand what the rhythm was like, and like seeing who's role, you know, who has, you know, what's the relationship really like between the administration, right. Between the president and, uh, and the deans of the college or the deans of the different, uh, areas. And then how does that, what's that dance like between the board of trustees? Like, what are we really deciding? You know, um, you know, and just really understanding, like what I see, well, I considered like the politics, the dynamics, like what was the social dynamics there as well? Once I got that stuff down and I had a better understanding then, um, I really started to like put my imprint of, I thought my leadership style was at the time,

Daphné Vanessa (08:59): So good and great lesson for us in the audience going forward in our careers. No matter what that is is that there is a time when it's so useful to listen and to absorb and kind of take all take in the experience that's happening around you. That's so valuable and makes you a better person in whatever you're doing.

Shamil Rodriguez (09:23): Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, how often do you get to, you know, my mind download the experience and the leadership lessons and everything else from all the folks that are on the board with you, right? Like they, they all were so welcoming. That was one of the thing that I have to say. Every single board member, even the new ones that came on after me, that's still had tons of years of experience on me, uh, in terms of like their life experiences, everyone was willing to share their stories, share some of their, their background, share some of their tips and tricks based on whatever the topic the conversation was at the time. So it was, it was definitely like blessing. It was truly a blessing.

Daphné Vanessa (10:04): That's great. And it looks like you definitely were able to absorb some of their experiences that affected you and made a huge impact. What were some of the experiences that you had that you think were useful to the board that helped the board move forward in service to the students in the community?

Shamil Rodriguez (10:26): Well, I served initially on the HR committee, I just remember that being a really big, impactful one because that really revolved around selecting a new president after we had one for a few years. Uh, but it also dealt with, uh, negotiating with the union, with the teacher's union. Uh, so it had like a really interesting dynamic, you know, having to deal with certain issues for certain, uh, teachers, right? Like, so it was a really interesting committee to initially be on. And I had served on other ones as well. And I had, and I was the vice chair at one point for the, for the board. But I would say that what I thought I brought that was great for that point was like the student perspective, even though, uh, and a lot of people used to confuse me for just a student who was on the board, which we always had, but I, I brought like that youthful perspective.

Shamil Rodriguez (11:15): What is it going to be like from the student perspective? Right. Like even though I wasn't a student and I didn't go there, it was like, what was my perspective on that? Um, I think that was one part. And then another component over the years, um, serving in the military also helped bring a different perspective as well, because we had veterans that were going to the school. We had people that were taking advantage of, of the programs there. Uh, and so that allowed for me to also connect with them because they actually would come sometimes to our board meetings. And it just allowed for me to connect with them on that level. Uh, and then being an officer in the military, we spend a lot of time going into leadership development. They spend a ton of time training you on how to lead. And so I think that was something that I brought to the table in terms of like my personal style.

Shamil Rodriguez (12:03): Eventually I learned how to, when I became chair of subcommittees, uh, or I would have to step in and lead some of our committee meetings, you know, I felt comfortable and confident in my ability to lead because I had that training in the military at that time. So I think, you know, having that youthful perspective that everybody like kind of looked at me for anyway, because of my age, I just like, kind of happened, but also, you know, looking at her from the lens of like, Hey, you know, I do have some real world experience that I'm learning and training on that I can bring to, to this perspective. And I think that was something that, that helped me in my role on the board.

Daphné Vanessa (12:46): That is awesome. I think we need to circle back for the audience and kind of just give people some scope. What is a board of trustees? What does the board do and what does that have to do with me going to school?

Shamil Rodriguez (12:59): Got it. That's a really good question because it has everything to do with you going to school, which I was really happy to learn about, um, because some of our votes, not even some, let me rephrase every year, you voted on whether or not to

Daphné Vanessa (13:14): Increase tuition,

Shamil Rodriguez (13:17): Which is a direct, direct, direct impact on if you're taking out student loans, how much you're taking out and whether or not you can afford to pay for tuition by going to work alone. Right. Because luckily with community colleges, the prices compared to private institutions is, is a dramatic difference, right? It's, it's totally possible to work a full-time job and go to community college and pay for it while you're going. Right. Uh, so I think that the, the connection there, right. To walk the user, the listener through is that the board of trustees really is the, how do we, how I guess what would be the best way to compare it? It's like the it's like Congress of the, of like local government is what I would compare it to. Right. Um, we, we make decisions on the rules that govern the school, right? So negotiating with the teacher's unions, um, that impacts POS because, you know, salaries impact the budget, right.

Shamil Rodriguez (14:19): We vote on what the budget is going to include. So if you were in a certain program or if you wanted a certain club or organization or a certain area of study to exist, or a certificate that you wanted to have, or obtain through the college, these are all things that we had to literally discuss and vote on to make available to the school. Right. And so I think it's like that guiding hand behind your college experience, like it really is. And I think that's, uh, I guess the best way to put it is we, we serve, we always serve the S the student, like that was always the primary focus is like, how is this impacting the student? And I think that was a really great culture that was set by the leadership that we had on the committee. Right. And so, uh, you know, Marco at the time was the chair for a long time and, and was a big mentor for me, would, would always emphasize that when we're making our decisions, like if we were at a stand still, or if we're butting heads, or if there was, you know, just a difference in opinions between administration and us as board members, we were always bringing in that civilian, I guess, call it like normal average Joe local member of the community perspective, because it's easy for the executives of the college to get really locked in on like, well, this is the higher education view on this perspective.

Shamil Rodriguez (15:42): And we're like, well, wait, what about the community members view? Right. And that was our job. Our job was to represent the community to the college because in the end, it's even in the name, like we're in a community college. So we had to make sure that we were representing those different views. And so that's how we, we impact or that's how the board of trustees at a community college level impacts your college experience. Because one, we vote on the budget and we vote on tuition increases, which directly impacts how much it costs to go to school. But then we also make sure that when we're making decisions, we get to represent the community members, uh, at the college that eventually just ends up serving as a resource for the community. Anyway. So that's, that's how was that helpful? Did that help give a, I guess a clear answer to, uh, how the board of trustees impacts the college students experience?

Daphné Vanessa (16:37): It was clear to me and I think clear to the audience as well. I think there's a lot of opportunity to share on that front because maybe not a lot of people know, you know, what is the board, what does that mean for me in my everyday life? And how does that affect my student experience?

Shamil Rodriguez (16:53): Sure. I mean, when, whenever a and this is now, I'm just thinking about like my experience in college. Right. Um, or even at law school, like whenever you, like, you have like that good idea, or you ever like, just for like talking to friends, they're like, Oh, why, why did the school do it this way? Like, why don't we do it that way? Right. Look where this other thing, this other way, like, you always come up with great ideas when you're in school, because you're living the experience every day. Uh, and so that imagine the board outside of like things that are within the president's or the Dean's discretion, right. Um, the board of trustees really has a lot to do with, with the existence of the college and the way that you experience it every day. Right. And so that's like whether or not like certain buildings are going up, right.

Shamil Rodriguez (17:41): Like we would, we would have presentations on like, what's the design of this, of this new extension to the campus that we're going to be, or like, are we going to focus more of a budget on this campus versus this other campus? And like, what programs do we want to offer here? It seems like we have a survey that we conducted and more students want to have, let's say like a computer science degree or a fashion degree, uh, in this area. So we might as well shift the program to this area, uh, this campus versus another campus. And so that was like a big part of what we were doing, or at least the conversations that I was a part of, you know, and that impacts your experience to say like a Y Y cause we had two campuses, right. We had one in Trenton and the one in West Windsor.

Shamil Rodriguez (18:26): So one's the, the, if you're not from the area in New Jersey, it's one is a city and one is the suburbs. And so, you know, we were having conversations like, well, how does a student go from Trenton to West Windsor in West Windsor, from Trenton? Do we even have a bus that allows for the students to go back and forth? And at the time we did it right? And so like, you know, how does someone do that? And like, how are we making it easier for students to be able to go back and forth so that they can get their, uh, their, their associate's degree from one campus, or if they can't do it from one campus, how are we helping them achieve their goal by providing them the resources that they need, like busing or, uh, transportation or credits to get transportation, whatever the case may be. But like, that's the type of stuff that we were discussing.

Speaker 4 (19:13): Interesting. I was under the impression that the board dealt more with strategy and the administration dealt with the execution of that strategy, but it sounds like your experience was heavily involved in potentially the execution of a strategy, or am I not interpreting correctly?

Shamil Rodriguez (19:32): No, I think, I think you're spot on. I think the reason that we, the, I guess the, into the details of the execution more was because I think it is a function of how small we are as a community college. Right. Um, but I also think that what happens is that like, that, that example that I gave about like transporting students back and forth, even though it's an execution perspective, it still is a strategy of like, do we even want to offer that as an option for students? Right. And so that's where that strategy comes, because then the question that we would try to answer as well. Well, let's say the completion rate for students that are enrolling in, in one campus is lower because some of the prerequisites or requirements to get that degree are located between both campuses, but they're not offered solely at one or the other.

Shamil Rodriguez (20:24): And so how do we increase that number? Right. And so that's how we would come up with a strategy perspective, we'd say, okay, well, we believe that, you know, uh, doing X, Y, and Z could help increase these numbers, which would drop, which would reduce the dropout rate, uh, and increase retention. So, you know, therefore let's go with, with this idea and then the administration would then execute based on that guidance. Does that make sense? Like, it really does tie hand in hand, but we really had to get into the, you know, we would get data presented to us. Right. A lot of times it would be the administration presenting data to us based on like which committee you were in. And then it would be our job to think of like, what are some of the ways to tackle the questions that come from that data that we've been presented.

Daphné Vanessa (21:14): Got it. That makes tons of sense. How would a student who has a particular demographic interests or a group of students that have a particular interest, bring their concerns, bring their feedback, bring their data analysis to the board to take action upon.

Shamil Rodriguez (21:33): Yeah, that's a great question. Because when you got the people that knew how to do that, you'd be surprised how much of an impact and influence that has on the board. Because not a lot of people go to our board meetings. Right. And it, it used to frustrate me when I'd hear others. And like, I go to a conference or something with other board members from other schools and it'd be like, Oh, we have low attendance. Like nobody ever shows up. And it's like, like, sure, I get it. But it's one of those positions to me, it was like, from a student perspective at the time, it was like nobody ever knows about the board. And so they need something or something is like out of whack. And then they go to administration and the administration says like, Oh, it's the board's decision. Right. That's when the board comes in handy because maybe you've hit a couple of walls and nobody's giving you an answer to your problem.

Shamil Rodriguez (22:25): So what I learned through my experience is that what you, what you do is just find out when they're meeting, not every school as, as receptive. Right. I didn't know when I was an undergraduate at my, a private school, when the board was meeting, it doesn't mean that they, they didn't publish it. But what I appreciated is when we used to get students that would say like, Hey, we have this idea. And we would really love the board to consider starting this program because we got a hundred students to sign this petition, just to show that there's interest for this specific program, whether it was like learning how to get your pilot's license or a fashion degree, um, or, you know, there, there were a lot of great programs. They came across with like a veterans center, right? Like we had some veterans that came in and said, we would love to create a veterans center for us to come and like study and like discuss topics together.

Shamil Rodriguez (23:20): And that was something that was really motivating because we didn't like re we didn't ask for someone to find some veterans. And I bring that back to the board. There were, there were students that were like, Hey, we think this is a good idea. And you guys should consider it. So what I would say is that if you have an idea and you want to present it to the board, what I would suggest is one finding out who the administrator is that, that works in that area. Right. So if it was like the veteran's example, I find out who your VA rep is for your school. You may not be a veteran, but every school should have someone who's working with veterans or members of the military. And so speak to that person. You get a sense of what's coming down the pipe. What are some of the plans of the future, right.

Shamil Rodriguez (24:07): Uh, see whether or not your idea is already in the works, because you never know it might already be in the works. Um, if it's not then say, Hey, I would really love to see how we can get funding for this, or, uh, get like, uh, some backing from the board. You know, would you mind coming with me to present this idea, right. Likely if you came up with like a slide deck or just had like notes on a paper, um, my recommendation is come with the administration in your, in your favor, because now you're, even though we, we serve different roles, it's always easier for us from the board's perspective, because remember we're not doing it every day. We're not working there every day. It's easier for us to hear you and S and hear that you've, you've done some of the legwork already, and like, organizing that idea that you want to bring to the table. It doesn't mean it's a showstopper, if you don't, but I've found that it's been easier for us to like move quickly when you've already got the administration, you know, onboard.

Speaker 4 (25:09): That is such good advice. Speaking of moving quickly, I would love to get into the specifics. Right? What are people presenting? What is effective? Is it data? Is it a use case stories? Is it

Shamil Rodriguez (25:28): Sorry? I'm laughing. I'm only laughing because you just took me to like, some of the more exciting and some of the more boring meetings we've ever had. Right. Um, and so I would say that, like, you gotta keep it simple, like the, the, the, the acronym of like, keeping it simple kiss is so important when it comes to these board meetings, because typically we're covering a laundry list of items. Right. And we are, we are trying to cover every issue that the administration needs us to decide on in one day, or not even like an entire day, but just like one evening session. And so what I found is that when we do have students come or organizations come and present, what's helpful is having a handout, right. Because, uh, it's hard for us to envision or evaluate what you're saying. If we don't have some sort of, even if you have a presentation on a, on a, on the projector, it was still hard for us.

Shamil Rodriguez (26:31): If we didn't have something to flip through. And oftentimes, and I know Daphne, you would know this, I'd bring back presentations. And then I would review the presentations later on afterwards, because even though you've like, literally just like two or three minutes or four to five minutes to discuss your topic, you know, I need sometimes more time to go over. If it's like really, you know, been put together in a really great way. And I say, great. I mean, me. And like, if, if it's like thoroughly presented, so I would recommend, uh, keeping it simple, like literally two to three minutes, like think startup presentation, startup pitch, right? Like, that's how you're coming at it. You have your slide deck so that we can like roll through that on our own and with each other. Cause we have subcommittee meetings, like, so it'll go to like a subcommittee that covers that topic and then that'll allow for us to dive deeper. And then when we sit down with the administrator that covers that area, right. Cause we need to speak to them as what to say, like, how reasonable is this to implement? Like how feasible is it? Um, we have some sort of document to work with. And then we can also like, if you come with examples of how this works at other colleges, like totally,

Speaker 5 (27:42): Totally, totally, totally, totally a step

Shamil Rodriguez (27:44): In the right direction. I didn't I've, I've never actually thought about sharing this information. Right. This is like this specific deep level of detail. And I find that it's very, um, similar to other like presentation steps, like startups, right? Like for us and starting to write, like it's something that we see a lot in that you hear a lot when you cover these, these types of topics, but it's so true. Like I've been on the receiving end of like a very long, 30 minute presentation of like just spreadsheets. And I promise you, like, you lost me. I said, I don't like, like spreadsheets and present data. And I understand that, like I get it, it's a part of the process, but Holy moly, like if you're looking to like, think about it, the board of trustees is a collection of individuals that are members of the community that work in all different areas.

Shamil Rodriguez (28:39): So we all have different backgrounds. So one style is not going to work for everyone. That's why I think having physical presentations are good because some people need to have it in their hands. That's why having a visual is good because some people need to see it and then mixing up your slide deck with some tables and then maybe a slide with a summary of what the data in that table even means in the first place. Um, I think is a tremendous help for your cause. And also, like I said, bringing somebody from the administration on board to help you elaborate or speak about it from the administration's perspective is like a slam dunk. Because what happens is then when we turn to them for like, what's the feasibility question that we're always going to ask? Like, what is it going to cost? What's the feasibility, you know, how long will this take to implement? Like if we're going to implement this resource, where are we cutting it out from on another resource? Right? Because usually if we're giving money to one area that might mean we're going to have to cut it out of another area because we may not want to raise tuition. Right? And so these are all types of questions that you can help answer in advance and it makes it, it makes our job a lot easier to try to make that change based on your recommendation.

Speaker 4 (29:57): That is some solid advice. So if I understood correctly, you have different stakeholders, right? Different levels of people that you are selling. And so that first person is the administrator that's aligned with your goal, your vision, and you're selling that person. So perhaps preparing materials for that person, getting them on board so that when you go to the board, no pun intended, you are aligned and on the same page. And from there, you are preparing a five minute elevator pitch type of presentation with a shorter number of decks that emphasizes on the benefits to the university, how the execution model would run and the feasibility of it. Did I summarize that correctly?

Shamil Rodriguez (30:51): Uh, yeah. You hit it spot on. That's exactly. Uh, what I would, what I recommended and what I would continue to recommend to anyone who's presenting to, to the board of trustees or is looking to just get anything done at a college level. Like that's how it was.

Speaker 4 (31:08): And that approach, it sounds like is translatable to so many industries. Uh, but for students who do that experience, that can be very useful going forward in your career depending on what you do.

Shamil Rodriguez (31:23): Absolutely. Absolutely. And when you come to the board, like, at least from when I was on the board, we're always receptive to students because they never, they never come. And like, it's a joke. Ha ha. But like the reality is, like I said before, you only come, when now do you have a great, fantastic idea or when you've hit wall after wall, after wall, and you just feel like nobody in the administration is able to help you with this question or concept, and then you bring it to the board. Uh, so, you know, bring your ideas because we're going to be receptive because we just typically don't get folks that come with their ideas. And I say that because like, if you go to the administrative, if you go to the administrative official, that's aligned with the idea that you're looking to implement or a question that you have.

Shamil Rodriguez (32:10): What if they solve the question for you? What if they're able to say, you know what? We have the budget for it. We have the authority to move forward with this idea. Let's go for it. We may never see you. It doesn't mean that like, because we don't see, you means that like we're not doing our job or that we're not communicating with you. It might mean that the administration is just doing a hell of a job of helping you achieve your goals before that even comes to our desk. And we get those presentations. The reason I say that is because we get those like success stories from the administration to say like, Hey, here's a student program. Here's a student led program. That was an idea from a student that came to one of our, you know, vice deans or one of the, they brought it to their counselor who recommended it to the right person. And then, you know, now we've got this fare for a very specific area of types of students that are going to help them get jobs in their field. Right? Like I'm giving a random example, but that's, that's what happens.

Speaker 4 (33:01): So cool. How can universities improve the student experience? Right? You sat on the board, you saw a lot of different approaches and strategies towards success. What were some overarching themes that you saw that can help universities improve the student experience at any university?

Shamil Rodriguez (33:24): I would say, listen, listen, universities need to listen to their students. It's important in the end, your stakeholder, your most important stakeholder is your student. Your student has decided to bring their talents to your school. And I think a lot of times, a lot of schools get confused and think we're offering our resources to students and they're lucky to have a select them. And what I believe is to improve the university experience for your students, think about those students as the people that are bringing their talents to you because in the end, when they graduate and they create this magnificent, magnificent legacy, if they attach to their Nanci university, guess what? That's more shine for you. And I think that is what, if you keep the students as your number one priority, then you will improve the university experience for that student because of your listening.

Shamil Rodriguez (34:21): Listen to them, listen to your students. Obviously you're going to guide them because you know where the employment opportunities are located. You're going to provide them with the internship opportunities or access to the industry experts in the field that they want to go into. That's not a given, right? That's not a given. There are some universities that are just providing schooling, you graduate, and then you're done. I think that's a failure on their part for their students because in the end, as soon as they're coming to school, looking for guidance to launch their careers. And so you need to continue to see, listen to your students and say, what is it that you need, listen to your graduates? What is it that you feel like we failed you so that we can prevent that from happening for the next crop of students that are coming into our school? I think that would be the advice that I would give to any university that wants to shift, uh, the experience or the performance of their retention numbers or dropout rates at their university.

Speaker 4 (35:24): Thank you. That is powerful. So we can't end this episode without going over. The big issue that universities colleges are facing now, which is decreases in enrollment. Talk to us about enrollment. Don't have to go into specifics obviously during your time, but talk to us about enrollment and what universities can do to increase enrollment.

Shamil Rodriguez (35:54): Yeah, that's a great question. Uh, one of the, one of the programs that I thought was really great that the community college came up with or brought to us. And I left before I got to see the fruits of that program, you know, years on end to see how successful it's been. It was one that was an honors program, right? And it was the idea of really honing in, on students in your local community that are looking to, uh, that you're looking to recruit, right? And you're offering them really individualized attention. And it's not one-on-one everybody is one-on-one, but it's really saying, Hey, look, we know you're a top performer. You're a local student from one of our local local hyper-local high schools. And, uh, we want to help you offset your costs of school by coming to our school. Cause it's, it's an affordable option, but we're also gonna connect you with recruiters from these schools that you want to go to.

Shamil Rodriguez (36:48): And they're going to monitor you as you progress through. And as long as you continue to perform well, while you're here, your chances of getting into the school are going to be that much higher than if you had just applied to transfer on your own from another four year school. So I thought that was such a creative idea, because what you were doing is saying, we're going to give you a somewhat like bespoke, a very customized experience here, because we want to see you succeed. And I think once the student feels like you are invested in their success and like really invested, not like brochure invested, but like we're going to give you resources to help you succeed invested. Then I think your retention numbers go up because what happens is that they share that story with somebody else who is looking to go to school that may not have known about those programs that you're offering there.

Shamil Rodriguez (37:37): But because you gave that person such great service and you gave them such individualized attention or great career advice or great internship opportunities, they're going to share that with their family members, their parents are going to share that with their siblings and their nieces and nephews. And the next thing you know, you're recruiting or your service is doing the recruiting for you. So that would be, you know, from that one micro experience that I saw, I really tried to interpret that and say, huh, wow. I can see how service and experience to your number one stakeholder, which in our case is always, our student can really lead to a ripple effect on who else even knows about your school or your university or some of your programs, because it's not just that student, but it's everyone else has invested in that student, from their world, their parents, their siblings, their grandparents, their cousins, all of those people that are intimately invested that show up for graduation that are there from, that are always cheering them on until they hit their graduation point and get that degree in their hands. If that student has an amazing experience with you and their success and they, and they attributed to what you were able to help them achieve, all of those people in their circle are now going to recommend your school as an option for somebody else they know to consider. And I think that is what leads to true retention for, for schools and universities at any level, not just the community college level,

Speaker 4 (39:06): Huge, huge. So really relying on that word of mouth branding and the experience, it sounds like. Yeah.

Shamil Rodriguez (39:13): Yeah, because you can put up advertisements and get people in the door, but if they have a really poopoo experience and we're, and we're a clean podcast here, so I'm going to say poopoo. Um, but if you, you know, if you want to have, uh, if you want to give that experience, you know, you bring people in the door with your shiny advertisements, but then they don't succeed. Like good luck, like good luck, your numbers are going to suffer. Right. That's my opinion, at least.

Speaker 4 (39:37): Yeah. Yeah. No, for sure. For sure. Final question. The digital age has changed everything. It means that presentations are digital. It means that, um, the experience, the learning experience is heavily digital. What does that mean for the future of campuses and community colleges in particular?

Shamil Rodriguez (40:00): I think that we will still continue to have college campuses. I'm not a big believer like, Oh, the college campus is dead. Like not at all. I think that there is a, a strong foothold in the idea of a college experience, right. Especially here in the States. Now what I do. And I do appreciate seeing when I was there years ago, versus what I'm seeing today with COVID, uh, and the response to the pandemic is that online education for a long time was just like list the resources. And like people log in, they post on a board, right? The teacher get the professor gets back to them over time. It was kind of very like to me, I used to be like, man, I'm so happy. I didn't take an online course when I was on the board. Like, I was like, man, because you just covered everything.

Shamil Rodriguez (40:56): Right? Like it was just like, you, you, those were the only times that I saw that students were assigned the entire textbook. And I was like, that just seems absurd because you, you were missing that interaction with your professor that may have helped you fill in a gap for you, like live and on the spot. Right. And that, what I'm saying is that technology has evolved from the point where it was like a listing where the curriculum was just listed online. You would post your homework, you would get responses via email or on the board. And then, uh, that would kind of be it, whereas now with, with Skype zoom and all these different video technologies that are out there and like being able to stream essentially your, your lectures and have live interaction with your students, whether they're on a phone, on a laptop, on a tablet.

Shamil Rodriguez (41:50): What I think that has done is that has really done a great job of mimicking that in classroom experience, where you're able to ask a question while you are still, you know, trying to help fill in a gap, right? Let's say you, you miss a concept and you're like, wait, I didn't get that. Can you repeat that? Whereas if you were just struggling with it on your own, on the textbook, you're going to have to post it on the board, on the forum way for response. And at that point, how much time is that going to take, right? Like, are you going to be in the same problem line when you come back to it, if you're working or if you have other responsibilities at home, those are all things that could really slow down your educational process. So I'd have to say to answer your question, that with the advances in technology, and this is only just a few years and not like I went, I was on the board like a million years ago.

Shamil Rodriguez (42:36): This is literally just a few years ago. Um, I think that having that live stream that is actually fluid and that can be streamed on different, you know, internet connectivities, right? Cause now you don't have to have super fast high speed internet in order to stream and like have access to streaming. You can just use your cell phone and still have legitimate access to your classroom and your professor. So I think that has shifted the quality of the classroom experience. And I think that also has shifted like the quality of like what you take away from that experience. I do think that online degrees and programs are getting much more credibility than they had before, before, you know, a lot of schools and colleges would, you know, make it very clear. This is an online certificate. It's not the same as like the in classrooms, you know, certificate.

Shamil Rodriguez (43:26): I do believe that at some point in time, it will be generally accepted that like your degree from that school, whether it was online or in person that separation, or that distinction will no longer exist because of technology allowing for students to get the same experience and access to the resources of the professor and their office hours and things like that, which you know, which will create, you know, what, where's the actual distinction. And so I think that's where the technology goes and, and where the student experience will change. Um, based on, on online learning.

Daphné Vanessa (44:08): Thank you. That's incredibly enlightening and a great way to wrap up for our audience. Thank you so much Chanel for sharing with us, your unique experience on the board and how students can leverage boards to get things across, get ideas across that they find interesting that can improve their student experience. We appreciated having you on the show and we'll see you everyone next week.

Shamil Rodriguez (44:36): Good one. Thank you so much. Great questions. I really appreciate it. And I will see you guys next week

Daphné Vanessa (44:43): For more information, visit the student loan podcast.com forward slash episode 19, where you'll find a listing of the show notes and all of the tips, tricks, and suggestions that were mentioned on this episode. See you soon.

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