Cowley College officials indicated media coverage is one of the biggest challenges they face during the annual Cowley College Board of Trustees retreat Feb. 10 at the college.

Cowley College President Dennis Rittle

Rittle

Cowley College President Dennis Rittle discussed the college’s image issues and his thoughts that the media are primarily responsible for them.

He indicated that he believes area media entities are not reporting news so much as “proof-texting.”

“Proof-texting means that I have an endgame, and that I go and look for information that’s going to support that, but I ignore everything else, instead of saying things in context,” Rittle said.

He told the trustees that is what he thinks is happening to the college.

“Are we having reporting or are we having stories written? Because if a story is written, that means I already have an endgame,” he said.

“I call it what it is, and that’s storytelling.”

Rittle claimed college staff also think the way he does about local media coverage and the threat it poses to the college.

He also thinks that other Kansas community colleges do not face the same scrutiny from local media agencies.

“If I’d ordered it, it would have been number one — (media) may actually be a threat,” Rittle said.

Other challenges Rittle indicated the college faces include budget restraints, campus housing options and staffing levels.

Sumner County snowglobe

A presentation about the Sumner County campus expansion included reports from the executive director of Sumner County Economic Development, director of the Wellington Area Chamber of Commerce and companies working on the construction of the Sumner campus.

Chamber Director Kelly Ford was optimistic in her report regarding the economic climate of Wellington, using a colorful metaphor.

“Not too long ago, there was this kid that came from a small neighboring town,” Ford said. “He walked into a shop in Wellington. He was wearing a bright orange T-shirt with a tiger on the chest. …

“There was a dusty snowglobe on the shelf named the City of Wellington. He cradled it gently in his hands. He smiled a small, wicked smile, then he shook the heck out of it. This kid continued to grin as he watched the snowflakes twirl ’round and ’round. It was exciting.”

The city as a whole is still settling back down and finding ways to be involved in the expansion, Ford said.

Sumner campus funding

The trustees also received a crash course in the funding of the Sumner campus during the presentation.

Sumner County voted to collect a half-cent sales tax for the next 10 years to fund the construction, equipping, furnishing and operation of the campus. However, those 10 years of revenues will not fund the entire project. “We would have liked to have seen 30 years,” Rittle said.

The state only allows a sales tax to be imposed for a 10-year increment, unless it is a permanent tax that never sunsets.

Once the current half-cent tax sunsets, Sumner County voters would have to pass another tax to continue paying for the campus.

While the progress made in the construction of the campus has spurred new economic growth, according to both the Wellington chamber and economic development directors, potential new costs were presented to the trustees.

The Sumner County campus was designed with the option of adding an industrial kitchen, but there were no immediate plans to add it.

However, the community in Wellington has shown interest in the kitchen being included.

Ford indicated social clubs in Wellington were just some of the organizations that would use the kitchen dining area for their meetings.

The cost of this addition would be somewhere around $500,000 — but this cost could increase if the construction were to be done after the rest of the campus construction already is complete.

The trustees will have to make a decision relatively soon about whether this kitchen addition should be made or if it should wait.

College priorities, planning

Cowley staff also discussed the college’s mission, vision, priorities and data-driven strategic planning, as well as the college’s chief initiatives, challenges and opportunities.

Rittle shared the college’s mission and vision statements, as well as gave the board a list of the core values the college strives to uphold.

“These have been pretty stable … these are (the values) in our pail,” he said.

The values he spoke of included people, accountability, integrity and leadership.

The strategic planning section also covered many factors that are taken into account while planning for the future of the college. Among them:

  • planning and leading;
  • student success;
  • valuing people;
  • student/stakeholder needs;
  • technology infrastructure;
  • financial stewardship.

As Rittle explained to the board, the college uses these priorities to determine what programs should be pursued at the college.

Survey feedback

Rittle also outlined some of the statistics gathered by a survey recently conducted by the college.

The origins of the survey were not entirely clear, but 95 people, whose ages range from 25 to 64 years old, participated in it.

The survey was distributed through several organizations, such as local chamber of commerce offices.

“You will always have a handful of people that disagree,” Rittle said of the results he shared with the trustees. For instance, one of the metrics was satisfaction with communications from the college, a statement with which 8 percent of survey-takers disagreed.

The metric with the most statistical weight showed that 35 percent of survey-takers did not agree that the college trustees represented the diversity of the community.

“These are determined by people who put themselves out there,” Rittle said.

“If the community is saying they want to see something, then we’re going to have to encourage people to think about these things.”

Ark City Daily Bytes Editor Kayleigh Lawson contributed to this report.