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NW-SCC president celebrates two years of success

When Glenda Colagross first joined Northwest-Shoals Community College as an instructor in 1992, she was unaware how much of an impact she would make at NW-SCC.

Fast forward almost 28 years, and Colagross is celebrating two years as president of NW-SCC, with a list of successes and overcome obstacles behind her.

“I desire for my legacy to be that I worked continuously to create and nurture an environment of creativity, exploration and empowerment among the administration, faculty and staff,” Colagross said.

When Colagross returned to NW-SCC in 2017 as interim president, the college was undergoing a major financial aid review by the United States Department of Education, triggered because the college had over-awarded financial aid to some students because to a computer glitch.

Colagross said this review took almost two years to resolve as the college appealed to forgive the amounts awarded to students where there was documented proof of success.

In May 2019, the college returned approximately $1.2 million for student aid where they could not document success.

Colagross said another struggle the college has had to face in her time as president is the challenge of reversing the trend of decreased enrollment while maintaining an upward trend with retention and completion, contributing to a decrease in the unemployment rate in the college’s service area.

“When I returned to the college as interim president in the fall semester of 2017, the enrollment had decreased by 8 percent that semester,” Colagross said. “Since then we have increased enrollment by approximately 5 percent, while the unemployment rate has continually dropped from 6.4 percent to a record low 2.6 percent just before the pandemic hit.”

Colagross said NW-SCC has also had similar success with its retention rate, with the fall-to-spring retention rate increasing from 76 percent to 83 percent and the fall-to-fall retention rate increasing from 56 percent to 60 percent.

Colagross said the completion rate has also increased, with the number of awards given annually surpassing the 1,000 mark this past year when NWSCC awarded 1,007 certificates and degrees.

She said when she first arrived as president, one of the first things she knew she wanted to improve was streamlining the organizational structure of the college.

“I have been able to restructure areas of the college for the most efficiency of services and personnel, and the new structure seems to be working very well,” Colagross said.

On the career technical side, NW-SCC has started two new successful apprenticeship programs. The first apprenticeship, the FAME program, began in the summer semester of 2019 as 21 students began working with a sponsoring business three days a week and attending classes two days a week.

In fall 2019, NWSCC began a work-based learning program called Power 5 in the HVAC program.

“Our Power 5 apprenticeship program became a model for the state because it aligned with Gov. Ivey’s initiative to have 500,000 skilled workers by 2025,” Colagross said. “Our team worked with the Alabama Community College System Office and the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship to move this program to a competency-based model and submitted it to the U.S. Department of Labor for approval. Thus, we now have a work-based model to apply to all of our career technical programs going forward.”

Colagross said she is most proud of NW-SCC students and how they are changing the face of their local communities, as well as the state and the nation.

“Most of our students tend to be local, and as alumni, many of them become leaders of our local businesses and industries,” Colagross said.

She said although the past two years have been successful for her time as president of NWSCC, she still has several more plans for the future.

“My vision for Northwest-Shoals is to meet the needs of our students, business and industry and the community through innovative educational programs, workforce training and relationships to establish shared goals,” Colagross said. “We will continue to improve our educational programs through ongoing curriculum development, program reviews and application of best practice methods of teaching.

“At the forefront of our vision will be achieving student success.”