Had a little sit-down with President Rassoul Dastmozd today to get an idea of where the school is going.
He’s not a bad interview — quite low-key, but doesn’t seem to have the stiff, corporate demeanor or much of the edubabble that infects a lot of college administrators.
He comes from Clark College, the second-largest community college in Washington state, where he served as vice president of instruction. But he got his bachelor’s degree in engineering technology from Southwest State University in Minnesota, so he has some state ties.
His love of the diversity is apparent:
“One of the things that drew me (to the college) is the minority population. I see little bit of myself in them.”
Having started in July — replacing longtime president Donovan Schwichtenberg — he’s probably still learning his way around. He seems to have a lot to work with — citing 75 percent growth in the last decade and a 41 percent graduation rate that’s far above the 26 percent rate of his national peers, for example.
But like most in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, he’s also learning to do with less. This year’s budget cut was around 11 percent, he said, and because Saint Paul is a community college, it doesn’t have a lot of alternate sources of funding.
Still, Dastmozd said, “we’re the little choo-choo that can do magic.”
So what are his priorities in the coming years?
In brief, they include:
Beefing up the liberal arts. Saint Paul hasn’t really shed the old Technical Vocational Institute (“TVI”) name even though 55 percent of its students aren’t tech students, he said. He’d like Saint Paul College to become more of a gateway to a four-year university, he said. That includes expanding the selection of foreign languages, which he said now includes only Spanish. That said, he said the school first needs to “find out what the market is.”
- Build an honors program. That’s key to helping students move on to four-year schools, he said. That would require creation of a new curriculum in 10-12 different subjects, along with someone to coordinate the program.
- Offer more support earlier in students’ lives. “We need to try to figure out (ways) for students in the K-12 system to stay on track,” he said. “We pour an awful lot or resources into students and educational programs, but they’re not very successful.” Inner-city youths with lots of potential are lost because they get mixed up in the wrong groups, he said. What they need is help and guidance.
- Focus on Latinos. They’re less than 4 percent of the school’s student body, but have recently grown by 19 percent, and are already about 8 percent of the state’s population and 16 percent of the nation’s. They’ll be a big audience to serve.
- Start a weekend college and online program. Using the Clark College model as a successful example, he said he’d like to offer a two-year associate’s degree that students and workers can take during weekends. He’d also like to package all of the school’s online courses into a two-year degree.