Non-Credit Leadership: Dr. Francisco Suarez

Pam Sornson, JD

Pam Sornson, JD

April 19, 2022

There were many reasons why Dr. Francisco Suarez took the job as Dean of Non-credit and Adult Education (NCE) at Pasadena City College (PCC). Not the least important is its significant program advances in response to both the COVID-19 pandemic and the technology-based economies that are emerging in its wake. He also liked the program’s relative size (not too big; not too small) and the school’s pervasive inclusive culture. And he’s very invested in assisting those PCC students who need his help the most; helping new learners to find better jobs with new skills has been his passion for years.

 

New Year, New Start

Starting his new role in January of 2021, Dr. Suarez was facing two immediate challenges: exploring how PCC’s existing NCE supported its most vulnerable students, those who are faced with language, physical, educational, and other barriers, and addressing low enrollment numbers (across the school as well as in his department).

Exploring the NCE Curricula

“The NCE is often the ‘port of entry’ into college for many PCC students,” he says, “many of whom now need to learn new skills to find new work.” PCC’s NCE provides foundational ’employment skills’ training to help these new learners get their ‘workplace readiness‘ feet under them. Courses include ‘English-as-a-second-language’ (ESL) skillsvocational ESL skills specifically for learners to use on the job, Adult Basic Education (ABE), and high school equivalency classes (through a GED program or an Adult High School Diploma program). 

He’s impressed by how the department understands the high pressure placed on its student body and how it has made accommodations to ease some of that burden. The NCE’s health program, for example, includes courses that are also requirements for credited coursework, but students taking those classes through the NCE department don’t pay tuition. As a result, NCE learners can attain those credits and apply them to further, relevant training without eroding their financial aid opportunities.    

Looking at the Numbers

Like all other California Community Colleges (CCC), Pasadena is also experienced reduced enrollment numbers in its 2021-2022 academic year. The two-year-old COVID-19 pandemic is the most significant contributor to the decline. All CCC schools lost students when campuses were closed and learning was transitioned to an all-online format. However, since those campuses reopened in Fall 2021, the numbers are still depressed, being down by 7% compared to 2020 and 20% compared to 2019. 

At PCC, Suarez has been busy at work on projects designed to attract more NCE students to his programs.

This past winter, he hosted a series of virtual information sessions that were accessible online, which have netted approximately 100 new registrations in the past few weeks. 

He’s also convened a ‘marketing taskforce’ populated by other campus leaders to develop materials that can showcase specific programs in three minutes or less. 

And he’s using new and traditional distribution methods to get the word out:

existing PCC social media channels can share all his information with their respective subscribers and followers, and

he distributed paper fliers to senior homes, libraries, schools, etc., all with QR codes that provide even more information through that digital portal.    

Coming up, he has a Latinx Research Fair in the works. For it, he’s ordered a variety of ‘swag’ materials, is looking to hire a marketing company for the project, and is creating a tri-lingual flier that speaks in the school’s three most prevalent languages, English, Spanish, and Mandarin. 

Suarez designed these projects with the intention of building the NCE population back to 3,000 from its current 1,000 registrants. 

 

Looking Forward 

In addition to these two major endeavors, Suarez has also been working on projects designed to offer his learners enhanced occupational and job training opportunities. In collaboration with Dr. Arminé Derdiarian, the Dean of PCC’s Career and Technical Education department, Suarez plans to build his NCE programs into ‘career pathways’ for the CTE curricula. He is looking at jobs and careers data of the future and using that information to lay tomorrow’s NCE foundation.  

For example, PCC’s CTE division currently has two Electric Vehicle projects in the works, developing programs to both train EV maintenance techs and install and maintain the EV charging stations those vehicles will require. Suarez sees the programs as opportunities for NCE learners to set future job goals. Ongoing conversations between the CTE department, industry leaders, and Pasadena City Government are informing him about the foundational requirements those new jobs will need, and he’s developing those protocols already for use in his NCE department. “It takes about a year to get new curricula approved,” he says, and he’s not wasting any time getting started.

He’s also looked at the construction job opening predictions over the course of the next decade. Data suggests the number of those career opportunities will grow by up to 7% over the next eight years, and Suarez is working to partner with new companies and develop new programs so his students can fill those demands.     

 

Support Where They Need It

Suarez believes he can succeed with these initiatives because of the extensive support services PCC offers all its students, especially those engaged in NCE courses. “They often need more support than traditional students,” he says, and PCC’s systems are set up to help all its learners with the precisely right support that they need. In addition, he sees its diversity at all levels as being very impressive and a factor that will make it easier for his sometimes shy and inexperienced constituents to approach the school. “The faculty has its heart in the right place and really understands the needs of these students.” It’s evident to him that they love their work and love helping their learners.

Judging by his ongoing efforts and enthusiasm to hit the ground running in his new role as Dean of Non-Credit and Adult Education, it’s clear that Dr. Francisco Suarez has his heart in the right place, too.   

     

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