ROX Interview: Dr. Lisa Rhine

Interview by Ray Newton

Dr. Lisa Rhine, who became the 10th president of 55-year-old Yavapai Community College in February 2019, has reversed the question usually asked of college-bound students.
Instead of,” Are you ready for college?” she’s asking, “Is our college ready for you?”

Rhine represents a major philosophical shift about the role of higher education in a dynamically changing social and economic marketplace. “We’ve a new view of how post-secondary education should be structured to meet personal and societal needs. We’re putting that vision into place at Yavapai College. Classes and curricula now fit the needs of students instead of making students fit what for years have been academic policies based on centuries-old tradition.”

Rhine details here some of these innovations and how they are being put in place throughout all YC campuses and centers.

Rhine, though a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., spent most of her younger life in Ohio. It was in Ohio where she earned her bachelor’s degree in 1988 from Wright State University and her master’s in 1991 from the University of Dayton. It also was in Ohio where she met her husband of 24 years, James “Jim” Rhine. They both were working at Sinclair Community College and married in 1996. With degrees in mathematics, he currently is teaching at Prescott High School.

The Rhines have two sons. Alex, 23, is completing an associate’s degree at YC and will transfer to Northern Arizona University. Ben, 21, is a junior at Virginia Tech where he’s majoring in building construction.

Distinguished Professional Career
Rhine earned her Ph.D. in education administration in 2004 at Capella University in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Her professional career has predominantly been in higher education. She has taught or been a high-level administrator at five institutions prior to coming to Prescott:

  • Provost-chief operating officer — Tidewater Community College, Chesapeake, Va., 2013-2019.
  • Interim vice president-student affairs, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Kentucky, 2008-2013.
  • Associate provost-student success & retention, Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio, 2003-2008.
  • Director, learning enhancement & academic development, University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio, 2000-2003.
  • Manager, education support systems; program manager and counselor-disability services; learning disabilities specialist, Sinclair Community College, Dayton, Ohio-1989-2000.

Rhine has an enviable list of awards; a major one is being named in 2016-17 as one of the first Aspen Presidential Fellows, one of only 40 selected by the prestigious Aspen Institute. She was also named to a three-year appointment to the Commission on Diversity, Inclusion and Equity in 2017 by the American Association of Community Colleges.

She also has been successful in generating hundreds of thousands in grants and resources. At Tidewater College alone, she garnered resources worth more than $3.2 million. Her dozens of scholarly publications range from books to articles in refereed journals and conference presentations.

Rhine hasn’t let her rigorous academic leadership career stop her from enjoying personal interests. She smiles broadly when telling of one of her latest passions.

“I was nominated to dance for the Dancing with the Stars fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northern Arizona — all before COVID 19, of course. So Jim and I signed up for dance lessons. We now do Latin dances — the bachata and salsa — several times a week, and we love it. “

Reflecting about the new experience of being in Arizona, especially during these turbulent times, she shares, “You know, we are genuinely grateful to be here. We’re in awe of the beauty and friendliness of the community. There’s no place I’d rather be.”

PRESCOTT LIVING: Give us a quick overview of your childhood and young adulthood.

Dr. Rhine: My father was in the Navy. After the Navy, he worked in a paper mill and worked his way up into a supervisor at Kimberly-Clark. But he moved to Ohio and took over another factory. I have a stepmom who raised me along with my father. My stepmother worked at the school cafeteria.
I was the first one in my family to go to college. And that’s critically important, I think, because it was education that really broke the cycle of under-education and poverty in my family. It set me on a different trajectory.

PRESCOTT LIVING: In other words, you weren’t a member of a privileged class.

Dr. Rhine: Absolutely not. That’s why I do what I do. I want other individuals to realize the power of education to change their life trajectory. It worked for me. I want to help as many folks do that. And so that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.

PRESCOTT LIVING: A big question: Because of COVID, what are your plans for the opening of school? Are you going to have the traditional calendar?

Dr. Rhine: We do know where we’re going. We’re 70% — actually a little more than 70% — online or remote. And that’s the reverse of what we’ve done in the past, usually we’re about 80% face-to-face. So we got over the 70% mark, which was our goal. We’re only offering face-to-face portions of courses where it’s required that students have a face-to-face activity or lab. For example, welding. Some courses just have to have a person in place, because of either the cost of the equipment, or you have a person actually performing a skill. So we do have some face-to-face portions of some classes that will take place in the fall. All will have safety protocols in place, social distancing, masks, sanitation, all those. We’re trying to minimize the number of people on campus to minimize transmission.

PRESCOTT LIVING: Have you set dates yet when you’re going to open?

Dr. Rhine: We’re planning on opening on the same academic calendar that we always do. However, we are planning to have as few students return after Thanksgiving as possible. We’re telling faculty, “If you are delivering a face-to-face course, if it’s in your power, do not bring students back to campus after Thanksgiving,” because of travel and people dispersing. We don’t want them to bring that back to the halls.

PRESCOTT LIVING: You’ve been here since early 2019. You’ve implemented several major changes during the past 20 months. What prompted those changes, and what are the two or three most significant?

Dr. Rhine: When I first came on campus, I did a listening tour for the first six to nine months. I wanted to meet every person who was on our campus — all the employees and student groups. I spent a lot of time just listening and trying to figure out what themes emerged. What I discovered is that as much as we are an institution that serves students, we weren’t as strong as we could be in our relationships in support of one another. I knew that if we didn’t get that foundation right, and we didn’t get our relationships right, we weren’t going to be able to reach the goals that we needed to reach to be successful.

So we adopted this concept of what we’ll call the “YC way.” It has three elements. They are: relationship excellence, learning excellence and service excellence. The relationship excellence is the piece I’m talking about now. It’s how I treat you and how we treat students. Are we really seeing students and their needs, challenges and objectives? When I’m working with you in a different environment, am I seeing your needs, challenges and objectives?

It’s been really interesting because now that we’re having all the unrest we’re having in the country, we’re starting to have conversations around equity. This is beautiful because it serves as a foundation. It gives us all a common language. We then can have these harder conversations around equity.

You asked about major changes. One we put in place is what I would consider to be a true comprehensive enrollment management structure to grow enrollment. We took our student affairs division and divided it in two — student affairs and enrollment management. That infrastructure is very similar to what you find at a university. It focuses on identifying prospective students and then walking them through to being an applicant, and then to someone who’s enrolled. Rodney Jenkins is the vice president (of community relations and student development) we assigned the enrollment management structure to last fall.

We’ve been very fortunate. Our summer student headcount was up 30%. That’s unheard of. We were the only community college in the state that was up. We’re starting to see the fruit from our enrollment management efforts. And our enrollment projections for fall — it changes day to day. We’re technically even in student headcount right now, and we’re expecting some growth there. We’re hoping for 5% growth. I think it could even be bigger. In times when the economic situation is poor, we tend to get to reap some benefit because people want to come back to get re-skilled or upskilled.

PRESCOTT LIVING: That’s one major change. What’s a second?

Dr. Rhine: We are bringing forth some new academic programs. We have more than 100 programs, including trades programs, transfer degrees and lifelong learning courses. A big one is really a forward-thinking effort in 3D printing — 3D construction of homes.

Actually, we’ll have two different machines. The small machine will be here in July and allow us to print smaller houses of about 900 square feet. We’ll use it for training.
But the big printer — we’ll be able to print homes up to 2,000 square feet. It will build the walls, provide holes for conduit, plumbing and so on. What’s remarkable is that the printer can do a complete home in about a month, as opposed to traditional construction, which takes several months. And in Prescott, that size home can cost from $400,000 to $600,000 and more. We’ll be able to do it for between $90,000 to $120,000.

We’ll be the first community college in the nation to have that program. It’s a new and emerging technology. I think that’s going to be incredibly valuable for this community. Housing here is expensive. We have teachers and first responders and others who find it hard to get affordable housing. I can’t wait until we get a demo house set up.

PRESCOTT LIVING: Other curricular changes?

Dr. Rhine: Another program is bringing some skilled trades courses on board in the Verde Valley. We will build a skilled trades center. It will bring in programming for electricians, plumbers and HVAC — heating, ventilation, air conditioning — and other short-term programs. It will provide certifications to meet employers’ needs.

Another thing that we’ve brought on board that’s really cool is called OER — Open Educational Resources. It’s validating materials that can be used in place of textbooks, because textbooks are extraordinarily expensive. Textbooks and materials make up 25% of the cost of a degree. We want to replace textbooks to save students money. On average, it’s $100 for one textbook. In the fall, we’ll have 52 sections of courses that are textbook-free. And it brings in different perspectives. And it doesn’t go out of date.

PRESCOTT LIVING: You have, in Yavapai College, one of the most complicated geophysical structures in the entire state. In fact, in many states. You have two main campuses — Prescott and Verde Valley and four centers— Career and Technical Center, Chino Valley Center, Prescott Valley Center and Sedona Center. How do you accommodate those diverse locations?

Dr. Rhine: I know exactly what you’re talking about. When I was hired, I remember the search consultant telling me this was a place that was, for lack of a better word, divided, right? There’s a mountain in between the east and the west side. I was told, “There’s the Verde Valley versus Prescott. It’s been going on for 100 years.” But what I discovered was that on each side of the mountain, it’s really these individual towns that have their unique needs, expectations, challenges they’re trying to address through the college.

That’s why I spent all that time getting to know the folks in those individual towns — to find out what their needs are. We’ve worked really hard to meet with city and town councils, with mayors, with the tribes. We ask, “What can we do? What can the college do to support you and to find that need, that intersection where we can work together?”

They’re all residents. This is why the skilled trade center came about — because we listened. If they are committed to us and we’re committed to them, let’s see if this will work.

PRESCOTT LIVING: The last two years, you haven’t increased the budget. That’s the first time that’s happened in a while. To what do you attribute that?

Dr. Rhine: We knew we were going to have a lot of new priorities. That happens with new leadership. We looked internally to reallocate instead of going further into our contingency funds. We also looked for ways that we could generate revenue in various areas. We didn’t want to increase taxes, and we didn’t want to increase our budget, but we wanted to do all these new things. And I do have a strong financial administrative staff, and we worked really hard. Clint Ewell, our vice president for finance, provided excellent leadership. Our excellent governing board unanimously approved the 2020-2021 budget. We have the lowest tuition in Arizona for community colleges and the lowest taxpayer cost per student.

PRESCOTT LIVING: You’re really getting into STEM. I heard Yavapai College was a critical factor in CP Technologies deciding to come to Prescott, because of the relationship they’re going to have with you. (Editor’s Note: CP Technologies is a multimillion designer and manufacturer of computer hardware for military, industrial and commercial markets. It has relocated its North American headquarters from San Diego to Prescott).

Dr. Rhine: Yes. We met with them four or five times. We also partnered with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in proposing how we could provide higher education support for the CP Tech projects. Rodney Jenkins used his relationship with the Arizona-based Israeli technology alliance to show how YC could provide support.

CP Technologies executives worked with us before they made the decision to relocate here. They narrowed it to five states, then they were down to two or three. They wanted to be sure that we could build curriculum that was very specific for their workforce to get them some entry-level folks quickly. We can. Those conversations started a year and a half, two years ago. As a result, they selected Prescott. We are delighted.

PRESCOTT LIVING: You’ve also established relationships, partnerships with other institutions. For example, you’re partnering now with Northern Arizona University on degree programs in education.

Dr. Rhine: We’ve been working really hard on that. With our K-12 partners, and with increasing the number of dual enrollment opportunities, concurrent enrollments, and pathways from the high schools, and with our four-year partners for transfer students, we’re serving a much broader student population.

Seven or eight institutions in the state are working around bringing together these micro-credential opportunities. For instance, we work together to get a single grant to be able to offer a combination of courses that lead to a Google certification and get people employed.

Something else you need to know. Because of our role that’s emerged as a consequence of COVID, we need to be offering more micro-credentials programs — clusters of credit or noncredit courses that lead to some kind of industry certification and put people to work. It’s our responsibility to build those into a curriculum.

For example, if you came here and took three classes to fulfill certification in something, you are able to get an entry-level job in that. Additionally, those three courses would then be stackable to a certificate and then a degree. Our job is to put you in that pathway or work with your employer to help pay for your education, and we help build the pathway for you.

You’re going to see more short-term options, short-term industry credentials that get people back in the workforce quickly. We’re going to need that in order to turn the economy around after COVID.

PRESCOTT LIVING: You had a time when enrollment was downhilling.

Dr. Rhine: Generally, we’ve not been more than 3% or 4% down in a while. We average breaking even. There are many populations we were just not recruiting. We weren’t targeting our marketing. We now look at different regions, and we know where students are coming from. Before, we didn’t have a real recruiting arm. It was kind of like “Build it and they will come.” It was traditional.

But now, we created an Admissions Office. Half our advisers became recruiting advisers, and the other half, retention advisers. Nothing falls through the cracks. It’s more face-to-face and phone-call-to-phone-call versus emailing.

We do anticipate student growth. We don’t necessarily have any need for more infrastructure unless it’s very specialized around some new kind of program. As mentioned, we are building the skilled trade center in the Verde Valley. That’s supposed to come online in fall of 2022.

PRESCOTT LIVING: It seems the traditional format of a college or a university — 8 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon — that’s gone. We won’t see that model again.

Dr. Rhine: You’re absolutely right about that. Vice President Jenkins and I are both dreamers. We have lots of conversation about how we can do it in new and exciting ways.

I said, “Have we ever had a weekend college here where someone could come and just take classes Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, then knock it out in three months and be done?” That’s what people want. They don’t want to come at 10 in the mornings, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday — whatever. It’s a hybrid model, too, the mix of online and face-to-face, but only when you need it. We’ll have short-term options.

Take a 16-week semester. Condense it into eight weeks. Classes meet more often, but they’re done in eight weeks. Anymore, people aren’t willing to commit 16 weeks of their life. A lot can happen in 16 weeks. Instead, we put in place many more eight-week sessions of classes that are condensed and have different start dates. You can start later in a semester or at the beginning of a semester.

PRESCOTT LIVING: What has been your biggest challenge?

Dr. Rhine: This whole COVID thing was just unprecedented. As a new president, I was so happy and fortunate I had a year in before that hit. I have some friends that became presidents right as it began. And I just can’t imagine that situation.

But for me, my biggest challenge so far has been having to make decisions that are critically important with sometimes imperfect data or incomplete information. We have to make decisions based on the facts in front of us. We make the best decision we can. And we’re talking about health and safety of individuals. But you make the best decision that you can with all the data that you have in front of you.

PRESCOTT LIVING: You’ve got a major decision to make about athletic programs for this coming year.

Dr. Rhine: Yavapai College, along with all Arizona community colleges and the NCJAA, recently agreed to move all sports to the spring semester. With the uncertainty we are dealing with as it relates to COVID-19, we wanted to err on the side of caution and not put our student-athletes or coaches in danger by having competitions this fall. After reviewing many different scenarios, we felt this was the safest course of action.

We do not have specific details of how athletic schedules will look, but we are anticipating a close to normal schedule for baseball and softball. Meanwhile, volleyball and soccer schedules will be determined at a later date by the league’s athletic directors.

In the next three years, we anticipate major changes in our athletic program array, including the number of teams. We are looking at adding women’s soccer, spirit (cheerleading), and eSpirts in 2021. In 2022, the plan is to add men’s and women’s basketball. I need to add, everything is based on the reduction in the COVID-19 situation.

PRESCOTT LIVING: You are going to have soccer? Is that firm?

Dr. Rhine: It’s firm. And we’ll be adding women’s soccer in the spring. Our goal is to recruit 90% of our team from Yavapai County. And then the following year, we will add men’s and women’s basketball.

And then esports—electronic sports. Esports has been growing across the country. It involved highly organized individual and multiplayer competitions. It has become a billion-dollar industry. I said we’re missing the boat. We’ve got to do esports. It’s bigger than the music industry and the movie industry combined. It is huge.

Some people wonder, “Is YC going to continue with athletics?” We’re talking about growing athletics. But we’ll do it in a way that it’s more self-supporting, becomes more of a revenue-generating entity. And we just became an Adidas school, which is exciting. Adidas is subsidizing some of our athletic activities.

PRESCOTT LIVING: As we conclude, is there anything you would like to share with readers?

Dr. Rhine: (Smiling) I’m just incredibly grateful to be doing this work and to be doing this work here in this county. I really have appreciated the welcoming nature and the community that’s here and the beauty of this place.

And I would like Prescott to be my forever home. I hope it’s my last stop on the higher ed train. I’m trying to develop relationships that I know are going to be long term because I don’t plan to go anywhere. I also know that every decision I make, I want to be around to see the long-term consequence of that decision. I’ve been given an exceptional opportunity. 