In January, Delta College President Jean Goodnow announced plans to retire. She has headed the community college based in University Center since 2005. Her last day with the college is Aug. 31.
Goodnow is a graduate of the University of Iowa, where she earned a doctorate of philosophy in higher education administration, a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling and a bachelor’s degree in sociology. She has also completed post-graduate study at Harvard University.
A native of Iowa, Goodnow is a first-generation college graduate and she was raised by her grandparents on a small farm. Her career spans 49 years in higher education, with 25 years serving as a community college president. During her 16-year tenure at Delta, Goodnow has seen the college change and grow, including the opening of the new Downtown Saginaw Center and the construction of the Downtown Midland Center, which is scheduled to open in the fall.
Goodnow sat down for an online interview about her experiences, plans for the future, and challenges she expects the new president will face.
Q: Why retire now with so much happening at Delta and in the Great Lakes Bay Region?
Delta College President Jean GoodnowA: It’s been one of my goals to complete the Midland Center, so I didn’t want to retire until after it was built. It’s on schedule for completion, and we’re planning an open house and ribbon cutting either late July or early August, and I’ll be retiring at the end of August. I’ve been trying to psychologically and mentally prepare myself for retirement for a couple of years. I feel like I’ve been able to make some things happen. I’d like to go out when those good things are happening. Having completed the Saginaw Center, and the Midland Center, and some place-making things around those, as well as some student initiatives we’ve completed, I just feel like the timing is right for me personally and professionally.
Q: What do you hope your legacy will be?
A: I want people to say Jean Goodnow was definitely student centered. Whenever she talked, she talked about student success, and she talked about what can we do to address the needs and serve more students. We have improved the scholarship dollars to meet the financial needs of students. We’ve expanded our student programs to serve students and to attract them. We’ve become a leader college in Achieving the Dream, and that’s because of some of the great things we’ve been able to do to serve our students. We have served and really addressed the needs of our students of color. We have emphasized diversity and the importance of diversity in our students. We have increased the number of students of color who have come to Delta College, but more importantly, we have increased the number of students of color who graduate from Delta College in all programs across the board. I hope that my legacy is going to be ‘Jean Goodnow was really student centered and cared about students. She wanted to do everything she could to help students reach their goals, and she touched the lives of some students she was able to interact with.’
Q: What challenges do you think the new president will face?
A: There are going to be some real challenges in the future with the budget. Because of where we’ve been and COVID-19 and how we’ve had to address some of these issues. We’ve had so many high school students getting lost academically with online instruction, that’s going to mean they’re going to come in with skills that may not have been as strong as they would have been otherwise. So, there’s going to be curriculum adaptations that are going to be necessary, to serve some of those students, and very agilely, quickly. Because of COVID, a lot of jobs are going to be eliminated because they can be done at home. There will be new jobs that are going to be developed. What those new jobs are, we don’t know, but what that’s going to mean is that Delta is going to need to provide programs in those areas.
We’re finding that there are some real mental health issues – students and staff feeling the isolation. We need to make the connections with the relationship building and how we communicate with one another. Those are big challenges to address, and there aren’t any playbooks out there for that. There haven’t been any playbooks written for how to deal with COVID.
So it’s going to be extremely important that the new president be a good listener, and they be able to communicate really well with people, and that they be able to really encourage people, especially our people in the community college to respond, in a very agile way to the needs of our students and our business community.
Q: What has COVID’s impact been and what will recovery look like at Delta College?
We’ve had a 10-plus percentage decline in enrollment. It’s been substantial. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been fiscally responsible and I’ve got to say we’ve been very student oriented here. Will it have an impact on the future? Yes it will. We have always wanted to have as many full-time faculty as we could afford, and we’ve been able to do that even though we’ve had steep, steep declines in students. At one time we had over 10,000 students. Now we’re more at 6,500. That’s a huge drop and we’ve been handling it from a budget standpoint. So, I think that means we’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing to create programs that are going to be of interest to meet the needs of our employers in the area. We need to continue to be as efficient as we can, with how we’re serving our students, so that’s where we need to keep changing, and doing things differently than we’ve been doing them. That’s not always easy to do.
Q: Do you have any plans for the immediate future or do you just plan to retire and relax?
I am going to take a few months and – there are a lot of books. I love to read. I’m hopeful I can get out and go to some movies. I love to travel and go to some different places. I’ve got a couple places on my bucket list I want to travel to. I have a son out in Las Vegas. Most of my family and my nephew that I raised and his family are all back in Iowa. For the first couple of months, I’m going to relax and do some things I haven’t been able to do in a long time. Then I’ve got a few ideas out there. I’ve got a few people who have approached me on some things. I haven’t said yes to anyone yet. I’ll be active, but I won’t be as active as I am right now with 12- and 14-hour days 7 days a week.