“Find the need, and endeavor to meet it.” – David Sinclair.
The above quote isn’t just Sinclair Community College’s motto – it’s their foundation.
David A. Sinclair, a Scottish immigrant and YMCA Secretary, founded the school in 1887 after discovering a need for affordable, skills-based training in Dayton.
Nestled inside the old YMCA building located on the intersection of 4th & Main, the small training academy had a very modest beginning. The fledgling school offered only two basic courses, mechanical drawing and bookkeeping. Fifty-five students – all men – assembled in the evenings and occupied only two small rooms of the Dayton YMCA.
Things have changed a little since then. Nineteen buildings comprise the main campus of downtown Dayton, with four satellite locations serving the communities of Huber Heights, Englewood, Warren County and Preble County.
Sinclair Community College is an award-winning, nationally recognized institution that now serves as a model for other two-year colleges. The school is one of the most important institutions in the Miami Valley region, educational or otherwise.
A member of the League for Innovation in the Community College since 1989, the college boasts some impressive statistics :*
- 25,500 students, fall enrollment (highest on record)
- 176 degrees and certificate programs offered
- $52 million, annual federal money flowing through Sinclair into Dayton
- $62 million, annual state money flowing through Sinclair into Dayton
- 5,985 online students, fall enrollment
- Sinclair tuition is 43% lower than the average of Ohio’s community colleges
- 40,000 students will take courses this year at the school
*Statistics provided by Sinclair Community College.
Dr. Steven Johnson, the college’s fifth president, has been at the helm of the college since 2003. The Wisconsin native was kind enough to grant Dayton Most Metro an interview in which he discussed the school’s philosophy and its sterling national reputation. Mr. Johnson speaks with a substantial amount of pride and passion as he details the college’s role in the local economy and offers a glimpse into the future of this “world-class” institution.
DMM: Can you tell me a little about your professional background?
SJ: I spent my entire career in higher education, I began as a student worker back in 1980, and I’ve been employed continuously by some college or university ever since. I’ve worked at universities, I’ve worked at a private liberal arts college in Arkansas, a huge, 75,000 student community college system of Dallas, a community college campus in Clearwater, Florida before coming here to Sinclair to serve as chief operating officer and provost. I’m in my tenth year here at Sinclair. It’s a great college!
DMM: What did you know about Dayton before moving here?
SJ: Nothing! There were no perceptions of Dayton, at all. I knew of Sinclair. You know, in the entire United States, there are about 4,500 colleges and universities. And,out of that number, there are only about 1,200 or so, community colleges. So actually, it’s quite a small world. And in that small world of colleges and universities, Sinclair is easily in the top 20 or so, community colleges that you just know after you’ve been in the business a while. So, I knew of Sinclair from that. That’s why I applied for the job…I knew Sinclair was a very good college.
I very much like living in Dayton. My wife is from here, we met shortly after I moved here.
DMM: Specifically, what were you hearing about the college that made it appealing to you?
SJ: Sinclair has long been known as being an innovator. It was really known for its work in technology. At least for 20 or 30 years, it’s had a reputation for being excellent in technology. Sinclair has also been known for its work in classroom assessment of learning. In fact, it’s one of the leaders.
Sinclair has also been known for developmental education. In the ’80’s and ’90’s, it really gained a reputation at that time that carries forward to this day. Additionally, the school is known for community connectiveness. If you are a student of higher education who wants to study community connectedness, community partnership, this is one of the best colleges in the nation to do that. The interaction and connection with the leaders, businesses, community groups, civic organizations, the students, the residents…this is just a model college for that kinda thing. It’s really, really good.
DMM: As you said, the college had a great reputation and a proven track record of success. When you assumed the role of president, what were some of your goals for the institution?
SJ: There were several issues, actually. Moving forward on teaching and learning, keeping abreast of technology…keeping Sinclair as a part of the elite League for Innovation.
Also, keeping Sinclair union-free – not fighting to keep unions out – but, having the kind of environment where the employees feel that a union doesn’t add anything. They don’t have to hire someone to fight with [the college.] Sinclair is a great place to work.
There are several others. You know, we passed the levy. That was on the list. We’ve pretty much hit all of it…We even hit the front page of The New York Times! [Laughs] We’ve had our share of good luck. Some of it’s lucky, and some of it is being ready to be lucky…we’ve had a little bit of both.
DMM: How important is Sinclair to the Dayton community? What makes this college such valuable asset to the Miami Valley area?
SJ: Well, right off the top of my head, I would say that there is well over 100 million dollars a year that flows into Dayton, Ohio through Sinclair from Washington D.C., and from Columbus. That’s over 100 million dollars, that flows into this community because we exist.
That money comes in the form of student financial aid, grant programs, state funding for our operations…it’s a tremendous amount. And that goes right into the local economy and gets multiplied many times over.
We can also look at our impact like this: A citizen with less than a high school diploma, gets so much money a year, on average. And then with a high school diploma, it bumps up a little bit. Then with a two-year degree, it bumps up a lot. We’re talking about, over a lifetime, you can make about $700,000 dollars more with a two-year degree…and, that degree is a pathway to a four-year degree, and beyond. At that level, the number is well over one million dollars more, in your career, than if you just had a high school diploma.
Over the last 10 years, there have been about 125,000 people who studied here at Sinclair. All [those people] are getting themselves above that threshold of a high school diploma only, and getting to a two-year degree, or beyond if they transfer to another college or university. What we’re helping families do here, is increase their wealth…increase their ability to provide for themselves and their families. So, that’s another benefit.
Also, we’re one of the cultural centers. There are several cultural centers here [in Dayton]: Wright State, UD, Schuster Center, Victoria Theatre, Dayton Art Institute, even the Air Force Museum. There are a lot of cultural amenities here, and we’re one of them. We’re a cultural center, we’re a center for technology, we’re a center for manufacturing, we’re a center for arts and sciences, we’re a center for health care…things are happening here. People have access to the best of all of that.
DMM: In your opinion, why has Sinclair been so successful? What are you doing right that other colleges can, and do, emulate?
SJ: There’s a spirit of mission here. A mission of helping students be successful in college. The faculty and the staff have it. It’s been here for a long time. It’s “find a way, or make a way” to help our students be successful. Go the extra mile.
Another aspect of why Sinclair is successful is that we are very, very closely tied to the city of Dayton, in fact, all of the cities around here…not just Montgomery County, but Warren, Greene and Miami, as well. We’re very close to them…the businesses within the counties, the school districts. We have a very substantial relationship with almost 60 high schools within the region.
What happens is that, all of these different people – all these different organizations, and the people in those organizations shape Sinclair. And they are shaping Sinclair constantly, to meet the needs of the community. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be in the position where we’re at where we have 1 out of every 2 adults living in the Montgomery County having attended Sinclair at one time. We wouldn’t have 25,000 students, the largest in our history…what we have is a college that struggles to remain aligned to the needs of the community. We work through it together.
We’ve had tremendous levy support. There are 23 community colleges in Ohio. Sinclair is one of 6 that has a local levy-the others don’t. Those 6 have a tremendous amount of local support that the others don’t have.
DMM: Like many colleges around the nation, Sinclair has experienced a surge of enrollment over the past few years. What steps did the college take in anticipation for such a massive influx of students?
SJ: Remember what I said about being lucky and being ready to be lucky? [Laughs] A little bit of both happened, again. I can say that we were ready for the surge. We didn’t sit down and say, “You know, there’s a surge coming.” We were actually looking at data that indicated that there was an opportunity to move our region into the top 10 in the nation in educational attainment. In order to do that, we would have to take on more students. We were at about 22,000 students when we looked at this and said, “Let’s do what we can to get to about 29,000 students within a 10-yr period.” We knew we needed to increase our capacity.
Between the period of 2002 and 2007, we added about 40 classrooms. We renovated the library. We renovated the cafeteria, also. We added a building [Building 19.] Then distance learning – we were sitting right at about 2,500 students. I brought in some national consultants and said, “Tell us what we need to do to grow to 5,000 students.” They told us, and we did a lot of those things. So we were able to accommodate the natural demand for more online classes.
Then we also added learning centers – Huber Heights and Englewood. You know, Sinclair came from the YMCA, years ago. Well, now we’re back. We have this partnership with the YMCA in these areas and Preble County. All of these locations are doing very, well…
DMM: You expanded into Warren County as well. Why did you take that step?
SJ: Warren County was growing. At the time of the 2000 census, the leaders in Warren County looked at their census data and said, “Whoa, we have no college here!” They came to us in 2001 and now we have a branch there.
We can actually handle several more students because of these things. We could probably get a couple of thousand more, maybe.
DMM: Finally, what should we expect from Sinclair in the next 3 to 5 years?
SJ: Well, we are working to remain aligned with the community. As Dayton realigns, due to a changing economy, you can count on Sinclair changing its programs and services to be aligned with the region.
What are some of those changes? Well, there’s a lot of new stuff going on around Wright-Patterson Air Force Base – unmanned aerial vehicles, sensor technology, composites and materials, advanced IT…those types of things. We’re working to align ourselves for the hundreds, if not thousands of new jobs that will be coming in the next years.
You can always count on us to be on the cutting-edge in technology. Additionally, I think you’re going to see bigger and better things in distance and online learning from us. I would count on us keeping the Dayton campus very strong. Physically, as far as the number of buildings and classrooms, Sinclair has one of the largest campuses in America. It’s an impressive hub. And, from this hub, we can do lots of stuff.
Dayton Business Journal recently recognized Dr. Steven Johnson as one of the Top 25 Most influential People of the Decade in the Dayton Region.