Highline College

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Dean finalist says unity is key to providing better opportunities for students

Cathy Alston

Ally Valiente Staff Reporter June 6

Building strong relationships, uniting the community surrounding workforce education, and giving students the opportunity to access various services are some of the things that Cathy Alston said she believes in.

Alston is one of three finalists for the workforce dean position at Highline.

Alston spoke at a virtual forum via Zoom on Friday, May 29.

She is currently serving as interim associate dean for Green River College and is the director of Workforce Education.

She has more 10 years of experience in higher education by serving on an Accessibility and Technology Committee and teaching Hopkinsville, Kent. before joining Green River in November 2017.

Alston says that she was drawn to Highline because of its recognition for diversity and equity.

“Highline is the unicorn of the system. You hear about diversity, equity, and inclusion all the time within our system but Highline is really doing the work. It’s not often that you see such a high commitment to the values and mission of being equitable and diverse and reducing equity gaps,” Alston said.

Alston said, “Highline has won several awards for their diversity. That’s one of the things that attracts me to the institution. However, there’s great responsibility. You still have to be vigilant and you can’t be complacent in terms of still making sure that Highline is reflective of your community.”

While Highline is diverse in terms of staff, faculty, and student ethnicity and languages, Alston says there is still a disconnect between Hispanic and Latinx students on campus and the population outside of it.

Alston also helped write the Student Emergency Opportunity Grant at Green River, which helps low income adults with tuition, fees and book costs if they are enrolled in an approved Career/Technical program of study and meet all the student eligibility requirements.

She also helped to implement voucher systems at Green River for students to get their books in a timely fashion and then apply for their financial aid.

Through the voucher system the money would be able to be taken directly from the grant and then applied to the bookstore account so students would not have to wait.

“This was implemented so people don’t feel marginalized or targeted or separated from the mainstream as to why is it they didn’t also get the same funding,” Alston said.

In terms of enrollment, Alston says she relies on data to see how and why campuses are losing students.

Alston says she will look at a program on a quarter by quarter basis to see how enrollments are in a particular program.

“I look to see what our enrollments are, where we’re losing students and the data can point to a particular course or the way a consecutive outline is laid out,” Alston said.

“Another way I look at it is by a specific subject like math and English for example. Math is a pain point for a lot of students and will look quarter by quarter to determine ‘Is it because of math?’ ‘Is it because of a certain level of math and then they drop off?’”

One of the solutions Alston proposed is to use professional development to bring awareness to faculty and staff college-wide regarding the issues and barriers that low income or marginalized populations face.

“In addition, you need to know who your students are and who you’re serving in order to support them. As staff and faculty you need to have an awareness of what resources are there on campus.”

Alston says that as a person of color, she’s had to navigate her way through a higher ed system as a student and having to deal with issues of implicit bias.

“I feel that I have watched students who are coming from a variety of different backgrounds and have different situations emerge and we have to help those students navigate and stay engaged and be prepared.”