Saturday – February 16, 2019
New Student Services Vice President Johnny Craig Hones in on Student Success
Johnny Craig, new MATC vice president for student services and enrollment management, is focused on student success.
Johnny Craig, Milwaukee Area Technical College’s newly appointed vice president of student services and enrollment management, believes he has a lot in common with MATC students. He said his background helps him identify with some of their struggles, challenges and successes. For instance, like many MATC students, Craig was the first in his family to graduate from college.
His father is a welder and his mother a retail professional. Craig said his family encouraged him not only to earn a college degree but to strive to make a difference in the world. "My parents sacrificed for me," he said. "I feel obligated to give back. My motto is 'Look back, reach back, give back.'"
He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and agribusiness from Florida A&M University. At the age of 21, the young man from Tallahassee, Fla., accepted a sales job for Mead Paper, with responsibility for a five-state territory in the Midwest. “Imagine me landing in Fargo, North Dakota,” he said. “My thought was, ‘How do I engage with people who have never seen someone who looks like me?’” No doubt, his warm and vibrant personality helped break down cultural barriers.
Craig enjoyed his sales job, but wanted more for himself professionally. He returned to graduate school and earned a master’s degree in higher education from Georgia State University and a law degree from Florida State University. While at Florida State, he worked as a tutor in the university’s Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement (CARE), where he developed programming for first generation and minority students. His time with CARE began to shape his future aspirations in higher education.
Living His Mission
Moved by the importance of developing initiatives to ensure student success, Craig found himself at a crossroads. He decided to continue working on student success initiatives and helping students fulfill their purpose. Craig explained, "As Nelson Mandela said, 'Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.' I realized that helping students to attend and continue through college was what I wanted to do. I'm living my mission."
Craig brings a wealth of experience to his role at MATC. Before joining the MATC staff in June, he served in numerous administrative roles in academic affairs and student services at four-year public universities, a four-year private college, and in a two-year community college system. His roles included director of learning support services at Edgewood College; adult education career pathways specialist at Tallahassee Community College; campus achievement leader at Florida State College in Jacksonville; and most recently, dean of student services at Kennedy-King College, part of the City Colleges of Chicago.
“I’m impressed by the stability and health of MATC. People are open to change and to best practices. There is so much more we can do. Putting students at the center will guide us. We’re going to do some great things for the students and the community. I’m excited to be a part of that.”
- Johnny Craig, MATC vice president of student services and enrollment management
Over the years, his focus has always been on student success, including strategies to increase enrollment and retention, and ultimately, degree completion. As dean of student services at Chicago's Kennedy-King College, he worked in a neighborhood facing devastating poverty and violence. Many of the students attending Kennedy-King College faced overwhelming odds to degree completion. More than 96 percent of the students entering Kennedy-King tested “below college level,” meaning they required extensive remediation, including tutoring and academic support services, to achieve college success. Despite overwhelming odds, Kennedy-King College achieved the highest completion rate of all seven Chicago City Colleges.
Creating Clear Pathways for Students
As part of the City Colleges' Reinvention initiative, Craig was one of the leaders of the college’s student success efforts. Over a period of three years, Kennedy-King tripled the graduation rate for students, increased the number of degrees earned by 75 percent, and increased the transfer rate to four-year colleges and universities by 38 percent. “We achieved these results by creating clear pathway programs and meeting the students where they are. When you do that, students can fly. We can have the same success here at MATC,” he said.
In recognition of these achievements, the Aspen Institute awarded Kennedy-King the first Aspen Rising Star Award. “The people at the Aspen Institute were so impressed with the college’s efforts that they created the Rising Star Award specifically for Kennedy-King College," Craig explained.
Craig has experience from several academic institutions in the areas of student enrollment, retention and completion.
Meeting Students “Where They Are”
One of the philosophies Craig has brought with him to MATC is making student success a top priority. "Meeting students where they are" is a mantra for Craig. He explained, “You need to ask students what they need and really listen to the answers. We need to look at the students holistically. It’s hard to think about school when you’re worried about how you are going to pay rent, what you will do for transportation, where your next meal is coming from or who is going to care for your children. We need to help overcome barriers to student success."
Craig is excited to work with staff, instructors and students at MATC. “We have a great team here. We have individuals with lots of experience. Working collectively, we can move the needle. I’m impressed by the stability and health of MATC. People are open to change and to best practices. There is so much more we can do. Putting students at the center will guide us. We’re going to do some great things for the students and the community. I’m excited to be a part of that.”
Craig spoke at MATC's Staff Coordination Day in August.