Victor Valley College Case Study

Unleashing the Problem-Solving Potential of Every Individual


Victor Valley College logo

Location: Victorville, California

Number of employees: 850

Annual unduplicated student headcount: 18,000

Racial and ethnic demographics: 61% Hispanic, 18% white, 9% Black

Students whose enrollment fees are paid via financial aid: 87%



A light bulb went on when Dr. Dan Walden heard entrepreneurship described as the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others. As the Superintendent and President at Victor Valley College, Walden believes all 850 employees and 18,000 students deserve five-star experiences at the college. But, he realized that it’s not his responsibility to deliver them. It’s his job to ensure the conditions are in place for others to create 5-star experiences for themselves. 

“It dawned on me that entrepreneurial thinking is how you take ownership of your position,” he said. “It could be starting a business, but maybe you are a college president, like myself, or a dean or one of the staff members who take ownership to maximize the potential of their position.”


Walden’s a-ha moment came during a talk by Gary Schoeniger, CEO of The Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative, in the spring of 2021. Walden wasted no time embracing the opportunity to share new insights at Victor Valley College. First, he introduced the college’s 20-member President’s Leadership Team to the power of an entrepreneurial mindset via a two-day immersion retreat focused on ELI’s Ice House model. Then he met with all 50 of Victor Valley College’s managerial-level staff.

Everyone came away enthusiastic about the idea of an entrepreneurial mindset. However, Walden didn’t want to mandate that they incorporate the model. Instead, he wanted them to embrace its intrinsic value and understand that they have the ability and the freedom to use it to solve problems at all levels. “It’s my hope the college will have administrators who come to work and feel empowered by ownership of their area, not just feel like employees,” he explained. “Passionate people do more than just collect a paycheck.” 


Walden recruited volunteers from the leadership team who would be willing to undertake entrepreneurial projects within the scope of their sphere of influence. Among the five who stepped forward was McKenzie Tarango, Dean of Instruction, Public Safety & Industrial Technology. She immediately observed that “Dr. Walden could label entrepreneurship, and when we’re able to label something, we’re better able to understand and apply it.”

Since the winter of 2022, Schoeniger has worked in a consulting or “entrepreneur-in-residence” capacity. He worked with this five-person leadership cohort to cultivate their entrepreneurial mindsets via individual projects. 

Tarango chose to tackle a particularly complex issue: multi-instructor fiscal accountability. The college had millions of dollars encumbered in payroll for its STAR Technology program. The highly labor-intensive process of approving hundreds of timesheets within a short window of hours each pay period led to some instructors being over-compensated. 

“In a class where you have 40 instructors, and they vary from day to day, you can see how easily that can spiral out of control,” Tarango said. Working with the program’s support staff, Tarango undertook the manual process of peeling back layers of outdated processes that had been in place for years. 

They noted patterns of inaccuracies and traced them to individual instructors—some of whom are no longer with the college. They also realized that some classes had such a complex structure. There wasn’t even a schedule for who was instructing when. Thus, there was literally no way for the support staff to check the accuracy of the hours that instructors submitted. For instructors, it was tough to track their hours too. This led some of them to submit well-intentioned averages based on the number of hours they supported students rather than time spent actually teaching.

The solution was remarkably simple: clean up the schedules so instructors knew their time commitments. Then, have the program’s support team generate timesheets based on the instructors’ assignments. Responsibility for reviewing the timecards shifted to the instructors.

“We started with the world’s best spreadsheet,” Tarango joked, “but we believe we have fiscal responsibility now. Our next step is to add the technology to bring the new processes out of the Flintstones era and into the Jetsons era.” 

A related challenge was changing instructors’ perception of the updated checks and balances within the program’s payment processes. Some felt that the changes signaled a lack of trust from the college in the instructors’ reporting. Tarango emphasized that there is still plenty of room for self-direction on the part of instructors. Instead of unilaterally deciding how many hours they put in, they agree to the course structure. Then they determine how best to utilize their hours to support students’ learning.


Walden was pleasantly surprised by the dramatic turnaround in fiscal accountability on the STAR Program. “We’ve had this program for a long time, and many deans and vice presidents have tried to manage it, but they never thought outside the box,” he said. “McKenzie took that on with an entrepreneurial mindset and thought about how to actually solve it.”

Significantly, Tarango and the support team developed the solution as part of their overall jobs, not as an add-on. That was exactly Walden’s intention. “My hope is that tackling challenges will trickle down and benefit the entire institution, faculty and students too,” he said. “This is not just a management fad.”

Walden plans to “keep putting wood on the fire,” not requiring anyone to participate but making sure that they hear about the results and know there’s an opportunity for them to develop their own entrepreneurial mindset. A second cohort of seven leaders started weekly meetings with Schoeniger in early 2023. To Walden’s delight, it includes the first faculty member. 

“I am more excited now than I’ve ever been because I see it growing,” Walden said. “I have my managers meeting every week and talking about entrepreneurial mindset. This is too good to be true!” 

Over the long term, Walden would like to see faculty apply an entrepreneurial mindset to curriculum and pedagogy decisions. Student services employees use it to better help students of all cultures and backgrounds. They especially help those who need support transitioning to college. Among the 425,000 people who live in the Victor Valley area, the median income is $50,000. About half the population relies on some type of government subsidy. The majority of local elementary schools provide free lunches to all their students. 

One of the lingering questions some staff members have is about the time commitment required to develop an entrepreneurial mindset. Tarango is quick to reassure them that it’s not as big as one might think. “It’s important in the implementation of any new idea or initiative to keep the reflection and engagement process ongoing and regular,” she noted. “You have to keep the vocabulary at the forefront.”

Thus, although cohort participants meet with Schoeniger for an hour a week, the conversations are more about applying the mindset to day-to-day work than adding on new responsibilities. “In education, we talk a lot about Carol Dweck’s growth mindset. Gary talks about that a lot, too,” Tarango said. He also continually reminds participants to use the discovery process, which Tarango found particularly valuable. 

“In my challenge, the more I discovered, the more I learned, and the more my control axis expanded,” Tarango said. “Connecting those three was important to me.”

When it comes to measuring success, Walden could point to examples such as the hundreds of thousands of dollars the college is saving on the STAR Program. However, that’s not what he’s after. “I want to think a day will come when we’re known for entrepreneurship, and it’s used in every facet of our work, from committee meetings to instruction in classrooms to professional development,” he said. 

In November 2022, the college opened a new Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center. It created an additional piece of wood on the fire Walden is intentionally stoking. “The center is for students to come in and nurture their own entrepreneurial mindsets,” Walden said, “so as we get more faculty and students involved, this will permeate the whole campus.”