A cacophony of construction sights and sounds dominates the campus of Eastern Shore Community College. While its new academic building will open this summer, the real work of rebuilding the college is expected to take the next three years.
The Virginia State Board for Community Colleges recently approved a reboot plan for ESCC – the culmination of a detailed assessment of the college over the last half-year conducted by a team of System Office and ESCC personnel. The review was the first of its kind and the result of a recently adopted Board policy to annually examine the efficiency of all 23 Virginia community colleges.
“We believe the assessment offers a fair and thorough look at where ESCC stands today and, more importantly, provides an encouraging road map to take going forward,” Jeffrey Holland, chair of the ESCC local board wrote in a letter to the college community after the State Board’s vote. “These recommendations offer ESCC a chance to become a stronger, more sustainable institution, and a catalyst for opportunity throughout the entire Shore.”
The reboot plan adopted by the State Board focuses on four goals and objectives: minimizing administrative costs; building new public and private partnerships in the college’s service area; aligning college offerings with community needs; and enacting new student access and success strategies.
The plan will serve as a blueprint for the college as it tries to recover from slumping enrollment and tuition revenue in a service region with a declining population, more than half of which lead financially fragile lives.
“There’s not one problem here, and there’s not one solution,” said Dr. Lori Dwyer, a VCCS associate vice chancellor who led the review team. “We believe that the college can be remade, sustainable, and become a vibrant college in a small community, but it’s going to require getting uncomfortable. It’s not tweaking around the edges. It’s going to require significant change.”
College leaders say they are up to the challenge and grateful for the opportunity.
“When this process began, the prospects of closing ESCC or consolidating it with another institution were a possibility. Both the circumstances that inspired the detailed assessment, and those uncovered by it, demonstrated some financial and enrollment trends that are simply unsustainable,” Holland wrote.
Change will begin at the top for ESCC. The search for the college’s next permanent president is underway. The college is one of seven Virginia community colleges seeking a new president, but its circumstances and reboot plan could attract unique candidates.
“This presidency is ripe for a go-getter of a candidate,” said VCCS Chancellor Glenn DuBois. “There are special opportunities here to help create a model 21st century small community college, build innovative community partnerships, and lead on community priorities. I’m excited to see the pool of talent this opportunity attracts.”