1) In a typical year, Virginia’s Community Colleges see two or three vacancies in the ranks of college presidents, but in 2019, you’ll be looking to fill SEVEN vacancies. What’s going on?
We have a couple of presidents moving on to other jobs and four presidents are retiring. So it’s mainly a result of the Baby Boomer generation moving toward retirement age. We’re not alone in seeing a higher rate of presidential turnover. It’s a nationwide trend.
But this does present us with a great opportunity to find the next generation of leaders who will help us transform into the community college system we need to become.
2) With that transformation in mind, what leadership qualities are you looking for in this new batch of college presidents?
We need to face up to some fundamental demographic realities: shrinking numbers of traditionally college-age students, and growing numbers of adults who frankly need our help learning the skills they must have to climb out of the margins of society and into the middle class.
People who struggle to pay the rent and feed their kids can’t take three or four years out of their life just to go to school. But they might be able to enroll in shorter-term programs where they can gain the skills to get better jobs and earn more money. What can we do for those folks?
Our FastForward workforce training programs can be a model for rolling out more focused, results-oriented courses that can really make a difference for more Virginians.
So, I’m looking for leaders who are passionate about serving adults and not spending all of their waking hours worried about recruiting 19 year olds.
And let me be clear that our current college presidents have done a great job recognizing and responding to our evolving responsibilities. I’m counting on this next group of college presidents to help usher in an even greater sensitivity to serving the students who come to us with challenges we just didn’t recognize in the past, including students who face significant food and housing insecurity issues.
I think the goal is to think more like social workers and less as academic philosophers.
We need to look for leaders who are passionate about mission, people who have a cause greater than themselves, candidates who know they’ve been a beneficiary of the American educational system, and really believe in the value of education.
3) Of 23 college presidents in our system at the moment, 21 are white and eight are women. What are your thoughts on the opportunity to recruit and hire a more diverse roster of college presidents for the VCCS?
I’m committed to have more diversity in the ranks of our college presidents, and I’m optimistic about progress on that front. I think we’re doing pretty well on the gender side; of the last six presidential hires, five were women. But we are no nowhere near where we need to be regarding race or ethnicity.
I’ve established relationships with organizations that represent minority college administrators, and recruiting minority candidates will be an important priority in these upcoming presidential searches.
4) Do you feel confident the VCCS presidential search process will yield the results we want?
Yes, the process was good when I got here in 2001, but we improved it with more involvement from the local community, and a healthy dose of transparency in the wrap-up phase.
At the beginning of the process, we do a “visioning exercise” with the college, and a broad base of people at the school and in the community consider and articulate what their college’s main priorities are for the next five years. Maybe it’s philanthropy, or working with local high schools, or implementing technology, for example. The colleges have individual challenges and this first phase helps us search for the right candidates to meet those needs.
We also conduct thorough background checks on presidential candidates before they’re presented to the VCCS State Board for certification.
When finalists are certified by the State Board, it’s an open process. I know that some people think this openness can diminish our pool of potential candidates. But my counter to that is, if I’m if I’m ultimately the one that’s going to be the president of a college, I want everybody who’s a stakeholder to have been involved, so I’m really welcome when I get there.
And I find that the people who we recruit are not afraid to compete.
Our approach is not uncommon in the community college world, and I think it works well for us.
Our goal is to present three very qualified candidates to the local college board to rank. The whole process usually takes six to eight months.
5) When we’re looking to hire college presidents for the VCCS, do we get a good response?
Yes. We search nationally and we usually receive anywhere from 65 to 100 applications per vacancy. Our system is very attractive to good talent. We have stable funding and stable governance. We have a solid reputation as a place where leaders can lead, and that goes for our big colleges and smaller rural colleges, too.
A college presidency is a great job that demands experience, so I’ll be interested in how candidates have built their relationships with people, and the people they’ve hired.
We will, of course, consider candidates from within our ranks in the VCCS, along with folks from out of state, who sometimes offer a different kind of educational DNA.