Merced College's newly inaugurated President Ronald Taylor delivered his State of the College address Friday, guiding his audience on a journey through the community college's past while focusing on its future.
Taylor, the college's sixth president-superintendent, drew inspiration from navigators of the past explorers who have "traveled uncharted waters with a sense of purpose," he said.
Using the art of navigation and stamina as a theme, Taylor spoke of leading the college through changing times and adapting to the future without being distracted by the "anxieties of the moment."
"I often think that my main job is to hold to the long view while putting out the fires of the moment," said Taylor, 61, who was named president last summer.
"Without keeping one's guiding star in view one's 'lonestar' as the navigators call it without that, it's easy to veer off course due to practical decisions that we must make in order to keep the ship afloat," he said.
The college's future success depends not only on having a goal, Taylor said, but also knowing the starting point.
"The first thing is to take stock," he said. "Let's take a moment to clarify the state of the college, and then we can look at where it can go."
Taylor spoke of the present challenges faced by the college: a new administration due to numerous retirements, ongoing uncertainty in the state budget and accreditation status.
Taylor said the college has taken steps toward resolving the budget gap, but there's still work to do.
He stressed the importance of ensuring the budget process is transparent. "Our job looking forward is to ensure the college is increasingly accountable to itself and the public," he said.
Another challenge is the college's accreditation status, which is under the lightest form of sanction called a warning.
"We've been under sanction for nearly two years," Taylor said. "The faculty and staff have done a great deal of work to address the recommendations the visiting team had for us back in 2011."
A visiting team paid another visit to the college on Monday. There are still five recommendations remaining, Taylor said, and uncertainty about accreditation.
"Whether the outcome is the lifting of our sanction remains to be seen," he said. "We will know in July. In the meantime, I can tell you bluntly, we are by no means out of the woods, no matter how well we've done in addressing these specific recommendations."
Since being founded in 1962, Merced College has experienced incredible growth, Taylor said. It currently has 9,500 full-time students, and 400 faculty and staff. About 10,000 full-time students enrolled last year, compared with 7,000 in 1992. The college conferred 707 degrees and 121 certificates, and 826 students transferred to California state universities, University of California campuses and other institutions.
Taylor also shared the college's completion rates, which he hopes to improve.
About 67 percent of students prepared for college level work complete a degree or certificate within six years, he said. The statewide number is 71 percent. "These completion rates should be much closer to 100 percent," Taylor said.
Merced County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Deidre Kelsey said Taylor's speech was on target, especially when it came to addressing the college's future.
"I thought that his speech was realistic, considering the economics that the state is in," Kelsey said. "He's already done an in-depth analysis of our community and our challenges.
"I think he's going to move forward in a direction that's going to benefit us all," she said.
Taylor concluded his address Friday by outlining the college's overall goals: assuring student access and success; improving communication throughout the district; enhancing technology; partnering with the community; and promoting a sustainable, supportive and safe learning environment.
As the navigator of the ship called Merced College, Taylor said, he won't forget his vision for success.
"As I take the tiller for Merced College, our 'lonestar' is clear," Taylor said. "It's all about providing meaningful educational opportunities for our community."
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
MERCED COLLEGE PRESIDENT
NAME: Ronald Taylor
PAY: Annual base salary will be $219,000
FORMER JOB: Superintendent- president of Feather River College
EDUCATION: Associate of arts degree from Santa Rosa Junior College; master's degree and doctorate from UC Berkeley
CAREER: Prior to serving as president at Feather River College, Taylor served as vice president of Academic Services at Chabot College, dean of instruction at Reedley College, and assistant dean of instruction for Letters and Social Sciences at Santa Rosa Junior College. He began his teaching career in Kyoto, Japan, where he taught English and linguistics after earning his doctorate from UC Berkeley.