With the appointment this week of an interim leader of the Yosemite Community College District, outgoing Chancellor Roe Darnell can start to look back at three busy years marked as much by construction as by the recession's cutbacks.
Over his tenure leading the district that oversees Modesto Junior College and Columbia College, Darnell said he was most proud of two accomplishments: his work on building projects funded by Measure E and establishing a rapport across the campus community.
"My Measure E work — in effect, establishing a good direction for Measure E and moving it toward completion, and working to establish an atmosphere of collegiality and civility ... it's very subtle, but it allows you to approach problems together, not separately," he said.
The largest Measure E projects — the science center, student services building work and the Allied Health building going up on the west campus — were funded first. Next comes infrastructure work such as adding access and parking. "The stuff that's not glamorous at all, but you have to have it," Darnell said, citing the renovation of Founders Hall.
The recession's silver lining was "a good bidding environment," he said, noting that bids consistently came in 25 percent to 30 percent below estimates. The savings will allow the district to create a secure data center and modernize its shipping and receiving facility.
Cuts, but not to the core
But the recession has been a challenge for the district's two campuses, with funding slashed by 12 percent over two years, he said. While the campuses were forced to cut the number of class sections, they kept their core offerings of vocational training and transfer programs.
Looking ahead, Darnell said, there may come a day when community colleges are compensated for successful completions, rather than students' "seat time."
"I tell people, 'We're better than Harvard.' Harvard takes A-plus students that are high achievers and produces high-achieving graduates. We take people from across a spectrum, well-prepared students and not so well-prepared, and we produce a high percentage of students that succeed in life because they're getting better jobs, because they become better citizens. So we're better than Harvard," Darnell said with grin.
Challenges for chancellor
The YCCD board of trustees turned to Columbia College President Joan Smith to take the reins as interim chancellor. Darnell said his permanent successor, likely to be selected over the next year, will face challenges in defining how to measure success as an institution and in handling continuing funding shortfalls.
"I don't see the state having enough money to support education for the next three to four years. At the very best, our income will remain static, but our costs will go up."
"In addition to running the ship appropriately, navigating it, those two issues will be key for the next chancellor," Darnell said.
"But there are strong supports. They'll have a board that's absolutely dedicated to giving the best response to community and student needs. They will have two communities that have a strong identity and support for their two colleges. ... And they will have the support of faculty and staff at both colleges that are thoroughly dedicated and committed to what they do.
"It's not just the challenges they're coming into. They'll have people behind them."
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2339.