Armed with experience, Howard to take Chemeketa’s reins
The end of spring term brings along with it new leadership at Chemeketa.
Incoming college president Jessica Howard arrives with a history of teaching and administration at community colleges.
“I was the vice president of academic affairs at San Antonio College, which is a community college that is in San Antonio,” Howard said. “I won the position of President of the Southeast campus at Portland Community College, so PCC Southeast. …[T]hat was my first time I had ever set foot in Oregon. So when I got that job, my husband and daughter and I, we just picked up and moved the 2,000-plus miles.”
Texas and Oregon are very different, but Howard is prepared to try new things with her history in education and teaching.
“My plan was always to teach at a university. That was always what I thought I was going to do. And I think the reason I thought that was because I never knew anything other than a university. In fact, I went to only private universities,” Howard said. “I started teaching part-time at a private university and then I realized that there was this wonderful department of music and humanities at the local community college, which seemed like such…a wonderful marriage of my discipline interests.”
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“I taught my first community college class, And after that first term, I never went back to the university because it was so, um, it was such a transformational experience for me,” said Howard.
“I’ve been part of what’s called [the] Oregon President’s Council, which is the group of the 17 community college presidents plus campus presidents,” Howard said. “So I think it’s a group of 22 people total in terms of the president count. And so that’s a group that meets, you know, monthly during the kind of the heavy times of the academic year.”
“I became familiar with Chemeketa, actually probably more than any other [community college] besides PCC because a lot of meetings occur in Salem. Because of the legislative responsibilities and [the] central location of…Salem in the state there,” Howard said.
Howard will be stepping in to lead a school that is facing many problems at the moment. The enrollment at Chemeketa has been on the decline for most of the previous administrations time in office. Chemeketa’s enrollment is at the lowest in the last decade.
“So, enrollment and enrollment strategy isn’t just looking under rocks and, and trying to find more students somewhere. It’s also about connecting with students in a way that results in them finishing what they’ve started in accordance with their goals so that they can… go out into the workforce and that there are a lot of people who come into the community college in the fall and don’t return the following term,” Howard said.
“I think that having a strategic enrollment management plan is important,” Howard said, “and that’s not necessarily something that community colleges have in place, but it means… kind of looking at the whole process of prospects, you know, students that are prospects.”
Howard has some ideas on enrollment and how to increase it, but that is not the only crisis Chemeketa is facing. The budget for the next biennium is currently being drafted by the legislature.
“You know, I think that…it’s increasingly important for the presidents of Oregon’s community colleges to advocate for the state funding that we need in order to operate. Without the state funding tuition and fees just go up. And that makes access less possible for our students,” Howard said. “I think there’s been a huge effort on the part of the 17 community colleges this legislative session, huge. And it continues. And with the help of Oregon Community College Association and Chemeketa plays an outsized role in that advocacy because it’s located so close to the capital.”
Advocating for funding for community colleges has become a part of the job for presidents of Chemeketa. Recently Governor Kate Brown’s recommended budget has been shown to be $543 million and that will $26.8 million less than the previous biennial budget. This combined with the enrollment decline will be things that Howard needs to pay attention to in her first year in the office of president of Chemeketa.