May 15, 2017
EDITORIAL

What it takes to lead a college

We're in the heart of graduation season – oversized ceremonies, honorary degrees to prestigious guests, faculty and students in their formal robes and funny hats. It's all part of the pomp and circumstance of higher education. However, behind the rich formality and traditions is the pressure on college presidents and their senior staff to make it all work as a business. And there are several new college presidents in the Central Mass region taking on that task. Quinsigamond Community College and Mount Wachusett Community College announced new presidents this spring, and now Becker College has appointed Nancy Crimmin as interim president as it looks to find a permanent replacement for Robert Johnson.

The pressure on all college presidents to forge a path to sustainable success is significant, and even more so for those leading private institutions. By nearly all measures, Robert Johnson's tenure at Becker was a successful one. On his watch enrollment increased by more than 20 percent, the endowment grew from $1 million to more than $4 million, and the school doubled down on its strong national reputation for its digital gaming program. In a period of consolidation for many others schools, Becker's growth stands out.

But for most of our region's colleges and universities who rely on a heavy percentage of students from Massachusetts and surrounding New England states, it has been a difficult road as the number of high school graduates feeding the system is down, and pressures on the affordability of higher education have become more intense.

Not only do college presidents need to act as rainmakers-in-chief, they need to think strategically about their school's unique advantages: Programs they can invest in and build their brand around, or new niche areas they can exploit, deliver value and grow enrollment.

That entrepreneurial spirit is alive at several schools, especially the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, where strategic expansion has continued in its core programs as well as with the purchase of the New England School of Acupuncture.

Higher education remains a big industry in Central Massachusetts, with 17 colleges/universities with campuses in the region – six of them public institutions and 11 private.

These schools are a great asset, both to our economy and cultural life. Yet leading an institute of higher learning is only getting harder, and the skill set more complex as the tenure of a college president seems to have gotten shorter over the years.

We hope that our region's new college presidents and their peers bring the entrepreneurial drive and vision that it takes to keep their institutions competitive and thriving.

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