I write today in response to a broadcast yesterday on NBC channel 4 concerning the College and the spending incurred for my travel to conferences, my security, and other expenses. While I have always been transparent about my activities and welcomed accountability, the story neglected to provide substantial context for the work of the College more broadly, and the specific efforts and investments in which I have been actively engaged in support of our mission.
As the role of community colleges in U.S. higher education has expanded over the past 20 years, the expectations for their work—and the presidents who lead them—have risen considerably. Fundraising, grant proposals, and partnerships with national and international institutions and industries now play roles that were formerly associated solely with four-year institutions. The reporter’s story mentioned an array of dollar figures, but it did not mention that the investments of College resources have produced remarkable dividends: the $75 million in grants awarded to the College over the last six years that enhance academic programs and provide scholarships for students, or the $23 million in student scholarships that has been raised from donors. Both of these are record amounts for Montgomery College and were achieved by investments of time and resources to expand and enhance the visibility of the College.
I do travel regularly to attend conferences hosted by organizations such as the American Association of Community Colleges; Black, Brown & College Bound; and the Association of Community College Trustees, among others. The topics of these meetings have included issues relevant to our mission, such as closing the achievement gap, economic and workforce development, institutional transformation, contemporary issues in higher education, and much more. These topics are critical to student success and require our attention.
It is important to note that the cost of the travel in which I engaged over the period of the report is less than 0.02 percent of the College’s annual operating budget. This investment has advanced the College by establishing MC as a leading institution and furthers key goals, including the recruitment of faculty, staff, and administrators; expansion of partnerships with other colleges; and private philanthropy. The investment also facilitates sharing of best practices among other higher education leaders and exposure to new ideas—all in the service of promoting student access and success. I will add that my own personal philanthropy to the College—more than $20,000 to date—has also supported student scholarships.
Over the course of my tenure, the county has increased its investment in the College by 37 percent, an endorsement of our ambitious work to increase student access, promote academic achievement, and ensure that our programs are relevant to our changing economy. The College has placed a high priority on affordability, working successfully to keep tuition increases to an average of 2.3 percent a year, including a tuition freeze in 2012. These outcomes are the result of the hard work of everyone at the College—inside and outside of the classroom—to demonstrate relevant outcomes for our community, advocate for our students, and promote our mission.
The accomplishments I mention above were born of a college community that has been tireless in its commitment to closing the achievement gap while practicing radical inclusion for students living in poverty, students living without documentation, displaced workers, and others who have been traditionally marginalized from higher education. Our collective work has also been strategic in the investment of time and money in ways that have produced extraordinary outcomes. Together, we have created the transformational ACES program, ushered MC into the Achieving the Dream network, and attracted the attention of federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the U.S. Department of State. Our successes have drawn positive attention from countless higher education stakeholders around the country, and enhanced the reputation of our institution considerably. To suggest that these activities do not require extensive collaborations with business and industry, constant involvement with higher education associations, and national and international travel, is a profound misunderstanding of the vital work of community colleges.
The College’s Board of Trustees has communicated to me that it has the utmost confidence in me and my leadership team. The Board believes that the news story was based on an antiquated view of community colleges and failed to appreciate such colleges’ complex, 21st century mission. As the Board has said, it “resolutely supports [my] management initiatives, strategic partnership advances here at home and abroad, and stewardship of resources in service to our students and community.”
As those of us inside the College know, community colleges lie at the nexus of several important, contemporary dynamics: creating opportunity for more students in a changing economy, addressing the financial barriers that have kept students out of the classroom, reducing the factors that have impeded full academic achievement by students, and promoting civility in our communities so that we can speak across differences. At MC we are already making significant strides in these directions. I hope this story will not detract from our passionate efforts to drive these, and other, successes.
If you have any questions, concerns, or comments about the television story or anything I have written here, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Further media inquiries should be directed to MC’s Vice President for Communications Ray Gilmer. I thank you for your deep dedication to students. I know that, together, we will continue to do all we can to empower students to change their lives.
DeRionne P. Pollard, PhD