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A new, better college

EDITORIAL

As Dr. Bill Aiken prepares to head back to North Carolina after a 14-month stint as interim president of Paul D. Camp Community College, the community owes him a debt of gratitude for his hard work in developing and implementing a plan to restore the faith in and viability of this important educational resource for Western Tidewater.

When he took the leadership position at PDCCC in the wake of the former president having been removed from office by Virginia Community College System officials, Aiken faced some daunting challenges.

Enrollment at the institution had declined precipitously, to the point where the continued financial viability of the college was in question. Employee morale had ebbed significantly. And public confidence in Western Tidewater’s only community college was suffering.

Aiken smartly set his immediate sights on arresting the declining enrollment, setting into motion a number of initiatives designed to attract new and returning students. His plan and the efforts of PDCCC faculty and staff have been fruitful.

Fall semester full-time equivalent enrollment jumped 8.7 percent from 2014 to 2015. Spring semester’s full-time equivalent enrollment increased by 11.5 percent from 2015 to 2016. This summer’s and fall’s enrollment are also on track to beat the previous year’s.

One of the driving forces behind the increasing student population has been the college’s effort to sell the benefits of dual enrollment, whereby high school students take college-level courses concurrently with those they need to earn their high school diplomas.

In fact, college officials have said there was an 81-percent increase this year in the number of dual-enrollment students at Paul D. Camp. The college graduated 41 such students from four different high schools — including five from Lakeland High School — this spring.

Along with a personal approach to student recruitment, the growth of the dual enrollment program has been a godsend for the college, whose focus on the matter can be directly tied to Aiken’s vision.

One other area of special effectiveness for Aiken has been community outreach. He has been an accessible and engaged leader for the school, earning the respect of both PDCCC staff and community leaders.

His plan to engage those leaders in a dialogue about identifying a “flagship program” for the school — one that would set it apart from other community colleges within driving distance of Suffolk and one that would resonate with the community’s needs — has won the school some converts among business and industry leaders who might have had a low regard for the institution a couple of years ago.

As Dr. Daniel Lufkin, vice president of student affairs for Thomas Nelson Community College, prepares to take the job that Aiken only held on an interim basis, Paul D. Camp Community College is in a much better position than it was 18 months ago. We look forward to seeing the heights to which this new, better educational institution can now soar.