Conco replaced at PDCCC

Published 11:50 am Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Paul D. Camp Community College will have an interim president starting April 6. Dr. William C. Aiken has been hired by the Virginia Community College System to fill that role. -- Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Paul D. Camp Community College will have an interim president starting April 6. Dr. William C. Aiken has been hired by the Virginia Community College System to fill that role. — Cain Madden | Tidewater News

by Tracy Agnew

An interim president has been hired for Paul D. Camp Community College as the institution faces the retirement of its current president amid several challenges, the state community college system announced Tuesday.

The Virginia Community College System’s search for a permanent replacement has been put on hold pending the interim president’s assessment of those challenges, officials stated.

And sources said Dr. Paul Conco, who announced in October his intention to retire after five years as president at PDCCC, has been reassigned until his planned retirement date of June 30.

VCCS Chancellor Glenn DuBois was at the college Tuesday morning to introduce Dr. William C. Aiken, who will lead the college beginning Monday.

Aiken has experience serving as an interim president in North Carolina, where he also retired after a dozen years as the president of Sampson Community College in Clinton. He holds master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

DuBois didn’t mince words in a press release when he described the daunting task Aiken has ahead of him and the problems the college faces.

“Bill Aiken is a proven and seasoned higher education leader,” DuBois said. “The college is facing a number of serious challenges. Were this college a private enterprise, its financial sustainability would be questionable. Our mission, however, compels us to serve these communities, helping people there find opportunity, and we intend to return the college to a standing where it can do that.”

Jeffrey Kraus, assistant vice chancellor for public relations, said the challenges mostly stem from a dramatic decline in enrollment.

“The college has lost 25 percent of its (full time equivalent) enrollment over about three years,” Kraus said. “That has a cascading effect over everything else at the college.”

For example, the college’s financial situation is directly affected by the amount of enrollment, Kraus said.

“Tuition and fees account for about 60 percent of our operating funding,” he said. “Three out of every five dollars the college is working with comes from enrollment, and that’s been dropping. That has to turn around, and the sooner the better.”

Kraus didn’t name one specific cause of the declining enrollment. He said a boost in enrollment that followed the closure of Franklin’s International Paper mill — students who have received the training they sought and have now left the college — “could be an element of it, but when you have a number that big, there’s probably no single factor that explains all of it.”

Turning around the enrollment decline “has to be Job One,” Kraus added. “It leaves the institution financially vulnerable, and that doesn’t serve anyone.”

Enrollment has been falling for some time, but Kraus said that presented an untenable situation when combined with the search for a new president.

“The problems have ballooned to the point the college is just not in a position to bring a new full-time president,” he said.

Kraus said it would have been unfair to place a new permanent president at the college in its current state.

“This situation has to stabilize before the college is in a place to select its next permanent leader,” he said. Aiken “has a strong track record of success serving as an interim president and also a permanent president. We’re excited to be bringing him to Paul D. Camp.”

Kraus was at the college on Tuesday morning with DuBois when the announcement was made. He said the announcement and Aiken himself were warmly received.

Responding to campus rumors, Kraus said he didn’t know anything about any potential problems with financial audits and also denied there are concrete plans to merge Paul D. Camp with Tidewater Community College.

The two colleges, as well as others in the system, already share some “back-room” functions, such as processing of financial aid paperwork, Kraus said.

“There are functions like that we have to look at for cost effectiveness and cost efficiency,” Kraus said. “That’s a very different place than suggesting that colleges are about to merge.”

Aiken said in the press release that he is looking forward to the job.

“I appreciate this opportunity and look forward to this work,” he said. “I’m excited to bring people together in this effort to help the college find its footing.”

Before coming to Paul D. Camp Community College, Conco was vice president at Virginia Highlands Community College in Abingdon for nearly a decade.