Confidence gap at PDCCC

Published 10:08 am Wednesday, May 18, 2016

When Daniel Lufkin takes the reins at Paul D. Camp Community College in July, he will be inheriting an institution on the upswing.

That’s the good news. The bad news for the man named as the next president of the college that serves Western Tidewater is that the institution he will lead had been allowed to flounder so badly that it has all but lost the confidence of the communities it serves.

Give William C. Aiken, the interim president brought in to turn things around after William Conco was relieved of the position just over a year ago, credit for arresting the community college’s free-falling trends in both enrollment and finances. Aiken’s watchful and careful leadership has led to enrollment increases at PDCCC and a corresponding turnaround in its finances.

Yet Aiken was always intended to be just an interim administrator for the troubled institution, and there is much improvement still to be realized there.

Among the special challenges Lufkin will face as he takes his office on the Franklin campus are continuing to increase the number of regular students at the college; pressing for more participation in the dual enrollment program, which provides high school students an opportunity to jump start their college careers; defining a signature program for PDCCC, something that will set it apart from the other community colleges within driving distance; and repairing the trust that has been lost between PDCCC and the community.

That last challenge is the most important one he’ll face, and it’s likely to be the hardest to overcome. For evidence of just how much the relationship has been damaged, one need only to consider the recent discussion in Suffolk about building a new community college campus downtown.

During meetings of the business owners and other community leaders who have been pushing for the new campus, there has been no lack of criticism for Paul D. Camp Community College’s efforts here in Suffolk.

In fact, several leaders of the Friends of Suffolk group pushing for the new campus have stated publicly that they would prefer the Virginia Community College System dump PDCCC in Suffolk and establish a satellite campus for Tidewater Community College, instead.

Others have suggested that the city should pursue a business or professional college, rather than another community college campus.

That’s the harsh reality of the situation that faces Lufkin. He benefits from the bridges his interim predecessor has begun to build, but when he settles into his office in Franklin, Lufkin still will be staring across a chasm of doubt about the institution’s future. It will take a high level of engagement for him to restore confidence in the college.