4 college presidents on how they're responding to change

Draw on their college experiences to understand today's students

Four recently elected college and university presidents prepare to take advantage of turbulent times in higher education, Reginald Stuart writes for Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

Judy Sakaki, Sonoma State University (SSU):

Sakaki, who began her post at SSU this past July, is our nation's first Japanese American woman president of a four-year institution.

Drawing inspiration from personal experience, Sakaki plans to use her role to personally reach out to SSU students and help them to reach their full potential.

Sakaki acknowledges the challenges facing all colleges today, from declining political support for higher education and the constant buzzing of social media, but she is optimistic about SSU's future.

So far, Sakaki calls the job "good, fun, [and] exciting."

Cynthia Teniente-Matson, Texas A&M University-San Antonio (A&M–SA)

Teniente-Matson was a first-generation college student herself, a factor that she says makes her a better leader for A&M–SA.

"My priority is student-centered, so we can build a system toward completion in four years," Teniente-Matson says.

Since starting her post last year, Teniente-Matson has already made strides toward this goal. She's initiated her Finish in 4 Graduation Pledge, which helps students achieve their degree in four years by offering structured advising and roadmaps.

She has also hired more academic coaches and made a push for more students to use Jaguar Tracks, a comprehensive course plan.

Teniente-Matson believes that social and economic diversity should not be seen as a challenge, but rather as an opportunity to serve San Antonio's historically underserved communities. 

Give your first-generation students the best possible experience

Ronald Crutcher, University of Richmond:

Crutcher is the university's first black president, and he is optimistic about Richmond's climb toward greater diversity.

"What impressed me [about Richmond] was how the university, in just 10 years, had become so diverse," Crutcher says of his decision to take the position.

Richmond, traditionally comprised mostly of Southern and Virginian students, now has a student body of only 15% Virginians and 15% Southerners.

Crutcher's plans for Richmond include expanding the university's outreach and culture without altering tuition costs. Crutcher looks forward to using "that rich diversity to change the culture of the university."

Crutcher has already hired a new communications officer, who is helping Richmond work toward a goal of marketing the university as a whole rather than its separate segments. He has also revamped the Richmond's Promise to Virginia scholarship program, which offers full scholarships to underserved Virginian students.

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Maria Thompson, Coppin State University (CSU):

Thompson's ambitions for the Baltimore institution involve ensuring that CSU's 3,000 students stay in school and complete their degrees.

To do so, Thompson faces several challenges that many institutions grapple with, such as reversing dropout rates, bolstering enrollment, offering more financial aid, redesigning class schedules to better serve non-traditional students, and increasing student engagement in the classroom.

Many of CSU's students are working adults supporting children and families, and Thompson recognizes the need to better accommodate their busy lives.

Already, Thompson has overseen the establishment of a new child care center on campus, and has launched the Bridge EdU program, whose partnership with Baltimore City high schools helps CSU recruit students and increase enrollment (Stuart, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, 11/6). 

Why you should be focusing more on non-traditional student success

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