My approaching retirement from Southern State Community College has prompted me to reflect on my 12 years serving as its president. Out of the many thoughts I have had about my time of leadership, the most overwhelming is gratitude.
I am immensely grateful for the honor to serve the students and employers who turned to Southern State for the education and workforce training they need to move up and succeed. Furthermore, I am grateful for my coworkers at Southern State who show up every day sharing a singular mission of service. I have been inspired by them time and again and cherish everything they have taught me about collaboration, professionalism and commitment to students.
The achievements we have made together are varied and many. Looking back on them and highlighting a few now, it’s exciting to consider how far we have come together.
It may be surprising to learn that some of the most significant work of Southern State has taken place while students are still in high school. Over the past 12 years, high school students in our area have earned more than 170,000 college credits from Southern State, amassing $25 million in college tuition savings for them and their families. Additionally, 343 high school students have earned entire associate degrees before graduation, allowing them to start college as juniors without one cent of debt. This year alone, 58 high school seniors graduated with both a diploma and an associate degree. Also during the past 12 years, over 3,800 students earned associate degrees, and either went directly into their career fields or continued working toward a bachelor degree.
With the needs of employers ever-changing, many good-paying jobs do not require a two- or four-year degree but instead can be obtained with specialty training, especially in technology, manufacturing and transportation, and Southern State has adapted to meet this need. Our information technology graduates, for example, fill in-demand roles in just about every industry after training ranging from just a few short courses in Microsoft Office to computer science and electrical engineering. Also, for nearly 2,800 students, Southern State’s commercial driver’s license program allowed them go get good-paying jobs in a few short weeks to help fill the persistent needs in the global supply chain for the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and everything else we need in our modern existence.
For other students who didn’t graduate from high school, an opportunity to finally earn that high school equivalency certificate, or even a diploma from their school district through our 22+ Program helped create new opportunities, build confidence and empower ways forward and upward.
Available opportunities like these mean little if they are financially out of reach of the students who want them, which is why keeping Southern State affordable has remained a top priority during my tenure. Not only has that meant constant work with three governors and our legislature to secure the resources we need to keep tuition low, but it’s also been behind the effort to create the Southern State Community College Foundation to fund scholarships and other opportunities. Since its inception, the Foundation has received support from hundreds of donors and grown to $3.2 million. Additionally, a multi-million-dollar trust fund was established by the late Sara (Sally) M. Barrere to fund scholarships for Southern State students. And why did she make this her first-choice legacy donation? It was because in her later years she was cared for by Southern State nursing graduates.
I am proud of all of these accomplishments and trace them back to a commitment the Southern State Board and leadership team came together to make early on in my tenure when we set a vision of being the first-choice college for students in our region. That meant many things but the most important was that we always kept the best interests of students, their families and their futures at the center of every decision we made. Our region’s students have many college choices, but they frequently turn to Southern State because they know that our mission is them and only them.
The people of Southern Ohio are the salt of the earth. Helping them prepare and succeed is Southern State’s mission and it has been my mission. Sharing in the lives and hopes and dreams of the people of our region has been the blessing of a lifetime and I am grateful to have had this honor. My wife and I will continue to live here, at our home in Clinton County, while we catch up on some travel goals and I get back to playing my mandolin, so you will still see me around. As for Southern State, it is in great hands and positioned to remain even more relevant in the next 47 years as it has been in the past.