By Dr. Joi Lin Blake, Superintendent/President of Palomar College

Originally published Dec. 11, 2019 by The San Diego Union-Tribune.

For nearly 70 years, Palomar College Community College located in San Marcos, has provided transformational educational and career opportunities to students of diverse experiences, needs, and abilities. Our commitment is to our students. We remain focused on their success.  We are training the workforce of the future and this in lies our focus.

Upon appointing me to the position of Superintendent/President of the Palomar Community College District in June 2016, the Governing Board established explicit goals for me. My Board-given mandate was to increase enrollment, address diversity among faculty, work with the Palomar College Foundation to enhance fundraising efforts, and—most importantly— improve the fiscal health of the College.

The transformational changes my team has instituted to meet these goals are intended to end deficit spending and safeguard the longevity of our institution. These changes are disruptive and difficult, and have led many faculty and staff at Palomar College to call for my resignation. While I understand their anxiety and anger over my decision-making, I will never be pressured out of policies and governance structures that enable us to better serve our students.

Over the past three-plus years, we have taken a forensic look at long-standing obstacles that have prevented the College from attaining fiscal stability. It is not unusual during this type of endeavor, that angst ensues.

We have had to examine the costs associated in providing full health benefits to all employees and their families. We have scrutinized our course scheduling and faculty assignments to ensure our human and fiscal resources align with the new student-centered funding formula mandated by the Board of Governors of the California Community College System. These evaluative exercises are not complete and there is much work left to do in order to secure the fiscal stability of the College.  I am committed to establishing long-term financial stability for the College.  We must do so in order to effectively serve our current and future students within this region.

The transformational changes during my tenure do not stop there, and there is good news: we have increased our fall enrollment by 5% over the last two years.  Community college enrollment growth during a healthy economy is an achievement only a few community colleges in California can celebrate.  Under my team’s leadership, the Palomar College instruction and enrollment teams have instituted strategies that generated these results. It is through this type of leadership that we will continue to help our students achieve the learning outcomes necessary to contribute as individuals and global citizens living responsibly, effectively, and creatively in an interdependent and ever-changing world.

We also have been fortunate to recruit new and diverse faculty. While we have much more work to do in this area, research indicates that student success is much more likely if students are able to see themselves in their professors and that students learn in environments in which they feel connected, welcomed and engaged. As a Hispanic Serving Institution, the need to increase the diversity of our faculty is at the forefront of our ongoing and intentional hiring practices.

And finally, we are immensely proud of the work of our Palomar College Foundation. We have hired new leadership, and worked with the strong and focused Foundation Board of Directors.  In the past year, the Foundation generated its highest annual revenue in Foundation history, awarded over $600,000 in scholarships and textbook assistance, and launched a new and more beneficial fundraising event strategy.

Since we know that many of our students face non-academic obstacles that impede student success, in 2018 we opened a new food and nutrition center on campus.  Within the first nine months of opening, the Anita and Stan Maag Food and Nutrition Center impacted over 3,000 households, providing over 40,400 pounds of food to students, staff and faculty facing food insecurity.  While I am Superintendent/President we will continue to focus on eliminating the non-academic obstacles that impede the success of our students.

For as long as I serve as Superintentent/President of Palomar Community College District, these intentional transformational changes will continue until the day Palomar College is financially sustainable, our faculty and staff reflect the diversity of our students, and our Foundation is able to support all students who need it.

Unapologetically, this mandate is my mantra. Despite the outrage and hostility thrust upon me by those who do not share my students-first focus and financial goals, I am confident in the bright, sustainable future we are working towards. The transformational journey is long and difficult; our students are worth it and it is an honor to serve them.