Joan Smith, Columbia College’s president, is leaving the school after just four years to become the Yosemite Community College District’s interim chancellor.
But, as her impressive promotion might evidence, Smith’s tenure here was productive:
• She guided the most ambitious campus building program since the college was constructed in the mid-1960s.
• She enhanced the college’s presence in Calaveras County, most recently with the district’s purchase of land for a satellite campus in Angels Camp.
• She has juggled a reduced budget and growing enrollment, somehow serving more students with less cash.
Previously a top administrator at Ventura Community College, Smith came to Columbia in 2007 with an impressive resume: Ventura’s vice-president for student learning, 20 years at Oxnard College in instructional and administrative posts and multiple degrees, ranging from bachelor’s to doctorate.
That’s she’s fulfilled her promise is clear. And, as she is most familiar with Columbia College, Smith will likely be an eloquent spokeswoman for the school and its needs during her tenure as interim chancellor and, perhaps, as the district’s next permanent chief (she hasn’t ruled out being a candidate for the job).
Meanwhile, the YCCD board has hired Richard A. Jones, an experienced community college administrator, as Columbia’s interim president. Jones, who has been chancellor or superintendent of several districts and president of a number of colleges, seems eminently qualified for the job.
As for Smith, she can point to more than a few things with pride as she leaves her office in Columbia for a slightly large one in Modesto.
During her three and a half years at the Tuolumne County School, she oversaw construction of a $14.7 million Science and Natural Resources Building, the $9.1 million Child Development Center, a $2.8 million Public Safety Center and the Madrone Building, a $2.3 million center for welding auto body work. All projects were funded through Measure E, a $326 million bond issue approved by district voters in 2004.
Not only that, but the college district board just bought six acres on Murphys Grade Road for a future satellite campus. The $7.5 million budgeted for development of the campus is part of $52 million in Columbia projects funded by Measure E.
With a center at the Glory Hole and classes at Bret Harte High School, Columbia College has long had a presence in Calaveras County. The new campus, on the district’s own land and with its own buildings, will solidify that.
Smith has faced particular challenges in her last two years, with funding cuts during these austere time and an enrollment that has grown by more than 8 percent — many of them students priced out of the four-year college market and looking for an affordable option.
Serving more with less, through what Smith had called “over efficiency,” has been the answer.
Despite hard economic times, it has worked so far. Although the college has lost about 16 percent of its faculty through retirement, it still offers a full array of classes at about a tenth what four-year schools charge.
In addition, Columbia’s catalog has a host of vocational classes in areas ranging from nursing to auto repair. With valuable training, such classes give students an immediate leg up in today’s tight job market.
Smith will be the first to admit the current situation at Columbia is not sustainable and, with her staff, has been busy looking for grants and other sources of funding.
The bottom line is that Smith leaves the college in good shape in spite of the adverse circumstances it has faced.
The Yosemite Community College District was wise to choose Joan Smith as its interim chancellor, and would be more than justified in finding her the best choice for the full time job.
At the same time, we wish Interim President Jones the best at Columbia College. Given his wealth of experience, the school should thrive under his leadership.
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