Angela Fairchilds, president of Columbia College since February 2014, announced Wednesday that she will be retiring from her 38-year career in higher education at the end of June.
Fairchilds, 63, said she felt like it was the right time to step away after four years at the helm of the college and pass the torch to a new leader.
“There’s never really a good time to step away from something you love, but the college is in such good shape,” Fairchilds said. “I just feel like now is a good time when everything is on an even keel to bring in a new leader who can help move the college forward and take it to its next level of growth.”
Fairchilds, who lives in Apple Valley Estates with her husband, David, said she’s developed a strong and talented leadership team and helped foster more community partnerships over the past four years.
Her plans after retirement include spending more time with her family that includes two grown children and four grandchildren, as well as traveling with her husband.
The couple plans to move back to a home they own in Tucson, Arizona, where Fairchilds earned her doctorate degree in higher education with an emphasis on community college administration from University of Arizona.
Originally from England, she moved to the United State full time in 1979 after getting married to a U.S. Air Force serviceman. She became an American citizen in 1987.
Fairchilds, a first-generation college student, is the oldest of seven and the first in her family to earn a college degree.
She was a working, single mother at age 26 when she took her first college classes at Cerro Coso Community College in Ridgecrest.
Fairchilds went on to attend Golden Gate University in San Francisco from 1980 to 1988, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in management and a master’s degree in information systems.
Starting at a community college as a nontraditional student and then working for a Golden Gate University outreach site at Edwards Air Force Base was how Fairchilds said she became interested in a career as a community college administrator.
“The students (at the outreach site) were nontraditional in that they were attending classes at nights and on the weekend,” Fairchilds said. “I felt like I had a lot more to offer in the nontraditional setting and to nontraditional students than if I continued at a typical four-year school in that manner.”
Fairchilds said she believed her story of being a nontraditional student could serve as an inspiration for others.
After 13 years with Golden Gate University, she worked for three years at New Mexico State University before moving to Tucson to get her PhD. She spent two years interning at Pima Community College in Pima County, Arizona, while a full-time doctoral student.
Fairchilds was then recruited to serve as dean of Yavapai College’s Verde Valley Campus in Clarkdale, Arizona, where she spent four years before returning to California to work as executive dean of Woodland Community College in Woodland.
She became president of Woodland Community College in 2006 after successfully guiding it through the initial accreditation process to become the 110th community college in the state.
Less than eight years later, Fairchilds was craving a new challenge when she saw the job opening at Columbia College.
“When you’ve taken an institution from education center status to a full blown college, that’s one of the peak parts of your career,” Fairchilds said of her time at Woodland. “Then I found out that Columbia College was looking for a new president and felt like I had a lot to bring with my experience and understanding of small, rural colleges.”
Fairchilds said she feels good about the accomplishments she and her team have made over the past four years, which includes seeing through the Measure E bond that upgraded buildings on the campus, implementing a strategic plan through 2021, and helping to raise the institution profile in the community and across the nation.
She said the school is getting national recognition for its apprenticeship programs in hospitality, child development and fire technology. They are trying to develop one for the automotive field.
The school’s foundation also recently received an endowment gift of over $2 million from the Wise Family Charitable Trust, the largest donation it has ever received.
“We’ve done a lot together over these past four years,” Fairchilds said.
Fairchilds informed the Yosemite Community College District’s chancellor and board about her retirement plans in early January to give them ample time to recruit a replacement.
She said whoever takes her spot should have a strong understanding of how small, rural colleges operate, which she said requires flexibility and strong working relationships, as well as an understanding of the importance to be connected to the local community.
“I know when the time comes to actually go, it will be emotional,” Fairchilds said. “Columbia College will always have a special place in my heart.”
The district posted the job last week and plans to begin interviewing finalists from April 6 through April 20. Fairchilds said there will be public forums announced during that period as well.
The goal is to have a successful candidate for the board to consider approving at its May 9 meeting.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.