New president at RVCC wants you to come back to school
River Valley Community College’s new president has only been on the job one week. However, he’s already confident he made the right move coming here.
“I was very attracted to the New Hampshire state system,” said Alfred Williams IV, who previously worked at Quinebaug Community College (QCC) in Connecticut. “There are a lot of good state initiatives going on, a lot of good collaboration between the schools. A lot of focus on trying to keep student debt low, which was very important to me in my prior job.”
Williams and his wife have two young children, ages 6 and 2, and they were looking for a good place to raise a family. He’s vacationed in this area many times, and he said his wife was totally supportive of the move.
RVCC “was very appealing as an opportunity,” not only because it was similar to QCC, but because Williams is familiar with the challenges of working with a rural population.
Aimee Jahn, interim vice president of academic affairs, said the first week with the new college president has gone so smoothly, “It seems like he’s been here much longer. That’s a good sign — he’s a good fit,” she said.
The percentage of state residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher is 36, while those with either an associate’s degree or some college add another 28 percent. The statewide 65-25 initiative aims t o raise enrollment until 65 percent of adults have post-high school education in the form of a certificate, associate’s degree or higher degree.
“We’re focused on people in New Hampshire that have some college, but they don’t have a credential,” said Williams. To that end, the college will be reaching out to encourage adults who began college to complete their education.
For younger students, the Running Start program connecting high school students to college-level coursework serves 615 students throughout New Hampshire and parts of Vermont. Participants in Running Start can take classes in their home school to gain college credit, or take classes on a community college campus.
Rather than measuring success by enrollment , many in higher education administration are focused on retention of students: Nationwide, 30 percent of college students drop out after the first year. Without a degree, those adults are 71 percent more likely to be unemployed, and four times as likely to default on student loans.
Williams said that in his last six years at QCC, where he served as assistant vice principal, the graduation rate doubled. The secret? “Making the process easier for students, breaking down the silos. Now it’s all about cross-training the staff, so one person can see the student through everything.”
Thus, instead of arriving students receiving a stack of paperwork to fill out and a scavenger’s hunt list of offices to find, they can meet with one person who can take them through every step of the process. Financial aid, bursar, and course advisors can all be in one building or office, and each staffer is cross-trained to know how the other jobs work.
“Instead of the focus being on the bureaucracy and paperwork, there’s a lot of streamlining,” said Williams. “I’m focused on making the experience for the student flow much easier.”
College administrators are working on mapping all of their programs, providing students with a timeline map of the courses they need to take in order to get the degree or certification they’re aiming for in two years.
Williams is also working to keep better connections with students as they go through college. If a student doesn’t show up for class or seems to be struggling, faculty and staff are alerted and can reach out to that student.
“Even if they have to withdraw, if we walk them through it that can make it a smoother process, so they don’t have to lose credit or their financial aid in the future,” he said. “There’s always help available.”
-- GLYNIS HART