If people are expecting the new head of to bring major changes to the school, they will probably be disappointed—at least for the short term.
Ronald Chesbrough, who took over the helm of the college earlier this month, intends to stay the course in his new position.
Chesbrough’s ﬁrst order of business: Keep tuition in check so the college remains affordable for most people.
That will be a big enough job. Cuts to state aid have brought ﬁscal woes to most publicly funded institutions of higher learning.
At a time when the economy is putting further pressures on funding, Chesbrough said he’s committed to keeping tuition affordable.
“I’m not the kind of new leader who comes in and says, ‘We’ve got 15 new directions to go in,’ and ‘I want to change this or change that.’ I don’t have any major plans for change for the college,” he said.
Instead—at least for the near future—he wants to pick up right where outgoing President John McGuire “left off” and concentrate on keeping the college an affordable place to get an education.
“I want to continue to make this an affordable place for students to attend," he said. "The economy of the last ﬁve years has really been a wake-up call for everybody on that point—community colleges tend to still be the most affordable opportunity for students, and if they want to go on to a four-year school, they can certainly transfer and do that.”
A former private college administrator, Chesbrough said he used to wonder about what happened to the students who couldn’t afford the $30,000-plus tuition price tag of private schools and now extolls the value of community colleges.
Chesbrough added community colleges are the sector of education devoted to preparing people for new careers.
During his ﬁrst week at the college, he met a mother of 11 who decided a year ago that “it was time for her to make some changes and be better able to support her family,” Chesbrough said. “You don’t hear a lot of of those kinds of story in traditional college and four-year college settings.”
Chesbrough, a native of northern New York, had served as vice president for student affairs at Hastings College in Hastings, NE since 2005. Though he has never lived in the St. Louis metro area before, he is very familiar with it—his wife Annie grew up in Florissant, and they have often visited her relatives in Webster Groves.
There’s plenty to keep Chesbrough busy at SCC without major changes.
“Every new president inherits a challenge or two,” he said. For him, it will be keeping revenue levels where they are at a time of national ﬁscal crisis.
Tuition covers 40 percent of the school’s costs with county property tax and state appropriations covering the rest. But cash-strapped state legislatures have cut funding to colleges. In St. Charles County Community College’s case, it’s 12 percent throughout the last two years.
State funding has been level since 2001 and hasn’t grown for a decade, Chesbrough said. “The best hope for funding this year is that we won’t lose more,” he said.
Still, Chesbrough hopes to hold the line on tuition.
“No one wants to raise tuition, the one variable we have control over,” he said. “There’s a real commitment to not increase tuition, and I will continue that. The good news is the college is not in any trouble. We’re in really good shape. We have reserves and don’t need to build any new buildings.”
He noted that the college in the bottom quarter of community college across the state when it comes to cost. “We’d kind of like to stay there,” he said.
“Our job is just to continue to manage the resources we have wisely, and make the case that we’re important to the legislature and continue to hold tuition down so students can afford to attend there.”
But the college will also be working on its other role—to do workforce development with local companies, another revenue source for the school.
“We need to continue to be aggressive partners with other entities in the area—offering affordable training to employees of businesses, Chesbrough said.
And while every other sector of higher education has been suffering enrollment losses, community colleges haven’t, Chesbrough said.
“The biggest problem for many community colleges hasn’t been shrinking enrollment but how to keep up with expanding enrollment,” he said.
After years of explosive growth that coincided with the growth of St. Charles County, the college’s growth has slowed from double-digit increases to a manageable rate.
The school’s “head count” is close to 11,000, and the full-time equivalent is close to 6,000 students, he said.