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MiraCosta College Superintendent/President Marks 5th Year
The MiraCosta Community College District was facing more than its share of challenges when Dr. Francisco Rodriguez was hired as superintendent/president five years ago this March. An anemic economy translated to decreasing revenues to the college, forcing deep and unprecedented budget cuts. The college had an immediate sanction to address to maintain its accreditation. Morale among faculty and staff had seen better days and the governing board was fractured.
The turnaround has been remarkable.
“Dr. Rodriguez came here at a time when the college was in turmoil,” said David Broad, president of the
MiraCosta College Board of Trustees
. “He used his leadership skills to build a culture of collegiality. He stabilized the college. And he worked closely with the community and the business and civic leaders in the region to build up our reputation and standing.”
Since Dr. Rodriguez arrived, financial order has been restored, enrollment has grown by nearly 25 percent, and the number of military veterans and active-duty personnel has nearly doubled. MiraCosta College also has significantly increased the number of online classes while substantially beefing up the number of courses available on Fridays and Saturdays. And the college foundation has raised more money for student scholarships than ever before and the endowment has grown substantially.
Students at the San Elijo Campus are benefitting from a growing academic program. Construction of a new science building that began last year should be finished in time to open next fall. The Oceanside Campus, meanwhile, launched a revised and improved Gerontology Studies Program, putting MiraCosta College at the forefront of preparing students to work with and care for the region’s aging population. Other new academic programs include biomass production and social media. Innovative programs and services, combined with expert teaching and strong student support services have resulted in the college awarding more degrees and certificates than ever before. In the last five years, graduation numbers have more than doubled, and in 2013, the college awarded a record number of degrees and certificates--2,455, plus an additional 52 high school diplomas.
And MiraCosta College is being lauded for responding to the needs of the local business community. For example, the National Tooling and Machining Association, the local career center, and representatives of the North County manufacturing industry approached MiraCosta administrators more than two years ago urging the college to do something about the shortage of qualified machinists in the area. The Community Services and Business Development Program responded by crafting a new Machinist Technology Program for individuals seeking fast-paced, high-level training for real job skills. In spring 2013, the college, with private financial support from numerous local corporations and the San Diego Workforce Partnership, opened its doors to the new program, which is housed at the Landes Center in Oceanside.
“The business community desperately needed this and MiraCosta College was quick to respond,” said David Nydegger, president and chief executive officer of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce. Nydegger also pointed to other areas, saying, “The college hospitality program has been a great help to local hoteliers and the tourism industry.”
In addition, MiraCosta College last fall became the latest in a growing number of higher education systems across the country to offer a Certificate of Achievement in Social Media, arming students and those already in the workforce with the vital skills needed in an increasingly technologically savvy world. The program’s development came after the local business community approached college officials.
Nydegger is one of Dr. Rodriguez’s biggest fans.
“I’ve known Dr. Rodriguez since he first came to the college and from the get go I’ve been impressed by his enthusiasm and dedication,” he said. “But I’m probably most impressed by his caring for the students, the faculty, and the classified employees at MiraCosta. He cares about the college. When you think about Dr. Rodriguez, you think about MiraCosta College.”
Catherine Halmay, president of MiraCosta College’s Classified Senate, agrees.
“Dr. Rodriguez has brought much-needed stability to the leadership of MiraCosta College. He started working at MiraCosta College at a difficult financial time for the district and was very prudent in his decision-making. He gave his word to classified employees that we would get through those times with no layoffs for classified and he kept his word. He makes a point of acknowledging classified and their contributions to the college, every chance he is before them. He truly has an open-door policy to me and to everyone else,” Halmay said.
Dr. Edward Pohlert, who is the faculty director for tutoring and academic support and serves as vice president of the Academic Senate, lauded Dr. Rodriguez for establishing “a good relationship with the faculty, a collegial relationship. We’re happy that we’re hiring 10 new faculty this year. We applaud him for that.”
Pohlert said another of Dr. Rodriguez’s many strengths is in building community relationships. “He’ll speak to a class of third graders one day, talk to a business group the next, and then go address a community nonprofit.”
So what is Dr. Rodriguez’s secret?
“Dr. Rodriguez truly is the consummate collaborator,” said Toni Padron, chief operating officer and executive vice president at the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce. “He can always find ways to work with other organizations in the community. He is very entrepreneurial in his approach. He’s a forward-thinker who is absolutely fearless in in his embrace of innovative practices. He is constantly working toward building the most outstanding community college in the region.”
Everyone who knows him says Dr. Rodriguez, above all else, is committed to the students. “He’s an advocate for all students, and works to address the needs of a diverse student population, whether it’s members of our military, those in mid-career transitions or recent high school graduates who want to transfer to four-year colleges,” Padron said. “It is evident that Dr. Rodriguez believes that everyone should have the opportunity to achieve success and MiraCosta College reflects that.”
Pohlert agreed, saying the college president “has the ability to relate to the students and the community college experience.”
Dr. Rodriguez is motivated in large part by his background. Raised by parents who overcame a myriad of obstacles and financial hardships, he is a first-generation college graduate, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UC Davis and a Ph.D. in education from Oregon State University. He has earned numerous awards and honors for his leadership, scholarship, service and contributions to higher education. Among them, educator awards in 2013 from North San Diego County Chapter of the NAACP and the San Diego Mexican American Business Professionals Association, the 2012 Small Business Development Center Advocate of the Year Award, and the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations Pacesetter of the Year. In 2012, he was appointed to a three-year term on the National Science Foundation’s Education and Human Resources Advisory Committee, and he serves on the board of directors for both the Oceanside and Carlsbad chambers of commerce. Dr. Rodriguez also serves on the advisory committees for the education schools at UC Davis and San Diego State University, and teaches in the doctoral program in education at Sacramento State University.
Much still needs to be done as the college implements its 10-year education and facilities plan—the 2011 Comprehensive Master Plan—that calls for the expansion of science, biotechnology, nursing, and technical health-related careers and job-training programs. As part of the plan, the college will renovate and modernize existing facilities and construct new instructional buildings to provide students with the education and job skills they need to enter the workforce.
“The master plan for MiraCosta College is centered on the needs of our students and community and advances the college’s role in strengthening our region’s economy,” said Dr. Rodriguez. “It is one of the many ways MiraCosta College is demonstrating that it is a vanguard educational institution.”
While 2014 marks five full years at MiraCosta College, Dr. Rodriguez has contributed close to 30 years of service to California public higher education. He began his higher education career at the University of California, Davis and his community college career in 1997 at Woodland Community College in the Yuba Community College District, where he served as associate dean of instruction and student services, and executive dean (now titled president). In 2003, he was appointed president of Cosumnes River College of the Los Rios Community College District in Sacramento and served in that capacity for six years before joining MiraCosta College.
“Looking back, we have much to be proud of. Clearly, MiraCosta College continues to be an exceptional institution with an unfaltering commitment to educate students and serve the community,” says Dr. Rodriguez. “It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as the college president for the past five years, and I appreciate everyone’s support for this college and its students.”