The Banner: In her first year and a half Roxbury Community College President Valerie Roberson closed the school’s longstanding budget deficit, brought the college into compliance with federal financial aid regulations and began a $19 million overhaul of the school’s buildings.
This year, Roberson plans to chart a course for the future with the release of a visioning plan she led with faculty, staff, students and residents and stakeholders in the Roxbury community.
Roberson says turnout for the visioning sessions last month demonstrated deep optimism for the college.
“I’ve been really buoyed by the conversations that I’ve had since I’ve been here, with the community, with businesses, with the community-based organizations that funnel students that are earning their GED or studying English as a Second Language to our college,” she said in an interview with the Banner. “There’s so much support for this college.”
That support is made real through partnerships that provide students with internships that give them valuable experience in the working world.
Students in RCC’s Radiologic Technology program intern in Boston-area hospitals. Criminal Justice students intern in Massachusetts courts, with police departments and in local law firms. A new partnership with WCVB Channel 5 has provided the college’s Broadcast Media students with internships there.
Roberson also touts the physical investments in the college’s campus which so far have yielded a new cafeteria, renovations to the library, technical upgrades to classrooms, new equipment for the biotechnology labs and a newly-resurfaced track in the Reggie Lewis Athletic Facility.
Roberson says state funds will also be used to install solar panels and a geothermal heat system that will make RCC energy independent.
“We will be able to save a tremendous amount, reduce our energy costs to zero and sell energy back to the utilities,” Roberson said.
Not all of the improvements at RCC are bricks-and-mortar. The college contracted with One Stop, a social service agency that opened an office in RCC’s administration building and helps students obtain services ranging from help with financial aid to legal advice.
“We don’t have the luxury of students coming here care-free,” Roberson said. “Our students come with a bevy of problems ranging from homelessness to lack of adequate child care.”
Roberson’s optimistic outlook isn’t shared by all on campus. On April 1, a small group of 20 faculty students and staff stood in front of the college to protest what they said were layoffs and budget cuts. Faculty members staged a no-confidence vote earlier this year, but failed to come up with the two-thirds majority needed to pass the measure.
Roberson said no faculty members were laid off during the budget cuts.
“Most of the changes were at the administrative level so that we could provide the same level of services to students,” she said. “We had to make some really hard calls.”
The rally, which was attended by 20 students and faculty, was a small relatively small affair. And it was somewhat routine for the school, where the faculty has long had contentious relations with the administration.
Righting the college’s financial aid problems was a much more daunting task. RCC was placed on “heightened financial scrutiny” by the U.S. Department of Education after investigations found that the college had mishandled student financial aid. The designation is not entirely uncommon. RCC was one nine Massachusetts colleges under scrutiny by the DOE this year.
Roberson said the designation provided the college with an opportunity to tighten its administration of financial aid.
“It really entailed us monitoring all of our processes and systems to make sure we were in full compliance,” she said.
The process has paid off for RCC. The most recent DOE audit of RCC’s financial aid files found the school to be 100 percent compliant with federal standards over the last 16 months.
“I feel good about the progress we’ve made,” Roberson said. “We have really hard-working staff in financial aid. The whole college has pulled together to make our situation improve.”
Yawu Miller | 4/23/2015, 6 a.m.
Senior Editor - The Banner