washingtonpost.com  > Education > Virginia > Fairfax

A Community College Faces the Future

By Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 2, 2004; Page VA20

Robert G. Templin Jr.'s first visit to a community college campus had a profound, lasting impact on his life. He was just out of high school in the mid-1960s, with no plans for college (having been told by guidance counselors that he was not "college material") and no idea what he wanted to do with his life. But Templin's girlfriend wanted to register at Harford Community College north of Baltimore, so he gave her a ride.

While he was waiting for her to finish, an admission counselor approached Templin and asked what he was doing. Before he knew it, Templin was registering for classes, too.

NVCC President Robert G. Templin Jr. talks with Dang Danh, left, and Madeeha Tanwir, who are registering for classes. (James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)

_____From The Post_____
About NVCC (The Washington Post, Dec 2, 2004)

"The next thing I know, I am sitting in class and people are expecting great things from me, and I was scared to death that I was going to disappoint them," said Templin, 57. "And so I started working really hard, and I found out that I could do this."

Templin took to college. He went on to get a doctorate in adult learning and has spent much of his career in higher education as a professor or administrator. He was named president of Northern Virginia Community College in 2002.

Lately, Templin has been sounding alarms about the uncertain future of the state's largest higher education institution, particularly its inability to keep up with the region's expanding population and increasing demand for higher education.

"Over the last 10 to 15 years," Templin said, "faced with funding cuts in the face of population growth, the system has been breaking down to the point now that not just Northern Virginia Community College but other community colleges are turning away thousands of students who could be learning skills that could be useful in the economy and helping businesses fill shortages."

Templin was sitting on a bench outside the building on the Annandale campus where his office is located. It was a perfect November day, sunny and warm with a gentle breeze blowing the last of the crimson and gold leaves from the trees.

It happened to be registration day at the college (commonly referred to as NOVA, though the school uses the abbreviation NVCC), and Templin had just visited a computer lab where students were lining up to grab their courses for the next semester. Templin spoke casually to students, asking them if they had gotten the courses they wanted and how they liked the school.

A little later, after settling on the bench, he delighted in telling the story of how he ended up going to a community college, saving a punch line for the end.

"By the way," he said, "I married my girlfriend, and now we have 14 kids." Templin and his wife, Carla, had three children of their own and adopted 11 others. The children now range in age from 15 to 35, though Templin took a moment to make sure he got their ages right.

Templin was the first in his family to attend college. Born in Virginia, he moved around the country as an Army brat, attending high school in Aberdeen, Md. Though he said he was a B student, Templin took some college aptitude tests that suggested he should skip college and get a job outdoors working with his hands.

Templin's appreciation for the community college experience can be traced not only to his days as a student but also to the time he spent as a professor at the University of Virginia during the 1970s, when differences in the missions of universities and community colleges crystallized for him.

"The university was an awesome place," he said, "but it was where you studied, reflected, did research and wrote. And the community college is where you did stuff. . . . where you put knowledge to work rather than just generate new knowledge. That's where you actually applied it."

Templin served as dean of instruction at Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville from 1978 to 1986, when he left to become president of Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Va. In 1994, he was appointed president of Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology in Herndon, where he built a reputation as an expert in the business of technology. During his tenure at CIT, the state-chartered organization was credited with attracting or creating 250 companies and thousands of technology-industry jobs.

"This was at a time when Northern Virginia didn't realize there was a technology boom about ready to happen," he said. "But I became aware once again of the importance of technology in the hands of smart people as a competitive strategy for building a community and building prosperity."

Because the region was not prepared for the boom, Templin said, it was unable to provide enough workers for the companies that wanted to set up shop in Northern Virginia.

"Our economy had an almost unlimited appetite for people who had the right skills," he said, "and so I was saying that we haven't finished the equation. There is a big gap. We are living in one of the most prosperous regions in the country, and we are not making very wise use of the human talent that we have."

Templin saw his chance to transform that talent into educated workers when the NVCC president's job opened up in 2002. Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) had appointed former president Belle S. Wheelan secretary of education, and Templin went after the post.

"Northern Virginia Community College just seemed to me to be the sleeping giant in the equation," he said. "People know about NOVA, and they think well of it, but they don't see it as a strategic element in the growth of the region. But from my perspective, it is the missing link. It is the silver bullet, and we are just not treating it as a strategic asset."

Templin has the calm demeanor of a college professor. He speaks quietly, but the passion in his message comes through loud and clear. He wants to be the leader who awakens the sleeping giant, who helps it evolve into a key component of Northern Virginia's future.

The reality of that challenge hit him early in his tenure.

"The very first week I was here," he recalled, "we were presented with a $9 million budget cut, and that was on top of a $6 million cut from the year before. So that $15 million cut came at a time when the population was just exploding."

The college, which also has campuses in Alexandria, Manassas, Woodbridge, Springfield and Loudoun County, has a budget of about $120 million, nearly all of it funded from the state and from tuition. This year, the state restored $11 million to the budget, but as Templin pointed out, that still leaves the school $4 million short of where it was three years ago.

"It is the largest college or university in Virginia," Templin said. "It has about 63,000 students on six campuses, and that is really impressive, but that is 10,000 fewer students than should be here, because the college lacks the capacity right now. We don't have parking spaces, don't have classrooms, don't have labs, we don't have faculty."

At the same time, he said, the school has about 9,000 more students than it is funded for. The result is that there are two- to three-year waits for certain programs, particularly in health care fields such as nursing and dental hygiene.

The waiting lists may begin to shorten next year during the fall semester, when the school's Springfield medical campus will begin to make up for lost time, using some of the money restored to the budget.

"We have a new medical campus in Springfield," he said. "We have hundreds of students waiting to get into our nursing program. Because our funding was cut, our campus was built, but [the nursing program] was never funded."

Templin said that NVCC cannot afford to wait for more money from the state, that it has to look at nontraditional resources such as contributions from the business community to provide for current and future student needs.

The college is planning two new locations, Templin said, one in Arlington and one in western Fairfax County, perhaps Reston. Each facility will contain about 25,000 square feet of classroom space.

In addition, Templin has been holding discussions with area businesses. He would like to tap local companies to help fill a shortage of teachers, using people with practical experience in various fields as adjunct professors. He also would like businesses to donate classroom space.

If the school fails to meet the region's demand for higher education, he said, the impact will be felt in the community. And that is the message he has been delivering to elected officials and community and business leaders.

"I am trying to make people aware, first of all, that our community is changing," he said. "And secondly, that people can personally relate to the implications of doing nothing. Like what is going to happen to your child when you find out he or she can't get into George Mason even though they have good grades? What are you going to do in your business when you find out you can't hire skilled workers because there is a shortage? What are you going to do when you can't get into the emergency room because there are no nurses?"

In the next 10 years, he said, if the school is going to keep pace with the growing number of people looking for a post-high school education, it will need to add about 25,000 more students and a couple of campuses. Those campuses must be located in areas where the population is expanding, he said, and perhaps near Metro stops as well, since none of the existing campuses is close to Metrorail.

As he faces the future, Templin said he is convinced that the students at NVCC are good students, some of whom, like him, were not expected to go to college and are smart enough to take advantage of the opportunity.

"Our students are highly motivated," he said. "They take nothing for granted. They cherish every moment they have, are very hard workers and good learners. Very good learners. And that is what makes teaching at a community college so rewarding. They don't have a lot of time to waste."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company


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