A Passionate Educator Takes Her Leave

Montgomery College President Charlene R. Nunley
Montgomery College President Charlene R. Nunley "believes strongly in the power of education to transform lives," a longtime friend said. (By Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)
By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 1, 2007

After eight years as president -- and 27 years altogether -- at Montgomery College, Charlene R. Nunley is moving on.

Beginning today, a new administrator will occupy the corner office with the windows overlooking the athletic fields of the college's Rockville campus.

Brian K. Johnson, chief executive of the Allegheny campus of the Community College of Allegheny County, Pa., will become Montgomery College's seventh president. Nunley will be in an advisory role until June 30, and though she no longer will be based in the college's Hungerford Road headquarters, she will remain a presence in college life.

Among her post-presidency plans: continuing to work with the college's foundation to raise money for student scholarships -- long one of her passions.

Nunley's commitment to access and affordability has roots in her experience as an undergraduate at Penn State University. She was the first in her family to attend college, but after freshman year, her father, a letter carrier, was injured and no longer able to work. She told her professors that she would not be returning to school because her family could not afford the tuition. A faculty member urged her to take the time she needed to help her family but not to give up on her education. When she returned, a scholarship and a job were waiting for her, she said.

It was while she was working at Penn State's Center for the Study of Higher Education that she first learned and became passionate about the mission of community colleges.

For Nunley, 56, who announced early last year that she would step down as president, the decision to leave was not an easy one.

"I love this college," she said. "It's not just a job, it's part of my life. A presidency at a college these days is not a job, it's a lifestyle."

But at the urging of her husband, who wanted to retire, Nunley decided that the timing was right. November's elections also happened to usher in a new county executive and several new county council members, with whom a new college president will be able to develop fresh relationships. Nunley turns over leadership of the 22,893-student college -- with campuses in Germantown, Rockville and Takoma Park/Silver Spring -- at a pivotal time. The student population is diversifying and getting younger. Not only do Montgomery College students come from 170 countries, more of them are bound for four-year schools, which adds to the challenge facing educators.

Community colleges, instead of being seen as a refuge for students who couldn't go anywhere else, increasingly are an affordable alternative for people on their way to a four-year degree, Nunley said.

"People don't realize that across that county, nearly half of all undergraduates begin at community colleges," she said. "Much more now, students are choosing to begin here."

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