Just two months into the job, the president of Prince George's Community College is moving to set up satellite campuses in the northern and southern ends of the county and to take other steps to gain greater credibility and national stature for the Largo institution.
Ronald A. Williams, in a wide-ranging interview, outlined an array of initiatives that he said are intended to make the two-year school "nationally prominent" in five years. He said he will accomplish this "overarching goal" by improving the college's public "presentation" and by providing what he termed "product-plus."
"There is a huge monumental image question," Williams said. "The reality is we're not a high-prestige organization. We need that validation."
To that end, Williams, 48, former president of the Community College of Philadelphia, has had private meetings with School Superintendent Iris T. Metts, County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D), Council Chairman M.H. Jim Estepp (D-Upper Marlboro), House delegation Chairman Rushern L. Baker III (D-Cheverly) and other state legislators. Williams plans more meetings with key political players and business leaders in the county.
Williams said his first priority is to link the college with the county's efforts to promote economic development, in part by training the work force that prospective employers seek before they will come to Prince George's. The college also will provide "managerial training" for mid-level county employees, he said. [See Business Notes on Page 4.]
Williams also hopes to link the college with more people in the county. To make the school more accessible, Williams said, the staff is looking at potential sites at the ends of the county "to get everyone back in the same tent." Currently, he noted, the school's "penetration"--that is, its student body--comes mostly from Largo-Mitchellville, in the school's immediate vicinity, then drops off dramatically based on distance from the college.
He is also eager to diversify the student body. The current enrollment of 35,000 students is 78 percent minority. "I suspect we'd have more whites if we served the ends of the county," Williams said. "We need to serve all people in the county. It's practically impossible to use public transportation to get around this county. It's easier to take the mountain to Muhammad."
Williams is looking for one site between Beltsville and Laurel, another in the Fort Washington area, and a third in Langley Park, to serve the county's Latino population. He hopes to have all in place within two years. Williams estimates the total building costs, excluding land, at $11 million, which he hopes to obtain from the county and state governments.
There is a compelling economic argument for this, he said, because the school and county are losing, by his calculations, $3.5 million annually in tuition and state reimbursement as a consequence of Prince Georgians attending community colleges in neighboring counties.
Williams also wants to diversify the faculty and address the racial imbalance between the 78 percent minority student body and the 83 percent white faculty. He said his goal is a 25 percent minority faculty, achieved through retirements and staff expansion.
He said he has other plans for a faculty he said is barely known in the county. "I'm very interested in the faculty becoming more visible as an intellectual presence in the community," he added.
For students, meanwhile, the new president said he also hopes to hold the line on the current tuition of $2,500 while reducing the percentage those enrolled contribute to the total college budget, currently 46 percent compared with 37 percent statewide. That also will require more funding from the state and county, which is forced to operate frugally under voter-imposed tax limits.
Williams also wants to strengthen the school's "technological infrastructure," which he said is inadequate to meet the demands for classroom space. As a result, he said, the school had to turn down 600 students who sought admission to such programs. Williams said the current capital program includes $10 million in 2003 for a new technology building he said will cost half again as much.
Williams also wants the college to be involved in helping to improve the beleaguered public schools in the county, by helping teachers obtain certification and by assisting those already certified to enhance their skills. He said a meeting has been scheduled for Nov. 10 with Metts and their respective staffs "to operationalize" the ideas.
"This is a pretty aggressive agenda," acknowledged Williams, a 1972 Olympic sprinter for his native country of Barbados. His pace seems to have barely slowed, though his track is now academia. "I'm trying to make people aware of the resource here."
CAPTION: Community college President Ronald A. Williams: "There is a huge monumental image question."