Central Oregon Community College President Shirley Metcalf announced plans Wednesday afternoon to retire by July 1, ending a five-year term.
Metcalf, 66, is COCC’s fifth president and will be the shortest-serving one. She is also the first woman and person of color to hold the position.
“When the board first chose me, I told them that I love COCC, I love the students, and I love the community,” she said Wednesday. “I still do, and I probably always will.”
During Metcalf’s tenure, she helped COCC secure a $2.25 million Title III grant in 2016 aimed at retaining first-year students with remedial math and writing courses. According to a COCC press release, this is the largest grant that the college has ever received.
“Dr. Metcalf’s success in securing the Title III federal education grant has already yielded measurable improvements in student performance,” COCC board Chairman John Mundy said in the release.
“We recognize and celebrate her many successes and hope to continue building upon her accomplishments in promoting student success.”
Metcalf, a Honolulu native, said that along with snagging the Title III grant, her proudest achievement as president was instilling the Hawaiian value of “ohana,” or family, into COCC’s culture.
“Bend, Redmond, Madras, Prineville, Sisters, Lakeview, Warm Springs … we’re all part of our COCC family,” she said. “My goal when I came in was to make everybody appreciate and understand one another, and I think that’s one of my legacies.”
Mundy said Wednesday that Metcalf has made COCC a welcoming environment.
“Employee morale, particularly among instructional staff, has only gotten better in the four or five years since she’s been here,” he said. “They are happy, and I think a lot of that stems from her inclusive and empathetic leadership style.”
Another achievement that Mundy praised Metcalf for was the update of COCC’s facilities master plan in March, which will manage growth among the satellite campuses in Redmond, Madras and Prineville.
The press release adds that Metcalf has worked with local K-12 school district superintendents to increase opportunities for high school students to earn college credit through COCC’s College Now courses, which are taught in high schools by those schools’ teachers, but students can obtain COCC college credit for them. The number of College Now courses, which cover traditional topics from math to history, has jumped from 131 to 183, and enrollment has increased by 27 percent in the past five years, according to the press release.
Redmond School District Superintendent Mike McIntosh said Metcalf was “instrumental” in helping high school students get a head start on earning college credit.
“She was the one who would look for every opportunity, then put in her energy and enthusiasm into making something work well for our kids,” he said. “I hope they replace her with someone as good, and that’s going to be tough, because she’s amazing.”
Annual scholarship money awarded by COCC has increased from $1.1 million to $1.6 million, and the college’s endowment has jumped up by $6 million to $22 million during Metcalf’s four years at the helm.
The college has faced various challenges in Metcalf’s tenure as well. Since Metcalf became interim president in 2014 (she officially became the president in 2015), the number of full-time equivalent students at COCC has dipped from 5,749 in 2014-15 to 4,966 in 2017-18, according to the college. However, as she and other COCC officials have pointed out, community college attendance drops when the economy improves.
The school also faces a lawsuit from the family of Kaylee Sawyer, who was murdered in 2016 by a former COCC security officer. The suit said COCC officials, including Metcalf, “created a culture of superiority and a sense of being above the law among COCC’s Campus Public Safety Department, creating a danger to its students and public in general.”
Metcalf said her choice to retire was because the current moment was “the best window for transition,” with new board leaders recently selected.
Metcalf has spent 46 years working in higher education. Before arriving in Bend, she was a tenured professor in the University of Hawaii System for 26 years, served as the dean of instruction and outreach at Hawaii Community College and was the vice president for instruction and the vice president for advancement at Lake Washington Technical College (now Lake Washington Institute of Technology) in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland.
In 2011, she was hired as the dean of extended learning at COCC, which put her in charge of noncredit instruction, the college’s satellite campuses in Redmond, Madras and Prineville and other programs such as classes at Deer Ridge Correctional Institution. Metcalf also served as the interim vice president for instruction for five months in 2013. She said that COCC was “probably her favorite college” that she’s worked at.
Since moving to Bend, Metcalf has been a board member of nonprofits Redmond Economic Development Inc. and Better Together. She is active in the National Asian Pacific Islander Council, according to a COCC press release. After retirement, Metcalf said she hopes to become more involved with that group.
“I represent less than 1 percent of the community college presidents in the nation because I’m Asian and a woman,” she said. “Jessie Diggins, the gold medalist for the United States in cross-country skiing, she said she wants to give back to the younger skiers and give them the opportunities and the tools they need. That’s what I would like to do too.”
The press release states that the COCC board is working on appointing a search consultant and committee to hire COCC’s next president. The committee will be made of community representatives and college faculty, staff and board members. The college hopes to interview candidates in January and February and have the next president hired by March or April.
As for Metcalf, she said she plans on staying in Bend post-retirement and spending more time in the outdoors. She said she’s proud to lead the college.
“Whenever I go to the doctor and the medical assistant is taking my blood pressure, I’ll say, ‘And where did you graduate from?’ And I’m so proud when they say, ‘COCC,’” she said. “A lot of our graduates have made a difference for Central Oregon and beyond.”
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