Laurie Chesley, one of three candidates running to become Central Oregon Community College’s next president, had never visited Bend before arriving Wednesday to meet with stakeholder groups and the public.

But she said she already loved the city, and being a Michigan native, didn’t mind the snowy weather.

“It’s beautiful; there’s interesting things to do, nice people — what’s not to like?” she told The Bulletin.

If selected by the COCC board of directors, Chesley said she would use her experience as an administrator at a four-year university and multiple community colleges to strengthen COCC’s connection with nearby Oregon State University-Cascades and other four-year universities by easing the transfer process.

“I think it’s important for students to have options and clear pathways that save them time and money to reach whatever their academic and career goals are,” she said. “Seamless transfers are very important to that.”

Chesley is the provost and executive vice president for academic and student affairs at Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan and spent 18 years as a higher-education administrator at Ferris State University, Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania and Grand Rapids Community College. She earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in English at the University of Notre Dame, and taught English for 14 years before becoming an administrator at various higher-education institutions.

In regards to COCC’s declining enrollment, which has fallen by over 30 percent since the 2011-12 school year, Chesley said she planned to expand the amount of online courses for adult learners, who might work full time and wouldn’t have as much time to constantly drive to campus.

Chesley suggested fostering an environment in Central Oregon where more residents attended higher-education courses, whether it’s a transfer degree to a four-year university or taking courses for a trade.

“That’s the long game: helping establish a college-going culture, and helping folks understand the value of a higher-ed credential,” she said. “It is not just getting a bachelor’s degree in English. That’s okay, too, but it’s more than that.”

If selected, Chesley said she would “take time to assess the situation surrounding COCC’s campus security’s conflict with local law enforcement officers, who say the school’s security officers look and act too much like official police officers and the department underreports crimes to Bend Police.

“What I am confident of, is that the current administrative leadership and (President Shirley) Metcalf are on a good path forward, and that they care deeply about the future of the college, they care deeply about safety, and that the college is moving in the right direction,” she said.

Chesley is the third candidate to have visited Central Oregon. Last week, fellow presidential candidates ­Kimberlee Messina and Tod Treat spoke with COCC staff, administrators, students and the public. The COCC board of directors’ goal is to name the new president by early March, and the selected candidate will replace Metcalf, who is retiring July 1.

— Reporter: 541-617-7854,