Last August, Dutchess Community College (DCC) got a new president: its fifth since its founding in 1957 and its first woman. Since taking the job at the college with the largest student population in the mid-Hudson Valley, Dr. Pamela R. Edington has lost no time in pursuing two of her goals, which are forming and strengthening relations with community partners and developing more programs of study to meet the region’s workforce needs.
DCC recently formed a new partnership with the Poughkeepsie City School District and Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation to prepare academically at-risk high school students for skilled jobs in technological fields. Participating Poughkeepsie students will be provided with an integrated sequence of high school and college coursework, mentoring by engineering professionals and workplace experience, culminating in a high school diploma and a college Associate’s degree in the field of Engineering. The initiative is funded through a New York State Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) grant, and is one of ten awarded public/private partnerships in the state.
A native of Minnesota, Edington holds an EdD in Educational Policy, Research and Administration from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, an MA in Sociology from the University of Notre Dame and a BA in Sociology from the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. Previously she was dean of Academic Affairs and provost at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut, and before that she spent 19 years at Middlesex Community College in Massachusetts, first as a Sociology professor and ultimately dean of Social Science and Human Services.
Edington, who was selected for the Dutchess post from a pool of 50 applicants, has been recognized as one of the nation’s outstanding community college leaders: In 2011, she was honored by the Community College National Center for Community Engagement as a “Beacon of Vision, Hope and Action” for her commitment to service learning and civic engagement.
Almanac Weekly’s Lynn Woods recently spoke with Edington:
What motivated you to pursue a career in education, specifically at the community college level?
After I my got Master’s degree in Sociology at Notre Dame, I went back to my hometown in Minnesota and had an opportunity to serve as the executive director of a community-based women’s center. Much of the work I did was about education, working on sexism, racism and domestic violence; I was a community educator. One of my college mentors offered me the opportunity to work as a faculty member at my alma mater. I taught Women’s Studies and Sociology. Due to chance or good luck, I had the opportunity to teach and understand the kind of transformative influence you could have as an educator, and that was the turning point for me.
My first experience in a community college was in Massachusetts. I was hired to teach International Relations as an adjunct faculty teacher. When you work with community college students, it’s almost as if you can see the transformation happen before your eyes… Many are the first generation in their family to go to college. Our faculty and staff have a strong influence on the students, and find great reward in helping show them how to achieve their goals.
Education at the community college level is certainly democracy in action, in terms of the across-the-board access and opportunities provided.
I don’t know where we’d be as a country if community colleges weren’t as prolific as they are. Nearly 50 percent of students nationwide are enrolled in a community college, and yet so many more people in our country need an education. The other challenge for us is that once students enroll, we want to make sure they have a successful experience.
What is your graduation rate?
If you’re using the standard graduation rate of how many students graduate in three years, it’s under 30 percent. However, if you look at the number of students who’ve graduated, transferred to another institution or are still enrolled, the number goes up to 85 percent. Our numbers compare very favorably when benchmarked against other institutions.
You’ve spent many years at two community colleges in New England. What’s different about Dutchess?
The thing that has most impressed me about DCC is the percentage of local students from the area who come to this college. Thirty-eight percent of all the students from Dutchess County who attend college choose to come to DCC, which is a much higher percentage than that of my two previous institutions. When you think of all the options to go to a post-secondary institution, across the state and across the country, it really is a high number. And they not only come to school here, they stay in the area: Over 90 percent of DCC graduates stay in the county or the state of New York.
What is your enrollment?
We have over 9,000 students, of which approximately 2,000 are students taking courses in the high schools for college credit. Six thousand are on the main campus, in Poughkeepsie, and another 1,500 attend classes in our satellite campus in Wappingers Falls. Three years ago we built a residence hall on the main campus, which has 462 beds, so that’s the number living on campus.
What’s the tuition?
It’s $3,200 a year, which for 15 years has been the lowest annual tuition throughout the state. Economic pressures make it difficult to keep the tuition that low. We’ve had a stable contribution by the county. That’s good, but it would be better if it were increasing. We also receive funds from the state. Our Board of Trustees and administration are committed to maximizing these sources. We are maintaining student access to the college. We operate the institution in such a way that we can continue to provide a high-quality education at an affordable price.