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Norwich — During two morning sessions with students and faculty, Dale Allen, presidential candidate at the Three Rivers Community College, told students, college supporters and faculty that he would aim to double the school’s completion rate and would set up teamwork committees to address any major problems.
“I don’t know much of anything that shouldn’t take six months to solve,” Allen told about 30 students and a few staff members during the first open session Monday morning.
Allen, the first of three presidential candidates to visit the college, addressed topics ranging from meeting the workforce skill needs of local businesses to offering core classes in a more timely fashion to “stacking” courses to allow students to complete degrees quicker and the typically dismal graduation rates of community colleges nationwide.
“I want to go to a place that wants to double its completion rate,” said Allen, who is is vice president for community engagement at Quinsigamond Community College in Massachusetts.
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, only 11 percent of first-time, full-time students at Three Rivers graduated in 2011 within three years of entering school in 2008.
Allen made doubling the completion rate his top priority. He said the semester college format often doesn’t work for students who have to work, take care of children and get a good job. He said he understands those students’ challenges having been a single father of two young children while writing his Ph.D. dissertation.
Allen, a 20-year veteran of higher education, has served as a special assistant to the Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education, since February 2013. Allen earned his doctorate in public policy at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. He received a certificate of advanced study in student personnel administration in higher education, a master’s of education in athletic administration and a bachelor of science in sports biology from Springfield College.
Candidate interviews will continue today at Three Rivers, when outgoing Mitchell College President Mary Ellen Jukoski will visit the campus. The third finalist will visit next Monday and will be identified later this week.
In the meeting with Allen, Christopher Jewell, a member of the Three Rivers Community College Foundation board of directors, expressed concern that Three Rivers is not ready to provide the workers needed for the region’s economy. He pointed to the new $17.6 billion contract to build 10 new Virginia-class submarines at Electric Boat and said Three Rivers should be training the workers needed for that work.
Jewell also complained that institutions east of the Connecticut River often get overlooked by politicians in Hartford.
Allen said he understood that point, saying Massachusetts has a similar sort of boundary west of Interstate 495 and Route 128 outside Boston.
Throughout the two sessions — about 40 faculty and staff met with Allen following the student session — Allen stressed that he has been impressed with the passion and caring shown by people connected with Three Rivers. He visited the college two weeks ago dressed in casual clothes and a Celtics sweatshirt. He talked freely with a maintenance worker, security guard and others and said everyone encouraged him to enroll at Three Rivers as a student.
He said he has visited “hundreds” of college campuses across the country and rarely has found one as clean and well kept as Three Rivers.
“Whoever takes care of this place cares,” Allen said, “and makes sure this place is spotless.”
Jukoski will follow the same schedule as Allen. The day will start with a private breakfast meeting with college officials, followed by an open session with students and members of the community at 10 a.m. in the multipurpose room and a second open session with faculty and staff at 11 a.m.
Jukoski then will have a lunch meeting with Three Rivers President Grace Jones, who will retire at the end of June, and then will travel to Hartford for interviews with Board of Regents for Higher Education President Gregory Gray.
Jukoski will step down on July 1 as the sixth president of Mitchell College. She served as dean of Mitchell College from 1990 to 1995 and was appointed acting president on July 1, 1994. Following a national search, the Board of Trustees appointed her to the presidency on March 1, 1995.
Jukoski earned her bachelor’s degree in English and Education from the College of St. Rose in Albany, N.Y. She also earned two master’s degrees, the first in curriculum planning and development from the State University of New York and the second in English from St. Rose.