Walt Tobin, president of Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College in South Carolina, told a crowd at Piedmont Virginia Community College that he’s honest, humble, a consensus builder, a problem solver — and that he wants to be the PVCC’s next president.
“I would love to be part of what you all are doing,” he said at a forum Thursday. “I think I bring a passion, and I’m a lifelong learner, lifelong educator, and I think collectively we could do some great things.”
Tobin is one of four finalists seeking to succeed Frank Friedman as PVCC president. Friedman is retiring at the end of this school year after more than 20 years as president.
Tobin is the fourth finalist to visit PVCC this month for interviews, a tour and forums with students, staff and faculty. The PVCC board will recommend a candidate to the Virginia Community College System Chancellor, who will make the final decision.
Tobin’s forum was the last public event as part of the PVCC presidential search. No timeline has been announced for when a decision will be made.
Tobin currently is president of Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College in South Carolina, which he has led since 2011. Before becoming president, he was the college’s vice president for academic affairs for nine years.
“If there’s one thing I think that folks would say about us is about that whole notion — that we are changing lives of our students, but we’re also changing the lives of their families,” he said.
Tobin said he’s the only true CEO among the finalists. That means he’s worked directly with a board, foundation and been accountable by employees and students, which has prepared him to take over PVCC.
During his opening remarks, he shared his impressions of PVCC and said he could help take the college to the next level.
“I do believe though, that in three years that this college could be an Aspen finalist,” he said, referring to the Aspen Institute’s prize for Community College Excellence, given every two years. “I think in five years, given what I’ve seen, I think you could be, or we rather, could be a winner.”
Excellence starts with good data, he said, adding that he would propose setting goals relating to the data around enrollment, retention and completion.
“You all have great outcomes, and I think that being able to just look at data and dig a little deeper allows us to elevate what we’re doing and head towards that Aspen Prize in no more than five years,” he said.
At PVCC, he sees an opportunity to grow student enrollment, which has been declining. In spring 2021, about 4,223 students were enrolled at PVCC, while in spring 2020, about 4,724 students were enrolled. Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College had approximately 2,195 students in spring 2020, according to its website.
Enrollment is down across the country at universities, as well as community colleges, says the recent data from the National Student Clearinghouse.
Virginia community colleges have also seen a decline, according to Virginia Community College System data.
Tobin said boosting enrollment starts by working with students as young as fifth graders and “exposing them to this notion that they are college-bound and they can be college ready.”
As part of that effort at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, he said the college invited 70 fifth-grade students to campus, so they had a chance to see what they could do.
As students get older, Tobin said the college should work with families to ensure the children are taking the necessary courses to stay on track for a post-secondary education.
Tobin said Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College also created an institute to teach high school guidance counselors about the campus so that they could better inform their students about the school.
Much of his current time as president is spent meeting with local employers and ensuring the college is meeting their needs. As a result of those conversations, the college worked with the local Chamber of Commerce to create a customer service certification. The college developed the program, and the chamber marketed it and offered its members a discount.
He’s also worked with businesses to meet their needs on economic development projects, Tobin said.
“The other thing that I’ve discovered is not just for students, but also for economic development prospects, to get folks on our campus,” he said. “The college sells itself, and I think the same thing applies here. If we can get people here, show them who’s sitting in front of students, what students are learning, the kind of equipment that they’re operating on. I think that’s how you sell a college.”
Daily Progress reporter Katherine Knott contributed to this report.