Presidential candidates validate our strengths

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During the week of Sept. 10, VCSU hosted five presidential candidates, all interested in becoming the 14th VCSU president. While only a couple of the candidates will be interviewing with the State Board on Thursday, Sept. 27, we found all of their visits informative because they helped us see ourselves from the outside. Here’s what we learned from the candidates:First, they were impressed by our enrollment growth over the past few years, especially at a time when high school senior classes are shrinking. What are we doing, they wondered, to keep achieving record enrollments? The best answer, I think, can be found in our constant efforts to collaborate with other entities like the public schools, the development corporation, and two-year campuses across the state, along with a focus on our current students, to assure both their retention and success.All of them commented on our upbeat campus culture. In the midst of budget challenges and several years with no raises, they were expecting to hear complaints at staff and faculty meetings. Instead, they heard us say, “Here’s what we’re doing, and here’s the next thing.” Our culture is focused forward, on quality and innovation, not mired in negativity.With the recent budget reductions, they expected to see financial challenges, and several even sent our financial information to their campus experts, to determine whether what they saw is accurate: VCSU is financially solid, with strong financial ratings and reserves. This is also impressive—we have met financial constraints with creativity and compromise, making good decisions that have kept us solidly in the black.The candidates found our students both informed and engaged in the process, and they were complimentary about the thoughtful questions the students asked. They were impressed by the interest our students showed in interacting with them during the student-candidate interviews. Since we had student guides walk each candidate from one meeting to the next throughout the day, the candidates also had opportunities to visit individually with students, who did an impressive job of showcasing the VCSU student body.VCSU’s vision states that we are an innovative university, and our visitors confirmed that indeed this is true. They were impressed by our efforts to collaborate, try new techniques, and respond to changes in the workforce with altered curricula, new programs, and professional development.At VCSU, we are learning-centered, innovative, student-focused, collaborative, and engaged. These are our core values, the qualities we attempt to embody in daily work, planning, and decision-making. It’s reassuring to know that the outside perspectives from these presidential candidates indicate that we are both “talking the talk and walking the walk” in keeping our focus on the success of our students and our university.