President Glenn Roquemore, PhD, came to CalSouthern in early 2020 after 28 years with Irvine Valley College (IVC), the last 18 of which he served as president. During his tenure with the community college – widely considered as one of California’s best – he was instrumental in expanding IVC’s commitment beyond the classroom to distance and online learning, ultimately increasing its distance learning courses by 50%.
Shedding light on the evolving debate between online and traditional learning, Roquemore offers a candid look into his decision to move to the all-online space after almost three decades in classroom-based public education – a decision he made just months before the COVID-19 outbreak.
This is the first of a two-part interview with Dr. R.
Why did you decide to leave Irvine Valley College?
Irvine Valley College definitely ranks near the top of California’s 106 community colleges in just about every category – and it was very tempting for me to retreat to the classroom where my IVC career began. But after almost 30 years in leadership, 18 as president, I realized that I had taken IVC as far as I could. While I felt very good about how much we had accomplished in all those years, I was less confident that I could continue on that growth curve. I’ve found that it is very challenging to motivate successful institutions to risk their comfort zones to innovate and advance – which is why the average life span for community college presidents is five years or less.
Why the jump from a traditional classroom environment to California Southern University, an all-online institution?
When I left IVC, my original intention was to pursue those parts of the president’s job I enjoyed the most: accreditation, quality improvement, problem-solving and, especially, the transition from traditional to online learning, which was something that all schools were facing due to student demands and increased competition from private, for-profit universities.
As the former Vice President of Instruction at IVC, I led the school’s entrance into online courses. It was not a well-accepted teaching mode at the time, so the going was slow initially. But, this hesitation forced me to understand and explain the technology in ways that made sense to traditional, classroom-based students and professors – a skill that has already come in handy at CalSouthern.
Eventually, I met and was recruited by Dr. Donald Hecht, CalSouthern’s founder, who was only too happy to share his philosophy of distance and all-online learning as the great equalizers in higher education. His own story about starting a distance-learning graduate program in 1978 when none existed resonated with me.
Any interesting stories about presiding over an all-online university during a pandemic when most other colleges and universities are being forced to teach online for the first time?
The fact that CalSouthern has done distance learning for 42 years and was one of the first in Southern California to offer all-online instruction, meant that any transition during COVID-19 was minimal. Whether before, during or after the coronavirus, our approach to education and equipping working adults with the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees they need to take the next step in their development has remained the same.
Ironically, what did become evident during the past six months was that we no longer need to maintain a physical headquarters building. While our students and faculty have long been experts in the online space, it took a pandemic to convince some of our staff that a transition to a mostly online working environment was not only possible but better for everyone. By the end of the year, we will downsize our physical footprint as the next logical step in our evolution as an online learning pioneer without jeopardizing our commitment to our learners.
Look for Part 2 of our conversation with President Roquemore next month.