UA System gets new chancellors for 2 campuses
Oct. 22, 2019
Morrilton, Monticello posts filled by current employees
Two University of Arkansas System schools will soon have new chancellors, after trustees confirmed their nominations Monday afternoon.
Peggy Doss will take over the top job at the University of Arkansas at Monticello in January. She had been provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the school.
Lisa Willenberg will become leader at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton in November. She had been the college's vice chancellor for finance and operations.
Doss, 66, will earn $255,000 annually. Willenberg, 52, will earn $180,000 annually.
Trustees approved the hires -- on voice votes without dissent -- after an executive session that lasted nearly 50 minutes.
Trustee Cliff Gibson, a Monticello attorney, made the motion to approve Doss' hire, calling it "a privilege."
After the meeting, Trustee Kelly Eichler said that Willenberg "had a real grasp of the community" and understood complex financial issues in higher education. Eichler served on the search committee that selected Willenberg, although she said she did not participate in the vote to select Willenberg.
Both new chancellors have spent decades at their respective institutions. Those schools are now in the middle of making big moves to attract students after declining enrollment.
UAM, the state's only open-enrollment public university, is in the early years of efforts to retain students. The efforts so far have been successful, but System President Donald Bobbitt and others want the school to go beyond retention and expand recruitment efforts.
The University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton is focusing on workforce training after declines in enrollment that occurred in part because of the region's loss of the natural gas drilling industry.
The hires are internal ones.
That's a coincidence when it comes to Willenberg, Bobbitt said after the trustees meeting. Willenberg was hired as a part of a national search, Bobbitt said, and emerged as a frontrunner.
Willenberg, the college's vice chancellor for finance and operations, has extensive leadership experience, he said. And she "knows where every dollar is buried" at a time of current and impending financial challenges for higher education students, Bobbitt added.
Last week, Willenberg said she wanted to expand workforce education and business partnerships, increase simulation technology for the school's allied health programs amid shortages in clinical opportunities, and increase general education offerings for students who want to transfer to four-year schools.
In Doss' case, Bobbitt wanted someone who knew the challenges faced by UAM and how they became challenges.
Current Chancellor Karla Hughes was the right person to lead the university at the right time, he said. Hughes, who will retire before her contract expires, effective Dec. 31, "started a series of initiatives that I think are going to pay dividends," Bobbitt said.
Hughes launched retention efforts that should continue, he said. Those include a pathways program that attempts to match students with the right major and track through college and combining varying student services into a single building, called the Student Success Center.
Doss said last week that she wanted to continue the retention efforts and increase partnerships with local schools and businesses.
"Now recruitment and retention is critical," Bobbitt said. Doss "is going to be an absolute star in that area."
The university had projected an enrollment decline from last year of 1% to 2%, Bobbitt recalled. It ended up being 8.8%.
A lot of that is related to the shrinking population of southeast Arkansas, he said. While Monticello's population is virtually unchanged from the 2010 census, Drew County's has fallen by 1%, and neighboring counties' populations have fallen from 5% to 11%.
Bobbitt joked that Doss probably has a tattoo of Monticello on her arm. She's spent decades in the area and has a relationship with schools that she plans to build upon.
And that's key to getting more students into UAM, he said.
Competing institutions are reaching out to prospective students with immediacy, he said. Southern New Hampshire University, for example, has a goal of calling students who indicate their interest online within 37 seconds. The Manchester, N.H., based private, nonprofit school has aggressively promoted its online degree offerings.
"That's our competition," he said. "That's the sense of urgency that doesn't exist at our universities, and it needs to be going forward."
That means changing school culture, approach and sometimes personnel, he said.
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