Rich Cummins is leaving his position as Columbia Basin College’s president at the end of March.
He announced Thursday that he accepted a spot as chancellor of Western Governors University Washington, an online, competency-based institution.
In his 27-year tenure at the Pasco college, he has taught classes in English and information technology, started the college’s online program and served in three vice president roles before becoming president in 2008.
“When I came to CBC, it had a lot more dirt and tumbleweed,” Cummins said. “The college has just grown, both in size and its impact in the community.”
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Within a year of taking the helm, Cummins dealt with the start of the Great Recession, and cuts to community and technical college budgets.
“I wish we had better budgets, and we didn’t have to go through the drastic cuts,” he said. “That’s water under the bridge now.”
Even during the bleak times, the college kept advancing. It launched its first bachelor’s degree program in applied management in 2009. It now offers seven bachelor’s degree programs and an eighth is on the way.
Marty Brown, the executive director of the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges, lauded Cummins as an innovator in the community college system.
“He’s been one of the strongest advocates of expanding our mission to include bachelors of applied science degrees,” Brown said. “He’s been way ahead of all of us in making community colleges more responsive to the needs of the students in their communities.”
Along with expanding the program offerings, the college added the Bechtel Planetarium and the Social Sciences and World Languages Building during Cummins’ tenure.
Work has also started on a student housing center, expected to be finished later in the year.
Through Cummins’ work, the college increased its student retention rate from 47 percent to 60 percent.
He credited the college staff for its hard work to make the college successful.
“I have tried, to the best of my ability, and with varying success and failure, to live a life of impact within my community,” Cummins said in a letter announcing his retirement. “What I found at CBC is a whole bunch of people pursuing exactly that same thing, and this is what makes us so special.”
The move to Western Governors University is a bittersweet one, Cummins said. With his 60th birthday approaching in June, he struggled with whether to stay at the college until he retires or work at one more job.
“I really feel that a new challenge is what I want for the next few years,” he said.
He was attracted to the position because it serves a similar community of people seeking to transform their lives through education.
The university serves a large market of people with college credits, but no degree, by offering them a convenient alternative to traditional four-year universities.
“The mission, which is about expanding access to education, is everything that I’ve done my whole life,” he said. “I’m excited to be part of an innovation in higher education. Competency-based higher education I believe is the wave of the future.”
He is planning to leave the area to move to Western Washington, because of the opportunities available to recruit new students.
He is traveling with his wife of 22 years, Meg, and his son, Isaac, a Running Start student. His daughter, Eleanor, is a graduate university student.
With his departure planned March 30, the college’s trustees are examining options for an interim president. They plan to hire a search firm with plans to have a new president by September.