Roxbury Community College: New leader, last chance

Roxbury Community College’s new president, Valerie Roberson, seems to offer much of what the flailing institution needs.

She understands the link between higher ed and employment: As a vice president at Heartland Community College in Bloomington, Ill., in the 1990s, she supervised the expansion of customized training programs for local employers such as Mitsubishi Motors, Caterpillar, and State Farm Insurance.

She knows how to provide stability to a troubled institution: After Roberson became interim president of Chicago’s Olive-Harvey College in 2004 (and president two years later), her six-year tenure provided continuity for an institution that had seen four presidents in the five prior years.


She also appears to know how to improve a deficient academic program: In her most recent post as vice president of academic affairs at Joliet Junior College, she helped the school crack the Community College Times top 100 list of schools producing the most associate degree graduates.

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If similar improvements occur at RCC, where president after president has left amid complaints of inept financial management, inattention to campus crime, or missed chances to link with businesses, she will have rescued one of the state’s most vexingly underperforming assets.

The college has some strengths to build on in nursing, science, and technology. But because of the RCC’s troubling record, Roberson’s appointment may be the last chance for the college to fulfill the role it was founded to play — getting poor and working-class Bostonians the technical training needed to work in hospitals, labs, and offices. If yet another president falls by the wayside, it will be time to consider merging RCC with the more successful Bunker Hill Community College, its cross-city rival.

In the meantime, Roberson, 52, has her work cut out for her.