President appointed at Wright College
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
David Potash was appointed as the new president of Wright College by the City Colleges of Chicago Board of Trustees at its June 6 meeting and began work at the college in July.
Potash, age 49, is replacing Jim Palos, who resigned in December. Washington College president Donald Laackman served as Wright’s interim president before Potash was chosen.
Potash has been serving as the chief academic officer at Curry College in Milton, Mass. He served as an administrator for 10 years at Hunter College and Baruch College in the City University of New York system, and he also served as an administrator at New York University.
Potash has a master’s degree in history from New York University and a doctorate in history from the University of Cambridge in England. He has taught both history and writing.
As the academic officer at Curry College, Potash led the institution in its New England Association of Schools and Colleges self-study and re-accreditation process and developed academic planning and reporting processes. He has restructured career development and increased experimental education, according to his biography on the college’s Web site.
"I’ve been very excited to be here," Potash said. "It’s like jumping into the deep end of the pool. You know where you are, but it’s still the deep end of the pool.
"I’ve been in higher education for a long time, and each institution is different and brings other challenges, but I’ve been excited by all of it so far."
Potash said that he was a lifelong New Yorker before he went to work at a private college in Massachusetts.
"I really grew in the City University of New York school system, which led to the private college job, but professionally I missed the public higher education system, and when the opportunity opened up I took the plunge," Potash said. "Higher education gets so much attention. The public higher education system is under constant scrutiny about its value and affordability, but I like what the City Colleges of Chicago is doing in the ways it approaches its core values."
City Colleges chancellor Cheryl Hyman said that Potash’s record of supporting students and working closely with faculty would be key to the college’s continued success.
Potash said that his main goal for Wright is to increase enrollment and graduation rates. "The highest on the list in terms of long-term goals is to increase the number of students who actually get degrees," he said. "The degrees have to have a long-term economic value. They need to have a clear return on their investment. You can commit to success as an institution, but the most important thing is that the students graduate."
Potash also said that he would also concentrate on adult education courses. "Far too many students graduate high schools and they don’t have the skills to do college work," he said. "City Colleges offer excellent programs, and I want to continue that.
"There is a clear sense of mission here and it feels very good. I’m interested in learning about this community."
In 2010 the City Colleges system was struggling to raise graduation rates and was preparing to open its "Reinvention Initiative," and as a result it wanted to hire new leadership. When the initiative was begun, enrollment in the City Colleges system had decreased from about 180,000 students in 1998 to about 127,000 in 2010.
The initiative calls for the City Colleges to increase the number of students earning "college credentials of economic value," to increase the rate of transfers to bachelor’s degree programs, to "drastically" improve outcomes for students needing remediation, and to increase the number of adult basic education, general equivalency diploma and English as a second language students who advance to college-level courses.
Under the initiative, the City Colleges began its "College to Careers" program last year. The program is intended to prepare students for jobs in high-growth industries that sometimes go unfilled because applicants don’t have the skills to fill them.
Each of the seven colleges serves as the headquarters for one of six fast-growing fields, with Wright College serving as the center for the information technology program.
Enrollment at Wright declined from 23,710 students in 2011 to 23,076 in 2012. Systemwide enrollment has declined from 119,449 students in 2011 to 116,765 in 2012.
However, the number of students who earned an associate’s degree has increased from 2,459 in 2011 to 3,324 in 2012, while the number of students who earned certificates has increased from 6,098 to 6,365.
At Wright the number of students who earned associate degrees has increased from 598 in 2011 to 735 in 2012, and the number of certificates earned at Wright has increased from 722 in 2011 to 762 in 2012.
Wright College faculty have assisted in the opening of the Early College STEM Schools, which are designed to provide Chicago Public Schools high school students the opportunity to earn associate degrees in technology more quickly. The college also has expanded the reach of its adult education (GED, ESL and adult basic education) programs to an additional 18 community sites.