After nearly nine years as president of Howard Community College - a tenure marked by significant growth in student population, buildings and fundraising - Mary Ellen Duncan announced yesterday that she will step down in June.
The college's board of trustees has named Kate Hetherington, an HCC administrator since 1999 and the college's executive vice president, as Duncan's successor.
The board of trustees chose to forgo a nationwide search and instead focused on finding a candidate internally.
In 1998, the trustees were looking for a new direction when they launched the national search that led to Duncan's hiring, said Patrick Huddie, the current board chairman. This time, "preserving our values and continuity were important to the board," he said.
Hetherington was the preferred candidate throughout the process, which began with a plan for succession two years ago, Huddie said. "We are just delighted with her performance and her dedication to the institution."
Several trustees said that they wanted to avoid the cost and disruption of a wider search and were eager to keep Hetherington, who was being sought by other colleges.
A graduate of the Community College of Philadelphia who went on to earn a doctorate from Widener University in Chester, Pa., Hetherington worked in several administrative positions at the Community College of Philadelphia before coming to HCC. She earned a bachelor's degree from Penn State University and a master's degree from Villanova University.
She began her HCC career as vice president of student services in 1999. She took over management of the college's capital campaign in 2004 and served as acting president in the summer of 2005, while Duncan was on leave.
Since June 2005, Hetherington has served as the second-highest administrator at the college.
"I've been in community college administration for 30 years, and I have a lot of the abilities," Hetherington said. Plus, she said, being a community college graduate "gives me a perspective that is kind of unique."
Hetherington, 54, lives in Baltimore and plans to move to Howard County soon.
Duncan, 65, said stepping down was a difficult decision, but "it's time for a change and for me to refocus on some other aspects of my life."
She said she plans to stay at the college for a year working on fundraising and other projects.
Duncan said she believes an important part of her legacy is a system to measure progress and implement improvements in each department of the college.
But more obvious to students, staff and community members is the college's growth.
Four new buildings, a quad area and a parking garage have been added to the Columbia campus. The Laurel College Center was established with Prince George's Community College, and the college's education foundation bought the Belmont Conference Center in Elkridge in 2004.
"Just even setting foot on campus you can see the transformation over the past few years into a true campus that is such a resource for our community," said County Executive Ken Ulman.
For-credit student enrollment during Duncan's presidency has grown 40 percent to 7,161 students this semester, according to the college.
County and state leaders have credited Duncan with forcefully lobbying for funding for buildings, programs and student aid.
"She is very persistent in a positive way," Ulman said. "I think one of the things she has done a tremendous job of is engaging the business community."
Hetherington said getting more capital funding will continue to be a challenge for community colleges in Maryland as they try to keep up with rising enrollment.