Working to reinvent itself and improve its graduation rates, Baltimore City Community College named a new president Wednesday with experience in helping transform a similarly sized institution.
Debra L. McCurdy, who has served as president of Rhodes State College in Lima, Ohio, for the past 11 years, will take the job in the spring semester.
She said she was drawn to the community college because of the “urban environment” and the institution’s potential for growth.
“There is a wonderful support for a new president coming in and how do we make a difference for these students,” McCurdy said.
McCurdy will succeed James H. Johnson Jr., who has served as interim president for the past few months.
Gordon F. May, who had seen the institution through some difficult times, retired on July 1. May became president in 2014 as the Middle States Commission on Higher Education was warning the college it would lose its accreditation and as the institution was experiencing a precipitous drop in enrollment from 7,100 in the fall of 2010 to 4,060 in 2015.
May was able to make the necessary changes to keep the institution from losing its accreditation.
In the spring of 2017, the legislature intervened and demanded the college address longstanding concerns or risk losing funding. The BCCC board also was reconstituted and University of Baltimore President and former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was named to head it.
During a national search for a new president, the board considered about 70 applications and interviewed about 10 candidates over Skype and in person, Schmoke said.
“We decided after looking at all the applications we wanted to get someone with experience as a community college president and who had demonstrated some success,” he said.
Schmoke said he was impressed that McCurdy not only improved enrollment at Rhodes but forged close connections to the business community to expand employment opportunities for students.
As McCurdy comes to the campus, enrollment has increased slightly since Mayor Catherine E. Pugh offered free tuition to recent city school graduates.
She will be charged with adding to that growth. But her biggest opportunity may lie in the relationship she builds with business.
“There is a huge expectation and focal point on workforce development,” McCurdy said.
McCurdy was interviewed three times, and between the second and third interviews she came to the community college on her own and walked around the campus asking questions of people who didn’t know she was a candidate.
During her tenure at Rhodes State College, McCurdy increased the offerings from technical programs to more comprehensive programs, including associate of arts and associate of science degrees, according to a statement from BCCC.
Before Rhodes, McCurdy worked for nine years as provost and chief operating officer for the Dunwoody Campus at Georgia Perimeter College, and for seven years as assistant and associate provost at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta.
McCurdy earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as her doctorate, from Bowling Green State University in Ohio.