Bruce Meyer, a product of Tidewater Community College, recently became board chairman of Virginia's Community College System. The 1987 TCC alumnus was appointed to a four-year term on the board in 2001 and again in 2010. Early this summer the 48-year-old became chair, making him the second VCCS graduate to hold that position.
Meyer was instrumental in crafting transfer agreements between VCCS schools and four-year universities while a board member. As chair, he looks forward to advancing other goals in his one-year term, including advancing the Godwin Society.
ON HIS ROLE
The state board is the governing organization of the community college system - all 23 community colleges in the commonwealth. We have over 400,000 students enrolled, and we oversee a budget of about $1.8 billion. Our job, just like any board of visitors at any university or four-year college, is to oversee all aspects of that college.
I was appointed by the governor, and about a year ago I was elected as president-elect/vice chairman of the board. In June I was elected chairman of the state board. My job is to run the meetings, oversee projects and appoint committee chairmen.
Let's take the joint use library [in Virginia Beach], for example. When that was proposed, that had to go before the board for approval. When we approved it, the next step was allocating money. Once that was allocated, we had to approve design of the building. And then we oversee the progress of the building. Now we have a staff and a chancellor who do a fantastic job, but they have to get final approval from us.
ON HIS BACKGROUND
I was born in Miami, Fla. My parents moved up here to Virginia Beach when I was 13. I went to high school here, Green Run, and then I went to Virginia Commonwealth University for three years. Then I had a job offer over here the same time I went to college; it was the Great American Cookie Co. That was my first job ever, and they really wanted me over here and I wanted to change my major anyway. So I said let me catch up at Tidewater Community College for certain requirements I needed, and it worked.
Tidewater was great, and then I transferred to Old Dominion University. Afterward, I did a job transfer - I got into insurance about 20 years ago, working with businesses and employee benefits. It was probably the best thing I ever did. It allowed me to give back to the community because I built a very good business.
ON ACHIEVE 2015
Achieve 2015 is our goal.
About every four years we have a whole new set of goals. We review the goals every year. The chancellor basically designs the goal with the board. He or she might say, 'All right, we want to do a greater focus on workforce development,' or 'We want to focus on transfers.' It's our internal goal. It's our roadmap. You have to continuously be able to respond and anticipate the growing trend. For example, one of the fastest-growing trends is electronic medical records. Community colleges have stepped up and we've developed a whole curriculum of that. Nursing is another big area that's growing. Hospitals are being built and the population is aging, and community colleges are leading the way.
ON THE GODWIN SOCIETY
That is named for Mills Godwin, governor of Virginia in the mid-1960s. Under his leadership, he founded the community college system. It's remarkable. The Virginia Community College System is one of the largest and most awarded systems in the country. It's very efficient, too.
The Godwin Society is an organization made up of state board alumni. Anybody who serves on the state board of community colleges is automatically a member of the Godwin Society. Its purpose is twofold: to advocate to the General Assembly and local municipalities on behalf of community colleges and to work with our foundation to help raise money for the community colleges. That foundation money can be used for scholarships or for programs that may not necessarily be funded by the state government.
ON COMMUNITY COLLEGE EVOLUTION
The community college campus now is like a four-year college. We have a campus setting. We have student centers that are being built - Norfolk already has theirs. You have student activities. You have intramural activities. You have clubs. So it gives you that college feel, and you didn't have a lot of that 20 years ago. It's a collegiate life. So you get your college experience the first two years, and then you're prepared and you transfer to a college of your choice.
Another difference from 20 years ago is, let's say you wanted to become a mechanic. You would go to TCC, get your degree in automotive technologies and off you go. Now, we take it a step further. Through our workforce development, we may have a shipyard that says 'Listen, we have a new technique for welding and we want you to design a curriculum to train people.' And they get their certificate, and they have a job waiting. [My wife] Connie said we are the professional training arm for large businesses. And small businesses, too.
I want to make sure college is affordable. I had to pay for college growing up. I understand a lot of our students who had to apply for financial aid and student loans. So I go out of my way to make sure our tuition always stays at least one-third to one-half less than four-year colleges. I always make sure financial aid and student loans are available.
We have an interesting program called Every Day is Community College Day. During the General Assembly session, we bring up students from every campus of every college. So we've got 50 to 100 students going up to Richmond for the first time. I'm up there two to three days a week and I get to meet them and hear their stories.
You meet single mothers, and they have a couple of kids and they have to support themselves. And they have to go back to school to get a career and make a living. And you hear the stories about how they were able to achieve that, while working full-time, while taking care of their kids going to a community college. Then you hear later, when they get their degree and their jobs, how their lives were turned around, because of the community college system.
That's what motivates me.
Interview by Jared Council