By: Owen McCloskey, Editor-In-Chief.

President Michael Redmond // BCC Public Relations

BCC President Michael Redmond’s first year as Interim President of Bergen Community during the 2017-2018 academic year had left his administration “putting out small fires” on various problems at Bergen. Following the wake of the stagnant Walter administration, Redmond has had to deal with a wide array of issues, from the student return rate to a decline in enrollment.

   Redmond was appointed by the Board of Trustees to a one-year interim contract, just before Governor Phil Murphy signed a law that would require only 60 credits for an Associate’s Degree. Before the action was passed, Bergen required 64 to 66 credits to graduate, and this small change has forced many colleges to revamp their entire curricula. This has left Bergen’s administrators in a complicated position, as it now requires a large amount of curricular restructuring.

    However, Redmond assures a meticulously-planned solution, and is currently working with Academic Affairs Vice President Dr. William Mullaney to solve the issue.

Redmond also cited the large amount of students at Bergen who are on academic probation.

“We have roughly 900 to 1,000 students that at any one point in time are on probation… about 36 percent of them never take another course, so that’s about a loss of 300 students each time.”

    This is a huge problem for Bergen, especially in a time of mass decline in student enrollment at community colleges around the country. Redmond even noticed that the long lines that were strewn about Bergen on the first day were mainly comprised of students on academic probation waiting to speak with an advisor, and felt concerned because he would “rather see them in a classroom.” This brings up a point that waiting for an advisor is counterintuitive, because if students on probation want to succeed, they should not be missing their first day of class.

Redmond is working with the Academic VP Mullaney to cut the probationary rate by 20 percent over the course of the next year, and cites “early alert systems” as one of the biggest catalysts to academic probation.

“We need a better early alert system. Students don’t always know when they’re getting in trouble in the classroom until it’s too late… We have an excellent tutoring and learning center, but we could be doing a lot more.”

Redmond also wants to make it easier for students at Bergen to find a major, thus cementing their drive to finish an Associate’s Degree.

Now, as a student of Bergen, I am sick and tired of the congested registration, financial aid, and advising areas; it seems Redmond completely agrees that these areas pose an issue. However, the employees are not the problem whatsoever: it’s the absolutely dismal and cramped work area that makes it difficult for students and Bergen employees alike to use these facilities.

“I have no criticism of [employees at the one-stop registration, financial aid, advising, etc.] at all,” Redmond said, “but the physical space is such an unwelcoming space… a very miserable experience for new students coming in.”

However, Redmond has plans to remedy this issue.

“What we want to do is to redesign, physically, that entire space, from where the admission office starts all the way back to the stairsteps going upstairs to the cafeteria.”

Redmond says the school has $3.1 million set aside for the ambitious renovation, but he is asking for an additional $900,000.

“My expectation, my hope, is that by the fall semester of 2020 this whole space would be done.”

Redmond also has plans to revamp the Bergen website. I asked about the new self-service menu on Bergen’s website, and Redmond says although it has helped alleviate some headaches involved with registering online, he wants to make the entire site much more interactive.

“In my view, we should have interest areas. If you’re interested in computer science, you click a link for computer science and that would take you to a page with a data fee that would show you the jobs that are available in the area for that major,” Redmond said.

Furthermore, Redmond wants to have a virtual map of an online degree, so if a potential student wants to pick different classes or work around their schedule, the virtual degree map will automatically adjust to determine the student’s exact graduation date.

Redmond then dove into the topic of Bergen’s declining enrollment. Bergen has faced a decrease of about 2,000 students since 2015, but this is actually a nationwide trend.

“We’ve been facing enrollment declines like virtually every other community college in the country,” Redmond said. “Just now, in New Jersey, we have a community college that faced a 20% decline in enrollment.”

Redmond also attributes this issue to a national decrease in unemployment. When unemployment goes down, people tend to not look for higher education because they are already employed. However, Redmond says that this trend is gradually stabilizing.

It is my personal opinion that President Michael Redmond is one of the most valuable assets at Bergen’s disposal. His unfeigned love and appreciation for the school, faculty and students, has driven him to draft some very ambitious initiatives that will help Bergen for years to come.

In closing, Redmond told me what he had told the Bergen County superintendents that recently visited Bergen Community, and wants to relay this message as best he can: “All of us in higher education, we’re trying to pursue excellence as best we can in the constraints that we have. But you know, most four-year schools… they have a certain philosophy for how they do it. They pursue excellence by picking and choosing their students. Excellence through exclusivity, right? Now, at community college, we have a very different philosophy. We pursue excellence through inclusivity. We say, ‘we take all’. Now, because we take all, in many ways I think it’s a greater challenge… But I think arguably, what we’re doing has greater social value.”