Name: Richard Hopper

Age: 55

Title: President

Company: Kennebec Valley Community College, Fairfield

About: A public nonprofit post-secondary affordable institution that provides educational opportunities to the local workforce and to students who wish to transfer to four-year colleges.

Website: www.kvcc.me.edu

What’s your biggest challenge right now?

It’s the tight labor market. We’re experiencing the lowest unemployment in my lifetime. Everyone who wants a job has a job. When people are employed or can find work easily, they are far less likely to seek out higher education or additional skills, because they are comfortable where they are.

The economy runs in cycles and a recession is eventually going to hit. Some people will lose their jobs, and only then will they seek out higher education or seek out the opportunity to develop their skills.

People should be constantly seeking out knowledge.

My challenge is to convince happy, employed folks to position themselves for when the economy is not as good. I encourage people to make hay while the sun shines rather than wait until they are unhappy. Just because you are comfortable doesn’t mean you should remain complacent.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

To share your knowledge and to encourage knowledge sharing. Many people feel knowledge is power, and they hold knowledge or expertise close to their vest and they guard information closely.

But information gains more value if it’s shared. I learned that in a former job when I was in charge of knowledge management when I worked at the World Bank.

I have applied sharing knowledge (here). For the last five years, everyone understands our finances and how the institution operates. A lot of people are not too terribly concerned about it. They come to do a job and leave at the end of the day. But understanding the institution helps them understand when we make decisions that are bold. It takes time to learn the operation to ensure we have a solid future.

I do my best to encourage knowledge sharing across the campus. Over the last five or six years, we have developed transparent procedures. I feel the community — the faculty and staff — are internalizing practices and sharing knowledge among themselves.

How do you foster creativity in yourself of your staff?

The most concrete is through professional development.

For me, it’s not a buzz word. I take it very seriously and I encourage the faculty and the staff to do the same. It’s a way for the faculty and staff to stay current and expose themselves to new ideas and different ways of thinking.

A lot of us don’t take time for reflection. We’re too busy. We need to be sure to schedule time and resources in our schedules and to see those opportunities.

Some of our faculty will work toward a master’s degree or a doctorate, or they’ll go to a conference every year or every other year, or they are inviting experts in their field to come to campus and talk.

I encourage them to share what they learned through the professional development and resources. One of the questions they have to answer when they go for training is how they are going to share that with others. If they attend a conference or a take a course, they might have a brown-bag lunch or a public lecture on it. It’s not just for the individual; it’s for the whole community.

I look at my own professional development more broadly by stepping out of my comfort zone and embracing something new. Each year in June, with my boss’s permission, I take a couple of weeks to provide technical assistance internationally in higher education. I expose myself to higher education abroad. I share what I know and I learn. I generally host talks about my experiences. I step in as a guest lecturer if I am invited, and I talk about the issues that I am exposed to. I get professional development and share it with the faculty and staff. It also keeps me engaged in the classroom with students.

This summer I am teaching a graduate course online on ethics in education in the evening in July and August to better understand what my faculty goes through, those that teach online, to understand the challenge and better strategize. It will be my first opportunity to do that. I look at it as a professional development experience.

What’s your biggest fear?

Other than snakes and spiders, if I focus on KVCC, it’s stasis. It’s fear it could get stuck in its ways and stop evolving. I am not seeking change for change’s sake. There is value in stability. We have built a stable institution over the years. I’d like to ensure it’s always looking forward and discovering new and innovative ways. We’re constantly seeking resources to support our already strong programs and looking to be more effective in what we do.

What will the college look like in five years?

We will have evolved with the times. We will be facing a different economy. I’m not quite sure what it looks like. We’ll meet those needs, but we can’t predict what they will be. We are positioned for a solid future, no matter what.

The Holy Grail of college admissions is to ensure a stable or increasing enrollment. We’re challenged. There are fewer high school graduates, and a strong economy is keeping people from higher education. We’re working to improve our processes and leverage the technology. We’re analyzing the data and broadening our outreach. The enrollment team is constantly exploring ways to process applications more efficiently and save time. That allows them to have more of a personal touch, talking to prospective students. If we can get technology to save us more time, our staff has more time to talk one-on-one with prospective students.

We want to increase student retention rates and graduation rates. We are just above the national average, but we want to do better.

We are also expanding customized training for local employers, so they can take advantage of us to build new skills in incumbent employees or train their new hires. Whether it’s a short course, a two-day seminar or having people come and train with us and have a pool of candidates that are somewhat skilled already, I hope it helps us deal with the vagaries of economic conditions … and be ready for the next downturn.