After almost a decade of serving students and faculty at Herkimer County Community College (HCCC), president Dr. Cathleen McColgin is retiring this summer. Although almost 10 years is a lengthy period of time, McColgin is pleased to say she has “no regrets.”
McColgin’s career is one spent mostly in academia, specifically community colleges. From working as a faculty member to working in administration, McColgin progressed her way up to the significant role of being a college president. Leading a college is no small feat, especially during the last few years as HCCC has seen the effects of the nationwide low enrollment. Despite this adversity, McColgin, faculty, and staff have pulled through.
McColgin is no stranger to studying and studying hard. She has two associate degrees, a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, and a Ph.D. McColgin certainly seems at home in academia.
McColgin grew up in a suburb just outside of Syracuse, New York. In school, McColgin was inspired by her gym teacher and decided she wanted to be a Physical Education (PE) teacher. Unfortunately, she suffered some knee injuries so her dream of being a PE teacher was off the table.
“I knew I wanted to do something to help,” said McColgin. So, after completing high school McColgin decided to study respiratory therapy. After graduating with her associates, McColgin got married and started a family. She then decided she wanted to return to school to study nursing. She completed an associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree in nursing and then went on to obtain a Ph.D. in higher education.
Once out of college, McColgin worked as a nursing faculty member at Cayuga Community College and then transitioned into an administrative position. While serving in that position, McColgin attended college committee meetings and became fascinated with policies and their rationales. “I was attracted to the opportunity to be part of the larger discussion,” said McColgin.
Her position at Cayuga Community College led to a position at Onondaga Community College where she worked as the provost. At the end of this position, McColgin applied for the presidential position at HCCC. McColgin said that her motivation to work as a college president “kind of grew organically.”
In 2015 McColgin was appointed as HCCC’s president.
During her time at HCCC McColgin has accomplished many things. Among them are a few accomplishments that she is particularly proud of.
One of them is the outcome of HCCC’s re-accreditation, a process that colleges go through every eight years to ensure they are on the right track. “We received very positive results,” said McColgin.
“I am also very proud of the fact of how everybody pulled together during the pandemic,” said McColgin. Being a college president during a global pandemic is not an easy job. And although low enrollment has been tough on HCCC and colleges nationwide, McColgin said that “We’re doing everything that we possibly can to attract more students.”
When McColgin was first hired, the AAFTE (Average Annual Full-time Equivalent) for 2015-16 was 2333.5 students, and for 2021-22 was 1445.1 students, approximately a 42% decline.
McColgin said she is proud of the student support services offered to students such as the “Generals Cupboard,” which is a food pantry that offers free food to students, and the all-new “Zen Den,” a quiet room for students to unwind and relax.
Throughout her entire time at HCCC, McColgin is proud to say that students have reported that they don’t feel like a number, rather, they feel like a person. McColgin also said she is proud of the fact that the faculty at HCCC is supportive and wants the best for the students.
Some hope that the next president will continue McColgin’s legacy. Lisa Elwood Farber, a professor of English and the Academic Senate President at HCCC said, “Hopefully we get somebody as personable as her.” Farber believes that community college presidents require a specific personality type as community colleges tend to be interactive.
Farber also said she hopes that the next president will have an open-door policy just as McColgin did. “I want somebody who is going to know the students,” said Farber.
As McColgin moves on to other things, she said she is going to keep her options open but mentioned she might like to teach or do consulting. Furthermore, she explained she and her husband look forward to spending more time with their grandson.
Over her time at HCCC, McColgin is glad to say she has no regrets; she said that her time at HCCC “has been everything I thought it would be, and maybe even a little bit more.”
As McColgin ventures into another chapter of life, she said, “I look forward to exploring some of the possibilities.”