President moves: How experience in enrollment proved to be make-or-break

One president whose mysterious decision to step down may be solved by looking at how her student recruitment strategies were perceived by school leadership.

With all the recent decisions among board members to tap a new president or part ways from one, the most pivotal trait affecting shifts in school leadership thus far in May is the perception of how a leader can tackle enrollment. Half of the incoming presidents on this list face pressure to bolster school enrollment during challenging times. One president whose mysterious decision to step down may be solved by looking at how her student recruitment strategies were perceived by school leadership.

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Incoming presidents

Eric Boynton – Beloit College (Wis.)

Having served four years as provost and dean at Beloit College, the Board of Trustees has selected Eric Boynton as its 12th president. Leveraging his experience as chief academic officer, he aims to boost the school’s enrollment (currently around 1,000 students) by upgrading its curriculum and programs and strengthening its connection to post-graduate careers. He will begin his role July 1.

Jenifer Cushman – University of Maine at Augusta

After a rocky, multi-year search, the University of Maine system has selected Jenifer Cushman to take the helm of its Augusta campus. Cushman has spent the last seven years as chancellor at Penn State Beaver and gained the Board’s backing for devotion to small campuses and communities. She is a student-oriented leader recognized by Penn State Beaver for her undergraduate research, study abroad, internships and service-learning work.

Michael Davis – Fairmont State University (W.Va.) 

Michael Davis, a first-generation undergraduate student, has been tapped by Fairmont State University’s Board of Governors to lead the college with one board member dissenting. Davis previously served as the Chief of Staff at James Madison University.

Kelly Ryan – Eastern Oregon University

Eastern Oregon University has finally found a permanent sitting president after a year with a tandem of interim presidents—their selection: Kelly Ryan, the current acting president at Indiana University Southeast. Ryan will have some pressing work cut out upon her arrival. Enrollment at EOU has fallen by 35% as the entire state fights struggling enrollment.

Ben Vinson III – Howard University (District of Columbia)

Ben Vinson III will be taking the helm at Howard University. During a proliferation in popularity for HBCUs, Howard stands out as one of the most influential HBCUs in the country.

“There are so many things about Howard right now that really distinguish it as what I would call a fast-moving locomotive train,” Vinson said, according to The Washington Post.

Since 2018, Vinson has served as provost at Case Western Reserve University, a member of the prestigious, invitation-only Association of American Universities.

Stepping down

Kirk A. Nooks – Gordon State College (Ga.)

Following a five-year tenure, Kirk A. Nooks will step down from his presidency to pursue new leadership horizons. Nooks will join the Atlanta-based Council on Occupational Education (COE) as president and chief executive officer. The University System of Georgia has chosen Donald J. Green, with 27 years of leadership experience, as interim president.

Stepping down—or fired?

Roderick Smothers – Philander Smith College (Ark.)

Despite the “honor” Roderick Smothers has felt leading Philander Smith College since 2015, Smothers and the Board of Trustees agreed “it is time to transition and move the college forward under new leadership.” Specifics to where Smothers will go next or why it was time for the college to part ways remains unclear.

Ivy Taylor – Rust College (Miss.)

May 6 marked the last day for Ivy Taylor at Rust College, and despite an interview and press release, it remains unknown whether she was fired or stepped down. Taylor did allude to the changes she made at Rust to boost sputtering enrollment, such as embracing technological change and student-community partnerships made some stakeholders “uncomfortable.”

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

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