Donald A. Borden, a longtime Camden County schoolteacher and administrator, will inherit a campus in motion when he becomes Camden County College's president this summer.
Like other community colleges, the school has resorted to layoffs and budget crunches to respond to enrollment and revenue declines.
The college has about 100 fewer jobs than two years ago, including six people laid off just a few weeks ago at Borden's recommendation.
"I've seen it in so many places, when you're cutting and you're cutting, and the money's going down, and your student body's going down — you just fall into this malaise," Borden said.
"What can we do to stop that? What can we do to mitigate that? And what are programs that we can build, where do we have opportunity?"
Borden, 60, of Audubon, will replace Ray Yannuzzi, who last fall announced his intention of stepping down at the end of the 2015-16 school year.
Borden describes his focus as retaining students between semesters and getting them to graduation as quickly as possible.
Since joining Camden County College last summer as executive vice president, Borden has been grappling with the college's fiscal and enrollment realities. He's also been developing ideas for new partnerships with K-12 school districts.
"We can do a better job. I'll tell you, our reputation among high schools around here was horrific in terms of the service that we provided," Borden said, describing complicated advising and course registration systems that have been revamped in recent years.
As a community college, Camden County needs to work closely with school districts to develop new programs, Borden said. Many college freshmen require remedial work in English, reading, and math, which Borden thinks could be addressed in part while students are still in high school.
To make such partnerships work, Borden will draw on the three dozen years he spent in K-12 education, mostly in Audubon, including 16 years as a social studies and special-education teacher.
Borden eventually moved into administration, with stints as athletic director and principal at the elementary and high school levels. He retired in 2013 as Audubon superintendent.
"It's great they got somebody who knows the turf, and certainly somebody who can help build upon those partnerships and expand those relationships," said Jake Farbman, spokesman for the New Jersey Council of County Colleges.
After retiring, Borden spent two years as interim principal at Overbrook High School in Pine Hill before John T. Hanson, chair of the college trustees, began talking to him about getting involved with the college.
Hanson said he quickly realized Borden's potential as an administrator and hired him as executive vice president.
"It began to look like he was a guy who could help the college right now, and he may be a good candidate for president," Hanson said.
The board this month named Borden — nine months into his new job — as Yannuzzi's successor. Hanson said the school conducted a comprehensive search before making the decision.
Borden said he "prepared with the idea that I had to compete 100 percent for this position."
A search of state campaign-finance records shows only one political donation from Borden: a $1,000 gift to Camden County Freeholder Jeffrey L. Nash last September. Borden said it was entry to a fund-raising dinner and a chance to meet important politicos and lobby for the school.
"I'm going to be political to the extent that I'm going to try to advance the agenda of the college," Borden said.
His goals include raising enrollment at the college's Camden campus, which has been particularly hard-hit by changes to financial aid. The college's Cherry Hill location also is underutilized and is ripe for change, he said.
Both campuses could become more specialized, he said, with programs tailored to student needs.
Borden wants to continue building out the college's advising systems to become more proactive, creating easier transfer paths to four-year colleges, and expanding adult education programs for the county's aging population.
"The reality is: Noncompletion, for too many, is poverty, prison, deprivation. Things that just are very uncomfortable for me to contemplate," Borden said. "We have to do everything we can to change that for as many of the students we touch as possible."