David Doré. Courtesy of Virginia Community College System.
David Doré. Courtesy of Virginia Community College System.

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Virginia has just hired an educational leader who will, directly or indirectly, touch more student lives than the presidents of any of the state’s biggest universities.

Virginia Tech’s undergraduate enrollment this fall was measured at 30,559.

That’s a lot of students, maybe too many in the eyes of some in Blacksburg.

It’s not the biggest school in the state, though. That would be Northern Virginia Community College, with 51,456 students.

Now let’s add in the other 22 schools in the state’s community college system. Now you’re at 152,813 students. That’s more than Virginia Tech, George Mason, Longwood, Virginia Commonwealth, Old Dominion, James Madison, Mary Washington, Radford, the University of Virginia and the University of Virginia’s College at Wise put together.

I run through all this tedious math to give you some sense of a) the size of the Virginia Community College System and b) the importance of that system’s new chancellor, who was announced Wednesday.

David Doré is currently president of campuses and executive vice chancellor for student experience and workforce development at Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona. Virginia’s last community college chancellor, Glenn DuBois, who has retired, served 21 years. Overall, the average tenure of Virginia’s community college chancellors has been 9.2 years. So this seems kind of a big deal.

Doré’s hiring is an even bigger deal because of the political drama that preceded his selection. The state community college board seemed to be on a path toward hiring former state Education Secretary Anne Holton as chancellor until Gov. Glenn Youngkin intervened last year. Whether that’s because Youngkin objected to a Democrat (Holton is the daughter of a former Republican governor but the wife of Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine) or whether he wanted someone with a different skill set, I can’t say. We just know that Holton withdrew and then Youngkin apparently objected to the next selection, as well. Russell Kavalhuna, president of Henry Ford College in Michigan, was hired, then withdrew before starting the job. No one has ever said why but given all the dark words Youngkin used – suggesting he might replace the entire board for “misfeasance” – it’s fair to say he wanted his administration more involved in the selection. (At the time, the board was a holdover from previous Democratic administrations; now the state board has some of his appointees on it.)

It’s also become clearer since then that Youngkin has some pretty definite ideas about the community college system. More to the point, the governor has some pretty definite ideas about the state’s economy. He sees more people moving out of the state than moving in, a sign to him that Virginia isn’t creating enough jobs. He also sees lots of jobs already going unfilled. To him, that means one thing: Virginia needs more workers, and one way to train those workers is through the community college system. Youngkin used an appearance in Bristol last fall, as part of the Cardinal News speaker series, to push for more dual-enrollment programs. Specifically, he proposed that every high school student graduate with not just a high school degree but also either a credential or an associate degree from a community college. That would be a mammoth undertaking but Youngkin’s new budget proposals would set Virginia on that path. He’s proposing $15 million to set up a pilot program at five schools – yet to be chosen – across the state. Separately, he’s also proposing a major overhaul of the state’s workforce training programs, many of which are tied to community colleges.

Has any governor since Mills Godwin – under whom the system was founded in the 1960s – paid so much attention to community colleges? Maybe so, but Youngkin has certainly made it clear that much of his economic agenda relies on community colleges, so he has more than a passing interest in who the next chancellor is and what that chancellor does.

It turns out that Youngkin didn’t meet Doré until Tuesday in a virtual chat, although the governor’s secretary of education, Aimee Guidera, was on the search team, so yes, the administration did have a say in hiring the new chancellor.

In his Zoom with journalists on Wednesday, Doré said that he believes Youngkin’s goal is an achievable one. “We did talk about that,” the new chancellor said. “We didn’t get into details but I know the governor is interested in scale and doing it at scale. I want to say I think the governor is spot on.”

That may be the wise thing to say, of course, but Doré’s resume suggests that his passion lies in workforce development. Doré once taught high school – multiple subjects, he says – and later taught management at Santa Clara University in California. (He has an MBA from Georgetown and a doctorate from Pepperdine.) “I intentionally came to community colleges because I believe community colleges are the most transformative organization in the country,” he said.

He spent 17 years at the two-year City College of San Francisco, eventually serving as dean of the business school and the downtown campus, before going to the Arizona community college system in 2013. Since 2014, he’s been president (and a bunch of other titles) at Pima, which consists of five different campuses.

Doré seems to have joined Pima at a difficult time. An opinion piece last fall by one of the school’s board members in the Arizona Daily Star said the school “was engulfed in scandal and facing the loss of its accreditation” and since has been turned around. In Arizona, community college board members are elected; this particular board member, in his commentary, claimed he was responsible for the turnaround with no mention of anyone else but such is the nature of politics. That board member did say that during his time on the board, which coincides with Doré’s tenure as president, enrollment had increased and dual enrollment, in particular, had tripled. (Fall enrollment at Pima was up 10% while many schools across the country saw enrollment decline. Enrollment in Virginia was up 1.59%.) If you’re curious about the pre-Doré scandal, it appears to have been several scandals, according to the Tucson Sentinel. One chancellor quit while facing sexual harassment allegations, the consultant doing the hiring search failed to properly vet one candidate, and then an interim chancellor quit after an accrediting body found “a culture of fear.” After a new chancellor arrived (and Doré arrived as president), Harvard University named Pima one of the five best community colleges in the country for workforce development and Forbes named it the fifth-best employer to work for in Arizona.

One of Doré’s big initiatives at Pima has been to get the business community more involved with the school. “We really needed to realign the college to the key growth sectors of southern Arizona,” Doré said. “We held large and wide industry summits” to find out what business was interested in. “You need to have industry at the front end of the education funnel, not the back end,” Doré said. “There’s a real disconnect between those who hire and those who teach.”

The result of all those summits was the creation of seven “centers of excellence” – basically training centers focused on things important to the local economy. For Tuscson, that meant applied technology, arts and humanities, aviation, cybersecurity, health care, hospitality and tourism, and public safety. It’s hard to tell from a distance what all that means, but there’s certainly been a lot of activity. A $21 million expansion of the aviation center opened in the fall and the Arizona Daily Star reports that the center will double the output of graduates in aviation mechanics to 75 a year.

A 2021 story in the Arizona Daily Star highlighted Pima’s auto tech center – part of that larger applied technology center – and called it “a prime example of the college expanding and evolving its programs to meet industry needs and provide career opportunities for students.” The paper described a facility that “has a large main area with bays set up just like an auto-repair shop for students to learn general auto-repair skills, and a separate area dedicated to brand-specific training sponsored by manufacturers through local dealerships.” It quoted Tucson auto dealers who “helped advise Pima on its auto tech expansion” and were grateful they no longer had to send technicians to California or Texas to get the brand-specific training they needed. Next up is a $35 million advanced manufacturing center that will open sometime this year. A more recent story in the Arizona Daily Star quoted the president of one Tuscson manufacturer as saying “PCC is leading the state of Arizona and this will be a cutting-edge place for learning advanced manufacturing and robotics.”

Those stories might give us some insight into where Doré might lead the Virginia community college system. “If we’re going to be relevant we have to move curriculum at the speed of industry,” he said. He also emphasized the need to “blur the lines” between workplace and community colleges. “Those are the things I’m really going to be focused on,” he said.

I suspect Youngkin and lots of business leaders will like the sound of that. Others may like this: Another of Doré’s initiatives at Pima has been to open a free child care center for students – because one of every five students there is also a parent.

One other note about Doré’ that I gleaned from our conversation: He’s a first-generation college student. His father dropped out of high school and later earned his GED after World War II. “Education really transformed my life,” Doré’ said. “I’m a proud graduate of Head Start.”

Doré will take office April 1 and said his goal is to visit all 23 of the state’s community colleges. “My own leadership style is to stay very close to frontline workers,” he said. “If you want to know whether a policy is working or not, it’s to talk to frontline workers.” I suspect lots of people in the Virginia community college will be eager to take him up on that.

Dwayne Yancey

Yancey is editor of Cardinal News. His opinions are his own. You can reach him at dwayne@cardinalnews.org.