HCCC President Chris Reber: Building Upon the Success of the First 150 Days

November 27, 2018

November 27, 2018, Jersey City, NJ – As a rule, the first 150 days set the tone and pace of a presidency and often indicate priorities that will be pursued. Recently, Dr. Chris Reber marked the 150th day of his term as president of Hudson County Community College (HCCC). In the five-plus months since taking office, he has been moving forward nonstop with optimism and enthusiasm.

Since July, Reber has conducted a “listening tour” that has involved more than 100 meetings with faculty, staff, students and community leaders and yielded an understanding of those constituents’ perspectives, concerns, hopes and ideas. He has been preparing for collective bargaining negotiations and working with faculty and staff to ensure the College’s successful reaccreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Reber has focused on shared governance, with his faculty, staff and students having a clear and prominent voice. He has made utilizing strategic, data-informed methods and best practices to increase student retention, degree completion, and enrollment top priorities. He and his team are dedicated to providing students with degree and certificate educational opportunities that will be transformational. Under his leadership, HCCC is also seeking partnerships and grant support that will create new revenue streams.

He relates that the diversity of HCCC students and the College’s position as an urban institution were the two things that drew him to the job as its president.

“There is something almost poetic about the fact that this institution thrives in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty,” he said. “When you engage with our students and realize their rich diversity and commitment to pursuing their higher-education dreams, it’s inspiring!”

Reber said he is most impressed with HCCC students and finds his meetings with them very gratifying. “Our students are unlike any others I have had the pleasure to meet. They are bright, articulate, respectful, exceedingly grateful, immensely proud and very ambitious,” he said. Of specific concern to him are the challenges so many HCCC students face in attending and completing college. “Many of our students speak English as a second language. Many work one or sometimes two jobs, care for families and manage full-time studies,” he said. “After a while that balancing act can wear on students and many leave their studies – some for a year, some for a while longer, while some abandon their higher-education dream altogether.”

Fortunately, Reber said, HCCC has talented, professional and caring faculty and staff who are committed to students and student success. “They are the reason our signature programs in Nursing, Culinary Arts, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) and ESL (English as a Second Language), among others, are top rated nationally,” he stated. Reber also credits faculty for many points of pride at HCCC, including collaborations that result in students earning scholarships, being awarded internships with prestigious research groups, winning honors as members of the College’s five-star chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, and going on to pursue bachelor’s, master’s and even doctoral degrees at top four-year colleges and universities.

Located in one of the most densely populated and ethnically diverse areas of the United States, Hudson County Community College is the largest of four higher-education institutions in Hudson County, New Jersey. The College has an unduplicated head count of 15,000 credit and non-credit students, and operates from two urban campuses – the main campus in the Journal Square area of Jersey City and the North Hudson campus in Union City – as well as several satellite locations throughout Hudson County. Mirroring the County’s diversity, HCCC students were born in 119 different countries and speak 29 different languages. About 80% of HCCC students are eligible for and receive financial assistance.

Chris Reber came to HCCC after a successful four-year presidency at Community College of Beaver County (CCBC) near Pittsburgh, PA. Prior to CCBC, Dr. Reber was the Executive Dean of Venango College of Clarion University of Pennsylvania, where he was the Chief Executive and Academic Officer for 12 years. His career also includes 18 years at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, where he served on the senior management team as the Chief Development, University Relations, and Alumni Affairs Officer during a successful $50 million capital campaign; and Chief Student Affairs Officer during a period of major college growth.

A 2018 study published by Community College Review listed college readiness and developmental education, keeping abreast of technologies, and retention and completion as some of the challenges almost all community colleges are facing. Dr. Reber agrees that these are challenges HCCC also faces.

Chris Reber describes himself as a “servant leader.” He defines his role as one of overseeing, empowering and supporting, and his governance style one of inclusion and transparency. Since becoming president, he has formed committees and advisory groups comprised of faculty and staff that are open to students. His President’s Executive Council, for example, includes members of his cabinet, as well as faculty and representatives from student affairs, academic affairs, institutional research, enrollment, communications, public safety and others. In addition, Dr. Reber holds monthly Town Hall Meetings, which all HCCC employees and students are encouraged to attend and engage in discussion and planning that will result in achieving the collective goals and aspirations of the HCCC community.

From the onset, Reber has been focused on improving student success. “We benefit from state-of-the-art buildings, infrastructure and dedicated faculty and staff. We are proud of our award-winning student support services, the HCCC Foundation, Cultural Affairs and growing Continuing Education and Workforce development programming. Now we need to move to the next level of excellence and ensure our students’ success by helping all of them move forward to graduation and degree completion,” he stated.

As previously noted, Chris Reber has been moving forward nonstop since July and has already directed attention to the following:

  • College in High School/LEAP/Dual Enrollment – HCCC is developing more programming for high school students who can save thousands of dollars and graduate with an associate degree when they finish high school;
  • Nontraditional student enrollment – the Division of Continuing Education and Workforce Development is creating a myriad of new programs and partnerships;
  • Offsite programs – students can complete the required courses for Criminal Justice and Business at Bayonne High School, and required math and English courses can be taken at Union City and Kearny High Schools, and Harrison’s Washington Middle School; the College will soon offer classes at the new High Tech High School in Secaucus;
  • New programs – The College began offering A.S. degree studies in Exercise Science, A.S. in Medical Sciences Pre-Professional, A.S. Criminal Justice – Homeland Security Option, and a certificate program in Medical Billing and Coding. Additionally, new dual-admission programs that lead to bachelor’s degrees are now in position with Montclair State University (Culinary), Fairleigh Dickinson University (Construction Management), and New Jersey City University (Nursing), with more to follow;
  • Student retention/completion/transfer – new partnerships have been forged that provide students opportunities for attaining hands-on experience in their chosen fields. These include a new earn-while-you-learn partnership with Eastern Millwork in Advanced Manufacturing; and,
  • The New Jersey Community College Opportunity Grant (CCOG) – HCCC was one of 13 community colleges selected for this pilot, tuition-free program that applies to Spring 2019 enrollment. The College has been building awareness and soliciting applications from current and new students.

Reber recently drafted his presidential goals for the upcoming academic year. “Everyone here believes in the importance of raising the bar and helping students succeed,” he said. “However, it is important that our goals are guided and informed by data, and are challenging but achievable.” Among the 32 areas outlined in his 2018-19 Presidential Goals are:

  • Overseeing a College-wide process for determining the efficacy of joining Achieving the Dream, a nationally acclaimed organization committed to the use of data and best practices to ensure continuous improvement in all areas of student success.
  • Developing and implementing initiatives to promote continuous improvement in student engagement.
  • Improving the Learning Support Services throughout the College.
  • Growing and continuously improving HCCC’s online learning program.
  • Planning a proposed Academic Tower that will house state-of-the-art active learning classrooms and spaces, offices for student support services, a gymnasium and wellness center, the Center for Business and Industry, a University Center for four-year university partnership programs, a Veterans Center, and other academic and student life activities.
  • Leading and supporting continuous improvement in the recruitment and retention of an increasingly diverse population of students, faculty and staff.
  • Supporting the emerging HCCC Guided Pathways Project that includes growth of the College’s LEAP and other college-in-high-school programs; and the creation, growth and success of seamless K-20 educational and career pathways through expanded partnerships with organizations throughout the educational spectrum and community at large.
  • Leading and supporting the goals and outcomes of the Community College Opportunity Grant and advocating continued investment of state and other external funding to ensure HCCC is accessible to all who wish to pursue a college education.
  • Supporting the HCCC Foundation in seeking higher levels of donor engagement and investment.

Reber credits the partnership forged by his predecessor, Dr. Glen Gabert; Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise; the County’s Board of Chosen Freeholders; and the College’s Board of Trustees, for providing the College with a strong and enduring foundation that benefits the entire community. Gabert served as the College’s President for 25 years and during his tenure the College constructed twelve state-of-the-art buildings, significantly increased enrollment and created programs that serve the community well.

“Clearly we have much for which to be thankful, much to celebrate and much more to do,” he stated at a meeting with the entire HCCC community at the start of the Fall 2018 semester. Most assuredly, for the sake of HCCC students, Chris Reber plans to maintain his nonstop pace throughout his presidency.