David Wain Coon

It’s an exciting time for community colleges, and the College of Marin is no exception.

LAST MONTH, PRESIDENT Barack Obama requested $60 billion to make two years of community college free for all students in the United States. Whether that funding ever materializes is a matter of hard-to-predict congressional politics. On a far smaller scale, in 2004, College of Marin (COM) trustees called on county voters to approve spending $250 million to revitalize aging facilities on its two campuses: Kentfield and Indian Valley (Novato); the answer was a resounding “yes,” and the deal was done. To date, a physical education center, a fine arts building and a performing arts building, a childhood study center, and a science, nursing and math building have been completed at Kentfield; at Indian Valley, a main classroom building and a transportation technology center have been constructed.

The task that remains is to complete COM’s new academic center at Kentfield’s highly visible corner of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and College Avenue (see rendering), which is expected to be done by fall of this year. Along with a full plate of academic duties, the job of overseeing COM’s considerable construction ultimately falls on the shoulders of 50-year-old David Wain Coon, Ed. D. Coon holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications from Central Washington University along with a Doctor of Education degree from Seattle University. He came to College of Marin in 2010 following a five-year stint as president of Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, a campus noted for its richly diverse student body.

College of Marin has more than 5,700 students enrolled in credited programs at its two campuses; will you describe a typical student? Can I do it this way? I’ll describe such a student by giving the percentage of our student body that justifies that description. In other words, the typical student is female (58 percent), meaning that 58 percent of our current enrollment of 5,700 students is female. OK? And what I just said counts for one characteristic of the typical COM enrollee. Other characteristics are that our typical student has transferred from another college (67 percent), is a high school graduate with no college degree (also 67 percent) and, this might surprise you, is over 25 years of age (55 percent). This so-called typical student also lives in Marin (83 percent), probably in the central part of the county (36 percent), is either Caucasian (52 percent) or Hispanic (25 percent) and is attending COM on a part-time basis (75 percent) with a goal of gaining an Associate in Arts degree (39 percent). In addition to the 5,700 in our credited program, we also serve an additional 1,375 students in our noncredit program and 2,200 in our community education program, for a total enrollment of over 9,000. Both programs are also important to the college and community.

How about some stats on you and the task of presiding over two campuses and 5,700 students. How big is your staff? What are your hours? And what does the job pay? My executive staff numbers five and, all told, we operate with an administrative staff of 30 and just under 200 maintenance personnel. The full-time faculty numbers 110, and there are 240 part-time instructors. As for my hours, that’s easy: For me, presiding over a community college is a 24/7 commitment, I haven’t taken a vacation in years where I’ve been able to completely unplug and I’m always thinking about what I didn’t get done one day and what has to get done the next day. As for salary, our seven member board of trustees was kind enough to recently offer me a second four-year contract with an annual base pay of $255,000.

Is that a comparable base salary for a community college of COM’s size? It is. A funny story about the job being 24/7 is that last fall I did a “Work a Day in Your Boots” exchange with our maintenance staff, where I got teamed with two gardeners. I wore jeans that day and the three of us were clearing out an area when one asked me if I’d ever figured out what my job pays on an hourly basis. I did some quick thinking and gave him a number that surprised me because it was so low. “No way man,” was his laughing reply. “I do not want your job.”

Regarding the challenges of your job, has the acrimony between faculty and administration, so prevalent a few years ago, subsided? I think so, for the most part, yes. In the past three years, we’ve hired 45 new faculty members and they are bright and passionate about their fields of instruction. And soon, over 50 percent of our faculty will have been turned over. That’s very exciting; along with all the construction soon coming to an end, that’s probably the most exciting thing happening on our campuses. These are the kind of bright and dedicated people who will be with us for a long time and, along with our veteran faculty, will really put College of Marin on the map.

For background purposes, what is College of Marin’s history? How did Indian Valley come about? College of Marin opened in 1926 as Marin Junior College and the name was changed in 1947, so we’re coming up on our 90th anniversary. The Kentfield campus encompasses 77 acres, while Indian Valley is 333 acres in size including a large organic garden operated by COM in collaboration with Conservation Corps North Bay and extensive athletic fields that are on a long-term lease to the City of Novato. Many wonder how Indian Valley — which is somewhat isolated, being two miles up Ignacio Boulevard from Highway 101 — ever became part of College of Marin. It was opened in 1975 as an independent college intended to serve an enrollment of 5,000 students. At the time, I think there was talk that Ignacio Boulevard would somehow connect on through to Novato Boulevard, which never happened. Then the campus was closed for a while before it merged with College of Marin in 1985. In round numbers, Kentfield has 4,200 students and Indian Valley’s attendance is around 1,500, but many students attend classes at both campuses, and classes are given day and night at both locations.

What are College of Marin’s specialties? Who are some famous alumni? Nursing is one of our signature programs, and this year it will be celebrating its 50th anniversary, as will our drama department, and we’re proud of both programs. Yet we pride ourselves on being a really comprehensive community college. Along with the usual range of academic courses, our career tech programs — that’s another way of saying vocational training — are also popular. Auto tech has a variety of offerings at Indian Valley; then there are also programs for medical and dental assistants, multimedia managers, court reporting, organic farming and gardening and emergency medical technicians. Famous alumni? The late Dian Fossey, the great anthropologist, attended in the 1940s; of course the late Robin Williams was in our drama department in the early 1970s; and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll was here about the same time. Those are the ones that quickly come to mind; I’m sure there are others.

What are your goals for College of Marin’s future? I’d like to see us finish up Measure C construction, which should happen by fall of this year. Then we’ll have a whole new appearance for the community to enjoy. We are now looking at architectural renderings of the academic building and the landscape that will surround it and give a definite sense of arrival to College of Marin. Then I want to see us provide a 21st century learning experience for all our students, and I think that with the bright new people we’ve hired, and the bright people who have been here, we can definitely do just that. Right now, I’ll admit, we are not always the first choice for students graduating from local high schools, and I want to see that change. We’re working hard at it and starting to see improvement — but I want to see more progress in this area.

Finally, what are your thoughts on President Obama asking for $60 billion to provide free community college to qualified students over the next 10 years? The America’s College Promise proposal would create a new partnership with states to help them waive tuition or fees in high-quality programs for responsible students, while promoting key reforms to help more students complete at least two years of college. To me, the formula seems to be fairly straightforward: a quality college experience plus free tuition will result in increased enrollment, certificate completion and, ultimately, employment. Students who attend at least halftime, maintain a 2.5 grade point average while enrolled, and make steady progress toward completing their program will have their tuition or fees eliminated. Here’s COM’s end of the deal: we will be expected to offer programs that are either academic programs that fully transfer to local public four-year colleges and universities or occupational training programs with high graduation rates that lead to degrees and certificates that are in demand among employers. Of course, at COM we already offer programs of this nature. While it’s difficult to predict where the America’s College Promise will end up given the political environment in Washington, this idea certainly is encouraging. What a tremendous validation of the role community colleges play in education and training and in the economic development and prosperity of our country.

Categories: Conversation, People+Places