As community college budgets continue to decline and the statewide conversation of changing the colleges' purpose continues, Andrew C. Jones doesn't see the situation for education getting better for several more years.
Still, the 62-year-old Coast Community College District chancellor took the top spot despite everything and believes the district can be successful and thrive in this environment.
"The thing about it is, it's exciting — it's full of opportunity," he said. "It is a time when people are more open at looking at things than they might have been in a more complacent environment."
Jones was tapped in May to oversee the 60,000 students across the district's three colleges — Orange Coast, Golden West and Coastline — after former Chancellor Ding-Jo Currie announced her retirement in January 2011.
Jones has more than 30 years of college administrative experience under his belt, with his most recent position as vice chancellor for educational affairs for the Dallas County Community College District in Texas.
Now living in Irvine, Jones said on his blog he's in paradise.
"This is a great place to be: the people, the intellectual resources, there isn't a lot of money, but nobody does in California right now," he said. "The challenge now it trying to get some synergy about how we can be most successful in an environment of restricted resources."
To become more successful, Jones emphasizes the importance of reflecting on how each decision will impact students, while also asking them what they want and need.
He also wants to make the district more efficient by increasing collaboration between all the campuses. Many of the district's students attend more than one of its colleges, he said.
Jones is looking into implementing best practices done in one college's individual department across the board, starting a systemwide email, and making one application process for all the colleges.
The idea is to change the mechanics for the highest efficiency, not make every college the same, he said.
"There are a lot of things I think we could do that I think would help our students get completed, get the kind of support systems they need, and better align our own support systems so we're more efficient," Jones said. "That we can leverage the resources we have, especially the intellectual resources — we have a lot of smart people."
Jones started in education in the chancellor's office at the University of Maryland on anti-discrimination. He said he needed a job at the time. He left to do private consulting, but came back, again, for a job.
Although just a job at first, Jones stuck with education for nearly 40 years and said it's an exciting challenge.
"People will often tell you that education is slow and pedantic, but in many ways, there are always great challenges in education," he said. "There are also great challenges in trying to help to find better ways to help people be more successful and get the skills they need.
"The thing I like most about community colleges is we're really about life-long learning ... That's such an exciting place to be. I can't imagine working in any other environment."