Dr. James Mabry: Assessing the Present and Looking Ahead at Middlesex Community College

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The Middlesex Community College campus at the northern end of Springs Road will continue to be mostly a ghost town through the winter and spring. But the president is hopeful that students and teachers will be back full-strength later in 2021.

“Everyone wants to return, but that is just not possible at this point,” said Dr. James Mabry, President of the college and a Bedford resident. “We are going to stay about 90 percent online, with just a small number of health services lab courses the only ones on campus.” Chemistry and biology labs in the Henderson Building need to be hands-on, he said.

“When we come back to campus the first week of January, we are having a senior leadership retreat to start planning for the post-pandemic world, and how we rebuild our student population and get back on campus,” Mabry said.

He added that those leaders “anticipate that by fall at the latest we will have a large number of people back on campus – maybe even later in the summer.” Meanwhile, he said, “MCC remains committed to serving all the students in the area. We have high-quality online programs.”

Middlesex, which opened in Bedford a little more than 50 years ago, also has a campus in Lowell. Mabry will retire at the end of June.

“We are going to have a series of meetings beginning in January to really start thinking forward: what can we do to make faculty, staff, and students feel comfortable, and create meaningful learning experiences?” the president related.

Student recruitment is a high priority, as enrollment has declined this academic year, “mainly because of the economic recession that came out of the pandemic,” Mabry explained. “It really affected the economy from the bottom up – entry-level jobs, service jobs. This is where a lot of our students work. It provides money for families while going to school.”

Over the past several months, “the biggest problem we heard from our students was financial. They are just struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.”

“We educate a lot of people who are working and have families, and family life is chaotic these days,” he continued. “It has been very hard for women to take care of kids and go to school. A lot of them took the semester off or took the year off.”

Mabry observed that, with four-year residential schools limiting the collegiate experience because of the pandemic, “community colleges across the country thought they would see more students come because it was a better value proposition – and it didn’t play out anywhere.”

“There is always a marketing component,” Mabry said. “Like any business, we have to home in on what our product is and then work with the marketing team to sell that product. We are going to be looking at that very carefully.”  Any open houses or campus tours are virtual, he noted.

Mabry said the process to find his successor is under way. “The board has been working with a search committee and has completed the job description,” he said. “I believe it is going to be posted soon. I am not directly involved, and will be waiting at the other end to help the person transition successfully.”

Editor’s Note: Middlesex Community College’s Spring semester starts on Tuesday, January 26, 2021. For more information and to register for courses, visit www.middlesex.mass.edu/registration/ or call 1-800-818-3434.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763
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