CLAREMONT — River Valley Community College President Alicia B. Harvey-Smith is resigning, marking the third major leadership shift in area higher education in the past two months.
“It is with mixed emotions that I have decided to leave River Valley Community College to accept another position,” Harvey-Smith wrote in a message to the college community dated Tuesday, a day after Community College System of New Hampshire Chancellor Ross Gittell accepted her resignation.
Her last day is Friday.
In addition to its main campus in Claremont, and some expansion into the city’s downtown, River Valley has an academic center on Washington Street in Keene. On Thursday, the college will also celebrate the grand opening of a new academic center in Lebanon.
“I believe I will leave River Valley well-positioned to continue to offer life-changing opportunities to students in western New Hampshire, to support economic growth in the region, and to forward the community college mission statewide,” Harvey-Smith said in a news release from the college system. She next heads to Texas, where she’ll serve as executive vice chancellor at Lone Star College, based in Houston.
In a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, Harvey-Smith said River Valley is an “amazing college” that she has helped set on a trajectory to do some powerful work, including getting a solid infrastructure in place.
“I’ve had a wonderful three-plus years here, and have done a lot of exciting things,” she said.
In the news release announcing Harvey-Smith’s resignation, Gittell pointed to the new Lebanon center among accomplishments under her leadership. He also noted capital improvements to the Keene center and the main campus in Claremont, increased visibility and community support, fundraising progress and a widening of workforce training partnerships. He also cited the registered nursing program’s recent regaining of accreditation it lost in 2013.
Gittell said he will work with Harvey-Smith and other college leaders on a transition plan in the wake of the announcement of her resignation.
Asked if the college could provide more information on how the transition will happen, Shannon Reid, communications director for the Community College System of New Hampshire, said Gittell “will meet with college personnel next week and will work with college leadership during the transition phase.”
The position at Lone Star gives Harvey-Smith the opportunity to have a greater impact, especially when it comes to changing students’ lives, she said.
Lone Star, which has more than 95,000 students annually, is one of the fastest-growing community college systems in the United States. It has six colleges, eight academic centers and two university centers.
As executive vice chancellor, Harvey-Smith will oversee several of the college’s offices, including academic affairs, student success, completion, workforce and corporate partnerships, international programs, and strategic planning and assessment. She will also oversee Lone Star College Online and Lone Star College Jakarta, in Indonesia.
As for the swiftness of her departure from River Valley right before the start of the fall semester, Harvey-Smith said it’s “usually how it works in higher education.”
It’s important that staffing decisions, such as hers, be made before school starts so the semester can start smoothly and not be interrupted, she said.
Harvey-Smith’s resignation from River Valley comes roughly three years after she took the reins from interim president Harvey Hill.
That same summer of 2013, two other area campuses welcomed new presidents — Stephen B. Jones at Antioch University New England in Keene and Anne E. Huot at Keene State College.
“Maybe I’m an eternal optimist,” Harvey-Smith said in an interview with The Sentinel at the time. “But I am excited by education, and I’m excited by seeing students, just, transform.”
River Valley — one of seven colleges in the state’s community college system — has just more than 1,000 students, according to figures on its website. The majority of students are part-time, the average age is 26 and nearly 70 percent are women. Eighty-five percent receive financial aid.
A Maryland native, Harvey-Smith was previously vice president for student affairs at Baltimore City Community College. She holds a master’s degree in education with a focus on guidance and counseling from Johns Hopkins University and a doctorate in counseling from the University of Maryland, College Park.
Harvey-Smith’s resignation comes amid a summer of transition for area institutions of higher learning, starting with Franklin Pierce University President Andrew H. Card’s June announcement that he’d step down at the beginning of August.
Kim Mooney, the university’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, was named its first alumna and first female president shortly thereafter.
Later in June, Stephen B. Jones, president of Antioch University New England in Keene, departed suddenly following a decision made by the institution’s main office in Ohio to centralize operations.
That decision included the Antioch University system firing the presidents of all five of its colleges, including Jones, and disbanding each institution’s board of trustees.