Peninsula College president to retire in a year

Pandemic recovery top focus for now

Luke Robins

Luke Robins

PORT ANGELES — Luke Robins, who has led Peninsula College since July 2012, has announced he will retire at the end of 2021-22, which promises to be a busy year for the college.

Robins, who will be 65 in January, told the board of trustees that he would retire from his position as president of the college last week so as to give them plenty of time to seek his replacement, he said Saturday.

In the meantime, a primary focus for Robins will be pandemic recovery.

After classes having been conducted mostly remotely for more than a year, “our primary goal is to create a situation where we can get students back to more face-to-face instruction for those who want to do that,” Robins said.

The COVID-19 epidemic that pushed most courses into remote classes isn’t over, but some restrictions are being loosened and so all colleges are grappling with providing opportunities for both in-person and remote learning.

“We’re not completely out of the woods yet,” Robins said. “We pay attention to what Dr. (Allison) Berry and others say — caution is still a watchword.”

But at the same time, college staff are working to “create opportunities for students who want to be face-to-face to do it safely.”

The fall schedule, already published, has the bulk of coursework offered either fully remotely or in a hybrid fashion with some limited face-to-face interaction with instructors, according to Robins.

The college president described the last year as “a tremendous challenge” to which faculty and staff responded with “resilience, creativity and dedication to students.”

“Our faculty and staff are truly amazing people to be able to make the switch from face-to-face with some remote to entirely remote in two weeks” last March, Robins said.

Despite the efforts, all colleges lost students during the lockdown, he said. The average in the state is between 10 percent and 20 percent, he added.

Peninsula College, which is based in Port Angeles and has branches in Port Townsend and Forks, will be working this coming year to get them back.

“There are two pieces to that,” Robins said. “One is to reach out to students who were with us pre-pandemic who stopped sometime during the pandemic and reengage with them and see what they need to get back in school,” and see if the college can help them.

“The second piece is to let potential students know that there are tremendous opportunities in starting a course of study now,” Robins said. Federal financial aid is plentiful and the college foundation offers scholarships as well.

Those interested in getting help in attending the community college can go to the college website at https://pencol.edu/ GetStarted.

Robins, who lives in Sequim with his wife Mary Jane, said retirement will allow him to spend more time with his family — the couple has two grown children — travel and perhaps find new professional opportunities.

He has no plans for other work, he said, but remains interested in finding ways to contribute after a 40-year career in community colleges.

As a first-generation college graduate in his family, he said he has a “unique perspective on how college changes lives” and so is especially concerned about removing barriers to college education for others.

“That’s a driving force for me,” he said. “It’s why I got into this work in first place.”

The board of trustees will begin developing a process and timeline for recruiting and hiring the college’s next president in the coming months, according to a press release.

“While we were sorry to hear the announcement, we want to thank Dr. Robins for his effective leadership as college president, and are happy for his for new adventures ahead,” said Erik Rohrer, chair of the college’s board of trustees, said in the release.

During Robins’ tenure so far, Peninsula College expanded its branches.

The college acquired and renovated the former Bank of America building in Forks to house the college’s West End campus. Working with the Peninsula College Foundation, the State Parks Department and the Fort Worden Public Development Authority, the college transformed a historic barracks building at Fort Worden in Port Townsend into a Jefferson County Peninsula College campus.

In 2017, construction was completed on a new Allied Health and Early Childhood Education building on the Port Angeles campus.

The college also won a $2.2 million federal Title III grant going toward and center to provide faculty resources, improvements to the Longhouse — the first Native American Longhouse to be located on a community college campus — and wayfinding signs on campus.

During his tenure, the college developed a new strategic plan and facilities master plan and recently completed a successful mid-cycle — one cycle is seven years — with the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Robins has served on the Clallam County Economic Development Council, the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the North Olympic Healthcare Network boards. He serves on the American Association of Community Colleges’ Commission on Small/Rural Community Colleges.

Prior to his appointment as president of Peninsula College, Robins served as chancellor of Louisiana Delta Community College in Monroe, La. The new college had its initial regional accreditation and $45 million college campus was constructed.

He also served as chief academic officer at two-year colleges in Idaho and Arkansas, and has nearly 20 years of experience as a community college instructor.

A native of Illinois, Robins holds a bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College, a master’s degree in English from Illinois State University, and a doctorate in community college leadership from the University of Texas at Austin.

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