Hughes stepping down as CCRI president on Aug. 31

Updated at 5:19 p.m.

WARWICK – After more than seven years at the helm, the president of the state’s community college will step away.

Meghan L. Hughes, who has overseen the Community College of Rhode Island as president since 2016 and has been a key figure in the college providing free education for qualified state residents, will step away from her presidential role on Aug. 31, CCRI announced late Thursday.

With Hughes’ pending departure, two of Rhode Island’s three state colleges will be in the midst of searching for full-time presidents. Jack Warner is currently serving as Rhode Island College’s interim president. He received a one-year contract extension in early January to continue leading RIC in the interim.

CCRI says the R.I. Council on Postsecondary Education is expected to announce plans for an interim president at the community college before the council’s April 19 meeting.

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CCRI spokesperson Amy Kempe, when contacted Thursday by Providence Business News as to why Hughes is leaving, said in an email that Hughes is “taking a pause” after leading CCRI since 2016 and through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kempe also said Hughes plans to rededicate time with her mother and family, and then decide “what is her next professional endeavor.”

In a statement, Hughes said serving as CCRI’s president “has been the greatest professional honor” of her life. She said she believes the current time is right for the college to transition to a new leader by the end of the summer right as the 2023-24 academic year commences.

Hughes is the fifth president in CCRI’s history. Under her leadership, along with the college achieving the highest graduation rates that CCRI has seen in 20 years, Hughes advocated for a free tuition program, which became Rhode Island Promise. The program, CCRI said, resulted in significant improvements in enrollment and graduation rates for students, particularly for low-income students and students of color.

CCRI also partnered with government and local industries to help transform the labor market locally under Hughes’ direction. The college says its Division of Workforce Partnerships trains more than 4,000 Rhode Islanders annually in short-term, labor-market-driven credentials.

CCRI will also soon launch the state’s first Global Wind Organization training program in support of multiple offshore wind farms slated to be under construction in the next few years.

Additionally, under Hughes’ leadership, CCRI created its first Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Organizational Development. The college says the office reformed how CCRI attracts, hires and retains a diverse talent of faculty and staff.

Like other colleges across the country, CCRI had to navigate challenges brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic, including having to have all classes be remote for a period of time. But the college managed to maintain solid enrollment numbers leading into this academic year. CCRI Dean of Enrollment Management Amy Kacerik told PBN in August the college’s fall enrollment increased by 13.5% from the previous year.

“We have largely emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, our enrollment continues to recover each semester, and we are laser focused on supporting strong student learning outcomes,” Hughes said in a statement. “Our commitment to creating equitable access and delivering outstanding credentials that lead to quality employment and seamless transfer is powerfully advanced every day across all four campuses, and I have full confidence in our faculty, staff and administrators to continue advancing this work.”

R.I. Postsecondary Education Commissioner Shannon Gilkey in a statement described Hughes as a “relentless champion” of CCRI. Gov. Daniel J. McKee in his respective statement called Hughes a “bold, visionary leader” at the community college and a “true partner” to his administration to strengthen the state’s higher education ecosystem.

“Her transformational leadership has profoundly impacted countless lives and elevated CCRI to one of the best community colleges in the nation,” R.I. Council on Postsecondary Education Chairperson David Caprio said in a statement.

(UPDATED throughout to include additional details on Meghan Hughes’ departure and comments from CCRI.)

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.