WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- When Joseph Hankin, then the president of Hartford Community College in Maryland, first considered leading Westchester Community College in the 1970’s, he told administrators he’d accept the presidency so long as they cut down the barbed wire lining the Valhalla campus and welcomed his 31 other suggestions.
“There was a barbed wire fence running around the whole campus. I said, ‘That’s a symbol to the community if you leave that barbed wire there,’” Hankin said of the Westchester Community College campus circa 1971. “I felt it had the potential to be a real community college, which it wasn’t at that time. For example, if you weren’t a good student or didn’t have the grades you had to come into the evening division as a sort of punishment. I felt we could be much more accessible.”
Hankin became the longest serving community college president in America this September when he kicked off the academic year at Westchester Community College for the 40th time. Approximately 3,000 potential students were turned away from Westchester Community College annually when Hankin started in 1971 and approximately 4,000 students were enrolled. After adding five satellite campuses to the campus, the college has been able to educate approximately 13,773 this semester. No applicant is turned away from the school, however, not all students are eligible for every program.
“We’re getting more people to get educated by physically getting close to where they are. We have classes in an old Sears in Mount Vernon and in the Cross County Center in Yonkers. We go into nursing homes because they can’t go out,” Hankin said of the college program’s more than 100 locations throughout Westchester.
A 21 percent cut in state aid has the college grappling with how to serve record student enrollment numbers, according to Hankin, a Purchase resident.
“We’re getting as much money per student as we were in 1989 and we’re being asked to do more,” said Hankin. “Community college gives people the chance to earn a college degree that wouldn’t otherwise. We’re achieving the American dream for many people.”
According to Hankin, 27.5 percent of Westchester Community College students were born abroad. The Gateway building, which opened on the main Valhalla campus last fall, was designed to assist county residents learning English with tailored courses, citizenship classes and a wing focused on entrepreneurial skills and marketable training.
Marjorie Glusker, the Vice President and Dean of Continuing Education and Community Services at the college, said Hankin’s administrative style has led to several innovations, such as the Gateway Center.
“His door is always open for advice or to act as a sounding board for ideas. He is very, very collaborative in nature and that has led to a lot of innovation at the college,” said Glusker, who has worked with Hankin at the college for 22 years. “We just had a new launch for a new center, which is the financial and economic education center, where we will be doing financial education for students, high school teachers, faculty, community people, social service people whose clients need that kind of information. I could give you a lot of examples. In his 40 years he hasn’t slowed down.”
Although Westchester Community College receives about $20 million a year in federal funds, the school estimates that half of students’ financial needs are still not met. Hankin hopes to provide more opportunities for students at an Oct. 15 fundraising event thrown in honor of his 40th anniversary at the college.
Tickets for the Oct. 12 ceremony in the Gateway Center are $200 and all proceeds will go to the Westchester Community College Foundation, which annually distributes $1 million in student scholarships.