Today, for the first time in 3,711 days, Charles Chrestman is not the president off Robeson Community College. That job — and it’s a large one in this county, where so many adults are returning to school to gain an education or a skill to survive in a changing economy — now falls on Pamela Hilbert, who arrives with a resume to suggest that she can continue to build on Chrestman’s accomplishments.
Chrestman announced his retirement in July 2012, not long after a very public scolding by the county Board of Commissioners over funding at the community college. Chrestman took the high road at the time, saying that a decade was enough, it was simply time to return to Mississippi to be closer to family — and that the dispute with the commissioners did not hasten his retirement.
On Sunday, the county commissioners took a different road, and not a single one found the time to attend a two-hour reception at the college during which Chrestman was honored. Plenty of other people in this community did, however, sending Chrestman off with a smile and some tears.
The event was held in the Charles V. Chrestman Workforce Development Center, recently named by the college’s trustees in his honor. The center was one of three major construction projects, valued at almost $14 million, that rose from the ground during Chrestman’s decade, the others being a Continuing Education building located at COMtech, and a Health Science building on the Lumberton campus.
Chrestman’s accomplishments have been itemized in previous stories that have appeared in this pages during the past week, but in case you missed them, we will underline them once more time.
With Chrestman at the helm:
— RCC underwent a 10-year reaffirmation of accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
— The number of credit programs offered grew from 20 to 34, and the number of students increased from 2,361 to 4,148.
— RCC’s annual budget more than doubled, growing from $18 million to $42 million.
— The number of full-time employees has grown from 176 to 193, with the number of part-time employees increasing from 291 to 340.
— RCC began offering the ACT’s WorkKeys Assessment, which leads to a Career Readiness Certificate. Today, Robeson County ranks in the top three among the state’s 100 counties with more than 5,000 people holding the certificate.
— The college landed one of the state’s NCCCS Biotechnology Network regional centers that now serves a statewide role in advancing bio-agriculture.
— Financial aid for students grew from about $4 million to $8.8 million last year.
— The assets for the RCC Foundation grew from $351,000 to $1.5 million.
— Grants and sponsored programs have grown from $292,000 to almost $21.8 million today.
But the eye-opening numbers don’t complete the picture. Chrestman was also a tireless and capable recruiter of jobs to this county, an effort that was acknowledged recently when he was honored by the Robeson County Committee of 100.
Chrestman accomplished all this in his typical soft-spoken and low-key manner, always quick to deflect credit and to shower it on the RCC team.
RCC and this county are much better off because Chrestman gave us a decade of dedication. As he leaves he carries the appreciation of many, including ours.