The president of Capitol Hill’s community college can finally drop “interim” from her title this week. Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange was confirmed as the head of Seattle Central College on Tuesday after being appointed interim president in July.
In addition to managing the day-to-day operations of the 16,000-student college, Edwards Lange has a deep work plan ahead of her that includes: diversifying the faculty, filling a widening funding gap created by state cutbacks, increasing graduation rates and transfers to the University of Washington — and sealing an agreement to develop a new building on campus.
Edwards Lange said SCC is currently negotiating with Sound Transit to develop property at Denny Way and Broadway — known as Site D — that was vacated during the Capitol Hill Station construction and now neighbors the western Broadway entrance to the station.
A new technology center is one idea that has been floated at SCC. The school could utilize its status as a major institution to build above the 65-foot zoned height limit along Broadway. Edwards Lange said the SCC project could also include staff or student housing.
While the permanent hire won’t necessarily imbue her with more power to accomplish those goals, it will allow Edwards Lange a shot at seeing though some of the work she’s already started.
“I am so happy and excited to be permanent,” she said. “There have been a number of things started that I want to see to completion.”
Growing the Seattle Vocational Institute at 22nd and Jackson is especially important to Edwards Lange, who lives in West Seattle but says her heart has always been in the Central District. SVI houses many of the college’s technical certification programs, including programs for medical assistants and construction training. Edwards Lange said expanding the number of programs offered at the campus is one of her top priorities.
“It is frustrating that we have companies here that are recruiting out of the state or even even out of the country and we can’t provide the workforce they need,” she said.
“We know we’re not going to get money from the state to do a new building.”
Of course, all of those initiatives will take funding, which has been hard to come by at SCC in recent years as the state Legislature continues to underfund the Seattle College District. State funding for community colleges was slashed in the financially brutal years following the 2008 recession, and pre-recession levels of state higher education funding haven’t returned since due to the Legislature’s inability to raise tax revenue, resulting in continued pay equity issues for college faculty and staff.
Underfunding forced Seattle Central to scramble to fill the gap with alternative means like obtaining private sector grants, public/private partnerships and marketing to international students. Former SCC president Paul Killpatrick pushed for such initiatives, with the college rolling out new four-year bachelor degree programs in applied nursing (and leasing space in the Beacon Hill PacMed building to accommodate the program). Edwards Lange said she will be pursuing more private partnerships in the near future.
“We know we’re not going to get money from the state to do a new building,” she said.
In recent years, SCC executive staff have become more involved with organizations like the Capitol Hill Champion and the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce — something Edwards Lange said she wants to expand in order to grow the college as a bigger part of the neighborhood. There are more tangible neighborhood goals, too, like improving the college’s Broadway promenade and its broken, sometimes slippery bricks.
Seattle Colleges District chancellor Jill Wakefield officially named Edwards Lange as the permanent president on Tuesday after a search process that came down to three potential candidates. Killpatrick stepped down in June 2015 after five years at the helm of the institution.
“Dr. Edwards Lange has all of the qualities we have been looking for in a new president. She has great experience, and it’s clear that she cares deeply about the success of Seattle Central’s students,” Wakefield said in a statement.
The appointment of the permeant SCC president will be one of Wakefield’s last major decisions before she steps down in June.
Edwards Lange has had a long career in public higher education She is the former vice president of Minority Affairs and vice provost for Diversity at the University of Washington, served on the faculty at the UW Evans School of Public Affairs, and worked with the Seattle College District on education and planning.