Wor-Wic’s Dr. Ray Hoy: ‘I will miss the people here most’

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Last Wednesday afternoon, a rumbling could be felt across the Salisbury community. News that could only trigger a host of conflicted emotions spread across the landscape, affecting students, academics, community leaders, nonprofit champions, public officials and pretty much anyone who ever paid attention to what happens in Salisbury.

People wanted to be happy, but within the same emotional sphere they were sad. The news was as anticipated as it was dreaded:

Dr. Ray Hoy would be leaving Wor-Wic Community College. Ray Hoy would be departing Salisbury.

The community had no idea what it was getting in Ray Hoy when he arrived in July 2000. A 24-year administrator up Route 50 at Chesapeake College, he had never held a community college presidency. It quickly became obvious that the man, the institution and the community were a good fit. His aura of honesty, frankness, vision, attention to detail and sheer idealism were impressive, inspiring and desperately needed.

During his 14 years, Wor-Wic rocketed to unimaginable orbits. Credit enrollment almost doubled. The campus was able to raise private money and qualify for aid that allowed a $60 million building boom. Wor-Wic’s endowment increased from $1.6 million to $13.9 million.

Also in that time, almost 5,000 students have graduated and many more thousands have attended classes designed to better their work performance. Wor-Wic remains the local training institution offering people an opportunity to improve their work prospects, offering employers a more capable workforce and offering the community a hub of practical learning.

Local nurses, radiologists and home health aides are trained in the medical and science buildings there. The bulk of the Lower Shore’s police officers were trained in some manner at Wor-Wic. Bookkeepers and agronomists, computer operators and chefs, phlebotomists and emergency medicine technicians — all of these people who surround us and serve us have walked the Wor-Wic halls.

The holder of six academic degrees, Hoy himself is a community college graduate. He also holds a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees, a law degree and a doctorate. He has more than 35 years of community college administrative experience in academics, finance and student development.

Since Hoy’s arrival, the college has added new programs, such as emergency medical services and elementary and secondary education transfer programs. Existing programs, such as nursing and radiologic technology, have been expanded to meet community needs.

Back to that Wednesday afternoon …

An email arrived from Mark S. Stellini, chairman of the Board of Trustees at Delaware Technical Community College:

“I am pleased to announce that Dr. Murray “Ray” Hoy has been named the fifth president of Delaware Technical Community College. Dr. Hoy will assume the position in the near future.

“This appointment was the result of a vote by the Board of Trustees at a special board meeting on July 9. The appointment concludes a search launched in March, led by a selection committee comprised of four Board members and coordinated by the Association of Community College Trustees. The committee chose Dr. Hoy from 20 candidates.”

With that, it was official: We were losing Ray Hoy.

Q. You grew up on the Eastern Shore, so I know you know this: People here love it when the local boy makes good, but they’re also on the lookout for that boy getting too big for his britches.

A. Is that a question?

I have received nothing but well wishes from people inside the college and from the community.  I can’t adequately express how special that is.

But, your point is that when someone gets too big for their britches, there may be pushback.  Fortunately, I have a wonderful wife who is very good at keeping me grounded.  And, she gets some help from the people I have been fortunate enough to work with for most of my career at Wor-Wic.

My role is to serve, the college and the community; and I don’t believe you serve anyone well if you are too full of yourself.

Q. Why is Delaware Tech a good fit for this next stage in your career?

A. It’s both personal and professional  On the personal side, my family is in Dover and just across the border in nearby Chestertown, where I grew up.

All four of our grandchildren reside in that area (with their parents, but if you are a grandparent you’ll understand my comment). Donna and I want to be nearer to the family and this opportunity provided that.

Professionally, Delaware Tech is a multi-campus institution serving the residents of the entire State of Delaware, which provides me with an opportunity to take what I have learned from my experience at Chesapeake, leading every division of a regional community college, and Wor-Wic, as president of a very successful institution for the past 14 years and apply it in a new environment.

The major difference is scale. Governance and policy are the same, the ripples are just bigger.  But, I have to be a visible, involved leader on four campuses instead of one.  I already have the experience of being active in and serving multiple counties.

 Q. What has been the campus and community reaction to your announcement?

A. The people who shared their thoughts with me understood my interest in the transition to Delaware and all wished me luck (several added, “but not too much” during the process).

That made me feel as though they weren’t holding the door open for me, anxious for me to go, but they lent their support. I have received a number of messages of thanks for what we accomplished at Wor-Wic during my time here.

What I hope everyone understands is that I didn’t do anything by myself. I know the folks on campus are aware of this, because they are the ones who made me look good.  This community is so fortunate to have such a talented and committed staff who work diligently to serve the needs of our community.

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Q. Did you ever imagine this college and campus would see so much growth and expansion?

A. Probably yes.  We developed a Master Plan for the future of the college.  When I arrived, there was already a need for more buildings in order to support the existing student body.

Facilities are generally planned for future student and program growth. At Wor-Wic, because the college began as a college without walls and operated that way for its first 19 years, we have been playing catch-up ever since the decision was made in 1992 to build a campus.

Even with all of the new facilities, we still qualify for three additional buildings, according to the Maryland Higher Education Commission space utilization guidelines.  Those building sites are planned.

In other words, we know exactly where they will be constructed on the campus.  What we don’t know is when. And, that has to do with money and students. Beyond that, there are building sites planned for three more facilities in the distant future (six new buildings total).

But, the Master Plan informs the college where those structures should be so those campus spaces aren’t inadvertently used for something that would completely interfere with future use.

I think we’ve done a great job of following our building master plan and making sure that every building blends with the campus — maintains the Wor-Wic look.

If we constructed a building in Worcester County and used the yellow brick and stayed true to our “look”, we probably wouldn’t have to put a sign on it.  Everyone would know that it is Wor-Wic.

Q. What in the world did the community do before Wor-Wic existed?

A. Salisbury University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore filled a significant role in providing higher education opportunities for Shore residents.  But, those institutions were not offering the types of career and technical programs that were available through a community college.

And, businesses that needed specific training for their employees had very few options other than spending a great deal of money and time to send their employees away to get training to keep the business competitive.

So, the Greater Salisbury Committee pushed for this institution to fill the gap and address a growing need in the community.  Wor-Wic began as a niche institution focusing on career and technical education and training for business and industry.  Then, as Salisbury University became a much more selective institution many Lower Shore students couldn’t access the institution directly out of high school.

Wor-Wic soon filled that gap as well—Start here, go anywhere!  Today, you probably can’t get through your day on the Lower Shore without interfacing with a Wor-Wic trained individual.

Q. What sort of high school student makes the best community college student?

A. Anyone who has the desire and commitment to be successful can be a good community college student.  I tell new students to check their egos at the door.

It really doesn’t matter whether you were first in your high school class or last in the class; everyone starts college with a clean slate.  The high achieving high school graduate has to prove him/herself again.

But, if someone who ranked near the bottom of the class is committed to their success, community colleges have programs and services in place to support them as they work to achieve their goals.

If I had a nickel for every honors graduate who came up to me after graduation and told me that they were a terrible student in high school and couldn’t believe what they had accomplished, I’d be rich.  There are many reasons to explain how this happens, but what is important is that it happens for these individuals and it is life changing.

Q. What is your advice to those people who are interested in a continuing education program, but hesitant to sign up, perhaps because of the schedule, or the fear of failure, or the commitment?

A. Like the famous slogan says, “Just do it!”  As I just mentioned, fear of failure shouldn’t stop anyone as long as they make a commitment.

If you don’t have the time, then don’t waste your time; because it takes time and effort to be successful.  But, it’s worth it.  Take it from me, a community college graduate.  Most people can and will improve their lives with additional education.

Studies show that they will make more money and live healthier lives and improve the lives of their families.  What’s stopping you?

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Q. What’s the most fun you’ve enjoyed in your position here?

A. Every day is different.  That makes the job exciting and enjoyable.

But the most enjoyable thing about my job is knowing that what we do makes a difference in someone’s life.

It makes a difference to the person who comes for just one class and obtains a skill that leads to a promotion.  It makes a difference to the person who is the first in their family to earn a college degree.

It makes a difference to the person who lost a job and gets retrained for a new career.  It makes a difference for the underachiever who finally figures out what they want to do with their life and then achieves success with our help.

It makes a difference for the person whose family can’t afford four years at a residential campus and needs a quality education at an affordable price.  It makes a difference for the business that needs skilled employees.

It makes a difference for the many students who gain a skill that provides them a career with family sustaining wages.

And it makes a difference that so many of our students and graduates are staying in the community filling key positions and having a significant economic impact on our community.

Q. What are the painful parts?

A. The most challenging part of the job has been not having appropriate levels of funding to accomplish the goals of the college and meet student and community needs.

Q. Explain.

A. For example, it is such a shame that we were able to build a new Allied Health Building, but not offer the programs in Occupational Therapy Assistant and Physical Therapist Assistance until we could raise private funds to start the programs.

There are high paying jobs that have been available in our community for graduates of both of these programs. Furthermore, there are hundreds of students annually who cannot access the selective admissions programs at the college in Nursing and Radiologic Technology who could have entered one of these programs and already be making a very good living today.

These graduates add significantly to our community’s tax base. Programs like this should be recognized as an economic development initiative worthy of public investment.

Q. Your budget receives contributions from the state, Wicomico and Worcester counties. Do the local governments do enough to help fund education?

A. Wor-Wic receives the lowest level of local funding in Maryland and during the recession the disparity became even worse.  Similarly sized Maryland community colleges receive about twice the local support as Wor-Wic receives.

I think that the revenue cap in Wicomico County has had a harsh impact on the county’s ability to adequately fund the college. But, budgets are about priorities and I know that investment in education provides a real return on every state and local dollar invested.

But, to be fair, I have to applaud the counties on their capital investment in the college.  For every building project, that we have constructed, the counties (Wicomico and Worcester) have to provide 25 percent of the funding.

Without that commitment from the counties, you wouldn’t see the campus as it exists today.

Q. You’ve had to navigate the county’s revenue cap and seen the county’s contribution to education at Wor-Wic existing in a space of constant peril. How have you dealt with that?

A. As well as we can.

Wor-Wic has the lowest cost per student of any college in Maryland, we have fewer employees per student and, in spite of the impressive number of buildings that we’ve discussed, and we have fewer square feet of space per student than any other Maryland community college.

By just about any metric you can imagine, Wor-Wic is more efficient than the rest.  While I’m very fiscally conservative, the small number of staff and resources is becoming a challenge for staff to continually address all the demands required of a successful institution.

The college needs support.

Q. There’s somewhat of a perception in some segments of the community that too many local citizens don’t put the value on education that they should.

A. You may be talking about the vocal minority of people who attend budget hearings and complain about just about everything.  At least I always hope that they represent a small but very vocal minority.

Those people aren’t willing to pay for education because they and/or their children already have their education and they don’t wish to pay for someone else’s.

I generally sit there quietly and think that they must have been shortchanged in their education to have such a narrow view of their world.

To me, they represent another reason that everyone needs a good education and I’m sorry for them that they didn’t get one.

Q. When talking about local colleges, people will often mention Salisbury University and UMES. Wor-Wic sometimes gets left off their list, like it’s not a top-of-mind player. How do you react to that?

A. Not very well, as you well know. Wor-Wic serves over 11,000 local citizens each year.

The economic impact of the college, due in large part to the education and training of the graduates who stay in the community filling critical jobs, is over $149 million annually.

How is that missed by anyone? Yet, as you pointed out, it often is.

All three higher education institutions provide a significant economic benefit to our community.  But, Wor-Wic graduates, more so than the graduates of the other two institutions, stay in our community, building the tax base and filling critical jobs in local business and industry.

Our police, nurses, radiologic technologist, EMTs, computer technicians, teachers, bankers, food and hospitality workers, dental assistants, pharmacy technicians, geriatric nursing assistants, and on and on and on, were all trained at Wor-Wic.

Many move on to Salisbury University and UMES for advanced degrees; Wor-Wic is the principal feeder institution to both universities.  And, all of that doesn’t even address the role the college plays in upgrade training for local business’s existing workforce.

Wor-Wic’s continuing education training keeps the local workforce competitive.

Q. How should the Lower Shore be positioning itself economically? Can this be a manufacturing region? Can high-tech fulfill its promise?

A. Three of the biggest economic drivers are education, healthcare and agriculture, not in that order.  As long as Perdue (Farms Inc.) stays here, those three can remain the core of the economy.

And, I read your piece on Jim Perdue last month and was encouraged that there is a vision for the future for Perdue here, where the family business began.

So, I guess the real question is what are the emerging markets that the Lower Shore can capitalize on?

Wind energy appears to be coming to the Shore.  We won’t be manufacturing the turbines, but there will be a tremendous opportunity for annual maintenance and repair for both the land based turbines in Somerset County and the ocean turbines off of the coast of Ocean City.

Wallops Island is growing as a space center and unmanned aerial systems research location.   Both present possibilities for future industries to grow and develop around these centers and support the activity.

The state’s watershed improvement plan has lofty, if not unrealistic goals. But, something is going to be done and it is going to take a period of years.

It seems to me that there are numerous possibilities for “green occupations” associated with this initiative.  Rather than importing the talent from businesses in other states or regions, it seems to me that local jobs through local employers can provide a much greater benefit to the region. But again, there needs to be adequate and appropriate training to prepare the workforce.

That’s where Wor-Wic provides an indispensable service.  And then of course there are the unforeseen opportunities.  I couldn’t have predicted Cadista, but here they are, growing and providing excellent jobs in our community.

When those types of opportunities avail themselves we have to be prepared to welcome them and address any and all training needs that they have.

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Q. What are the big problems, locally, that you see? What are some of the steps you would recommend the community take?

A. The most successful communities are those that have diverse economies and have an educated talent pool to help the businesses become more successful and more competitive.

Fortunately, there has been a renewed focus on this in our community at the county and city level with an interest in developing the infrastructure to support growth and development.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the importance of quality of life factors that we all recognize are already in place here in the land of pleasant living.

Q. What skills would you like to see your students infused with, so that they might be better contributors to society?

A. Our country’s founding fathers created an incredible experiment with the democratic republic they established by the time President Washington took office.  The underlying premise was that the population had to be educated to sustain this form of government.

So, by some measure, the purpose of public education is to advance our democratic principles.  But, we seem to be moving away from that.  I really think that we need to make sure that our students understand our form of government better and develop an understanding and appreciation of history.

It’s hard to know where you are going, if you don’t know where you’ve been.

Interestingly, I read somewhere that Thomas Jefferson was credited with saying that our nation needs a college within one day’s horse ride of every citizen.

We don’t go to school on horseback anymore, but, if you think about it, isn’t that what community colleges are—institutions that make higher education accessible to everyone.

Business people talk about the need for students to have the “soft-skills” like, communication (written and oral), dealing appropriately with others (social skills), team-building, and critical thinking, among others.

It’s funny though; employers will ask for all of those skills, but they generally hire for a specific business or industry related skill set.  That creates a great deal of pressure on training institutions to focus on those industry related skills, to the detriment of the soft skills.

But, from what I observe, employers may hire for the specific business related skill set, but they promote based on the soft skills.

Consequently, when we develop curriculum, we need a balance between work place skills and soft skills.  There is a very important role for general education in the curriculum.

Q. What will you miss most about the Salisbury community?

 A. My friends and co-workers, who are also my friends.

Soon after I arrived I began thinking of Wor-Wic as family.  That sense of family grew as I developed relationships in the community through the many government, business and industry contacts I made through the job.

And then there are the students and graduates who I have been fortunate enough to get to know through some of their leadership roles on campus.  I continue to keep in touch with many of them.

My network of friends has expanded well beyond work-related contacts though. And I’ll miss them all.

Another very special thing about the Lower Shore is the generosity of the community.  I cannot imagine many other communities this size who give more to their fellow citizens through philanthropy and service to nonprofits.

A true measure of a community is how it supports its most needy members.  The level of support you find here is without peer.

 Q. What do you want your legacy to be here at Wor-Wic?

A. I arrived to find a thriving and successful institution at Wor-Wic. The founding president, Dr. Arnold Maner, and his administrative team, (two of the three vice presidents, Dr. Steve Capelli and Dr. Reenie McCormick are still with the college today, and a third original vice president, Mark Rudnick, retired just over a year ago) developed and nurtured this institution with the support of a talented faculty and hardworking, dedicated staff and committed Board of Trustees.

Presidents fill a role for a period of time, Dr. Maner for 25 years; I served for 14.  But, the institution will go on long after all of us are gone.

So, my hope is that I have left this institution even better than I found it and poised to grow and address the ever-changing education and training needs of the citizens and businesses of this community under the watchful eye of future leaders for centuries, that’s right, centuries, to come.

Q. What is your favorite student success story from over the years?

A. There really are too many success stories to pick one or two favorites, but you asked, so I will.

The first one that comes to mind has to be the 10-year-old who we admitted to college after Johns Hopkins identified him as a very highly gifted student.

He started taking computer classes and he was so small that the instructor couldn’t see him behind the monitor.  His parents signed up for a few classes with him, but after a while they realized that he was fine.  When he graduated from Wor-Wic at 16, before transferring as a junior to Salisbury University’s Perdue School of Business, he was over 6 feet tall and he blended in with all of the other students.

We’ve had several memorable graduates who were about my age who were beginning new careers.  One in particular retired as a local EMT-Paramedic and decided to become a nurse.  He’s working in our local hospital.

I’ve seen so many students overcome unimaginable odds to become successful graduates and more importantly, highly productive citizens in great jobs in our region.

I can’t help but think of the veterans who have come back from service in the Middle East, many of whom are carrying scars of war, and then make the successful transition back to civilian life with a degree earned at Wor-Wic.

And, I can’t forget to mention our first and only Fulbright Scholar.  A young man from Pocomoke, who started here, transferred to Salisbury University and earned a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Germany.

What a great story! They all are.

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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