Burlington’s Champlain College will have a new president coming up in July. Donald Laackman comes to Champlain from Harold Washington College in Chicago.
Laackman said he was attracted to Champlain’s unique model, focusing on career skills, liberal arts and life skills for students. He said Champlain’s plan for strategic growth was also appealing. It is, however, a much smaller school in a much smaller city. Harold Washington College has nearly 14,000 students, Champlain has 2,300 students.
“I think I’ve had a great deal of success at Harold, which is in many ways a turnaround story, in building a very strong team. I feel very fortunate in meeting the team here at Champlain. It appears to be a very strong team in place already. So I need to back off from the turnaround mode and really go into building mode as we build on the successes we have already achieved at Champlain,” Laackman said.
The college was started as a businesses school in 1878. Champlain began offering bachelor’s degree programs in the 1990s. Since then, it has grown to include graduate degree programs, many online, and has grown its other online class offerings.
“The quality of our programs outstrips our brand awareness, outstrips how much people know about us, and so what I view as the first opportunity is to elevate Champlain’s visibility across the country. I want to make sure we’re nationally known for what we’re doing here in Burlington,” Laackman said.
Online education has been a big change in higher education, and Laackman believes that Champlain is at the leading edge, and the school has the opportunity to build on those strengths.
“What I love about Champlain is that it has a very clear sense of who it is. It has the career focus that has served it and that I believe will differentiate it in the future, and that’s how we’re going to be distinctive and elevate its profile to try to attract talent to Vermont,” Laackman said.
While college affordability has been to topic of much discussion lately, Laackman said the school continues to focus on financial aid, and that Champlain’s programs can deliver value to students.
“It’s not just about the debt load that you may take away, it’s about are you employable and are you out there with a set of skills that are going to enable you to earn a living wage and beyond that?", he added.
"I’m very proud of Champlain’s placement rate. I believe it’s about 90 percent right now in jobs. That’s a phenomenal success story for the college. So if we can tell prospective students and parents that Champlain is not only a place that will give the students themselves a great education, but it’s also going to work with them to provide them live long careers, I think that’s a very compelling value proposition for people looking at higher education as a pathway to the middle and middle upper class,” Laackman said.