Hoping to boost enrollment and district revenues, community college trustees Tuesday night approved a plan to actively recruit more foreign students to Ventura County.
As part of the plan, Oxnard College President Elise Schneider tendered her resignation to accept the newly created position of provost of international students--a job with a six-figure salary but an uncertain future.
The trustees made it clear that the district needs to monitor whether the recruitment plan is paying for itself and consider ending the program if it doesn't.
"I think it has to pay for itself by producing the students," trustee Allan Jacobs said. "I'm looking for a successful program. And if it is not, we have to reevaluate that."
Schneider will immediately move into the district's Ventura headquarters to launch a global marketing campaign to sell the campuses in Ventura, Oxnard and Moorpark as among the safest places in America to get a junior college education.
"I would like to add my enthusiasm," Schneider told the board. "I believe the global society we see developing demands we have a dynamic international program. I will do everything in my power to make it a resounding success."
The job change comes at a time when Schneider's contract as college president is up for renewal. Her seven-year tenure in the post has been marked by criticism from some of the college's staff and administrators.
In a 1993 report prepared by college officials for an accreditation committee, 65% of the faculty and 64% of administrators said Schneider was not providing effective leadership and direction for the college.
By contrast, only 19% of the faculty and 29% of the administrators thought Schneider was doing a good job.
"I remember when Elise was appointed and she likened the college to Cinderella and wanted to be invited to the ball," instructor Lynn Fauth said. "If the college is Cinderella, she certainly hasn't been Prince Charming. We just have never got off the ground."
But even her critics say the recruiting post may be a good fit for Schneider, who has proven adept at public relations in the Oxnard community.
Her targets, foreign students, pay 10 times as much tuition as California residents. And unlike tuition for California residents, which returns to the state to be redistributed, most of the money collected from foreign students goes directly to Ventura County Community College District.
But if Schneider does not attract enough foreign students to cover the cost of the new position--$101,600 for her salary and another $189,500 for travel and marketing costs--her contract may not be renewed when it expires in June 1997, trustees said.
"Evaluation in terms of this program is pretty easy," said Chancellor Philip Westin after proposing the plan. "Do we increase the number of international students or not? There is no point to do this to lose money. The point is to make money."
To cover the cost of her position, Schneider would have to attract about 86 foreign students taking 12 units, the minimum course load required of them by the state, for two semesters.
Schneider, whose faculty tenure guarantees her a job in the community college system, said she is confident she can make the new position work.
"My whole life, I have been one to go forward and not be afraid of what others are saying," she said. "If it can be done, I think I can do it. And I think it can."
In addition to the cost, some trustees worried about leaving Oxnard College without a permanent president.
Although trustees approved an immediate in-house search for an interim president, the earliest the college could appoint a new president is July.
But some Oxnard faculty members say they are anxious to get a new leader as soon as possible.
Schneider joined Oxnard College in 1989. Under her direction, it has gained a new gymnasium and letters and science building, boosted the number of students transferring to four-year universities, and increased enrollment this semester by more than 6%.
Despite these successes, some instructors have been critical of her management skills, saying an institutional malaise has gripped the college ever since she took over.
"All I can say is that I have had, in my estimation, strong support from the students and the community," Schneider said. "Whenever you are in a leadership role, such as president of a college, you are going to always have some people who disagree."
But her critics also point to a string of incidents that have cost Schneider their confidence.
"It's been gaffe after gaffe," said one former instructor who asked not to be identified.
They point to Schneider's 1994 decision to fire the college's bookstore manager, Sharon Davies. Schneider recommended that the board fire Davies after an independent audit found $40,000 missing from the store's ledgers.