Walla Walla Community College has a new systemwide president after the board of trustees unanimously approved a two-year contract for Chad Hickox during its Wednesday meeting.

Hickox, who served as the acting president since March, succeeds the late Derek Brandes at president. Hickox’s contract will run through June 30, 2022, with an annual salary of $201,630.

“In this rapidly changing environment, Dr. Hickox has proven he is a trusted leader who is well-qualified and ready to lead through these unprecedented times,” board chairman Tim Burt said. “The board heard from members of the faculty, staff, and students, as well as members of the communities the college serves, who supported the selection of Dr. Hickox and asked that the trustees consider his immediate appointment rather than engage in a lengthy, costly search process.”

During the meeting, the board also approved a motion to compensate Hickox at the presidential salary for the time he spent as acting president.

“I’m honored and grateful for the opportunity to serve the college in this way,” Hickox said shortly after the board approved his contract.

Hickox joined WWCC in 2018 as the vice president of instruction and later became the executive vice president and provost.

Before that, Hickox was the chief academic officer at Helena College in Montana. He’s also worked at South Seattle College and was a tenured philosophy instructor at Macomb Community College in Michigan.

Hickox has 24 years of experience in higher education, 22 of which have been at community colleges. He has a doctoral degree in philosophy from the University at Buffalo and an undergraduate degree from the College of Idaho.

Burt said Hickox will face a “tough year” ahead as the college faces more financial changes because of the COVID-19 pandemic after it already cut $2.5 million out of the current fiscal year budget. Reducations totaling about $3.2 million will be needed in the coming fiscal year.

Washington’s collection of tax revenue was affected by the coronavirus, which will likely lead to a reduction in the state allocation WWCC receives. The state’s Office of Financial Management has instructed the college to plan for around a 15 percent reduction in state resources.

“When the state takes money away from our base allocation, it can sometimes take a long time for that money to be restored,” Hickox said. “It took nearly a decade for us to return to pre-recession levels after the 2008-09 start of the recession. We are seriously looking at resizing the college for our projected future.”

WWCC will continue to scrutinize vacant positions, and leave some unfilled, if possible, but Hickox said more layoffs or reductions of positions will likely be needed.

Enrollment has also been affected by the pandemic. WWCC’s student numbers are down by about 25 percent from this time last year, according to Nick Velluzzi, the college’s vice president of enrollment services and institutional effectiveness.

In other board news, administrators announced that WWCC’s campuses will soon be welcoming back a small number of students enrolled in programs focused on essential sectors.

To do so, the college had to meet 26 requirements. The programs require a certain amount of lab days in order for students to complete the spring quarter, which will end June 12.

Clarkston’s campus will bring in about 30 students in its industrial mechanics and welding programs as soon as today, while the Walla Walla campus will welcome back about 60 students in four programs by next week.

Chad Miltenberger, the dean of the Clarkston branch, said staff was on campus this week to move equipment so that social distancing guidelines can be followed.

Given the coronavirus-related end of in-person classes this year, multiple programs will extend beyond the end of the quarter so students can finish their lab-based work.

The college’s graduation ceremonies have been pushed back to June 28 and will now happen in a virtual format. In-person commencement ceremonies were originally scheduled for June 12 in Clarkston and June 13 in Walla Walla.

Tomtas may be contacted at jtomtas@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.

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