Berkeley City College is looking for a new president to lead the school through a period of budget cuts and increase enrollment, which still has not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.

The field has narrowed to three finalists. Denise Richardson, who was appointed interim president of the community college in July, is vying for the permanent post against John al-Amin, chief financial officer at City College of San Francisco, and Rafe Trickey, Jr., who runs an education nonprofit in San Diego county and is the former president of two tribal colleges. 

At a candidate forum Wednesday, the three candidates presented their visions for the community college, which boasts historically high transfer rates to UC Berkeley.

On Friday, the three candidates will participate in another interview with Jannett Jackson, interim chancellor of the Peralta community college district. Jackson will make a recommendation to the board of trustees, who will vote on the appointment Oct. 24, though the date is subject to change.

Denise Richardson

Headshot of a woman in a blazer
Denise Richardson. Courtesy: BCC

Richardson was named interim president after former BCC president Angélica Garcia left for Santa Rosa Junior College this summer.

She has worked at Peralta Community College District for 20 years, beginning in 2001 teaching political science, and most recently worked as the vice president of instruction at Merritt College. Her daughter also attended Berkeley City College before transferring to UC Berkeley. Richardson holds a doctorate in education.

Richardson said she aims to fulfill the ambitious goals outlined in Berkeley City College’s master plan, including doubling enrollment and closing gaps in academic outcomes for students of different ethnic groups.

“BCC is perfectly poised to lead the nation in closing equity gaps among underrepresented students,” Richardson said. “My vision for success is leveraging our individual and collective skills closing the ethnic gaps through relentless focus and collaboration.”

The number of full-time equivalent students at BCC declined substantially during the pandemic, like at many community colleges across the state, falling from 1,600 in fall 2019 to 1,243 in fall 2021. (One full-time equivalent student is a measure used by colleges that is equivalent to a student taking a full class load.) That number has ticked upward since. This fall, there were 1,466 full-time equivalent students.

To increase enrollment at the community college, Richardson said she planned to use her background in marketing to appeal to specific student groups, like high school students who can dual enroll at BCC, foster youth and students who were formerly incarcerated. 

“This is still too well kept a secret,” Richardson said.

John al-Amin

A headshot of a man in a suit
John al-Amin. Courtesy: John al-Amin

Al-Amin is no stranger to operating under tight budget constraints. The City College of San Francisco, where al-Amin currently heads the finances department, has had a structural deficit for years, resulting in deficit spending of over $65 million since 2017-18. Before that, in 2018, al-Amin was the chief budget officer at Contra Costa Unified School District, where he aimed to address deficit spending. The district faced $30 million in budget cuts.

“The first strategy when you have to find budgets is to look at where and how we’re spending our resources,” al-Amin said, adding that he would also raise money through grants. “Looking at where we can find efficiencies in our purchasing, looking at where we can also utilize the one-time funding. It’s also being strategic about … maximizing our use of all available funds.”

Al-Amin attended community college himself, eventually earning his doctorate. He has worked in education for nearly 30 years. To attract and retain students, al-Amin said it was important to develop partnerships within industries that are looking to hire and provide student intervention services, calling mental health and student safety some of the biggest issues facing community colleges.

“Community colleges throughout the country are experiencing enrollment declines, so we have to be very strategic with what we provide to retain students,” al-Amin said. 

Rafe Trickey, Jr

A man in a tweed suit grins at the camera for a portrait
Rafe Trickey, Jr. Courtesy: BCC

Trickey, who was a first-generation community college student, said he will build on his “360 perspective” in the community college system to lead Berkeley City College. Trickey’s children also attended community college. 

He promised to be a champion for student mental health and work to bring in additional funding through outside grants and major gifts. To close gaps in academic success, Trickey said he would use data to target specific students, citing a project that used internships to help get Latino male students to graduate high school.

“That’s my orientation, is to make decisions based on data and make decisions collaboratively … to address those gaps or members of the population who are falling through the cracks.”

Trickey said he would like to see California allocate more money to community colleges and to redistribute money from high-level administrators to faculty and staff.

Featured photo: Tracey Taylor

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Ally Markovich, who covers the school beat for Berkeleyside, is a former high school English teacher. Her work has appeared in The Oaklandside, The New York Times, Huffington Post and Washington Post,...