Champlain College has named educator Alex Hernandez, a dean at the University of Virginia, as its new president. Hernandez will start his position in Burlington on June 6.
Hernandez is dean of the UVA’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and its vice provost of online learning, positions he has held since 2018. He earned an MBA and an MA in education from Stanford University and worked in the financial world before entering education with a job teaching math in Los Angeles, according to his biography.
He worked as an administrator for Portland Public Schools in Oregon and as an area superintendent for a public school district in California. That makes him a good fit for Champlain, which focuses on training that enables students to go immediately to work, David Finney, the college's interim president, said on Friday.
“He’s got all kinds of ideas about tailoring solutions for companies that are in Vermont that struggle to attract talent,” Finney said.
Champlain's president, Benjamin Ola Akande, resigned last spring after less than a year on the job to take a corporate position. Finney, who served as president of the college between 2005 and 2014, became the interim leader on June 1.
A private school in Burlington next to the University of Vermont, Champlain College advertises a “radically pragmatic” education, adapting to the business environment by creating new academic programs and dropping old ones, sometimes each year.
In its 2030 strategic plan, the college describes itself as a supportive learning community that focuses on the future and hands-on experiences.
The college has about 2,000 residential undergraduates, and another 2,500 studying through its online programs. The strategic plan doesn’t include expansion of the residential student body; Finney said the campus was built to accommodate around the number it has now. But it does include enrollment growth for the online programs.
Champlain’s endowment was just $72 million at the end of the last fiscal year, in June — a small number by the standards of regional liberal arts colleges.
Champlain has been making a name for itself regionally in computer-related fields such as game design and cybersecurity. In November, Champlain’s online adult education program introduced a fully online master’s of science degree in information technology.
“We’re really focused on doing what we can to support what we think is a real economic growth story going on up here in Vermont,” Finney said. “Lots of small companies with really ambitious plans for growth are hiring our graduates, and we can do a lot to help them, both with students coming out of traditional programs and with online courses. “
After announcing Hernandez’ hiring Thursday, Champlain College referred questions to a public relations firm that released a statement from the incoming president.
“Champlain College has a rock solid core, a long and revered history of career-forward education, and an inspiring vision for the future guided by the Champlain 2030 strategic plan,” Hernandez said in the statement. “Champlain’s mission resonates strongly with me both personally and professionally, and I’m excited to work with the community to build on its success and momentum.”
The statement said Hernandez plans to move to Burlington with his wife next summer.
Champlain, founded in 1878, also has campuses in Montréal and in Dublin, Ireland. It offers more than 90 degree programs and certificates, according to the college.
Like many institutions, Champlain College has seen high turnover in its top job. Finney was followed in 2014 by Donald J. Laackman, who served until 2019, and then by interim president Laurie Quinn, who served until Akande was hired in 2020. The average tenure for a college president was six and a half years in 2017, down from seven years in 2011, according to the American Council on Education.
“I’d like [Hernandez] to accomplish the things that are in the [strategic] plan and stay 10 years and fall in love with Vermont and stay at Champlain and have a great experience,” Finney said. I think there is a way better than 50-50 chance that will happen.”