Northern Virginia Community College president Robert Templin retires after 12 years
While serving as president of Northern Virginia Community College for the last 12 years, Templin dedicated himself to proving that anyone can be.
Templin, 67, retired from his post atop Virginia’s largest higher education institution Friday and counted his chief success as opening the doors to more students. NOVA has grown by more than 18,000 students since he came to the school in 2002.
When Templin graduated from high school in 1965, he did not see the doors to college as open to him. Even without the words of his school counselor, he had accepted that college was not in the cards.
“If you looked at my grades in high school, I was a rock-solid ‘C’ student,” Templin said. “And no one in my family had gone to college. I just wasn’t going.”
That fall, he drove his girlfriend to the local community college campus so she could register for classes. As Templin waited for her, an employee at the college tapped him on the shoulder and encouraged him to register as well.
“Next thing I know, I’m sitting in history class thinking, ‘Oh, I don’t belong here. Don’t they know I’m not college material?’” Templin said. “But taking that step made a huge difference.”
That same year, as Templin sat down to class at Harford Community College in Bel Air, Md., NOVA offered its first course to 761 students.
Thirty-seven years later, Templin would join a much larger NOVA as president. But his mindset stems back to his own very first college experience.
“Someone in the halls might be very scared to be here,” Templin said. “If someone doesn’t reach out and touch them, they’re going to get back in their car and go. We have to create an environment where we welcome people in and show people what we see in them that they can’t see in themselves.”
On Tuesday, after a farewell reception at NOVA’s Annandale campus, he still took time to wander through hallways and talk to students. In between chats, he recalled other students that have stood out to him: an African refugee who received a full scholarship to Georgetown, a homeless woman set to graduate this spring with a degree in computer science.
“They’re my heroes,” Templin said. “Each one has his or her own story. And in that story, education plays a really important role. I know that. They might not even know it yet, but I know it.”
After receiving an associate degree at Harford, Templin went on to Towson University. After graduating with his bachelor’s degree, he wrote a letter to the Harford college president asking for a reference. He got a job in the school’s administrative office instead.
Serendipity brought him to a career in education, but he never left. He received a master’s degree from Georgetown in 1972 and then a doctoral degree in higher education administration in 1976, just over a decade after stepping onto the Harford campus, and went on to spend most of his career as a college professor and administrator.
“I can relate to students who for any number of reasons think college wasn’t meant for them,” Templin said. “I know the transformative impact that a community college made on my life, and I think about that all the time.”
When Templin started at NOVA, he made it his mission to expand the school to keep up with Northern Virginia’s booming population.
Despite dealing with state cuts to higher education funding, Templin has helped the student body grow to more than 78,000 students across NOVA’s six campuses in Annandale, Alexandria, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, an increase of more than 18,000 students in his dozen years on the job.
Templin particularly focused on reaching out to low-income and minority populations and bolstering NOVA’s financial aid programs. Through his efforts, he more than doubled the number of Hispanic students; one-third of all Latino students in undergraduate education in Virginia are at NOVA.
In September, Templin announced his plans to retire, a decision he made after months of discussion with his family. He has spent the last five months laying out plans to help the school maintain its growth and financial stability and to keep his outreach efforts in place.
Still, though he is bidding NOVA farewell, he will not leave higher education entirely. He will work with the Aspen Institute to develop a leadership program for college presidents, and he will also work with his alma mater N.C. State to help redesign their higher education doctoral program.
Templin is not involved in NOVA’s ongoing search for his successor, saying he was ready to let go of the reins.
“Twelve years is a long time, and it’s time for new leadership and a new perspective to come in,” Templin said. “It’s time for a new chapter to be written.”
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