College Presidents’ Series
Dr. Mildred Garcia: President, Berkeley College
The answer is “Las Ganas”—the question can be about anything related to success in education, whether the question is directed at administrators, students or employers. For Dr. Mildred Garcia, the firmly focused, impassioned, Brooklyn-born president of Berkeley College, having will power and determination is the single most important quality anyone can have and one that she hopes her institution, now in its 76th year, with seven locations in the New Jersey-New York area, will instill in each of its students. In her own case, her parents—especially her mother, widowed when “Millie” was 12 but who lived to attend her daughter’s inauguration—believed that the best inheritance they could leave their seven children was a solid education. But, of course, they gave Mildred Garcia much more, to judge from her numerous professional activities and impassioned words of commitment. They inspired her to serve, to want to be “transformative” in the lives of those who come from lower-income and largely minority populations and to be involved, compassionate and honest. President Garcia knows how to say no, though she couples her response with reasons and is open to dialogue.
Dr. Garcia, whose Ed.D. is from Teachers College, Columbia University, and who holds a B.S. from Baruch College, with a major in business education, has tried over the five years she has been at the helm, to adhere to the Berkeley mission—“to prepare students to be global citizens and successful in the workplace.” It’s not an easy charge, given the fact that the system of which she is president comprises 6 campuses—NYC, White Plains, an extension center in the city, and in NJ, West Paterson, Woodbridge and Paramus. And yet, she seems to be everywhere—visiting each campus, attending annual faculty and administration conferences and “staying in touch” with as many students as she can, even those beyond her own cultural studies majors.
Central to Berkeley curricula, where liberal arts requirements range from 33 percent in NYC to 50 percent in NJ, are internships, the result of solid associations with the business community. Sure, it’s nice to talk about love of learning but, realistically, Berkeley accepts students who want an education because they want a better life and then, it is hoped, Berkeley can “capture their imaginations” and inculcate them with a love of learning.
So what makes Berkeley different from other career-oriented, for-profit institutions? Dr. Garcia ticks off reasons with ease: the seriousness with which the college takes its academic responsibilities, noted particularly in the number of faculty coming from traditional institutions (though the president wishes she could attract more minority Ph.D.s., especially in specialized fields such as accounting (a nation–wide concern); full accreditation by Middle States, both in NJ and NY; a recently instituted and well received First Year Experience, which acclimates students to college and prepares them for the social and well as academic skills they must master in order to succeed; and a close and continuing relationship with leaders in the business community who review and recommend curricula. This connection, represented by a business advisory council for each Berkeley major, particularly its most popular—and award winning programs in fashion marketing and management and interior design—has proved crucial. For example, Dr. Garcia notes, at a meeting of the fashion marketing/management council it was pointed out that the college was focusing almost exclusively on women, who make up 71 percent of Berkeley’s 5,000 member enrollment. The result of the meeting was the creation of a men’s fashion program—not just a course—and instructions to Berkeley’s more than 20 career counselors, who manage to place approximately 90 percent of graduates within 90 days—to follow through.
Though public perceptions, myths actually, about the lesser value of career institutions, plague her, Dr. Garcia is proud to note that at Berkeley no one ethnic or minor group is in the majority and that the college has an international studies component. Despite the failure of some inner-city K-12 schools to make a difference and the subsequent failure of some career schools to provide quality education and respect for their students, Dr. Mildred Garcia personally and professionally can attest to the importance of strategic planning and high expectations. This fall, Berkeley will add a Newark campus to its system. Clearly, they’re doing something right.#