Affable Steven Ender takes the lead at GRCC


    Grand Rapids Community College will again seek voter approval for a millage, the new president said. But GRCC trustees won’t turn to the ballot until President Steven C. Ender can tell them he is satisfied that every possible measure has been taken to streamline spending — and pay scale is on the table, he said.

    “Then I can go to the voters of Kent County and say we have taken advantage of every cost-effective vehicle at our disposal and we have reached that point where, to maintain the level of services and quality of services, we need at least one leg of this stool, beyond tuition, to help us from our revenue stream perspective,” Ender said.

    “Does that mean we cut people’s salaries? No. We’d probably freeze them in place until the number of years on the quartiles would begin to catch up with what they’re making. But this whole notion of restructuring, resetting, is something we have to take seriously here at the college.”

    Ender is the affable new leader of West Michigan’s largest community college, a down-to-earth cigar-smoker who lives in the city and admits to sharing a bed not only with his wife, Karen, but with his dog, a boxer named Molly.

    GRCC trustees in the spring picked Ender, who had been president of Westmoreland County Community College near Pittsburgh since 2005, to replace Juan Olivarez, who became CEO of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.

    At almost the same time, Ender’s identical twin brother, Kenneth Ender, was chosen as president of Harper College, a community college in the Chicago suburb of Palatine, leaving behind a post in New Jersey.

    And wouldn’t you know it? At 1 p.m. Oct. 24, the GRCC Raiders are scheduled to host the Harper Hawks on the gridiron at the newly renovated Houseman Field in Grand Rapids. Oddly, both football teams also have new head coaches this fall, in addition to the mirror images in the executive suites.

    “A wager has been discussed, but hasn’t been finalized,” Ender revealed. “I can guarantee there’s a box of cigars in there as a piece of that.”

    But before the unique rivalry kicks off, Ender is looking at a third-and-long situation in the GRCC budget.

    Grand Rapids Community College
    Title: President
    Age: 59
    Birthplace: Richmond, Va.
    Residence: Grand Rapids
    Family: Wife, Karen; two adult children, Joanna, of Pittsburgh, and Mason, of Denver.
    Business/community organizations: Manufacturers Council.
    Biggest career break: Becoming chief of staff to the president of Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

    Money from the economic stimulus package, enacted by Congress this year as the recession settled in, is expected to mitigate immediate state budget cuts, Ender said. But by the time the state’s 2011 fiscal year begins in October 2010, GRCC is expecting to see 10 percent to 20 percent fewer dollars from Lansing, a cut of $1.7 million to $3.4 million, he said.

    “We can’t balance the budget by increasing tuition, because we’ll price ourselves out of our marketplace,” he said. “So I would hope that we can continue to have the type of modest tuition increases that we had this year, which was 2 percent.

    “Now, how are we going to do all that? We do have to look at our structure. We have to look at our salary structure for administrators, for our faculty, and we have to look at competitiveness and where are we on the competitiveness metric?”

    Ender said he would like to hire experts to review pay for administrators and faculty at the college, which he said boasts an excellent staff and is a terrific place to work.

    “I happen to believe, coming in from the perspective of western Pennsylvania for the last 25 years … that we have a salary structure that does not have to be as high as it is to be competitive for excellent talent.

    “Now, if you can prove me wrong, please do. We’ll let the data tell us what to do.”

    Ender grew up in Richmond, Va., with his twin and two younger siblings, Peg and David. He is the son of the late Bob Ender, a U.S. Navy veteran who worked in computers, and Gloria, a homemaker who still lives in the commonwealth.

    “I’m a first-generation college student. I come from a modest, middle-class family,” he said. “But they valued education.”

    It took a while for Ender to come around, though. Despite having become an Eagle Scout, he described himself as a “gentleman’s C” student until his junior year of college at Virginia Commonwealth University, when a seminar instructor took him to the woodshed, telling him that “I could be anything I want to be, but I was too damn lazy and I would never be anything,” he said, laughing. “That guy got me going. I mean, he really challenged me.”

    After obtaining his bachelor’s degree in business management, Ender studied and taught counseling, human development and leadership, earning master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Georgia and teaching at Indiana University of Pennsylvania for 22 years.

    Ender was tapped for administrative roles at IUP, eventually becoming chief of staff for a new president — who encouraged him to find his own college presidency.

    “For the next two years, she went about kicking me out of the nest,” he said. “I think, even though it was late in my career, in some ways it was the start of a brand-new career for me, this leadership role that I’m in now.”

    He also credits his brother, Ken. “He pulled me into community colleges,” Ender said. “He told me for years I needed to get out of four-years and take a look at the community college. I appreciate the fact that he encouraged me.”

    Ender led WCCC from 2005 until February. One of his initiatives was to establish a program that paid for GED tests for qualifying students. His mother, he said, holds a GED.

    During his tenure there, he also oversaw construction, added faculty, obtained grants and developed a four-year strategic plan.

    “I feel like I could have gone in a whole other direction and been very successful in the business world,” Ender mused, noting that his undergraduate degree has proved beneficial in higher education administration.

    “I’m an entrepreneur, and I love to solve problems. I’m focused on the bottom line and return on investment.”

    While at WCCC, Ender said, he readily accepted a slew of appointments to outside boards. But here in Grand Rapids, he intends to be more cautious about those commitments in order to devote time to GRCC’s pressing needs, including the renovation of the recently purchased Davenport University campus and an upcoming major fundraising campaign.

    “We are going to be kicking off a large capital campaign to help do a lot of renovation work and I’ll be spending a lot of time in the next year to two years trying to raise the dollars to get Davenport where we want it, get Cook Hall completely renovated, to get our old Main Building completely renovated.

    “Rather than build a new building, we’re going to take what we have and we’re going to bring it up to state of the art,” he added. “And we’ll save money in the process for the college and for the state.

    “Of course, I’m also going to be asking a lot of friends to help us do this. And I don’t have any problem making that pitch. I really believe in our work.”

    In the meantime, there is the matter of a certain football game this fall.

    “They are an impressive group of young men,” Ender said of the Raiders.

    “I was very pleased with what this new coach (former Muskegon High School Coach Tony Annese) is doing. I don’t care if they win or lose, I just want to be proud of them.

    “But I would like to win.”

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