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Profile: Community College President Ending Lengthy, Distinguished Career

After three decades at County College of Morris, Edward J. Yaw is certain of at least one thing -- he’ll keep on running

edward j. yaw
Edward J. Yaw

Who he is: Edward J. Yaw

Age: 73

Home: Morris Township

What he does: President of County College of Morris since 1986, retiring August 31, when his current three-year contract ends. Yaw notified the college board of his decision in May 2015. “I wanted to make sure they had sufficient notice to begin their search," he said.

Claim to fame: Yaw is easily the longest-serving president of New Jersey’s 19 community college presidents, according to the New Jersey Council of County Colleges. His closest rival, Passaic County Community College President Stephen Rose, became acting president in 1996 and president in 1997.

Where he’s coming from: A native of Potsdam, NY, Yaw received an Ed.D from Columbia University, an M.S. from Southern Illinois University, and a B.A. from Harpur College, at the State University of New York at Binghamton.

How he got here: Yaw was dean of academic affairs at Adelphi University in New York before being hired at County College of Morris in 1980 as director of academic affairs. Six years later, he was named the second president in the college's history.

"When I first came to the college, I thought I'd be here three or four years and move on. It didn't work out that way. I'm very glad it didn't," Yaw said.

Community colleges then and now: "What's primarily different is what's going on a statewide basis," Yaw said. In 1986, he explained, community colleges in New Jersey were overseen by a department of higher education that, eight years later, was abolished by the state Legislature at Gov. Christie Whitman's request.

New Jersey presidents council: About 15 years ago, Yaw served as president of the council, which, along with the secretary of higher education, plays a key role in setting policies. The council represents presidents of all public and private, two-year and four-year colleges and universities in New Jersey.

Yaw said community colleges today have more leeway setting tuition rates and establishing programs.

"We like to refer to the new system as a system of coordinated autonomy," Yaw said.

Biggest challenge facing community colleges: “Enrollment,” Yaw said. "More and more, we've been catering to students coming out of high school. We're facing a declining market," he said, adding that colleges need to draw additional adult learners.

Should community colleges offer four-year degrees: Yaw attended Monday's meeting of the presidents council and supported a proposal, defeated by one vote, that would have allowed four-year nursing programs at community colleges.

"At least for now, I don't see a great need,” Yaw said, noting that County College of Morris has academic partnerships in place with Saint Elizabeth, Ramapo College and Rutgers University.

What you didn’t know about him: Yaw began running competitively in his mid-60s. In 2010, he finished five half-marathons in the five boroughs of New York City.

"I still try to run a couple of times a week when I can, but this weather slows me down,” Yaw said.

What's next: “I will be doing something,” Yaw said, but he’s not sure what. He said he and his wife, the violinist Karen Milne, who’s performing in ‘The Phantom of the Opera,” expect to remain in the area.

Rob Jennings is a journalist covering politics and government in New Jersey.

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