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Fellows Forum

Dr. Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, ‘15

Dr. Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, ‘15

President, Queens College of the City University of New York: New York, NY

Félix V. Matos Rodríguez took office as the 6th President of Hostos Community College (HCC) of The City University of New York (CUNY) on July 1, 2009. He has embraced CUNY’s and Hostos’ mission of providing a quality education to motivated students -- particularly those who come from backgrounds traditionally not well served by higher education -- who have the desire to transform their lives through a rigorous liberal arts and sciences education and through professional career programs.

The initiatives launched during his tenure at Hostos have significantly impacted the College’s student success rates. The fall-to-fall retention rate has increased from 57% to 68% -- the only time in the College’s history that it has had five consecutive years of increased retention. Furthermore, the graduation rate has increased from 22% to 28% during Dr. Matos Rodríguez’s tenure.

Based on feedback gathered during the Middle States self-study and the Foundations of Excellence (FOE) project, Dr. Matos Rodríguez established the innovative “Student Success Coach” program in the Fall 2012. The “coaches” – full-time, highly trained, student service professionals -- provide individualized attention to entering students and remain assigned to them until graduation or transfer. Hostos is the only CUNY college with such a program. Other student-success initiatives started as a result of the FOE process and include the launch of an early-warning system (2014) and a College Readiness and Success freshman seminar (Fall 2014).
Faculty research, professional development participation, and grant applications have increased during Dr. Matos Rodriguez’s tenure at Hostos. Grants and contracts funding has increased from $3,772,250 in 2009 to $5,348.620 in 2012. During this period, Hostos received the largest competitive grant in its history -- $7.5 million from HHS. NSF has funded two other projects, including an initiative to redesign some of our entry-level remedial math courses by using “gaming” techniques. Hostos’ leadership in pedagogy and teaching has been recognized by having one of our Digital Design faculty members named NY State Professor of the Year in 2012 by the Carnegie Endowment and CASE. Dr. Matos Rodríguez has also prioritized adjunct faculty training and integration into their academic departments and the life of the college.

Under Dr. Matos Rodríguez’s tenure, the number of new academic programs has increased in the College. Programs in Mathematics, Health Care Administration, as well as dual degrees in Environmental Engineering (City) and Nursing (Lehman) have started. The first Food Studies program in a community college in the US is currently being developed to submit to campus and CUNY governance. Dr. Matos Rodríguez also guided Hostos’ first Master Plan amendment process since 1984, resulting in plans for a state-of-the-art Natural Science and Allied Health research and training Complex. He also has helped to secure state, city and borough funding for the design phase of the project.

In Spring 2014, for the first time since the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence was instituted in 2010, Hostos was one of a selective group of community colleges invited to apply for the next phase of this competitive process. This is a clear indication of the increased national recognition Hostos has developed over the past five years. Dr. Matos Rodríguez has also succeeded at significantly increasing external fundraising efforts, almost doubling the amount collected (from $760,925 in 2008 to $1.5 M to date). HCC yearly fundraising totals --combining individual, corporate and foundation giving – have increased at least 10% every year under his tenure (which have coincided with the years of the financial downturn). Dr. Matos Rodríguez has increased the staffing of the Institutional Advancement Division and secured a $400,000 Ford Foundation grant (2013) to hire additional staff and begin a comprehensive campaign. HCC has also increased the number of first-time foundation and corporate funders, including the Ford Foundation, the NY Community Trust, the Ascend Fund, the Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation, Stavros Niarchos Foundation, and Citibank, among others.

Community partnerships have also been a key focus of Dr. Matos Rodríguez’s tenure at Hostos. He guided the creation of The Center for Bronx Non-Profits (CBNP), funded by JPMorgan Chase Foundation and The New York Community Trust, to provide capacity building and trainings to Bronx nonprofit managers and to their organizations. The Center is a partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). Examples of other innovative community partnerships include the launching of HERO High, a 9-14 P-Tech-type early college high school in collaboration with Montefiore Hospital and the NYC DOE, and partnering with established CBOs providers of GED exams under the Bronx Opportunity Network (BON) program. Dr. Matos Rodríguez has also supported Hostos’ artistic and cultural engagement in the Bronx, particularly through the Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture and the Hostos Repertory Theater. In 2013, Hostos was the only community college in the nation to participate in the renowned international Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Dr. Matos Rodríguez has also used his extensive regional and national networks and board memberships to advance the College’s visibility and recognition. Some examples of this include: the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the American Council on Education (ACE), the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), ACCU’s Liberal Education Editorial Advisory Board, the Century Foundation’s National Task Force to Recommend Ways to Strengthen Community Colleges, Phipps Houses, and FedCap. He also participated in the Harvard Seminar for New Presidents in 2009 and has been invited to be a presenter at that program since 2011.

Dr. Matos Rodríguez is also a respected educational leader among national and regional elected officials, as shown by his designation to the Transition Teams of NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. The US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has also singled him out for his leadership at Hostos. This past January, Dr. Matos Rodríguez was also invited to two White House summits, one on higher education (representing the HACU Board), and one on collaborations in serving the long-term unemployed.

Creating a culture of assessment, data-driven decisions, and financial accountability have also been a priority for Dr. Matos Rodríguez at Hostos. He guided the development of a comprehensive five-year strategic plan that was praised during the recent Middle States accreditation review, and that has served as a solid guide in HCC’s allocation of resources and advancement of a growth strategy. Hostos has also reached its enrollment and revenue targets during the past five years and has decreased the percentage of administrative costs from the overall budget for the past three years.

Dr. Matos Rodríguez has been a key and active contributor within the CUNY system by participating in multiple Council of Presidents’ Committees—including the Committees on Fiscal Affairs (Chair), External Relations, Facilities, and International Education, among others. He was also a member of the Chancellor’s Search Committee during this past year. He also facilitated Hostos’ support role in the implementation of CUNYfirst by assisting other CUNY campuses in the rollout process.

Prior to coming to Hostos Community College, Dr. Matos Rodríguez served in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico from 2005-2008. He was initially the Senior Health and Social Welfare Advisor for Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, supervising some 20 state agencies. In 2006, Dr. Matos Rodríguez was named Secretary of the Department of the Family serving until December 2008. As Secretary, he formulated public policy and administered service delivery in the following programs: Child Support Enforcement, Adoption and Foster Care, Child and Elderly Protection, SNAP (Food Stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Child Care, and Head Start. Managing an annual budget of $2.3 billion, Dr. Matos Rodríguez oversaw nearly 11,000 employees located in 104 regional offices. Among the most significant accomplishments of his service as Secretary were: (1) reduction in the child abuse caseload from 19,688 to 15,687 cases; (2) implementation of a new eligibility, administration and information platform (SAIC Web) for 1.1 million SNAP recipients; (3) development of first national integrated Child Abuse Prevention Plan; (4) launch of “Lee y Sueña” (Read and Dream) program which provided free books to over 50,000 parents of children (ages 0-5) to encourage parental bonding and early literacy; (5) establishment of three state-of-the-art Transdisciplinary Centers to treat sexual abuse cases; and, (6) development of special health care insurance program for foster care minors to facilitate their receiving prompt and quality health care services.

From 2000 to 2005, Dr. Matos Rodríguez was the Director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies (“Centro”) a CUNY-wide center at Hunter. Centro is one of the largest and most important Latino research centers in the United States with a base-annual budget of over $1 million and sixteen full- time positions which included researchers, archivists, librarians and support staff. Among Dr. Matos Rodríguez’s most important accomplishments at Centro were: hiring of new editor for Centro’s Journal and making the journal peer-reviewed; increased external funding to over $500,000 on average per year; receiving the 2002 Debra E. Bernhardt Award for Excellence in documenting New York’s history from the NY State Board of Regents; hosting the Puerto Rican Studies Association biennial conference; and developing a “Centro Policy Reports” series, among others.

Between 1994 and 2000, Dr. Matos Rodríguez was part of the History Department at Northeastern University where he taught courses on graduate and undergraduate courses on World, Latin American, Caribbean and Latino history. He was also a joint-faculty member in the Departments of International Affairs and African-American Studies, and the Women Studies and Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies (LACLS) programs. Dr. Matos Rodríguez also served as the Undergraduate Advisor for the History, International Affairs and LACLS programs, and as Interim Director of the Latino/a Student Center in 1997.

Before joining the faculty at Northeastern in 1994, Dr. Matos Rodríguez served as a Program Officer in the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), staffing the Committee on Public Policy Research on Contemporary Hispanic Issues. This program was primarily funded by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. The program provided dissertation scholarships, junior faculty research awards, and research and conference funds to scholars in disciplines like sociology, anthropology, demography, health sciences, demography, political science, and history for projects pertaining to Latinos and having public policy implications.

[As an Ascend Fellow] I look forward to exploring ways to improve the educational outcomes of college students who are parents.