Cincinnati State President
O’dell Moreno Owens

Panelist, “Driving Competitiveness
Through Collaboration”

O’dell Moreno Owens, M.D., MPH, one of the panelists for the “Driving Competitiveness Through Collaboration” segment, is president of Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.

In some respects his background is unusual for an American college president. An African-American of Mexican descent, he was raised in modest circumstances in Cincinnati. Though he was told by a ninth grade counselor that he was not college material and should plan on a vocational career, he was educated at Antioch College, Yale University, Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, and Harvard Medical School, where he trained as a specialist in Reproductive Endocrinology. Dr. Owens returned to Cincinnati in 1982 to establish a medical practice that produced the region’s first “test tube baby.” Two decades later – having served on the board of trustees of the University of Cincinnati and being named to a seat he still holds on the national board of directors of US Bank – ­he was elected coroner of the county that encompasses Cincinnati. He used that position to advance his career-long efforts to move young people away from drugs and violence and to appreciate the value of a good education. In August, 2010, midway through his second term as coroner, Dr. Owens was appointed president of Cincinnati State.

While his biography is not traditional, Dr. Owens represents a recent trend among college presidents. According to a recent survey by the American Council on Education, 20 percent of the 1,600 college and university presidents surveyed came to the job from outside academia. In 2007, the percentage in a similar survey was just 13 percent.

At Cincinnati State, Dr. Owens arrived during a period of unprecedented growth. The college had seen its enrollment climb from about 8,000 in 2008 to more than 11,000 during the throes of the economic recession. Over the past year it has leveled at approximately 10,600, and in the 2012 Fall Semester enrollment showed a slight increase over the prior year ­ – making Cincinnati State one of only two colleges in Ohio that switched to semesters this fall without losing enrollment, according to a Dayton Daily News survey.

In addition to increasing enrollment and maintaining Cincinnati State’s financial standing, Dr. Owens has been charged by the Cincinnati State Board of Trustees with strengthening the college’s ties to the community and its employers. To that end, during his tenure the college has:

  • Opened a new campus at Middletown, through a public-private partnership that did not require the expenditure of the college’s capital funds and which is doubling as a downtown stimulus project in a strategically important location.
  • Established a community-controlled scholarship using new funds donated to the college in memory of the late civil rights leader Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.
  • Earned a $19.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to expand a workforce training program rooted in the college’s partnership with major health care providers in the region. Cincinnati State is the lead partner on the grant, which is designed to not only expand the program in Greater Cincinnati but also spread the concept to eight other community colleges across the country.
  • Started a charter community high school on Cincinnati State’s campus – one of only two in Ohio with a campus location.
  • Begun attaching college credit to workforce training certificates earned by participants at the college’s Workforce Development Center.
  • Partnered with non-profit organizations and other institutions to offer Cincinnati State coursework and job readiness training throughout the region.
  • Launched accelerated degree programs, starting with the Business Division.
  • Embraced a student success/retention strategy that seeks to expand participation by military veterans, international students and members of Greater Cincinnati’s growing Hispanic community.

Cincinnati State’s workforce training efforts have won the attention of President Obama’s administration, as well as praise from Ohio Gov. John Kasich. U. S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has twice visited the campus, and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Dr. Jill Biden included Cincinnati State on their “Community College to Career” bus tour earlier this year.

Though he assumed the presidency at a time of perilous state funding support for higher education, Dr. Owens has ordered his administrative team to avoid complaining about a lack of financial resources.

“We are not going to whine,” he has repeatedly told the Cincinnati State community. “We’re going to figure out ways to get the job done. Period.”