Friedman's field: The man who never left community college

Frank Friedman has been in community college for 33 years. The good news? He did get several degrees beyond an associate's, and a pretty sweet job as president of Piedmont Virginia Community College.

Friedman dispels a common misperception: "That all community colleges are grade 13, an extension of high school," he says. "Or that the only people who go to community college can't go any place else."

Instead, he's convinced, "We're in the golden age of community colleges."

And he touts PVCC as the best higher-ed deal around. Students can get a two-year degree at PVCC for around $3,000 a year and then transfer to a state four-year college.

"When you earn your diploma and put it on the wall," says Friedman, "it will say UVA or Virginia Tech, the same as anyone else who went there."

Friedman got his first taste of community college at Vincennes University in Indiana, which, despite the "university" in its moniker, is a community college.

He wanted to teach psychology at the college level, but Friedman learned something else at Vincennes. "I'm an individual who doesn't like to complain," he explains. "I like to solve things."

It was that skill on the college senate that led to a dean asking him to take on an administrative project, and his fate in community college was pretty much sealed.

Friedman came here in 1999 from Austin Community College, a massive 30,000-student, multiple-campus facility. Piedmont, at 5,500 students, feels just right to Friedman.

"It's large enough to have resources, small enough to get to know everyone," he says.

He prides himself on his accessibility. "Students email me all the time," he says. "They know they can just walk in my office." A lot of students know him as a coach for youth baseball from when his son was on the team, and from the community, because Friedman is not in an ivory tower kind of guy and he believes it's crucial to take the college to the community–- and the community to the college.

"The community college needs to understand its community," he says. "It's important for me to be out and understand economic development needs, workforce needs, and educational needs."

And Friedman smacks down any suggestion that PVCC is a poor relation to Virginia's flagship university. "You have to recognize UVA and PVCC are partners," he says. "We're not in competition. We live in a community with one of the great universities in the world. That's a plus, not a minus."

Over the past few years, strapped state government has left both institutions with less funding than they desire. "It's not the constant cutting," says Friedman. "It's the uncertainty. It's the lack of predictability that causes us to become cautious about taking on new projects."

But this year, as the General Assembly struggled to come up with a budget, Friedman saw a propitious sign. "Back in November when the governor started talking about another round of cuts, he spared higher education," Friedman relates. "Governor McDonnell was saying the commonwealth needs to invest in higher education, and he recognized over the past decade, we have 'dis-invested'–- and he used that word."

During his tenure at PVCC, the college has two new buildings and 30 percent more students a semester.

"Our mission is to educate as many people as possible, to serve anyone who needs and wants an education," says Friedman. "It's very gratifying."

Frank Friedman is half of a high-powered couple. His wife, Sue Bell Friedman, is CEO of the regional Alzheimer's Association and a former county school board member. They're both really busy, and may only both be at home at the same time once or twice a week. On the night of his interview with a reporter, they've penciled in a UVA basketball game on their calendars.

The next day, it will be back to finessing the golden era of community college. "I am an ordinary person," beams Friedman, "who has an extraordinary job."

Age: 57
Why here? I moved to Charlottesville in 1999 from Austin, Texas, to become president of Piedmont Virginia Community College.
What's worst about living here? Winter weather the past few years.
Favorite hangout? Golf course
Most overrated virtue? Patience
People would be surprised to know: I was the soccer coach at Vincennes University in Indiana for two years. I also coached youth baseball and basketball here In Charlottesville.
What would you change about yourself? Bad knees
Proudest accomplishment? PVCC, which has changed thousands of lives by providing high quality, accessible higher education.
People find most annoying about you: I do not know; you should ask my wife.
Whom do you admire? Politicians who care more about the needs of the people than being reelected and celebrities who use their fame to raise money to help others.
Favorite book? Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
Subject that causes you to rant? Self-centered individuals who never consider the needs of others.
Biggest 21st-century thrill? My new smartphone
Biggest 21st-century creep out? Needing my new smartphone
What do you drive? Honda Civic
In your car CD player right now: Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, The Doors, Bob Dylan, a mix given to me by my son for Father's Day
Next journey? A beach vacation
Most trouble you’ve ever gotten in? In high school, I was arrested and spent several hours in jail for selling magazines door to door where prohibited.
Regret: None; I look forward not back.
Favorite comfort food: Pizza
Always in your refrigerator: Propel flavored water
Must-see TV: Sports
Describe a perfect day. Relax on a warm beach with family, play a round of golf, enjoy a great seafood dinner.
Walter Mitty fantasy: Play professional baseball or tennis.
Who’d play you in the movie? Woody Allen
Most embarrassing moment? In high school I was accused of cheating. It was not true, and the teacher recanted; but he embarrassed me in front of the class.
Best advice you ever got? Figure out what you love to do, and spend your time doing it.
Favorite bumper sticker? If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

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Very strange timing on this story! He prides himself on his accessibility???? As the parent of a student, he was NOT available to see me or my child this week or any week. Passed the inquiry off to someone else who has since passed it down 2 more times. I guess we will be able to see the janitor before it's all over and done with. Lisa, feel free to give him my name and phone number please. If he claims to be so accessible, I would still like an opportunity to run a major problem within PVCC by him.

Good Lord, Gasbag . . . not everything that happens on this planet is about you. Get a life. I have a child who attends PVCC, quite successfully, I might add. I would not think my child or I deserved an audience with Friedman unless the building we were all in was burning to the ground. Perhaps he's as successful at running a magnificent community college because he knows how to delegate responsibility. I feel certain had he felt his involvement in you or your child's issues warranted his participation, he would have been present. And unless your child is a minor, sometimes we have to turn the day-to-day running of their lives over to them and step to the sidelines. We all need to grow up eventually. Hint, hint --

Gasbag, If your college age student needs you interfering in her college education, you have done a dreadful job as a parent.

Sorry folks, my child was 17 during the school year involved, a minor.

And it's certainly not her fault PVCC lost records and therefore wrongfully penalized her when they assumed she had not taken the required curriculum and exams to enter the next phase of her career goals in life.

And Lynn, this is about me. After I have spent thousands of dollars and they lose or misplace her records. I'm sure it was an honest mistake somewhere along the line, but it seems as if nobody is willing to go retroactive and correct the error.

No, Gasbag, you still don't get it. It's about your daughter, HER education, HER future, HER life. Not YOU, regardless of how much money you've spent. However, if PVCC has misplaced or lost her records, I'm sure you or your daughter have transcripts, grades, emails, etc., etc., to document her participation. Unless there is something you're not reporting, I can't fathom that PVCC would in any way penalize a student.

Something I am not reporting? I don't think so. 150 students attempting to enter a program where there's only 50 openings. Your daughter ends up on the bottom of the list of 150 because PVCC loses your daughter's records and thinks your daughter did not complete the curriculum required for admission in the first place. How would you feel? And how would you feel if they refuse to go back, correct their mistake, and tell a few of the 50 that were accepted that a mistake was made and this few can not enter the program after all?

And no matter how you feel, it is just as much about me when I am footing the bills and a mistake is made on the behalf of PVCC. We'll just have to disagree whether this affects me or not. :)

ps - as I understand this event, it involved 25 students whose records were lost or misplaced. I am not the only angry parent. I will tell the other parents you feel it is none of their business as well. :)

Never said it wasn't your business. It is indeed. It's just not always about YOU. I, too, would intervene. But it's about your daughter.

Never said it wasn't your business. It is indeed. It's just not always about YOU. I, too, would intervene. But it's about your daughter.

Everything is about me. Cause I stick my nose in everything.

Now I think we can agree. :)

Dang it, just when I thought it was all about me. I wish you luck.

OK, thanks Lynn!

President Freidman is accessible, as mentioned this in this story. He just returned my call and we had a pleasant conversation.