This article is the first in a series looking into the rise and fall of former Georgia Perimeter College president Anthony Tricoli.
In 2006, Georgia Perimeter College (GPC) boasted 20,000 students, 389 faculty and six campuses.
That was before Anthony Tricoli became president of the institution, founded in 1958.
When the 33-year veteran of higher education was dismissed in May, the state’s largest two-year college had a roster of 27,000 students, more than 500 faculty members and one fewer campus.
The college also had a $16 million deficit.
“It’s a wonderful institution,” said Tricoli during an interview with The Champion late August. “It’s one of the best two-year colleges in the country.”
“I enjoyed every minute of the work…until the last month. I enjoyed all except the last two weeks.”
The last two weeks
The demise of Tricoli’s GPC tenure started with an April 30 email from Steve Wrigley to Henry Huckaby, chancellor of the University System of Georgia (USG).
“You need to look at this,” wrote Wrigley, USG’s executive vice chancellor for administration. “Shows last three years GPC ran deficits if I understand it.”
Two days later, Wrigley emailed the Board of Regents about the “significant financial shortfall.”
At first thought to be approximately $8 million, “It appears the shortfall could be around $16 million,” Wrigley wrote.
On May 7, Huckaby announced via email to GPC employees that a $16 million budget shortfall had been discovered at the college and that “in light of the need for a fresh approach, President Anthony Tricoli has stepped down.”
“I want to thank President Tricoli for his dedication to GPC’s students and his leadership,” Huckaby wrote, adding that Tricoli would be moved to the USG office to “assist with initiatives distance education, adult degree completion, and leaning support programs.”
Less than an hour after that announcement, Tricoli emailed the chancellor stating, “I never agreed to ‘step down.’”
“I did agree to accept your offer to move to the system office to assist you on several important initiatives,” he wrote. “I ask that you please retract the two words ‘step down’ as it is extremely detrimental to my career, and it does not reflect what we agreed [to], nor the facts.”
Three days later, Tricoli was informed in a letter from Huckaby that his contract for fiscal year 2013 was not renewed by the Board of Regents.
“Your employment with the University System of Georgia will, therefore, end on June 30, 2012,” Huckaby wrote. “Thank you for your service to the University System of Georgia.”
Many proud moments
Tricoli said there were several moments in his GPC tenure that were among his proudest.
“Early on, my proudest moment was working with the faculty, staff and administration on what could have been devastating”—the closure of the Lawrenceville campus, he said.
Tricoli said he helped to saved 350 jobs in 2007 when the Board of Regents closed GPC’s Lawrenceville campus.
The jobs were saved when the college “not only maintained enrollment when the 7,000-plus student campus closed, but [my] actions increased the [college’s overall] enrollment,” Tricoli said.
“So, while enrollment was expected to drop to 13,900; instead, it rose to 20,000 plus,” he said. “We were able to work together and come up with creative…solutions which resulted in an enrollment increase instead of decrease.
“There was no loss in revenue [and] not a single person lost their job,” Tricoli said. “[We did] what some people thought would be absolutely impossible.”
Tricoli said another highlight during his GPC years occurred when he “presided over the greatest increase in tenure-track faculty members in the college’s history.” The college hired approximately 125 new fulltime faculty in five years.
“Strengthening faculty ranks…is something that most presidents would love to do,” Tricoli said. The increase was possible because “we were fortunate to be able to keep our enrollment up.”
After forming a task force in 2008 to review the future of distance learning at the college, Tricoli said he “worked with the faculty to strengthen academic standards by online faculty and create new goals for the distance learning program.”
“Ultimately the college experienced its greatest growth—an explosion of growth—from online courses, which grew from 1,600 students enrolled online in 2006 to more than 10,000 students enrolled online in 2011,” Tricoli said.
“The focus on distance learning was really one that opened the doors to students,” Tricoli said.
Tricoli said he also created transferred admissions guarantees (TAG) with 50 four-year colleges and universities in Georgia and around the country “to allow for seamless transfer pathways for GPC’s graduates.”
“That was one of the most defining moments” for the college, Tricoli said. “It directly served our students.”
Tricoli was named president of GPC by the Board of Regents upon the recommendation of then-USG Chancellor Erroll B. Davis Jr. He took the helm of the college after former GPC president Jacquelyn Belcher retired in July 2005.
At the announcement of Tricoli’s hiring, then-USG Chief of Staff Rob Watts, who served as the institution’s interim president until Tricoli was hired, said, “Dr. Tricoli’s experience, leadership skills and track record in getting results make him a perfect match for Georgia Perimeter College. He is very attuned to diversity, developing partnerships and connecting with the community.”
Watts again is interim president of GPC.
Before arriving at GPC, Tricoli was the president of West Hills College from 2002-2006. The college was the flagship institution of the West Hills Community College District, which served the rural, Hispanic community of Coalinga, Calif. While Tricoli was there, West Hills College was honored by the MetLife Foundation as the most outstanding community college in the nation at serving disadvantaged students.
Tricoli was also in charge in 2005 when Campus Compact recognized West Hills with five “Best Practice Awards” in the categories of institutional culture, administrative and academic leadership, student voice, community-campus exchange and external resource allocations.
From 1997-2002, Tricoli worked in the Ventura Community College District as an associate vice chancellor and then executive vice president for student learning. He was a dean at San Joaquin Delta College from 1990-1997 and an assistant to the vice president for instruction and student services at Monterey Peninsula College where he worked from 1988-1990.
Tricoli earned his doctorate in college leadership and administration from Pepperdine University in 1984, a master of arts degree in education/counseling from the University of Redlands in 1979 and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Whittier College in 1978.
What others said
In a June 2007 letter obtained by The Champion, then-chancellor Davis thanked Tricoli for his “hard work and leadership during this past year.”
“Your efforts are especially critical during these challenging times as we continue our momentum toward excellence,” Davis wrote. “I appreciate all your fine efforts.”
In April 2009, in a letter informing Tricoli of his reappointment as president of GPC for the next year, Davis scribbled, “We all remain impressed with what you have done at GPC. Keep it up!”
A month later, the National Academic Advising Association, published an article by Tricoli titled “Reflections from a College President: When Access is Not Enough, or The Significance of Academic Advising.” The organization wrote to Davis stating, “Dr. Tricoli’s contribution indicates his commitment to providing quality of advising for the students at Georgia Perimeter as well as demonstrates his dedication to the academic success of all students in the University System of Georgia. We are very proud of Dr. Tricoli and know that you are as well.”
On May 10, 2011, Davis told Tricoli: “Your impact on GPC has been profound. Good luck on your expanded mission.”
Exactly one year later, Chancellor Huckaby informed Tricoli that his contract was not renewed.
A strong, marketable skillset
So what’s next for Tricoli?
Tricoli said he has “developed a skill set focused on strategy, problem resolution, team building, customer service and translating vision into action.”
Because these skills are transferable between education, business and health care, Tricoli said he envisions himself in a leadership role in one of these arenas.
In the meantime, Tricoli has developed his own consulting firm “focused on education, leadership training and organizational development locally and abroad.”