Less than a year into the job, Heather Hiles says she will resign from her post as CEO of Calbright College, the name of California’s online community college.
Her last day will be March 31, according to a statement from Calbright board president Tom Epstein. Hiles will be on leave until that time. “The board will appoint an interim CEO until a permanent replacement can be hired,” he wrote.
Details about Hiles’ resignation were not shared. In an email, Calbright College’s director of communications Taylor Huckaby said that “the decision to resign was Heather’s and personal.”
Day-to-day operations are currently overseen by Calbright’s chief operating officer Derek Gordon, chief technology officer Ari Bader-Natal and chief finance and administrative officer Nicolas Schweizer, according to Huckaby.
Hiles became CEO of Calbright in February 2019, steering the effort to build an online-only community college focused on serving adult learners looking to further their careers. The initiative had strong support from former state governor Jerry Brown. Calbright, as it is now called, launched in October 2018 and currently serves about 450 students. It offers three job-training programs in medical coding, IT support and cybersecurity support.
Given Hiles’ short tenure, the resignation surprised many—including those who have raised concerns about Calbright.
The Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, a membership association of about 9,000 community college faculty across the state, issued its own statement wishing Hiles well but reiterating its outstanding concerns about the cost of Calbright. The effort received $100 million in startup funds to launch, and an additional $20 million earmarked in each subsequent year. Hiles’ base salary of $385,000 also attracted scrutiny.
Evan Hawkins, executive director of the FACCC, added that his group was concerned that Calbright would offer courses that were duplicative of those already offered by the state’s other 114 community colleges.
“When you look at the funding that went toward this college, you would think that there may be better uses,” says Hawkins. “Our existing community college system is underfunded. We have students who are homeless, who are food insecure, and faculty who can be described as that as well.”
Prior to becoming CEO of Calbright, Hiles was CEO of an education startup, Pathbrite, that offered digital portfolios where students could showcase their educational achievements. That company was acquired by Cengage in October 2015. Afterwards, she served as a deputy director at the Gates Foundation’s postsecondary team from October 2016 through 2017.