Dr. John Comerford joined Otterbein University as the president in 2018 with a record of commitment and advocacy for higher education and liberal arts colleges.
Believing that higher education is the “great equalizer,” he has focused on access and affordability. He helped establish a scholarship that covers full tuition for Ohio students from families of financial need. The Dual Admission Program, a partnership with Columbus State Community College, provides one of the most affordable degree programs in the state of Ohio. Now enrolling the most diverse classes in University history, Otterbein’s first-year class has grown from 12% to 35% students of color.
To build the student pipeline and workforce of the future, the university is partnering with area companies, Columbus State Community College, Columbus City Schools, and other Ohio community colleges and regional school districts. His work in creating the Otterbein Advantage Partnership provides expanded experiential learning and internship opportunities for students and brings industry experts into Otterbein classrooms and labs while also providing partnering company employees, their spouses/partners, and dependent children a scholarship that makes a private university education available for the cost of a public university.
Most recently, Dr. Comerford led the effort for Otterbein University, together with Antioch University, to found the Coalition for the Common Good, the first-of-its-kind, national, private university system built around improving equity in education to shape a better society for all through expanding graduate programs, workforce development, and degree completion, among other opportunities to serve learners and industry partners alike. Dr. Comerford was named president of the new coalition in August of 2023. His commitment to redefine the future of higher education puts the power of education to work for the common good and ensures that collaboration, not competition, is a better model to grow an educated citizenry, vibrant communities, and a thriving democracy.
His leadership rallied Otterbein’s response to the global pandemic. Otterbein’s Point produced Personal Protective Equipment for community first responders and healthcare workers and the University created a new winter mini-semester to keep students on track. The “For the Love of Otterbein” fundraising campaign expanded student emergency funds, provided critical institutional support, and produced an innovation fund.
Continuing its commitment to equality and social justice, Otterbein was selected by the Association of American Colleges and Universities in 2020 to be the site of the first Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Center in Ohio. Otterbein’s TRHT Center is focused on understanding inequities specific to our local educational systems, in both K-12 and higher education. Additionally, he was one of 100 higher education leaders invited to attend the Global Forum on Academic Freedom, Institutional Autonomy, and the Future of Democracy in Strasbourg, France, in 2019.
His work in guiding new strategic priorities will further define the University’s future including economic development projects like The Point 2.0 alongside academic innovations like “Every Student Will,” a four-year comprehensive program ensuring every student receives professional mentoring, immersive experiences, and a custom career plan before graduating.
Prior to join Otterbein, he served as president of Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois, from 2013 – 2018, where he was at the center of a number of innovative programs designed to enhance student access and learning.
He previously served at Westminster College in Missouri from 2005 to 2013 as vice president for student life and vice president for institutional advancement. He also has held positions at Missouri Western State College and Ball State University. He has taught leadership, education, and law courses at several institutions.
The native of Kenosha, Wisconsin, Comerford completed his doctorate degree in higher education administration with an emphasis in law at the University of Kansas. He also holds a master’s degree in college student personnel administration from the University of Central Missouri and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Western Illinois University. He has conducted research in areas from higher education law to college student culture.
Dr. Comerford serves as a board member for the Council of Independent Colleges, Association of Independent Colleges & Universities of Ohio, Educational & Institutional Insurance Administrators, Ohio Foundation of Independent Colleges, Columbus Council on World Affairs, Westerville Area Resource Ministry, Westerville Chamber of Commerce and Delaware County Finance Authority. As the father of three, he also spends time driving his children around to their many activities—Boy Scouts, Cheer, 4H, soccer, and church activities.