John Comerford, Ph.D., Selected as Otterbein University’s 21st President

Staff Report

Comerford brings a record of success in enrollment and financial growth to the position.

Westerville, OH— A college president with extensive experience in promoting access, affordability, diversity and career preparation has been selected as the 21st president of Otterbein University.

John Comerford, Ph.D., president of Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois, was selected after a months-long search that drew nearly 80 applicants from across the nation. He will take his post on July 1, 2018.

“We had a wealth of highly qualified candidates who applied for the position but John Comerford stood out from the start,” said Mark Thresher, chair of the Otterbein Board of Trustees and CFO of Nationwide. “His proven commitment to inclusion, innovation, access and affordability closely align with Otterbein’s values, while his experience promises to advance Otterbein in these areas and others.”

“I am honored and humbled to be joining the Otterbein University and Westerville communities. Otterbein is an innovative and inclusive institution that has combined its traditional commitment to the liberal arts with new and exciting academic and co-curricular offerings,” Comerford said. “I am moved by Otterbein’s history and commitment to ensuring higher education remains accessible and affordable, while maintaining academic excellence, no matter a student’s family financial situation. We need institutions that are willing to be leaders in this area.”

John Comerford, Ph.D., comes to Otterbein University with a record of commitment and advocacy for higher education and liberal arts colleges. He has served as president of Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois, since 2013, where he has been at the center of a number of innovative programs designed to enhance student access and learning.

Comerford is committed to providing access to affordable higher education while delivering excellence in academic, student life, and career preparation programs. Under his leadership, Blackburn College became one of just a handful of colleges in the country to meet the full financial need of all its incoming students, with a focus on providing a series of work experiences that will help students impress prospective employers after graduation. Blackburn is one of just a few colleges in the state of Illinois to show enrollment growth over the past five years.

In addition to growing the enrollment, Comerford has been committed to cultivating diversity on campus. Through building bridges and creating support programs, Blackburn increased the number of students of color on its campus from 12 percent to 24 percent in the past four years.

Comerford understands the role of fundraising in providing access and affordability, and spearheaded the most successful campaign in Blackburn history, raising $26.3 million to renovate three buildings and double the size of the endowment.

“Each member of our search committee was committed to finding the best fit for Otterbein. John Comerford impressed us with his record of success in expanding enrollment and diversity, while also growing the endowment,” said Cheryl Herbert, member of the Otterbein Board of Trustees and chair of the search committee.

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.

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.

He has been an active leader in professional and community associations. He is an active Rotary member and serves on the boards of the United Child Advocacy Network, Abraham Lincoln Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Carlinville Public Schools Foundation, Associated Colleges of Illinois, Federated Colleges of Illinois, and Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities.

Comerford’s wife, Rachel, also has a background in higher education, having served in several leadership roles in housing and residence life. The couple has three children, Garrett, 11, Reagan, 9, and Grant, 6.

Comerford was chosen to lead Otterbein following an eight-month nationwide search by a 12-person search committee in consultation with an expanded group of 10 campus representatives. The committee included representatives from all Otterbein constituencies, including trustees, students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni, as well as the Westerville community.

Comerford was introduced to the Otterbein and central Ohio communities at an announcement at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 24, in the Campus Center.

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Otterbein University is a private university nationally recognized for its intentional blending of liberal arts and professional studies through its renowned Integrative Studies curriculum and its commitments to experiential learning and community engagement. Otterbein recently launched Kindness Matters, an initiative in partnership with Kind Columbus at The Columbus Foundation, in its effort to cultivate and inspire kindness throughout the greater Columbus region. Otterbein is a recipient of the 2015 Carnegie Community Service Classification; a finalist for the 2014 President’s Award for Economic Opportunity Community Service; and has been honored With Distinction by the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll since the list’s inception in 2006. It stands in its category’s top 15 percent in U.S. News & World Report’s guide to “America’s Best Colleges.” It also is recognized in national rankings by Forbes and The Wall Street Journal. Otterbein offers more than 70 undergraduate majors; six master’s programs; and a doctorate in nursing practice (DNP). Its picturesque campus is perfectly situated in Westerville, Ohio, America’s fifth friendliest town (Forbes), just minutes from Columbus, the 14th largest city in the country. Otterbein’s commitment to opportunity started with its founding in 1847 as one of the nation’s first universities to welcome women and persons of color to its community of teachers and learners, which now numbers 2,400 undergraduate and 500 graduate students. Otterbein remains committed to its relationship with the United Methodist Church and its spirit of inclusion, and welcomes people of all backgrounds to Otterbein’s Model Community. To learn more about Otterbein, visit

Staff Report