Ready to listen: New community college system president visits Craig | CraigDailyPress.com

Ready to listen: New community college system president visits Craig

Joe Garcia is president of the Colorado Community College System, which serves 137,000 students annually at 13 colleges and 39 locations in Colorado, including CNCC Craig and Rangely.

CRAIG — The new president of the Colorado Community College System roared into town Sunday on his Harley Davidson motorcycle.

A former lieutenant governor of Colorado, Joe Garcia began his work as the system’s new president July 1.

During his time as lieutenant governor, Garcia focused on increasing equity in outcomes for all students, particularly those from low-income backgrounds and communities of color, according to his biography on the CCCS website.

For nearly a decade, Garcia served as president at both a four-year and two-year institution. He was also executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

Prior to his role at CCCS, Garcia served two years as president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education — an interstate compact created to provide access to, and improve the quality of, higher education opportunities for residents of the western United States.

CCCS serves 137,000 students annually at 13 colleges and 39 locations in Colorado, including Colorado Northwestern Community College.

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Having lived in rural communities in Colorado, New Mexico, and Alaska — primarily as a child of a military family — and having led a community college, Garcia said he understands that smaller rural colleges "always felt a little bit overlooked."

It was his goal to begin his visits to CCCS locations with the smallest colleges and work his way up, but CNCC moved to the top of the list when members of the local board of control contacted him with concerns about a lack of clear vision for the college, college leadership, and growth.

"My main purpose is to listen, to hear what people have to say, both good and bad, about the college and system," he said.

When Garcia rolled into town Sunday, it wasn't his first visit. He said he had visited "many times, mainly back when I used to have time to go hunting."

He visited again while campaigning during his years as a politician, though he said he feels he could deepen his understanding of Northwest Colorado.

The Craig campus impressed Garcia, as did the community.

"It doesn't seem to be a depressed community, but one we could better serve, here at the campus, if we could identify the right programs," he said.

He noted the strength of the local Hispanic community.

"Some schools have really grown their enrollment by focusing on that population," he said, noting that CNCC, like many rural colleges, faces a number of challenges, including high costs without comparably high revenues.

"It's also a challenge," Garcia said, "when you don't have a large base of people in the community with degrees to teach as adjunct faculty, so you have to bring in full-time instructors, and that limits the flexibility of the college."

He said the lack of higher education also "impacts the ability of a community to diversify its economy."

His said his role is to support local decision making, not act as the president of each college. Yet he added he believes his professional "focus on equity — meaning not just upper-middle-class white people who go to college are succeeding (but also) low-income, communities of color, rural, low socioeconomic all have opportunity" — will well serve the colleges of CCCS.

After spending most of Monday talking one-on-one with college district board members, community leaders, staff, and students, Garcia prepared to motor to Rangely, where he planned to do more listening toward supporting CNCC, the students, and the communities it serves.

Of Craig, he said, "I have really enjoyed my time here and learned a lot and appreciated that people have been so open with ideas and concerns." 

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.