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Education

Meet The New President of Austin Community College

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Dr. Richard Rhodes was named the lone finalist last night to become CEO and president of Austin Community College. The ACC Board of Trustees voted unanimously to approve Rhodes. He is currently the president of El Paso Community College.

Rhodes is expected to start work in late-August or early-September, and will almost instantly be thrust into the challenging situation of trying to balance ACC's record breaking enrollment growth with state cuts to higher education.

KUT News spoke to Dr. Rhodes this afternoon by telephone .

KUT News: Why do you want to be president of ACC?

Richard Rhodes: It's a great opportunity. It's a great institution, number one, with tremendous opportunity to provide a service to the community that is very necessary. Education is the key to economic development and the community college is the driver of economic development through education.

KUT News: You're already doing that in El Paso, so what draws you to Austin?

Rhodes: Austin is the heartbeat of Texas. Public policy is made in Austin. I hope to take some of what I've learned in El Paso and bring it with me to Austin to continue the dynamic growth and innovative practices that Austin already has in place.

KUT News: How do you intend to do that?

Rhodes: The first thing I would do is not assume I know everything. I need to go through a learning period to bring myself up to date with the culture and history of ACC, and also the community of Austin and all of its partners.

For the first period of time, it would be to make sure that I create relationships, that people know who I am, that I listen to what their needs are, that I can readily identify with each one of the campuses and understand how they fit into their particular community that they serve, and listen to students.

KUT News: Once you're done getting acquainted, do you have any ideas for how to improve ACC? It's a rapidly growing community college. It's trying to expand its taxing district to cover a larger portion of its service area. It's trying to raise student academic performance and close achievement gaps among student groups. All the meanwhile, the state is reducing funding for community colleges. How are you going to deal with those challenges?

Rhodes: The key thing is to maintain your focus on student success. Then, everything else comes fairly easily. If you're true and passionate about your mission on student success, then the relationships that need to come with K-12 partners, with university partners, with business and industry, with political leaders, once they see that you're moving the needle on student completion and allowing students to achieve their dreams, people buy into that vision.

It's true whether we're talking about voters in annexation areas, or whether we're talking about legislators or parents or students themselves. They buy into the vision if you show the passion and the focus on student success.

KUT News: How do you improve student success when the state funded portion of your budget is being cut? How do you do more with less?

Rhodes: That's always a tough question. Some of the things you have to do is look at how can you leverage resources between agencies. As an example, how do you leverage resources and still meet the needs of K-12 and community college; with university and community college; with business and industry [and community college]?

How can you leverage resources together and reduce the total cost of education but increase the value and the access?  It's working smarter, not necessarily harder at building relationships and looking for opportunities.

Every community college in the state right now, because of declining resources, has to look at tuition increases. We here at El Paso Community College had to raise tuition just like Austin Community College had to raise tuition. 

The pendulum swings from whether or not the public considers higher education to be a public good or a personal benefit. During weak economic times, the pendulum swings toward [it being] a personal benefit, and therefore the individual should pay more, and as a result tuition increases.

You can watch a public forum ACC held with Dr. Rhodes on the college's website.

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