Front Range Community College’s new president is well aware of the mountains Colorado’s community colleges must climb to increase educational attainment and strengthen the state’s workforce.
Two weeks into her tenure, Colleen Simpson said she’s confident she made the right choice in moving to Colorado from Wisconsin, where she was vice president of student services at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.
Simpson said was impressed by Front Range’s commitment to student success during a three-day marathon interview in April as a finalist to replace retiring President Andy Dorsey.
“There was a level of care that they showed in ensuring that all of our students would be successful from the time they enrolled right up until they completed their credential,” Simpson said. “And you don't find that just anywhere.”
Front Range’s challenges are not unique in higher education, Simpson said, between declining enrollment, the need to diversify the student population and creating innovative academic programs on a shoestring budget.
Her plan to tackle those challenges is through data, a possible reorganization and a new push to make sure students, faculty and staff feel like they belong at Front Range.
Simpson describes herself as a data person, intent on understanding demographic, completion, success and community data in order to build structures and programs that lead to success.
Front Range’s demographics are shifting as it’s on the cusp of becoming a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a federal education designation that means at least 25% of students are Hispanic and which opens up additional grant funding.
“When that happens, we have to also ensure success for those students. There’s going to be a huge component that we have already started working on around creating a campus of inclusiveness,” she said.
Simpson also is going to dive into Front Range’s organizational structure to make sure it’s the best it can be for student success. The table for a reorganization was already set by Dorsey, Simpson said, and now she’s launching listening sessions at every campus and plans to spend at least one day a week at every campus for the rest of the academic year.
A sense of belonging among students, faculty and staff is also important for Front Range’s future, Simpson said, and the first step is to ask if people feel like they belong when they walk onto campus.
“Do you see things that allow you to culturally connect with our campus?” Simpson said.
Initially, Simpson is asking college staff to look at how “The Walk,” a long hallway that spans the entire length of the Westminster campus, can talk about the history, present and future of Front Range.
Simpson also wants to expand the community college’s relationships with local school districts and sees it as key to expanding post-secondary education attainment in Colorado.
“We need to build relationships, but it’s also more than just relationships,” she said. “It’s building experiences so that students can feel that, ‘I should go to college, college is something attainable,’ and those experiences should start from middle school.”
Simpson said she’s committed to Front Range for the long term.
“I knew from my last interview that this was the place for me because I believe in ensuring that communities that I live in remain viable and remain sustainable,” she said. “Front Range is on the cusp of that. We are a vehicle of transformation, that’s how I see our education. We are going to transform the lives of individuals who are actually living in our communities, and then they're staying in our community, so now we're supporting the economic development and vitality of our communities. That's what I want people to know about Front Range.”