New PPCC president Bolton in sync with business needs

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Dr. Lance Bolton is the new president of Pikes Peak Community College.

The position has sat vacant since September, when former president Tony Kinkel resigned unexpectedly.

Bolton will now oversee the second largest community college in the state, which offers 150 degree, career and technical programs through its four campuses.

This year, the college has enrolled more than 20,000 students, many of whom will enter the Colorado Springs work force upon graduation.

Bolton took some time to talk with the CSBJ this week.

How did you become involved in higher education, and why is it important to you?

My path to higher education leadership has been nontraditional. For nearly 10 years prior to moving to Colorado, I worked for the DuPont Corporation’s biotech business division called DuPont Qualicon as the North American Sales Manager and then Global Director of Research. Although I enjoyed the work, the travel demands took me away from my wife and two young children much too often.

An incurable idealist, I sought to be closer to and also know the people whose lives might be affected by my work. I also had a long-time ambition to return to academia. My father was a leader and teacher in community colleges for decades; I knew it was noble, important, life-changing work.

Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colo., hired me in 2006 as its president. I relinquished my position at DuPont, moved my family across the country from Delaware to Colorado, bought a farm and dove into my new career. For the next five years I led NJC; during that time our college enjoyed a tremendous amount of success in spite of the economic and state funding headwinds.

How are institutions of higher education and Pikes Peak Community College dealing with continual state budget cuts? How has it changed the way colleges operate?

The short answer; colleges statewide are balancing budgets by increasing tuition. Colorado’s universities, four-year colleges and community colleges all dramatically raised tuition rates throughout the past five years as state funding diminished. This unfortunately has transferred a much larger burden of college costs to students.

At PPCC, and throughout higher education, we recognize the overall funding challenges our state is facing. My hope is, over time, America and Colorado will recognize the public value of education. Educating our nation’s people makes our community, state, and nation stronger. However, as tuition ratchets upward, we risk creating a divide between those who can afford to attend college and those who cannot.

Why did you choose to come to Pikes Peak Community College?

Like many others, I recognized Colorado Springs as a growing, vibrant city with a wealth of economic diversity and strength. Each year our college serves more than 22,000 students and contributes more than $40 million dollars directly into the regional economy. PPCC has a tremendous impact on the Colorado Springs region and also enjoys tremendous potential to continue growing. Given the quality of life, strength of economy, opportunity to serve military students, and economic vitality of the region, I believe our college is one of the top community colleges in the nation. I am honored to serve here.

How can Pikes Peak Community College best serve the local business community and vice versa?

We must be visible and connected in the community so we recognize and capitalize on opportunities that meet regional workforce needs. Our college will strive to be entrepreneurial, nimble and innovative in its delivery of education to support business and industry needs. I am meeting with business and industry leaders throughout the region and welcome these opportunities to explore how we can become valuable partners to the local business community.

What new initiatives do you plan to bring to Pikes Peak Community College?

Our college has just embarked on a strategic planning process that will involve business and community leaders, students, faculty and staff from the college. Together with our partners we will map a plan that guides our college over the next five years in responding to changing educational needs, meeting workforce training demands and wisely allocating our resources. I look forward to sharing the highlights of this plan with the Colorado Springs Business Journal early in 2012.