Jacquelyn Elliott is the only finalist for the job of new president of Central Arizona College. She took questions from an audience of about a dozen people on the Maricopa campus last week. Tuesday, the board of governors will discuss offering her the job during a special meeting.
The process of hiring a president began in October. That was after Doris Helmich announced her retirement in a contentious year that saw the board raise its tax rate and a board member resign before facing a recall election.
“CAC is a community college. We are so different than a four-year institution or a university because we serve everybody,” Elliott said. “And that’s a lot of pressure.”
She said community colleges as a whole have gotten away from their original purpose and started establishing themselves as “mini-universities.”
“We have forgotten why we were started in 1961 on the GI Bill,” she said. “And that is accessibility for everyone.”
She said community colleges need to return to the focus of community education and workforce training.
“There’s a difference between being everything to everybody versus being what you are supposed to be,” she said.
Elliott has been president of North Arkansas College in Harrison since 2011 and retains a soft, south-Midwest accent. She was previously vice president of student affairs at Northern Missouri State University in Maryville. She has also taught at colleges and universities in Kansas and Nebraska, starting in 1990.
She said community colleges have different needs based on the populations they serve, and campuses within a college have different needs.
“I think there is a unique opportunity for each campus to distinguish itself to be a center for excellence for the needs of that community,” Elliott said.
Maricopa Unified School District Superintendent Steve Chestnut said he was impressed with Elliott after questioning her on the future of CAC’s relationship with Pinal County K-12 districts. Elliott said Chestnut was the only superintendent to attend one of her meet-and-greets.
In Arkansas, she said, the college had an agreement with the local high school to give enrollment applications to all graduating seniors. She said many students do not consider themselves college material and don’t even think about trying to enroll until it is in front of them.
She said she is also a fan of working with four-year institutions with “articulation agreements” in helping students earn a bachelor’s degree.
Her completion agenda is not only to get more students enrolled but to also move them through to a completed degree or certificate.
“We as a profession have not done a good job of that,” she said.