Covering the Land of Lincoln

My Turn | It’s been an honor and a privilege | Guest Commentary

As Parkland begins its 55th year, I do as well.

Imminently, thousands of students, both new and returning, will arrive on our beautiful campus atop one of the highest points in Champaign County, ready to take the next steps in their academic careers. As has been the case since the beginning, our faculty and staff are prepared to meet them where they are and help get them to where they want to be.

It is very likely that sometime this year, Parkland College will enroll its 350,000th student, passing an important milestone in our mission to engage our community in learning. I’ve often said it would be difficult to find a family in our 3,000-square-mile district that hasn’t been touched by Parkland College in some way.

Since 1967, Parkland has served the citizens of our district by faithfully offering a quality educational experience, curated by highly qualified faculty and staff, at a reasonable cost.

It’s earned us a reputation as the not-so-hidden gem of the community. If I may be so bold, I think we have the track record to back it up.

Our students who transfer to universities across the country are well-prepared and successful — often rivaling those who begin at a university. Our professional and technical students are employed within a few months of graduation; many are offered jobs well before they complete their degrees and are more likely than not to continue living and working in the community.

We enjoy a national reputation as a premier community college and are known for our knowledgeable and engaged elected trustees. Over the years, we’ve established partnerships with numerous businesses, including Case New Holland, AGCO, Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Ford Motor Company, Frasca International, Kraft and many others nationally, as well as literally hundreds of connections with each of you, the businesses and industries that operate in central Illinois.

Each year, Parkland College enrolls more than 350 international students representing well over 50 countries, leading the community college system in the state. From Beijing to San Paulo and Dublin to Cairo, Parkland has expanded its global reach in exciting and innovative ways, most recently with our newest acquisition, the Institute for Aviation at Parkland College.

In the past decade, we finished a $92 million Campus Master Plan that created six new buildings on campus, adding some 250,000 square feet of classrooms, labs and student services spaces. Along the way, we replaced every single roof and updated the public spaces in almost every part of the college with one single goal in mind — to ensure that the facilities and the student experience matched the quality of our academic programs.

In this case we will be visited by our national accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission. The lead-up to a campus visit takes enormous effort by many people. Data are gathered, reports are made, and a self-study document is constructed and shared widely.

Accreditation visits are extraordinarily important to colleges and universities as they are an assurance of quality and approval of the programs and services that we offer — independent verification of the “track record” I so boldly shared.

We are rightly proud of the work we do. Our community, by all accounts, agrees. My goal during the 24 years I spent at Parkland College was to keep it that way.

It’s time for me to go now. Having spent the bulk of my professional career here, I will retire at the end of this calendar year after serving as president for nearly 16 years.

When interviewing for the presidency with the Board of Trustees in 2006, I recall being asked why I wanted to become a community college president. I told them, truthfully, that I had no aspirations to become a president anywhere other than Parkland College. There was no place I’d rather be than Parkland College, and that feeling has never gone away.

The honor and privilege of serving Parkland College has never once waned, and I remain grateful to have been afforded the opportunity to engage on behalf of this wonderful college and the people who make it special. There are so many people who have given time, support, wisdom and encouragement along the way, and that debt can never be repaid. I remember and truly appreciate every one of you.

However, 16 years as president is a long time. It’s exhausting work, done properly. Parkland College deserved and received 100 percent of my effort along the way, as it should be.

Now, it’s time for someone else — a very competent Dr. Pam Lau — to take the reins and lead the way.

My wife, Michelle, and I plan to remain in this community, enjoying all it has to offer, and near our son, Colin, daughter-in-law, Megan, and our special STAR, four-month-old Sean Thomas.

I’m very proud of Parkland’s history. I am confident that you’re proud of your community’s college as well. There’s more to come.

Tom Ramage has served as Parkland College’s fifth president since June 2007. He’ll retire in December, handing the reins to Executive Vice President Pam Lau.

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