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Doug Robinson: Champion of the community college

Published: Monday, Oct. 21 2013 9:47 p.m. MDT

TAYLORSVILLE — Cynthia Bioteau, who will soon leave her post as president and CEO of Salt Lake Community College, will be missed by the school, not only for what she did, but also for what she didn’t do.

For one thing, she didn’t follow the crowd by turning another community college into a university, which inevitably leads to the creation of a football team, which would have raised tuition and student fees to build practice facilities, locker rooms and a stadium, followed by a push to become Division I and bowl eligible and other things that have nothing to do with education.

Over the years, SLCC’s peers have rushed off to become universities in pursuit of ego, funding and prestige — please see the former Weber State College, Dixie College, Utah Valley Technical College, Carbon College — but SLCC has remained true to its mission, the school for Everyman.

On Bioteau’s watch, SLCC has expanded to 13 campuses around the valley — soon to be 14 — with classes from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. to accommodate the diverse needs of 60,000 students.

“Utah was losing their community colleges; everyone wanted to grow up to be a University of Utah,” says Bioteau (BEE-oh-toe). “I believe so deeply in the role of the community college.”

Name another school president who personally calls students each semester to ask why they didn’t return to school to complete their degrees: Not enough money or time? Can’t get in certain classes? How can she help?

She believes the community college’s role has never been more urgent, with a challenging job market and changing demographics. “All states are starting to feel the influx of different ethnicities,” she says. “The community college is your safety net to educate these people.”

Bioteau envisions community colleges as the grass-roots of advanced American education, no test scores or GED required. They consist of high school dropouts getting their GEDs, students filling their general ed requirements at one-third of the price before matriculating to a university, professionals and blue-collar workers returning for more training to obtain promotions or raises, middle-agers coming back simply for self-improvement, foreigners trying to learn English, college grads returning for education that is more applicable in the job market (curiously, 11 percent of SLCC’s students hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees).

“For a long time, the culture of Utah equated higher ed with a university, and that worked 20 years ago,” says Bioteau. “But the responsiveness of a skilled workforce requires constant and creative adaptations to the curriculum — how you create programs, how you respond to businesses and employers.”

SLCC offers associate degrees and industry-based certifications that are directly correlated with the needs of local businesses. Result: Employers not only are waiting with open arms for graduates, they are the ones who asked SLCC to provide a program for their employees or future employees and then helped design it.

“We will work with employers and within six weeks we can create a program of training that the company needs for their employees, either on site or at a leased site next door to their company,” says Bioteau, who notes, for instance, that SLCC has a campus at Salt Lake International Airport to offer aviation training.

SLCC has 120 programs, including criminal justice, homeland security, public safety, culinary arts, biotechnology, bio-manufacturing, automotive, nursing and a police academy complete with a dorm, plus an entire campus devoted to medical-related occupations — nursing, physicians assistants, occupational therapy, radiological tech.

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