President urges community to see college’s economic value

June 20, 2011 by

Dr. Danette Toone responds to a question following her presentation Monday evening as part of the 2011 Concordia Speakers Series at the Nazareth Motherhouse.

As Dr. Danette Toone nears her first anniversary as president of Cloud County Community College, she is clearly proud of both the college and the community she’s become a part of.  She’s also convinced that she has the background, the energy and the enthusiasm to tackle any challenges that lie ahead.

She brought that conviction to her presentation Monday evening as part of the 2011 Concordia Speakers Series at the Nazareth Motherhouse.

Sister Marcia Allen, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, welcomes audience members to Monday evening's presentation.

Toone was raised in Brookville, Kan., just southwest of Salina. After her father was killed in a car wreck when she was 8, her mother — then in her 30s — went back to school at Marymount College and graduated with a degree in social work. “I saw a strong woman raising three children without state aid,” she told her audience. And she would return to her mother’s story throughout her talk as she emphasized the importance of access to education for even the most “non-traditional” students.

Her own path to a college presidency has been similarly non-traditional, she said.

Instead of following what she called “the normal pathway to a presidency” — through instruction, as a faculty member and then dean and then vice president — Toone “came up through economic development.”

Before taking over at Cloud on July 1, 2010, she was vice president of academic and community initiatives at Temple (Texas) College, where she has been since 1998. She received bachelor’s degrees in finance and economics from Washburn University and a master’s degree in finance/management from the University of Texas at Odessa. She received a doctorate of education administration and community college leadership from the University of Texas at Austin in 2009.

“A community college is a critical piece of economic development,” she said. “I’m not sure most people think of it that way.”

Dr. Danette Toone, left, and SIster Marcia Allen chat in the moments before the presentation begins Monday evening.

She noted that Cloud, with campuses in Concordia and Junction City, has about 150 full-time faculty and staff members. There are another 175 part-time faculty and staff working on one of the campuses or at the 39 high schools served by Cloud, she said.

“They pay taxes, they buy groceries,” she noted. “That’s economic development.”

Added to that is the money spent by students while attending school at the Cloud County and Geary County campuses. One solid number she cited was roughly $2 million a year in purchases by students shopping at the Concordia Walmart.

“If you think a community college is not important, think what Concordia would be like without it,” she said.

But while she said Cloud does an “amazing job of getting students here,” that’s not enough. “It’s not just about opening the door; we also have to ensure our students are successful.”

She noted that about 70 percent of incoming Cloud students have “deficiencies” in at least one area of reading, writing or math, and they require extra attention to succeed. That means more focus on individual learning plans and “developmental” or remedial classes, particularly in reading.

“The old ‘vo-tech’ model doesn’t exist anymore,” Toone said. “This is a high-tech world, and even the burger-flippers at McDonald’s have to read and use computers.”

The mission of a community college, she said, is to “provide the scaffolding” from where a student is today to where he or she needs to be for success in life.

She cited a recent analysis by Georgetown University that estimates 482,000 new jobs will be created in Kansas by 2018 — and 75 percent of those will require some sort of post-secondary education. “Figuring in the jobs that already exist,” she added, “by 2018, 64 percent will require post-secondary education” of some type.

One example of the kinds of new jobs that will exist, she said, is wind energy, where Cloud has been a leader with its associate of science degree. The program was recognized earlier this spring as one of seven in the country to receive the American Wind Energy Association Seal of Approval.

Toone gave the fifth of eight scheduled presentations in the 2011 Concordia Speakers Series. The free public talks were an outgrowth of the Community Needs Forums that were held throughout 2009 and 2010 and hosted by the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Upcoming speakers in the series include Cloud County Convention and Tourism co-directors Susie Haver and Tammy Britt on July 18 and Concordia City Manager Larry Uri on Sept. 26.

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