In the late 1960s, Colorado Springs was on the move. Fort Carson had long before traded donkeys for mechanized units, and Colorado Springs was growing from a modest tourist town to a modern city, powered by an ever-expanding military presence.
by Katherine Scott Sturdevant
PPCC History Professor
Pikes Peak Community College developed in a context of American history. It was born of an exciting movement in the country that began in the Progressive Era of the 1880s-1920s. What people then most often called “junior colleges” would concentrate on undergraduate teaching, offering students workforce training or foundations for more advanced degree programs. Community colleges would be affordable, practical, and adaptable to society’s needs. They would expand the availability of higher education to a majority of the population. In the Great Depression, community colleges boomed. They emphasized career training for any possible employment. Community colleges would be one of the best investments made in America’s future.
We’re living in the science fiction story of our predecessors.
They probably envisioned jet packs and flying cars. But, half a century ago, did the founders of El Paso Community College imagine such a vibrant and ambitious Pikes Peak Community College, with three campuses, virtual classrooms, vital partnerships with the other local colleges and an economic impact estimated at $380 million a year?
Still, they set this in motion, and here we are, with nearly 20,000 students pursuing dreams that will take them to places we can hardly imagine.
Where do we go from here?
In another 50 years?
That’s a long lens. But we do know what we’re planning and we can see where trends are shifting the educational landscapes.
Our Destination 2022 Strategic Plan, drafted in 2016, looked at our goals, strategies and action plans for the coming four years.
It looked at ways to improve student success, serve a diverse population, anticipate workforce needs and grow enrollment.
That ambitious spirit in our 2016 plan has already prompted significant advancements, including: Our first bachelor’s degree (in Emergency Service Administration), expansions of key mission-centric programs, including Cybersecurity, Construction and Advanced Manufacturing and Allied Health fields, and new approaches to tutoring and other student support.
But when I think of where we’ll be in decades from now, what comes to mind is the
Quad Innovation Partnership. This unprecedented joint initiative powered by every major higher-ed institution in the region, focuses on placing students in real-world situations that focus on the betterment of the community.
When I talk to our students, this is one of the themes I hear again and again. Yes, they want to get the skills they need to make a living for themselves and their families. But they also want to make a difference. The Quad is designed to help students think on that level, building the kind of community they want to live in.
The next half century will bring technological wonders that will surely affect our college. We don’t know how artificial intelligence, autonomous cars, augmented reality and other advancements might change the way we teach and the way students learn. We may have smart classrooms, where the pens know when you’ve answered a question right.
But in all that technology, I believe there will still be room for the power of positive intent – the idea that we can make our lives better through education, and that through education and training, we can build a better community.
That will be especially essential if the following decades bring the tremendous challenges that experts predict. Our population is aging, and needs for medical care are expected to grow more acute and more complex. Our state’s environment is changing, and we can expect more droughts and wild fires.
These changes and others will demand skilled workers, and in some cases, we don’t even know what those demands and skills will be. But when I look back on the values and work ethics that have kept our college relevant and essential these first 50 years, I’m optimistic.
We know we must be nimble and adaptable. We know we must be intensely focused on the changing needs of our region. We know that wherever the next half century takes us, we will focus on being a force for betterment, both for individuals and the wider community we serve.
Now, if we can just figure out how to use those jetpacks we envisioned 50 years ago.