Joe Garcia, chancellor of the Colorado Community College System (CCCS), received the National Pacesetter Award for his lifelong advocacy of open access education and his work to end stigma against community colleges.
The National Council for Marketing and Public Relations honored Chancellor Garcia at their annual conference last weekend that brought together hundreds of communications and marketing professionals from community and technical colleges across the country. In his acceptance speech, Chancellor Garcia commended their achievements in elevating two-year institutions and demonstrating the value of higher education and workforce training for individuals and the broader public.
Chancellor Garcia was nominated by CCCS chief communications officer and legislative liaison Fiona Lytle and received letters of support from State Representative Julie McCluskie and all presidents of Colorado’s 13 community colleges.
“Since his appointment as Chancellor of the Colorado Community College Systems, Joe has prioritized external messaging and public relations with the goal of elevating the perception and value of community colleges to students and parents, the greater community, and state leadership,” said Lytle. “His dedicated work has skillfully positioned CCCS as a leader in post-secondary education and training in Colorado and beyond.”
His ability to capture the hearts and minds of folks is truly remarkable.
“Joe is a respected and inspiring voice for those inside and outside of the higher education system,” said Rep. Julie McCluskie. “His ability to capture the hearts and minds of folks from both sides of the aisle and move them toward a shared policy vision based on student need is truly remarkable.”
In their joint nomination letter, CCC’s college presidents said Chancellor Garcia’s leadership supports their individual campuses while moving the entire system forward.
“Within a higher education CEO’s diverse and demanding portfolio of duties and expectations, one of the most important skills for success is relationship building and being able to create a positive external perception for the organization,” the presidents wrote. “Through his passionate storytelling approach that showcases our students’ stories and experience, he has been successful in leading several advancement efforts and has significantly increased access for our institutions to have a seat at the table alongside state, business, and industry leadership.”
Chancellor Garcia made use of these storytelling skills during his award acceptance speech, sharing how his mother found her way to higher education. After traveling the world with her husband, who served in the U.S. army, and raising their five children, she went back to community college at age 56 and eventually earned her bachelor’s degree.
“That is a story I like to tell not just because I’m proud of my mother, but because it reflects the transformative power of higher education—and especially the role of community colleges,” he said. “What we do matters, and our roles are critical in shaping how family, friends, communities, and ultimately how the public view and value our institutions.”