A few days before assuming the role of President of the Colorado Community College System (CCCS), Joe Garcia gave the keynote address for the Native American-Serving Nontribal College Summit, on July 26 at the Westin Denver Downtown Hotel. President Garcia’s presentation, titled “Championing Equity: A Colorado Perspective,” encouraged college and university administrators to challenge long-held methods that are unintentionally creating barriers for underprivileged populations.

“Higher education is funded in a strange way,” Garcia stated. “It’s as if we say we are going to build the best hospital we can and fill it with the best doctors, and then we’re only going to send the healthiest people there. All those other hospitals that are poorly equipped and maybe lacking professional resources—that’s where we’re going to send our neediest and sickest patients.”

He added: “We would not do that in any other environment, but we do that in higher education. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be successful.”

That success, according to Garcia, can be found in student-focused cooperation throughout higher education: “By sharing ideas and collaborating, we can raise awareness and provide support to each other, because we understand that we are in the same place. We face the same challenges,” he said. “If you improve outcomes for your students, you’re not just helping one student, that student’s family, or that student’s community. You’re really helping our entire state and our country.”

A key theme in President Garcia’s recent speaking engagements has been the importance of providing students with the tools necessary to complete education milestones. During his address, the “Equity Champion” encouraged administrators to evaluate their institutional approach to student success and retention: “Why do [some] higher education professionals take pride in washing people out of higher education? We have to change out of this selective mentality. If we are admitting you, we are saying that we believe that you will be successful at our institution.”

Garcia concluded the keynote by saying that the role of higher education must be in “training people not to just get a job, but also to contribute to our community and our nation. It’s not just about building a stronger economy; it’s about building a stronger democracy.”

Nearly 100 higher education leaders from 24 colleges and universities attended the Summit, which was the inaugural event in connection with a new partnership between the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) and Lumina Foundation. In December, Lumina granted WICHE $990,000 to organize an alliance to help NSIs develop networks, speak with a strong and common voice on legislative and policy matters and tailor strategies to help their students succeed.

Garcia served as the President of WICHE for two years prior to joining CCCS.

President Garcia next spoke on a panel for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce’s State of the City event on August 2, alongside other esteemed education and business professionals, to address the future of workforce development in the region.