With a service area the size of a small state, the President of Polk State College is expected to log a lot of miles, but this month Dr. Eileen Holden covered more ground than usual. Indeed, she recently traveled to Houston at the request of the United States Department of Education to participate in one of four regional Community College Summits hosted by the Department at Lone Star Community College-University Park.
Holden, in her sixth year at the helm of Polk State College, currently serves as chair of the Florida College System’s Council of Presidents. She was invited to the Houston event by U.S. Department of Education Under Secretary Martha Kanter because of Holden’s reputation “as a leader in developing and implementing strong initiatives that support the transition of youth and adult learners into community colleges.”
According to Kanter, the regional summits are an extension of a White House Summit hosted by President Barack Obama and Dr. Jill Biden (wife of the Vice President and a widely respected community college educator). The primary goal of the events, said Kanter, is to “share strategies and recommendations for meeting the President’s 2020 goal for the U.S. once again to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”
Polk State College continues to be the most convenient and affordable access point for local students pursuing a college degree, and Holden views the success of Polk State as closely aligned with the objectives of the national goals: “We are proud of our traditions of access and opportunity, and we’re also spreading the word about excellence. Whether we are the entry point for a recent high school graduate or an adult learner’s ‘last chance’ at higher education, we make a huge impact on the lives of the students we serve, as well as their families and, ultimately, their communities.”
Asked to identify the key lessons of her Houston trip, Holden responded with a smile: “It’s great to be back home in Polk County. These national meetings are important, but we are doing so many things so well here in Florida’s State College System… I couldn’t wait to get back home. We have a model that is working here in Florida, and it has never been more vital to our state’s future than it is right now.”
The task of assembling a national community college agenda now falls to Kanter and her colleagues. Holden, it is clear, is dialed in on territory she knows well: “For the rest of this legislative session, I’ll either be here in Polk County or walking the halls of the Capitol in Tallahassee. What happens this spring will have a huge impact, either in removing barriers to access or in making the climb for our region even steeper.”
Polk State College has been serving central Florida since 1964 and welcomes almost 20,000 students a year in credit and workforce training programs, including associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. For more information about Polk State College, visit polk.edu.