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PUSHING THE ENVELOPE OF HIGHER EDUCATION:
Roberta Bhasin

Red Rocks Community College President Sets Example for Colorado

Dorothy Horrell, president of Lakewood, Colorado###s Red Rocks Community College, has never been afraid to push the envelope. As one of the most senior female CEOs of a Colorado institution of higher education, she has not only helped to change the approach community colleges take to learning, but she has helped alter the way people view them.

Community colleges are now the institutions of choice for students from all walks of life, all ages and skill levels. In Colorado 70 percent of all college freshmen and sophomores are in community colleges. The new high school graduate knows that the small classes and excellent instruction that are the hallmarks of community colleges will lead to above-average success when she transfers seamlessly to a public four year school. The graduate who wants to begin a career immediately knows that community colleges provide workplace training directly responsive to employer needs, and that the average post-graduation starting salary is nearly $30,000 per year. The working adult, who already has a baccalaureate degree but who needs high tech skills to stay current in the job she has or to advance to the job she wants, knows that community colleges specialize in state-of-the-art technology.

It is through personal commitment and hard work, both in the community and in the college, that Horrell has helped deliver this message.

"As people perceive the cost of four-year institutions rising exponentially, the value of community colleges is becoming evident," said Horrell. "They are incredible places to start, continue or finish an education. We believe at Red Rocks that learning is for life. Young or old, rich or poor—it doesn###t matter. We provide an excellent education for a nominal cost."

That low tuition—only $1,303 annually for a full-time resident student—can be almost completely offset by the new HOPE Scholarship included in the federal Tax Relief Act of 1997. The legislation provides for a tax credit of 100 percent of the first $1,000 of tuition paid and 50 percent of the second $1,000. That###s $1,151 for the qualified full time student, making Red Rocks tuition practically free.

Red Rocks has gained a reputation as one of the most important educational institutions in Colorado by making a valuable contribution to the business community—and the greater human community—of Jefferson County and central Colorado. "We touch the lives of nearly every resident of our four-county service area—and beyond," Horrell added. "Programs like the Law Enforcement and Fire Science academies not only train a large number of Colorado officers but also draw students from around the world. Through technological innovations like interactive audio and video transmission, the Internet and other forms of personalized electronic learning, RRCC makes an education available to anyone, anytime, anyplace."

RRCC meets other needs as well. It meets the need for a reasonably-priced education that does not compromise quality; the need for skilled workers experienced in hands-on operations; and the need for an institution that isn###t afraid to push the envelope. Partnering with high schools, it gives seniors a chance to get their high school and college degrees at the same time. Partnering with the health care industry, it is preparing the state###s only physician assistant program in alignment with the new concept of managed care. Partnering with the Colorado School of Mines and Regis University, it offers special transfer programs leading to prestigious engineering and business undergraduate degrees. Partnering with Coors Brewing Company and COBE Laboratories, it maintains nationally-recognized on-site employee learning centers. Partnering with Microsoft and Novell, it helps meet the seemingly endless demand for network engineers.

"We believe in taking a hands-on approach to education and collaborating with local businesses," said Horrell. "Our reason is two-fold. The student who has actually performed the tasks required on the job is going to find out if she really enjoys doing it before entering the workforce. The business that hires the student knows that she has received the training necessary to perform the job at hand, as well as problem solving and team-building skills."

Since Horrell began her tenure at Red Rocks, the College has been one of the fastest-growing higher education institutions in the state, now serving an annual enrollment of more than 13,000 different students. The College###s commitment to an exemplary teaching and learning environment has gained statewide, regional, and national recognition. That environment has been enhanced under Horrell###s direction by a recent $14 million expansion and renovation of the Lakewood campus. In addition, a satellite campus has been established in Arvada, Colorado; the Mountain Center at Conifer High School has been expanded; and interactive distance learning networks have been implemented to serve the residents of Park, Clear Creek, and Gilpin Counties in Colorado; and nearly 100 classes that can be taken over the Internet or via other electronic delivery have been created.

The Red Rocks Institute, initiated in 1989, is regarded by many to be the premier provider of customized education and training services for area businesses. It currently operates on-site Learning Centers at Coors Brewery and COBE Laboratories.

Prior to coming to Red Rocks Horrell was Vice President of Educational Services for the Colorado Community College and Occupational Education System. In that role, she served as the chief academic officer for the community college system and supervised the administration of vocational education. The development of the statewide agreement to establish guaranteed articulation between two-year and four-year colleges and universities was accomplished under her guidance. Horrell###s 13 years of state-level administrative experience has included leadership roles in the a number of state and national education organizations.

In addition to being a sought-after speaker throughout the state and the nation, Horrell was also named the 1990 Woman of the Year by local media; received the Colorado Women at Work Award; and is a member of the Presidents Academy of the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges. Governor Romer recently appointed her to the state Workforce Coordinating Council. In the spring of 1997, Horrell was inducted into the Girls Scouts Mile High Council Women###s Leadership Circle. She currently serves as the chair of the board of the Lutheran Medical Center Foundation, the vice chair of the Jefferson Economic Council, a board member of Young Americans Bank Holding Company and is the past chair of the West Chamber of Commerce Serving Jefferson County.

Horrell grew up in a large family on a farm in Northeastern Colorado. She began her career as a Home Economics teacher in Adams County School District 50 after graduating from Colorado State University as a Phi Beta Kappa. She holds a Masters Degree in Vocational Education Administration and Supervision and a Doctorate in Community College Administration from CSU. She and her husband reside in Denver and have a daughter.

Red Rocks Community College is located 13300 West Sixth Avenue in Lakewood and can be contacted either by phone: 303.914.6600 or via the Internet at www.rrcc.cccoes.edu..