With a passion for education and a commitment to student success, Donald Doucette is taking the reins as chancellor of the Eastern Iowa Community Colleges District and bringing along his 30 years of experience working in the community college arena.
Doucette began his position with EICCD on July 1, and is already hard at work building rapport with the communities he will be serving. The EICCD includes Clinton Community College, Muscatine Community College and Scott Community College.
“My job is to ensure the financial stability of the organization and to be a public face of that institution throughout the district,” stated Doucette in a personal interview with the Herald. “I’m spending a lot of time in the external community, getting to know the communities, getting to know the colleges. We’re community colleges, we educate students but we also are...there to support the economic development of the community.”
Students and community growth go hand-in-hand, according to Doucette, whose focus is on improving student completion rates in the district. He indicated that community businesses and industries depend on the educational achievements of area students, who help keep a viable workforce alive and running.
“The CEO of Alcoa (Klaus Kleinfeld) said that the community college is vital to making sure that (Alcoa has) the workforce that (it needs) to run the plant and be profitable,” stated Doucette. “Well I’m sure that’s true at ADM also, and I’m sure it’s true in the small technical shop down the road.
It’s our job to make sure that we support the economic development of this community. We care about Clinton.”
Education has never been more important when it comes to securing jobs in the current economic setting, Doucette added. He stated that individuals who attempt to compete in the job market without attaining skills from higher education are at a severe disadvantage.
“You need a higher education credential. It could be a certificate; it could be a degree, but you need to get some skills. Sixty percent of adults 25 and older in Korea have a college certificate or degree. In the United States, its 38 percent. We can’t compete as a country. This is a national imperative.”
Therefore, helping students compete and be successful has been and continues to be a focus for Doucette.
“I wake up every day trying to figure out how to provide meaningful access to higher education for as many people as can benefit from it. How can we help students not only gain access to higher education, but then succeed and give them greater opportunities to grab a share of that American dream that we all strive for?”
For the EICCD, that lies in offering quality student services, helping students identify their goals and working on increasing student completion rates. While the EICCD is an accomplished institution, Doucette is hoping to bring some new ideas to the table while supporting a system that has already been seeing success.
“I didn’t come here with an agenda of change because the institution itself is a strong institution to begin with,” Doucette said. “But there may be opportunities for improvement and it’s my turn to figure out what those are.”
Doucette has worked in the community college environment for 30 years, most recently filling the role of Senior Vice President and Provost of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, which has 165,000 students in 28 campuses. Prior to that, Doucette was the Vice Chancellor for Education and Technology at Metropolitan Community Colleges of Kansas City, Mo., which consisted of five schools.
“My specific experience is that I’ve worked in multi-campus systems primarily,” stated Doucette. “That experience really prepares me to work here.”
Doucette also led in the building of the only community college in Haiti, which opened its doors in October 2005. The school averages 300-350 students and offers associate degrees in computer support or business management.
“So far about 60 percent of our students are getting jobs in a place where I didn’t know there were that many jobs,” said Doucette. “(In starting the college) I learned some really interesting ways to overcome challenges.”
Doucette feels that the founding of the college is a direct outgrowth of his commitment to and passion for education on a professional level. This passion, stronger now than it was 30 years ago, comes from Doucette’s roots.
“I grew up in the working class, immigrant suburbs of Boston...in my grandparent’s house, who were immigrants from Poland. I spoke Polish as a boy. Everybody in my extended family worked in the leather tanneries, the shoe factories and the sweater mills in those communities.”
Doucette stated that his family believed that a college education was imperative to getting out of the factories and mills. He, along with his sisters and cousins, are all first-generation college students. Doucette earned a bachelors in English from Cornell University, and a masters in English and a Ph.D. in Higher Education from Arizona State University.
“My parents didn’t know anything about going to college, but they knew it was important and they made sure we had a chance,” said Doucette. “For the last 30 years, I’ve been trying to give that same chance to students. It’s about giving people a chance to get one leg up on that economic ladder that gives them the opportunity to support their families and lead dignified and productive lives.”
Part of that opportunity includes providing affordable higher education, which Doucette feels is one of the key jobs of community colleges.
“One of the biggest worries that I have, including for our students, is the increase in loan debt that students are (incurring),” Doucette stated. “That’s a real economic burden on the students and their families and we’d like to find every way possible to reduce the indebtedness of our students by keeping tuition affordable.
“The only thing that I think is not a good practice for any institution to engage in is to encourage students to take on debt. I think it’s our job to try to minimize the amount of debt that they need to take on.”
State funding aids the EICCD in keeping education costs low by acting as a subsidy for tuition, indicated Doucette.
“When we get state support, it allows us to reduce what we charge students because the state’s paying some part of the burden. So that’s a really important role that we play, (to) provide low-cost access to higher education.”
In addition, Doucette feels that the EICCD is good at catering to all student types, as they enroll individuals from various educational backgrounds and life stages. Some students come straight from high school while others are working adults looking to sharpen their skills.
“I don’t think there’s any segment of higher education that has more experience working to provide services for so diverse a student population, and is so committed to the success of those individual students.”
Providing educational options to what are commonly known as “non-traditional” students, those not directly enrolling out of high school, centers around online courses. This is something Doucette feels that the EICCD does well, as they also offer support services and tutoring centers. Students can learn online, but also have the option of going to a physical location within the district.
“Frankly, as somebody who really cares about student success, I really like that model,” said Doucette. “It combines the convenience of online learning and overcoming barriers of distance and time with the provision of services. That’s how we do distance learning, and it’s something that makes me very comfortable about providing those services.”
The hope is that the EICCD’s many options help students in selecting which college to attend. This decision can be a difficult one, as Doucette witnessed with his own children.
“I’m always looking for the place where students are going to succeed,” he stated. “I want to engage every student we can for whom we’re a good fit for their likely success.”
When Doucette is not working, he enjoys playing golf, running, movies, cooking and spending as much time with his family as possible. He and his wife of 33 years, Lynn Drazinski, have three children, Emily, 26, Meredith, 24, and Daniel, 23.
“Life’s pretty full,” said Doucette. “It’s an adventure, it’s a moving target, and I still have enough energy and passion to do it all, as much as I can.”