From College Dropout to Community College President
COD Degree Was Turning Point for Higher Education Leader
When you grow up the son of two teachers, expectations are clear: You'll go to school. Get good grades. Go to college.
Such was the case for Aurora's Ted Raspiller. So he followed the prescribed path. Even graduated a year early.
But at age 17, his first year at Northern Illinois University didn't go well.
"I had no career direction," said Raspiller, "and after the first year, I was asked to not return."
Instead of going to college, Raspiller went to work.
"I did various jobs that non-college grads do. It was all entry level and I knew I would get no further without a college degree," said Raspiller.
"A friend was attending College of DuPage and talked me into taking a couple of classes. After my first semester, I earned a spot on the dean's list (the good one this time), and I was inspired. I was convinced I wanted to pursue a career helping people."
A COD associate's degree led to a bachelor's from Governors State University, and a master's and doctorate from NIU. Now, at age 50, Raspiller is president of Virginia's John Tyler Community College—a school like the one in Glen Ellyn, Illinois that changed his life.
"Before COD, I had no real foundation for understanding myself as a learner," said Raspiller. "COD had faculty who actually cared about me. Plus, I was surrounded by students who were not only bright academically, but also had higher demands and expectations. This allowed my teachers to take learning to an even higher level."
COD wasn't the only community college to affect Raspiller's career.
"In 1988, I was working in the computer department of a bank in Aurora. One day after work, I walked over to Waubonsee Community College hoping to find a night class. I ran into a friend who was teaching there, and she asked me if I'd ever thought of teaching part time.
"Halfway through my first semester, I knew that was the career I wanted to pursue. I then went back to school and completed my master's. I then got interested in workforce training and worked my way into administration from there."
Raspiller's community college career has taken him to Iowa, Texas, Wisconsin and now Virginia.
"I needed to work in a college environment that puts students (as opposed to research) first," said Raspiller.
Raspiller is also an outspoken advocate of lifelong learning. He talks of the nine careers and 21 jobs an average person will work—and the vital roles of community colleges in that process.
"I think our job in community colleges is twofold," said Raspiller.
"What students learn during the first two years either mirrors the workforce in terms of what they will need to immediately be employable upon graduation, or the first two years of a four-year degree. We know that two thirds of jobs require skills beyond high school now, and this will only increase as the world relies more and more on technology. So to maintain even a middle-class lifestyle, some training beyond high school is necessary.
"Community colleges are also the natural choice for students currently in the workforce to continually upgrade their skills."
Community college cost benefits are also critical, said Raspiller.
"With students across the age spectrum—many of whom have families of their own to support—we know that two thirds of our population likely cannot afford four-year college tuition," he said, "so community colleges remain the schools of choice."
And if he had to do it over, would he practice the community college sermon he preaches?
"With what I know now? Without a doubt, I would have attended College of DuPage right out of high school. It laid a foundation for learning that remains strong."
Direct all comments and questions to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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