Mr. Chairman

March 11, 2016

JCCC trustee Jerry Cook has key role in national community college organization

Inspiring learning to transform lives can positively change communities. Such are the cornerstone pillars that Jerry Cook builds from as a leader in higher education.

“I am one who believes that teaching and and learning are forever,” said Cook, who recently was elected to the board of directors of the Association of Community College Trustees.

“Regardless if one is 8 or 18 or 88, we all should have an opportunity to learn something new. The human being has a capacity to learn new skills, and I believe it is important to develop this knowledge that one acquires.”

Becoming chairman

Cook is in his sixth year as a trustee at Johnson County Community College. After being elected in October to a three-year term on the ACCT board, he was elected chairman of the organization’s Western region. The territory includes 10 states, three Canadian provinces and two Canadian territories.

ACCT, a national nonprofit organization based in Washington, is a leading voice on higher education issues. Cook is the first JCCC trustee to serve on its board.

Throughout the nation, Cook said, community college leaders are working to ensure that their students succeed, whether it be by earning a certificate, getting a job or going on to a four-year program. There also is considerable interest in making college available to all, particularly diverse populations.

Efficient and affordable

To give everyone that chance to learn, Cooks says that community college leaders are working to provide “efficient” career pathways to help students succeed. That means that community colleges need to keep pushing to create more articulation agreements with four-year colleges, he said. And it also means that community colleges need to make the educational experience affordable.

“I do believe that students and parents get frustrated when a course taken at a community college is not accepted in a four-year college,” Cook said. “We have made great strides in this area in Kansas, but we need to keep at it.”

Free or not free?

Cook said that he questions whether college should be free to all.

“President Obama says it should be free,” Cook said. “I think what he means is that tuition should be reduced. Because it is not free. You say K-12 is free. K-12 is not free. Citizens pay a lot of property taxes to support public education.”

Beyond that point, he said, he believes that everyone should have some investment in what they do. If someone offered you two free tickets to a football game and the weather forecast was for rain, he said, you might turn those tickets down. But if you had purchased those tickets yourself earlier, you might think that you should go to the game because otherwise you will have wasted your money.

Community college leaders are trying to cut costs by using their funding wisely, Cook said. JCCC researchers are working on a national project that would provide college leaders with more detailed information on costs. They hope that the project will help them find ways to operate more efficiently.