Editorial: Departing Harper president showed how community college can change the world
Kenneth L. Ender, now president emeritus of Harper College in Palatine after stepping down last week as president, has to have a good sense for business or he never would have been able to act as CEO of the institution.
But what impressed us most in Ender's 10 years at Harper was less his business acumen and more his romantic devotion to the college's product -- education. And to its most fundamental customer -- the students.
A college has many customers, of course -- employers who depend on the skills the college teaches; universities that accept its transfers; the community it enriches; and again, fundamentally, the students.
Ender, better than most, seemed almost intuitively to understand the college's mission to weave all those constituencies and others together.
In that regard, he has been a sort of maestro invisibly blending the instruments together to play in harmony.
It is easy to see him as an educator. That is, after all, his calling. And that's certainly how we saw him when he first arrived.
But over time, it became evident that the label, while accurate, was a bit confining.
Over time, it dawned on us that Ender came to the suburbs not just to make something more of Harper, but that he came to the suburbs in all humility to try to change the world.
In that regard, he saw Harper as a piece of a grander mosaic, as an institution contributing to the greater good.
He went about building relationships and alliances with other institutions. He viewed each of them respectfully as part of that mosaic too.
He understood that if Harper waited until a remedial student was at its doorstep, Harper had almost assuredly waited too long.
He understood that Harper's job is to create futures. Both for the students who entered its doors and for the communities and society that depend on each student's success.
He understood that to create futures, Harper also has a job to create hope.
And thus, the introduction of the Harper Promise, an ambitious free-tuition concept he and his team innovated that not only provides hope and education but also demands commitment and self-discipline.
Free tuition, yes, but the way Ender viewed it, no free ride.
Above all, it turns out, he has been a visionary. And one with no small ambitions.
As Ender moves on to tackle other pursuits, he does so with similar audacity.
He still aims to change the world. We have no doubts that he will.
His work at Harper has impressed.
We wish him well.