Harper honors outgoing president for student-centered approach
Outgoing Harper College President Ken Ender and his wife, Cathy, were lauded Wednesday for their commitment to education -- not only during Ken's decadelong tenure at the Palatine-based community college, but also for their financial backing of the institution.
The Enders have donated more than $185,000 to the Harper College Educational Foundation and Promise Scholarship Program, a tuition-free pathway established at Harper in 2015 for students who meet certain criteria.
In recognition of their donations, the college's board dedicated the school's outdoor pavilion in honor of the couple during a ceremony Wednesday at the nearby Wojcik Conference Center. Ken Ender, hired in 2009, is stepping down in June when his contract expires. Avis Proctor will take the helm.
Board Chairman Greg Dowell said the Drs. Kenneth and Catherine Ender Pavilion -- located on the north side of campus where graduation takes place every spring -- is meant to serve as a reminder of the "student centeredness" that was the focus of Ender's presidency.
"If you want to see what's really important to someone, look at how they spend their money," Dowell said. "And if you look at how Ken and Cathy have invested their treasure over the years, they've invested in exactly the same place where their hearts are."
Dowell praised Ken Ender for elevating Harper to "a global stage" over the last decade.
That included taking to heart President Barack Obama's 2010 challenge to community colleges to produce 5 million more college graduates by 2020, Dowell said. For Harper, that translated to a goal of awarding 10,604 additional degrees and certificates.
Under Ender, the school's apprenticeship program now encompasses eight fields, Dowell noted.
The campus itself has been transformed with new and renovated buildings, including a career and technical education center, family education center, library, and health and recreation center.
But perhaps the marquee initiative of Ender's presidency was the Promise program, which rewards high schoolers with two years of Harper tuition for keeping good attendance, maintaining a minimum grade-point average, performing community service and graduating on time.
Harper board member Diane Hill, who also serves on the foundation board, said Ender challenged community institutions to support the program, but he and his wife also made a personal commitment to see it succeed.
"Ken and Cathy, you made it so that a person's ability to learn is not limited by their finances," Hill said.
Ken Ender said he and his wife were first-generation college students from middle-class backgrounds whose parents encouraged them to go to college. Their folks didn't have any money to pay but helped them learn how to save.
The Enders both went on to earn degrees and spend their careers in education.
"Everything we are is about our education," Ken Ender said. "Our lives' work is just trying to pay it forward."