WATERLOO — Linda Allen is retiring as president of Hawkeye Community College after eight years in which she has raised the institution’s profile by growing its role in educating high school students and adult learners.
Her tenure has been marked by the expansion of high school career programs developed in partnership with school districts from across Hawkeye’s 10-county service area. And she has overseen construction of the Van G. Miller Adult Learning Center, a high-profile downtown Waterloo building whose first classes will begin later this month.
“I’m planning to retire June 30 this year,” said Allen, 67, announcing her decision during a Monday interview with The Courier. “I believe the college is in a really good position. We’re well-positioned for the future.”
Through credit programs, business and industry training, and volunteer-run efforts like the Senior Companions program “we are serving 25,000-plus people every year,” she noted. “Our numbers are strong and our outreach is really important to the community.”
Jay Nardini, chairman of Hawkeye’s board of trustees, said Allen’s leadership has been important to the college.
“She’s been a great president for us,” he said. “We’re sorry to see her retire. We respect her decision, and we wish her the best in her retirement.
“She has been an excellent leader, well recognized in the state and nationally,” Nardini added, noting leadership has helped in the midst of pressures from declining credit enrollment to keep the college on solid financial ground. He also called her “very instrumental” to the passage of a $25 million bond issue referendum in February 2015 and “the expansion of our college facilities.”
Allen identified voters’ overwhelming passage of the bond referendum as one of the events “over the past few years that have really set in motion a number of things for the college, as well as the community we serve.” She added, “We’re deeply appreciative of the support of our community.”
The bond issue helped fund the $12.96 million three-story, 45,000-square-foot downtown center. In addition, bond funds will be used for a planned health sciences center on the main campus. Money is also set aside for high school career programs.
Still, “personal reasons are probably the key factors in the decision at this time” for leaving the college, noted Allen. Her husband, Michael, retired in May from Rockwell-Collins in Cedar Rapids.
“As a result of his retirement, we’ve had some changes in our lifestyle and personal time,” she said, including spending more time with their children and seven grandchildren. “We’ve talked about this a good deal and we’ve decided between his retirement and where I’m at in my work at the college this is probably a good time.”
Allen, who lives in Cedar Rapids, has been at Hawkeye for 13 years, arriving from Kirkwood Community College in January 2006 to be the vice president of academic affairs. She began leading the college on an interim basis in September 2010 and was named president the following March. This spring she will reach her eighth year in the position.
At Kirkwood, she was executive dean of arts and humanities and also headed its quality improvement program. Beginning in 1997, Allen was an assistant professor at the Cedar Rapids college for five years after earning her doctorate in medical anthropology from the University of Iowa. She started as an adjunct professor at Kirkwood in 1991.
“I really loved teaching, I was passionate about my discipline,” said Allen. That passion spread to the community college classroom at Kirkwood and led to accepting a full-time teaching position there. “It gave me an opportunity to see a different classroom composition,” she explained, with students from ages 18 to 65 — including parents and retirees — enrolled both part-time and full-time.
“As I learned more about community college students, I became more concerned about making sure we could continue to serve (them),” said Allen, with adequate resources for students and faculty in the classroom. “So that’s why I got into administration at Kirkwood. Being a dean gave me an opportunity to have a say in how those resources are distributed.”
Her focus has remained on students at Hawkeye Community College, as well as the faculty and staff that support them.
“I feel really blessed to work with so many talented people who really put our students at the forefront of what we do,” said Allen.
She noted building the Van G. Miller Adult Learning Center, which replaces the smaller Metro and Martin Luther King Jr. centers, is part of that effort. The building is located along Jefferson Street between First Street and Mullan Avenue.
The center is “emblematic of everything we do to try and serve the people in our community who need us most,” said Allen. The college is “trying to achieve a higher standard of service ... and a higher level of educational opportunity.”
Helping to provide career education at the high school level is one of those services that has “been more fully realized” in recent years, she said. “When I came here, like most community colleges, we were only offering concurrent enrollment.
“Having the career academies and career pathways for high school students we’ve moved well beyond just offering concurrent enrollment,” noted Allen. “This is actually allowing them to determine a career path.” Students can earn college credit and “very carefully plan their future.”
She did express disappointment with funding levels from the state.
“How we help students, how we provide educational experiences are impacted by the fact that our funding isn’t where it needs to be,” said Allen. She noted Iowa community colleges as a whole have the 10th highest tuition in the country, fueled by state funding levels. Tuition and fees at community colleges across the state account for 52 percent of their revenues versus 14 percent in 1967.
Despite such difficulties, each of the college’s trustees have been “extremely supportive ... of my work in leading the college,” she said. They have also focused on ensuring “we have the resources and support to make sure we can be successful.”
As the board prepares to search for a new president, she’ll return that support. “If the search process takes a little longer than June 30, I’m willing to stay on,” said Allen.
“We’ll be starting the process to meet as a board and select a search firm to help us find our next president,” said Nardini, with the goal of hiring a new leader to begin July 1. He is already seeking proposals from search firms to lead the effort.