During my career in higher education, I have learned so much from the students who come to our colleges with big dreams, but often limited resources. With dedicated faculty and staff, we can help them reach their goals, support their families, and give back to their communities. I am excited to play a role in that process.
Joe Garcia
Colorado Community College System

Joe Garcia, Chancellor

Joe Garcia brings demonstrated leadership and commitment to advancing higher education initiatives and access to the Colorado Community College System.

Fall 2021 Message to Staff, Faculty, and Instructors

COVID Precautions, Needs of Community College Students Must Be Balanced

Jobs are available but need for an education remains critical

Over the past month, faculty, staff, and students across Colorado and the United States have returned to campuses for the start of another fall semester. We had hoped that this semester would be about new challenges, new opportunities, and new directions. Instead, we face another semester dealing with—and sometimes disagreeing about—vaccines, testing, face masks, and social distancing. There is no question—the precautions we take and requirements we put into place as campus leaders to make our campuses as safe as possible are an absolute priority. Lives are at stake. We should be clear—and the Colorado Community College System is very clear—that safety for our faculty, staff, and students is our top priority.

Education remains the surest and best pathway to a more fulfilling life, but that pathway must be accessible.

We should be equally clear about our mission, which the pandemic has not changed. It is “to provide an accessible… learning environment where our students can achieve their educational, professional and personal goals…”.  Education remains the surest and best pathway to a more fulfilling life, but that pathway must be accessible. For community colleges, that means it must be accessible to our unique student body, including single parents, first-generation college attendees, and low-income students. We can unintentionally limit access through the requirements we put in place to respond to the pandemic, just as we would limit access if we allowed tuition to become unaffordable or imposed unnecessary admission standards.  Our approach to all those things must be measured, thoughtful, and tailored to our student body.

Of course, “accessible” must also mean safe, and that is the moving target at which we are constantly aiming. If students do not feel safe, they will stay home and forego the opportunity to obtain the one thing that can best help them improve their circumstances—an education. For years, skeptics have suggested that a college education is not necessary for professional success, or worse, that higher education will saddle you with mountains of debt while failing to provide the skills needed to get a better job.  The pandemic has amplified those voices. As help wanted signs spring up and many frontline jobs go unfilled, it’s easy to think that the easy route is the correct route, that investing in an education is not necessary.

But history has taught us otherwise. COVID-19 is not the first pandemic, nor will it be the last. Similarly, the economic hardships brought on by COVID-19 are part of an ongoing cycle of recessions. Always, the least educated are hit the hardest.  Individuals who were most likely to stay employed and avoid the worst effects of the downturns were those with a postsecondary credential.

Many of our graduates are nurses, respiratory therapists, and other healthcare workers at the forefront of the fight against COVID.
In fact, education is both the surest way to fight the pandemic itself and to mitigate the economic hardship on individuals. Many of our graduates are nurses, respiratory therapists, and other healthcare workers at the forefront of the fight against COVID. For others who may face unemployment or underemployment due to the pandemic, the community colleges are best positioned to help. Our colleges are open-enrollment (they do not “pick and choose” who gets to attend); our tuition costs are low (most students graduate without debt); and we offer a wide range of academic and skills-based programs. Whether taking a few key courses to build upon an existing skill, earning a degree, or transferring to a four-year university, our system is designed to serve those students with evening and weekend classes, flexible course delivery, and, most of all, our commitment to accessibility and affordability.

As I write this, we continue to evaluate our requirements around testing, masking, and vaccinating. Some colleges and universities have adopted more stringent requirements and some less. We can’t let arguments about the rightness of any single approach drown out the more important conversation. A postsecondary credential remains the best protection against job losses today and economic hardship in the future, and community colleges provide the most accessible pathways to better lives and healthier communities.


Joe Garcia is the Chancellor of the Colorado Community College System (CCCS). As CCCS Chancellor, Garcia leads the state’s largest system of higher education, which serves over 125,000 students annually at 13 colleges and 35+ locations across Colorado.

Garcia brings demonstrated leadership and commitment to advancing higher education initiatives and access through various roles in both the public sector and in higher education.

Garcia currently serves on the Boards for the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund (MALDEF), and the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative (COSI). He is the chair of the Education & Training Committee (E & T) for the Colorado Workforce Development Council (CWDC). He was also appointed by the Governor as the representative of the Department of Education for the Business Experiential Learning (BEL) Commission.

Prior to his role at CCCS, Garcia served two years as President of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (“WICHE”) from June 2016 to June 2018. WICHE is an interstate compact created to provide access to, and improve the quality of, higher education opportunities for residents of the western United States.

From 2011 to 2016, he served as the Lt. Governor of Colorado and as the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education. During his time as Lt. Governor, Garcia focused on increasing equity in outcomes for all students, particularly those from low income backgrounds and communities of color. For nearly a decade, Garcia served as President at both a four-year and two-year institution. From 2006 to 2010, he was President of Colorado State University-Pueblo, which was named the 2008 Outstanding Member Institution by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. Under his leadership, CSU-P saw enrollment increase dramatically, as well as, public-private partnerships and private funding. Garcia also raised private funds to build a stadium and start a football program that won the NCAA Division II National Championship in its 7th year in existence.

From 2001 to 2006, Garcia was President of Pikes Peak Community College, Colorado’s second largest community college. During his time at PPCC, he was twice recognized as President of the Year by Colorado students and several minority and student focused organizations, such as the NAACP and Phi Theta Kappa.

Garcia’s previous public service positions included serving as a member of the Cabinet of Governor Roy Romer and as a White House appointee under President Bill Clinton. He was the first Hispanic partner in the 100-year history of Denver based Holme Roberts & Owen where he focused on public education law.

Garcia earned his Juris Doctorate (1983) and completed the John F. Kennedy School of Government program at Harvard University, and received his Bachelor of Science in International Business (1979) from University of Colorado at Boulder.

Garcia has four grown children and is married to Dr. Claire Oberon Garcia, the Dean of Faculty at Colorado College.