In August, Ric Baser took the helm of Northwest Vista College, one of five community colleges that make up the Alamo Colleges district, in San Antonio, Texas. Baser never intended to be a college president. In fact, he wanted to be an actor. Once a speech and theater major, Baser ended up earning a master’s degree in organizational communication and planned to work as a consultant. Unfortunately for Baser, the economy wasn’t doing well, and employers weren’t hiring consultants — they were firing them.
On a tip, he applied for a position as a speech professor at a college in Coffeyville, Kansas, and the rest, as they say, is history. With 34 years of higher-education experience under his belt, Baser is now seven months into his tenure as president of Northwest Vista College, and he couldn’t be happier.
“I pinch myself every day. It’s a gorgeous campus on rolling hills — a beautiful place,” says Baser.
Because he came from another institution (he was vice president and chief academic officer at Tulsa Community College), Baser understands the importance of giving people time to get used to him.
“The biggest hurdle was letting people know who I am and getting them to trust in my vision,” he says.
To that end, Baser instituted Friday Bragging Breakfasts, held when classes aren’t in session. The faculty and staff are invited, and the event is live-streamed for those who can’t attend. It’s an opportunity to recognize achievements and awards for individuals and departments on campus.
“We talk about the good stuff going on,” Baser says. “Sometimes, there’s so much distracting noise on campus, this helps us know that we’re making a difference in the lives of our students — because this is a really cool place to work.”
On some level, Baser’s personal experience drives his goal to have Northwest Vista “be known statewide and nationally for ensuring student success.” He and his brother are first-generation college graduates; their parents graduated high school, and their father was a minister for 55 years.
As a college student, Baser transferred twice, to different institutions. When he was 19, Baser used his oratory skills to argue his case and have his credits transfer fully, but he observed that friends with the “same type of courses did not get the same results and ended up losing credits and money,” when they transferred, he explains.
Not surprisingly, he wrote his dissertation about attitudinal barriers in articulation between two- and four-year institutions and has written more than 250 2 + 2 Transfer Programs throughout his career.
“It has become a mission of mine,” he says. “It requires something in writing, and it requires rapport-building between the institutions’ faculties.”
Northwest Vista is predominantly a transfer institution, with 80 percent of completers earning associate degrees, not certificates. Fifty-seven percent of the students are Hispanic. The college emphasizes a “high-impact practice to focus on student success.”
Just before Baser took over as president, the college doubled the number of advisers, so the ratio is now one adviser to every 150 students. “We are somewhat intrusive and identify early those students who are having issues and get them the services they need,” Baser explains. Whether it’s math lab, speech lab or general lab, “They are getting what they need,” he says. “Sometimes, it’s just a matter of making them realize they’re eligible to graduate with a little push.”
The strategy must be working, because there were 466 completers in 2013 compared with 822 in 2014 — an increase of 76 percent.
Baser’s team is working with students early, creating four- and eight-semester plans to graduate and transfer successfully. “We think it’s important to have that plan from the beginning and the same adviser stay with them the entire program. We know that will make a difference.”
Ever present on campus, Baser knows the importance of connecting with students. “My heart is here. I try to make eye contact with the students. I sit down with them, talk to them and let them know I know they’re here. Feeling invisible can lead to students feeling lost,” he says.
Baser even is the announcer at the college’s basketball games, and he’s done that on every campus where he has worked.
Only the second president since the school’s founding, Baser appreciates what he’s inherited. “My goal is to build upon the past and to make sure we stay an open-admissions institution, that our doors are open to help students meet their goals.”