The start of the fall semester today at Allen County Community College brings Tosca Harris back to her roots.
Harris, whose 25-year career in education started at ACCC, was hired over the summer as dean of the college’s Iola campus.
As such, she will oversee the academic programs offered from Iola.
“Allen is such a wonderful place to join,” said Harris, 53. “It’s a progressive school and offers students and the community wonderful education opportunities. It’s my goal to expand those opportunities.”
Harris points to price trends at four-year universities, where tuition costs have skyrocketed over the years, particularly as those schools cope with lost state funding.
Those higher prices are likely behind the enrollment growth at ACCC, where numbers have risen over 10 of the past 11 years and look to be higher again this fall.
“That trend will continue,” she predicted. “Community colleges offer students a chance to receive a quality education at an affordable price.”
Harris knows this full well as the holder of an associate in arts degree from Carl Albert Junior College — now Carl Albert State College — in Poteau, Okla.
“What I found when I got to the university was that I was ahead of a lot of students who had started (at the university) as freshmen,” Harris said.
From there, she earned her bachelor’s degree in drama at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University at San Marcos) and her master’s degree in communications from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Okla. Harris also completed educational leadership classes at Pittsburg State University and the University of Oklahoma.
HER FIRST teaching job out of college was at ACCC in 1986, where Harris was hired as an English and journalism instructor. She also served as the adviser for the now-defunct student newspaper.
She left Allen County after 1990 to teach in Oklahoma and then became an academic dean at a private technical education
college in Reno, Nev.
She weighed her options as her children reached middle school age, and decided a place closer to her roots would be preferable to raise her family. Harris returned to southeast Kansas in 2000, where she became the liberal arts division chair at Neosho County Community College.
She remained at NCCC over the next 11 years, until the dean’s position at Allen County became available.
“It all happened pretty quickly,” she said.
She accepted the job offer on July 11 and was unpacking her belongings in her office in Iola a week later.
“It was bittersweet,” she said of leaving a college to which she had grown so attached.
Still, Harris is optimistic that Allen County and Neosho County will continue to partner in academic programs. For example, students can receive pre-nursing instruction at Allen County before enrolling at Neosho County’s nursing school. She also is investigating whether the colleges can reach collaboration agreements similar to the one ACCC shares with Fort Scott Community College.
“While Allen County and Neosho County are rivals on the athletic field, we can be collaborative partners in the academic field,” she said.
Heading to Allen County also allowed Harris to switch jobs without moving. She and her family will continue to live near Petrolia.
The Harris family has another tie to ACCC. Husband Cliff remains a theater assistant at Allen County, a position he’s held the past two years. The couple has three children, the youngest of which, Cris, is still at home. He is entering his freshman year at Iola High School.
HARRIS SEES many challenges for ACCC, the largest of which will be to continue to provide quality instruction and opportunities in the face of lost state aid.
“We don’t just want to continue providing quality programs,” she said. “We want to continue to expand the programs, with less state money.”