AURORA | If it weren’t for athletics, Alton Scales would have had a much different academic career.
The new president of the Community College of Aurora credits his route as an undergraduate at the University of North Texas to his abilities on the track field. His athletic scholarship was the spur for his bachelor’s and eventual master’s degree in manufacturing.
With decades of experience in the higher education field under his belt, Scales says he would have taken a different path.
“If I had not been a gifted athlete, I would have never been able to get into a four-year institution. My athletic performance was not a reflection of what my capacity was. It was a reflection of what my interests were,” Scales said. “If I were to do it again, I’d give my four-year experience for (life) experience and at the end I’d choose a community college.”
That change of heart has a lot to do with Scales’ professional experience in the past three decades. He’s held administrative posts at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, the Neosho County Community College in Chanute and Ottawa, Kansas and, most recently, as the campus CEO at Colorado Mountain College.
In building a résumé rooted in higher education, Scales said he’s gained a deep appreciation for the intensity, quality and importance of a community college education. It’s an appeal that took him from the world of four-year universities to smaller campuses and non-traditional students, a lure that brought him to his new position as president at CCA.
“The thing that we do really well … is to provide those general education pieces, and to provide them in a way that they integrate well in the four-year institutions,” Scales said. “It has everything to do with the incubation period, smaller classrooms, better preparedness and giving people the opportunity to come into their own.”
At CCA, the range and diversity of the student body makes that effort all the more complicated. With an enrollment for the 2012-13 of about 7,350, CCA counts online students, concurrent enrollment attendees from local high schools and students who commute to the campuses at CentreTech and Lowry among their ranks.
That diversity is bound to increase. According to school officials, CCA is set to see an increase in the number of concurrent enrollment high school students taking college credit. At last count, the number was about 525.
For CCA administrators, that’s meant working more closely with the Aurora Public Schools and Cherry Creek School districts in organizing curriculum and aligning programming for high school juniors and seniors.
“As parents figure out the savings, that you can pick up all your general eds and immerse your student in the college experience … that’s really hard to beat,” Scales said. “When we can have an opportunity to work with them as high school students, we have the opportunity to give them the things that will allow them to succeed once they’re in college full-time.”
In his new role at the college, Scales said he focused on ensuring that the school’s facilities match the demands of a shifting student body. That means completing the CCA Foundation’s expansion project at its Lowry campus, as well as monitoring the content of entry-level English classes.
“Here’s my strategy: Working with the deans, the vice president for instruction, the vice president for student affairs, we’ve come to an agreement that one of the things that we’re going to work on is more training,” Scales said. “It’s training all of our employees, from customer service to faculty.”
A part of that effort includes administrators enrolling in classes, Scales added.
“We’re going to go through the process … I want to know what happens,” Scales said. “We have to be entrenched in what the people we are seeking to serve experience. If we keep hearing that this happens, we need to experience it for ourselves.”
Scales started in his new role at CCA in July, following a nationwide search by the Colorado Community College System. Scales replaced Linda Bowman, who served as CCA president for 12 years.