BULLHEAD CITY — Stacy Klippenstein had a plan. He would go into teaching high school after graduating from Eastern Montana College.
But he had to wait a year for his wife, Carrie, to graduate from the college, now Montana State University Billings.
He took a position as a residence hall director.
“That’s what sucked me in,” Klippenstein said last week. “I just loved it.”
That position led him to fall in love with higher education, the field in which he has worked for the last 30 years.
Klippenstein, now president of Mohave Community College, discussed his background and career path with the Daily News.
Klippenstein, who started at MCC on July 1, said recent soaring temperatures are not entirely foreign to him — he and his wife occasionally visited Bullhead City and Laughlin when they worked at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
Though born in Southern California, Klippenstein was raised in Hamilton, Montana.
He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from EMC, and the early part of his career was in housing, and eventually facilities management, where he supervised workers who included painters and custodians.
He later earned a doctorate in higher education leadership from Nova Southeastern (Florida) University. His dissertation topic sprang from his experience: Klippenstein studied “living learning” communities, specialized living environments that connect students’ inside- and outside-the-classroom experiences.
He said that he found that a successful living learning community was one that developed an academic support structure, a tutoring system and other amenities designed to keep the students engaged.
After graduating, he worked at Texas Tech University, managing a complex of residence halls. Klippenstein said that his goal there was to fully assist students as they reached for success, both in and out of class.
Another stop for Klippenstein was Central Washington University, where he served in positions that included vice chancellor for student affairs.
After eight years there, Klippenstein made his final stop before MCC, serving as president of Miles Community College in Miles City, Montana.
“That’s where I fell in love with what we do on the two-year side of things,” Klippenstein said. “I got to see how the two-year side truly changed people’s lives, within a one- or two-year period.”
He said the impact was from nursing and technical education classes and partnerships with businesses, which enabled residents to get vocational certificates or otherwise improve their job skills, thus raising their value on the job market.
Klippenstein said he and Carrie were looking at places they would like to retire, while he also was looking for a larger college.
MCC, with its four campuses, beckoned.
“We like Arizona,” he said. “To us, it really was an exciting opportunity. I was fortunate to be asked to be the president.”
Since coming on board, Klippenstein said, he has spent a lot of time visiting local government, healthcare and education leaders, among others.
“I’m really having a great time visiting with so many people who really care about their communities,” he said.
He said MCC and the communities it serves will benefit if his goal of “more in, more out” is achieved.
“More students coming in to take classes, and more graduates (going out),” he explained.
Klippenstein said the need for an educated workforce is growing and that research shows two-year graduates as the most sought-after group for the near future. He said that MCC and other community colleges have a vital role to play in the goal of having 60% of Arizona’s adults hold professional certificates or college degrees by 2030. That goal was identified in 2016 by a coalition of business, philanthropic and education organizations throughout Arizona. Gov. Doug Ducey has expressed support for the initiative.
“The two-year sector is going to be the easiest way to fill that gap,” Klippenstein said.
One area to investigate, he said, is the 40% of Mohave County residents who have attended some college haven’t completed degrees or certificates.
“What can we do to get them to complete?” Klippenstein asked rhetorically. “Especially if it can help them in their current fields.”
With students returning for the fall semester, which began Monday, Klippenstein said he’ll shift his focus toward making himself available for them and faculty. He said that he plans to host listening sessions on each campus, preferably matching them up with business he has to do in each community. He said he also wants to attend student-led events where possible.
In the past, Klippenstein said, he has served on various boards in communities where he has worked. He said he may do so again here.
He said he sees the MCC presidency as the last job he’s going to have before retiring.
“That’s why I’m building a home here,” he said. “Hopefully the (MCC governing) board likes me.”