Chancellor of Lone Star College System

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Richard G. Carpenter serves as the Chancellor of the Lone Star College System in Houston. He took the position on Aug. 1, 2007 and is the third chancellor since the system's inception in 1972.

His work with community colleges extends long before he joined Lone Star. Before coming to Texas, Carpenter served as the president of Somerset Community College in Kentucky. At the age of 29, he was the youngest college president in the country. Since that time, he has served as president at colleges in Michigan, California and Alabama, and as state director for Nevada's Community Colleges.

As chancellor of LSCS, Carpenter has helped grow the system to the point where it was recognized by the Houston Business Journal as the largest college in the Houston Metro area. When it comes to producing associate's degrees, LSCS ranks in the top 10 for colleges nationwide.

What brought you to the Lone Star College System?

I'm a first generation college student. I grew up with three sets of parents; none of them had finished high school. Had it not been for community college, I would not have had a higher education. I've had unbelievable love for community colleges my entire adult life. My career line was always moving up so I'd have the opportunity to do something bigger or better. We moved back [to Texas] from Las Vegas to be closer to family in Louisiana. I saw an incredible opportunity with what was then the North Harris Montgomery Community College District. It had an incredible reputation, it was on a growth curve, so I got on board. I'm starting my sixth year, and this has been absolutely the most fun I've had in my career.

What are the biggest challenges facing LSCS?

Finance is a big challenge for any kind of public institution for a host of reasons. We've seen the proportion of state funding for community colleges decrease every year for the last 20 years. The [other] biggest challenge we've got going forward: the changing demographics we have in Texas in general. The Limited English Proficiency students coming to us are increasing. More than half of all students coming to us now need developmental education. Some of those are students who graduated from high school with A and B averages. Coupled with the third element is student success. That's our focus.

LSCS is one of the fastest growing community colleges in the nation with 28 percent student growth from 2009-11. What would you attribute that growth to?

We are in a part of the country that is rapidly growing. We serve 11 school districts, all of which are growing. We get a natural bed of students who are coming out of those districts. There is an economic piece as well. A few years back, the state of Texas deregulated tuition for universities, and it's been spiraling dramatically since that time. People have come to learn that we transfer students every year to universities all over the country—Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Colombia, Duke. With the escalating cost of tuition at universities, parents are beginning to learn that you can get a degree from Colombia University and get the first two years at the community college where they don't even have to pay for a dorm. We've also been in an economic doldrums, with unemployment spiraling out of control. Adult learners are flocking to community colleges because they see it as the shortest path back to the job they lost. Our average age has gone up because we're getting more nontraditional adult students who are turning to us to help get them back into the workforce.

Are you looking for other universities or schools to partner with? Are there specific programs you'd be looking to gain through those partnerships?

There is keen interest in public and private universities in being partners with us. We've had meetings with the University of Texas, Texas A&M, a number of private and some public institutions in Texas, and we're not pursuing them so much as they're pursuing us. I've been a college administrator for 31 years, and I've spent the majority of that time trying to convince others that it would be beneficial to partner with us. The tables have completely turned. It's exciting to be pursued rather than pursue. We also have a charter high school at University Park as well, and they're doubling their space from last year to this year.

What has been your proudest achievement as chancellor?

The thing I'm most proud of is the opening of the sixth campus, [University Park]. Not because it was a bragging rights thing. Not because the Wall Street Journal said it was the biggest real estate transaction that year. We are in our second year, and we already have 5,000 students there. We went through months of negotiation, walked through the facility and could see what it might look like, and it was all so incredibly exciting. Then we built it, went in and renovated it. When it really came to life was when the students arrived. Now you see the students buzzing and going around, you see them all sitting in lounge areas or study groups. You see the activity and you realize that difference that that campus is making in the lives of not only the people you're seeing, but the family and kids you don't see. That, to me, is our proudest achievement.