TCC’s Landscape Bright Under Thomas McKeon
By D. J. MORROW
TOP CHOICE: Dr. Thomas McKeon has finished his first year as the president and CEO of Tulsa Community College. He has received high marks from throughout the education, civic and business communities for his leadership and forward thinking.
GTR Newspapers photo
The search committee for Tulsa Community College last year apparently took note of the ending of the movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” that “….if you go out looking for happiness [or leadership] you don’t have to go any further than your own backyard.” Following a five-month, national search effort the community-wide selection committee last June chose Thomas McKeon, Ed.D. as president and chief executive officer – the third in the college’s 35-year-old history.
“It’s been a great first year,” said McKeon recently. “The faculty, staff, students and community have been tremendous in working with me as we take TCC forward.”
McKeon and TCC have had a busy year. In late May the college broke ground on an $8 million medical and biotechnology learning center, made possible with the passage of the Vision 2025 initiative.
“This and other projects are possible because of the confidence and investment of the citizens of the State of Oklahoma and City of Tulsa,” he said, noting that as a result of several city and state bond issues, additional new facilities will include a fire training center on the Northeast Campus, a mathematics and science center on the West Campus and the Center for Advancement of Learning at the Metro Campus to accommodate the College’s rapidly growing online learning programs.
“Our community and state can take great pride in TCC,” said McKeon. “TCC is the third largest college in the state and ranks in the top three percent nationally among 1,200 two-year colleges in the number of associate degrees granted.
“We rank second in the nation in granting associate degrees to Native Americans, have more than 1,000 honors students and have as many as 27,000 individuals taking courses at TCC campuses in any given year.”
TCC is known nationally for its cooperative programs with other higher education institutions in the area, including OSU-Tulsa, OU-Tulsa, Tulsa Technology Center, NSU-Tulsa, Langston University, Rogers State University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Southern Nazarene University, the University of Phoenix, the University of Tulsa and Oral Roberts University.
An entering freshman can plan on two years at TCC and then finish at any of the four-year schools.
“We are seeing a lot more top students – the valedictorians, salutatorians, honors students – spending their first two years at TCC. Our smaller class sizes, individual attention and lower cost are a very attractive way to begin the college experience.”
Along with the traditional academic programs, TCC also lives up to its middle name – Community. Members of the community can learn a foreign language, how to play the guitar or even how to safely ride a motorcycle.
“TCC offers literally hundreds of programs that meet educational needs of the community that aren’t necessarily part of a formal degree or certificate program,” McKeon said.
The college’s credit and community programs in the arts reach out to the community through the Signature Symphony at TCC, which performs throughout the year, and the TCC Theatre Department, which produces numerous plays.
Another area in which TCC is becoming nationally recognized is distance learning.
“TCC is a leader in the electronic delivery of curriculum,” McKeon said. “Our faculty and staff have an excellent reputation for developing innovative delivery to students who desire a higher education.”
TCC offers more academic credit online than any other public college or university in the state and is the first Oklahoma public college or university to receive accreditation of its distance learning degrees through the Higher Learning Commission. TCC has more than 6,000 enrollments in online and distance learning and offers 30 certificate or degree programs entirely through online, telecourse or interactive television mediums.
Some of the associate degrees offered through distance learning are in accounting, biology, business administration, child development, communications, education, engineering, geography, geology, international business, international studies, marketing, mathematics, physics and sciences.
“This is why the Center for Advancement of Learning at the Metro campus is so important,” McKeon said. “In some ways it will become a fifth campus as it will support all of the distance learning faculty and students as well as house all computer and network operations and our journalism programs, including desktop publishing and graphic design. It will be more like a lab where students will have hands-on experience and internship opportunities.”
Another area critical to TCC’s and the area’s future is the collaboration with the business community, Tulsa Metro Chamber and WorkForce Tulsa on economic development and needs of the workforce.
“We want to be sure we are aligned with the business community for growth opportunities,” McKeon said. “President Bush recently outlined a grant program specifically aimed at community colleges for high growth jobs and we will certainly be applying for one of those grants, probably in the area of health care.”
McKeon, his staff and faculty are also targeting first generation students for educational opportunities at TCC.
“We recently did some research to determine our potential for new student growth and found we have great opportunities in the low income population and first generation students,” he said. “We are working on outreach efforts to help build bridges to support the transition of these students into the college experience.”
McKeon said their research shows students who are from low-income families or from families who have not had anyone attend college don’t have the reference points many college students take for granted.
“Things like financial aid, what courses to take, enrollment processes can all be somewhat baffling and even frightening to a student who has never been exposed to higher education. We want to help alleviate that.”
TCC already has a diverse enrollment with the minority student enrollment doubling from 3,000 to 6,000 students in the past decade. Minority or underrepresented students now make up 29 percent of TCC’s enrollment.
McKeon has been busy behind the scenes during his first year as well, working on improving the quality of life for faculty, students and staff through the initiation of wellness programs, deferred tuition payment plans and inclusive round-table discussions about TCC’s future.
“We (faculty, staff and student) are all part of TCC’s future and it is important to invest in the human aspect of our college,” he said.
That keen and complete vision for the future of TCC is a key element that landed the 50-year-old administrator the job.
“He is committed to the community college philosophy and possesses an understanding of the needs and concerns of the citizens of Tulsa and business and industry,” said TCC Board of Regents Chairman Ron Looney when making the announcement last year. “He understands the important climate of collaboration and partnership among the public and private higher educations in Tulsa, and has articulated plans that would take that collaboration to new levels and increase access to students.”
That, along with McKeon’s prior experience at TCC, made him the top choice.
McKeon has served as executive vice president and chief operating officer at TCC since 2000 and has been with TCC since 1980, when he joined as an instructor. He has served in a number of administrative roles including dean of instruction, provost of the Southeast Campus, and vice president for external affairs and Northeast Campus provost before becoming chief operating officer.
McKeon also served as vice president for educational development and innovation at Rogers University. McKeon has a Bachelor of Science degree from California Polytechnical State Institute and a Master of Science degree and a doctorate in higher education administration, both from Oklahoma State University.
McKeon originally planned to own his own landscaping business with his undergraduate horticulture degree. In 1977 he followed his girlfriend, now his wife, to Oklahoma and worked in the landscaping and nursery business. They married two years later. He became an adjunct professor by chance when TCC called his employer to teach a horticulture class but he was too ill to teach.
“I stepped in and taught at the Northeast campus when the college owned 80 acres with nothing on it but a greenhouse and a two-classroom trailer.
“I caught the community college ‘bug’ and the rest is history. Fate dealt me a wonderful hand.”
McKeon and his wife, Stacey, have two grown children. Both have been TCC students. To relax, McKeon says he loves to golf, cook outdoors and travel. He puts his landscaping degree to work on his own backyard.