But as committed as he has been to ICC as a unique institution, Cole has also carried the banner for community colleges in general. No one has been a more articulate proponent – nor a more dedicated evangelist – for Mississippi’s 15 community colleges.
Cole announced Friday his plans to retire as ICC president June 30, the last day of the state fiscal year. He will be succeeded by longtime ICC coach, athletic director and administrator Mike Eaton, who most recently has served as Cole’s top aide.
Eaton’s promotion by the ICC board will make the transition seamless. He is uniquely positioned to move into the college’s chief leadership role without missing a beat. That also means Eaton knows as well as anyone that he’ll have a hard act to follow.
Under Cole’s leadership, ICC’s enrollment has mushroomed and its campuses, programs and facilities have greatly expanded, enhancing the college’s overall impact in the region.
Community colleges have a unique role among the state’s educational institutions in their direct tie-in to local and regional economic development and job training. Cole has guided ICC to a rarely matched level of synchronism with the economic aspirations of ICC’s five-county service area and beyond.The fact that all five ICC counties provide the maximum millage allowed to support the college is testimony both to Cole’s legendary political skills and to the value of the product ICC has produced during his long tenure.
All this has brought kudos to ICC, which in April was named among the top 120 community colleges in the nation, and to Cole, who was recently recognized by the national Association of Community College Trustees with the top leadership award for community college presidents in the southern region. But these accolades are merely reflections of what the best community colleges do, which is improve the lives of the people they were created to serve.
Under David Cole, ICC has taken the community college mission to a new level. His leadership has been a central component in the region’s economic and educational success of the last two decades, and that will be his legacy.