The Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C®) Board of Trustees entrusted Michael A. Baston with the College’s leadership and mission during a formal ceremony April 14. Board Chair Helen Forbes Fields installed Baston as Tri-C's fifth president at the Metropolitan Campus Auditorium.
He received the presidential medallion and academic mace before an audience of students, faculty, staff, representatives from across civic and educational institutions, and his own family members.
Watch the Inauguration ceremony below.
Ceremony celebrates College’s 60-year legacy, looks toward vibrant future
The Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C®) Board of Trustees entrusted Michael A. Baston with the College’s leadership and mission during a formal ceremony April 14. Board Chair Helen Forbes Fields installed Baston as Tri-C's fifth president at the Metropolitan Campus Auditorium in Cleveland.
Baston received the presidential medallion and academic mace before an audience of students, faculty, staff, representatives from across civic and educational institutions, and a number of his own family members.
“An inauguration is an important tradition, a time to celebrate the past and envision the future,” Forbes Fields said. “Since opening the doors in 1963 as the first community college in Ohio, Tri-C has served more than 1 million individuals seeking education and training to help them build a more purposeful and prosperous life. Today, we celebrate Tri-C's proud heritage as we look to the future.”
Baston joined Tri-C on July 1, 2022, immediately meeting with government, industry, business and education leaders to gather feedback about the institution.
As a candidate, Baston made three promises for his presidency: A commitment to building an effective community college, to expanding the College’s reach and influence, and to properly purposed leadership. On the day of his inauguration, he added a fourth — a commitment to post-college success — that will be his focus.
“At its core, this will be the focus of my presidency — what I hope will one day be my legacy,” Baston said. “Every student who comes through our doors will leave with an education and a path to a better life for themselves and their families.”
More than a dozen college presidents from across the country attended the ceremony, including Cleveland State University President Laura Bloomberg. Other guests included Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and Randy Gardner, chancellor for the Ohio Department of Higher Education.
“In many ways, we’re the new kids in school,” said Bloomberg, who, like Baston, assumed office last year. “I think about facing and advancing higher education with you ready to help make access to education a civil right.”
“I saw firsthand the commitment that Dr. Baston has for our community,” Bibb said. “We talked about the importance of this institution as it continues to be a pathway for folks to achieve their potential and how we can disrupt workforce development to ensure underserved communities of color can build wealth in our city. Count me as a partner and a friend as we make sure that our city can be a model for America and that the American dream is alive and real in Cleveland.”
“Today is a celebration of what’s right about higher education in Ohio,” Gardner said. “Tri-C’s success is not just helpful to Northeast Ohio’s and Cleveland’s future — it is necessary and fundamental. I stand ready to work with you every day.”
Baston’s address began with a celebration of Tri-C history before ending in a clear call that the work to ensure educational access and equity must continue.
He spoke about the College’s founding in 1963 during an era of civil unrest; to its expansion in the 1970s and ‘80s as a “beacon of hope”; to an era of technological revolution in the 1990s and 2000s; and, finally, to its focus on access and completion during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Baston also acknowledged the faculty, staff and students who have contributed to the College’s success through the years and pledged to honor them by “building momentum.”
“We will measure our success not by numbers of students or degrees conferred, but by how much someone’s life was improved by their time at Tri-C,” he said.
To close out his remarks, Baston implored attendees to serve those most in need.
“Our efforts have inspired and provided hope to many,” he said. “Tri-C has always been a gateway to higher education for countless individuals who may have otherwise been unable to pursue a college degree. Tri-C has made it possible for many to achieve their dreams of obtaining a college education.”
“When we say that this College will be for everyone, this College will be for everyone.”
(presented as prepared)
As I look at all your faces today, I am humbled and grateful.
Humbled that so many of you have chosen to be here today.
Humbled to be a part of such an incredible institution with such a bright and purposeful future.
Grateful for the faith you have placed in me to lead this institution forward.
Grateful for the privilege of being the fifth president of Cuyahoga Community College.
To our Board of Trustees, our faculty, staff and the students we work so hard to serve.
To our generations of alumni, elected officials, and business and community leaders.
To each of Tri-C’s former presidents who are here today: Dr. Alex Johnson, Dr. Jerry Sue Thornton and David Chapman, representing his father, the late Dr. Charles Chapman.
I offer my thanks for the warm welcome you have given my wife, Tasha, and me, for welcoming us into the fold and allowing us to become a part of this wonderful College and community.
I would also like to thank those who contributed to planning today’s event and all the celebratory events leading up to today.
To my family and friends who have traveled to be here today ― I thank you for your unconditional love and support and for being here to celebrate this special day with me.
Two special women in my life could not be here today with me in person because they now rest in paradise. They, more than most, deserve the credit for helping me become the man I am today.
My mother, Gwendolyn Baston, showed me the meaning of unfailing, enduring and unconditional love. And my brilliant, resourceful and loving grandmother, Dorothy Baston, whose influence, wit and wisdom encourage me daily.
My dad and mom could not be here today. My dad is under medical care, and the doctors felt that travel at this time wasn’t the best. But they are watching from their home in Woodbridge, New Jersey.
We were blessed to have them here with us last year when I took the helm of Tri-C.
Since then, we’ve been trying to make them Clevelanders.
We got them to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Rocket Mortgage Field House for a Cavs game.
We’ll get to the Guardians this summer, particularly if they play the Yankees again at home.
I want to speak to my dad right now.
I know how much you wanted to be here today. And I want you to know that you have always shown up for me every day of my life. You are our North Star. I am very proud to be your son. I'm very proud of your many sacrifices to give me and my brother a fighting chance to make a difference in this world. When I stand here, I don’t stand in my own strength. I stand with a great sense of honor, knowing that I am loved and cared for by my amazing father and our wonderful family.
I also want to introduce to some and present to others the joy and love of my life ― my wife, Tasha Baston.
Would you please stand so everyone can see you and help me celebrate you? When I was thinking about all the different pictures I could show our guests about you or us, these meant the most to me because they show who we really are. It's wonderful to have a professional persona. However, having a loving companion you enjoy being with and sharing life with is much more important. I married my best friend. Anyone that knows me never wonders why I'm always so happy. They can point to my wife as a powerful reason for my joy. I'm grateful to you, my darling, and I'm so glad to walk down the lane of life with you every day of my life.
It is a great pleasure to stand before you today in the wonderful city of Cleveland, Ohio. This city has a rich history of inspiring stories of the purposeful pursuit of passion, perseverance and progress. Cleveland has a legacy of industrial strength and innovation, which has made it a hub for manufacturing, shipping and transportation. From the rise of steel mills to the development of the aviation industry, Cleveland has played a vital role in shaping the modern world. But what makes Cleveland unique is not just its industrial past but the resilience and determination of its people.
Our city and our region are on the rise. We have a thriving arts and culture scene, a growing technology sector and a vibrant downtown. Our region is home to some of the world's most innovative medical research institutions, and we are leading the way in developing sustainable energy solutions
Our honored past has provided a foundation for the region to build, and we are using that foundation to create a bright and prosperous future for generations to come. That is why our inaugural theme is so appropriate ― celebrating legacy while building momentum!
Since its founding in 1963 ― 60 years ago ― Tri-C has provided accessible, affordable and high-quality education to the people of Cleveland and its surrounding communities.
September 23 marked the first day of classes at the first community college in Ohio’s history. It was the culmination of an effort involving many community members over the span of years — an effort shaped by Dr. Charles Chapman, who arrived in Cleveland from California tasked with building a college from the ground up amid an era of change and turmoil.
It was a time when America was forced to examine many institutionalized beliefs about race. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed the following year, but the struggle for equal rights and racial equity persisted in the face of opposition. A struggle that continues to this day.
At the same time, young people were sent off to fight in Vietnam — a highly unpopular war. Only decades later would we properly recognize the sacrifices made by those who served.
This was the world of Tri-C in its first decade under Dr. Chapman. He succeeded in bringing together Northeast Ohioans of different races, ethnicities and backgrounds to build the foundation of a college community that thrived despite the turmoil surrounding it.
Dr. Chapman paved the way for Dr. Nolen Ellison in 1974. Tri-C’s second president faced a declining national economy, the effects of which were magnified locally. He and the courageous faculty and staff began developing our first “one college” concept.
Dr. Ellison had a vision for the College as an agent for systemic change. He saw Tri-C as a critical lifeline for Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. The College would partner with businesses and industry to develop workforce training to reskill thousands of Northeast Ohio residents. At a time when manual labor jobs were beginning to intersect with computers and technology, Tri-C would develop a new generation of manufacturing workers, helping Cleveland reclaim its standing as a manufacturing hub.
In 1992, the baton was passed to Dr. Jerry Sue Thornton, who helped build on the College’s solid legacy of leadership. In her 21 years of leadership, Dr. Thornton presided over a technology revolution at the College. Chalkboards and overhead projectors were replaced by desktop computers — then laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Under Dr. Thornton, Tri-C saw the development and expansion of its online course offerings. It was a major advancement for educational access ― but not without challenges. Unequal access to reliable internet, now known as the digital divide, ushered in a new era of socioeconomic inequities.
Dr. Thornton oversaw marked growth in student enrollment, academic courses and workforce training programs and facilities, adding two Corporate Colleges, the Westshore campus and Brunswick University Center.
Dr. Alex Johnson became president in 2013, intensifying the focus on access and completion and wanting an even deeper connection to the community. He oversaw the creation of Tri-C’s six Centers of Excellence, four Access Centers and many other initiatives that would make it easier for students to enroll, take classes and complete a degree or certificate.
In the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the country. Dr. Johnson led an unprecedented migration of class materials and services online in weeks. He also launched initiatives to re-enroll students who dropped out due to pandemic hardships by removing financial and situational barriers. Under his leadership, graduation rates increased dramatically.
As you can see, I am privileged to stand on the shoulders of these giants, whose dreams and perseverance have shown us ― and the more than 1 million students who have passed through Tri-C’s doors ― the promise of a better future. In only 60 years, they built this College from one location in Downtown Cleveland to four campuses and 12 locations throughout Cuyahoga County and the Brunswick University Center in Medina County.
Today, we celebrate the legacy of these leaders. I would also like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the faculty, staff and students who have contributed to the growth and development of our College throughout the years. Your efforts have helped to create a vibrant and dynamic learning environment that fosters innovation, creativity and intellectual curiosity.
But I believe the best way we can honor their labor is to build on their momentum. But what does it mean to build momentum in our sixth decade?
First, we believe everyone in our region needs the skills to succeed. We imagine a future in which every citizen, regardless of where they live, is educated and supported to enter a career where they can earn what they need to care for their family, a future where their children can grow and prosper in Northeast Ohio.
To do this, we believe that all students should be on a pathway to a credential of value that supports their personal, career and economic aspirations and aligns with the economic development goals of our region.
- One-third of Cleveland residents live in poverty.
- Northeast Ohio retains 47% of its graduates.
- Across industries in Northeast Ohio, over 50,000 good jobs remain vacant, straining our economic future.
- Only 19% of Northeast Ohio’s workforce comprises Black and Hispanic employees.
We know that if we can serve the people most in need by providing accessible, flexible education in industries vital to our region and connecting them to life-changing work, we can create inclusive prosperity for all people in Northeast Ohio.
Over the years, the impact of Tri-C has been far-reaching and can be seen in the lives of the students we have served. Many of our graduates have gone on to pursue successful careers, start their own businesses and contribute to the economic development of our region. They are doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers and entrepreneurs, and they all have one thing in common: Tri-C helped them get there.
The impact of Cuyahoga Community College goes beyond individual students and is not limited to the workforce alone. We have been instrumental in developing the community and providing a skilled workforce critical to the success of local businesses and organizations.
As a pillar of the community, Tri-C has enabled personal and professional growth for people from diverse backgrounds, whether through adult education programs, cultural events or community outreach initiatives. Our efforts have inspired and provided hope to many. Tri-C has always been a gateway to higher education for countless individuals who may have otherwise been unable to pursue a college degree. Tri-C has made it possible for many to achieve their dreams of obtaining a college education.
Tri-C has acted as a catalyst for growth and innovation, driving economic development and rejuvenating neighborhoods. We have much to be proud of as the community’s college. And yet there is still much to do.
As a candidate for president, I made three promises:
- A commitment to building an effective community college
- A commitment to expanding the College’s reach and influence
- And a commitment to properly purposed leadership
How will we build a more effective community college?
To provide greater clarity around career pathways and ensure better student outcomes, Tri-C will transition to an academic community model shaped in part by the structures of our university partners. We will ensure that the successful Centers of Excellence we currently have will be extended so that all our students will be in a Center of Excellence. This will provide a more coherent approach to programs of study and clarify how non-degree credentials and programs align with degree programs to form stepping stones to career or degree attainment.
We will implement checkpoints throughout the student journey to provide academic and personal support to improve student outcomes.
We will make investments to provide each credit-seeking student with a Student Success team. Tri-C has already made great strides in this area, but we will continue to expand this work.
We will focus on nontraditional learners, many impacted by the changing economic landscape ― particularly the working class, underemployed and unemployed ― who could address our region’s labor shortages.
How will we expand the reach and influence of our College?
As business and industry reset, higher education must do so as well by aligning academic programs with emerging labor market demands and intensifying business, industry and community partnerships.
We can and must be the engines of economic mobility and workforce innovation for our community. We must embrace a “next generation of the community college” model that organizes student experiences around milestones, includes connecting skills to our programs, embedding career readiness across the educational experience, and developing strategic and structural partnerships.
We must also engage with today's adult learners through alternative credentials and accelerated programs, program flexibility and expanded online opportunities.
How do we commit to properly purposed leadership?
We are properly purposed when our core values are demonstrated in our actions.
We will ensure that a commitment to inclusive excellence is front and center in setting a higher education strategy to unlock potential and level the playing field for all.
We will create multiple avenues to engage students, faculty and staff to co-create efforts to develop equity-focused reforms throughout the student experience.
Everything we do will be values-centered, student-focused and purpose-driven.
As the community’s college, Tri-C will be a catalyst for change in Northeast Ohio. We will create more vibrant communities by moving people from economic fragility to economic mobility through education and training for in-demand, well-paying jobs.
Today, I will add a fourth promise ― a commitment to post-college success. At its core, this will be the focus of my presidency ― what I hope will one day be my legacy.
Every student who comes through our doors will leave with an education and a path to a better life for themselves and their families.
This will require embedding career readiness experiences in all courses and clearly articulating the real-world skills students will acquire, helping them select courses and convey their skills to employers.
To hold ourselves accountable, we will establish measurable student success targets and track graduate employment and earnings. We will measure our success not by the number of students or degrees conferred, but by how much someone’s life was improved by their time at Tri-C ― by the post-graduate success of our students.
Under my watch, Tri-C will continue to be a beacon of light as it has for the past 60 years. The College’s 60th anniversary will commemorate the institution’s many achievements and set a course for the future ― the work yet to be done.
Dr. Chapman piloted Tri-C through an era of systemic prejudice and class and racial inequity.
We have made progress as a society since those days, but students of color and those from less-advantaged backgrounds continue to struggle to make ends meet, stay in college and earn a degree.
We still have work to do!
Dr. Ellison envisioned Tri-C as a key cog in the workforce training machine that would bring Northeast Ohio back from economic decline. Yet a large portion of Cleveland continues to live in poverty while good-paying jobs go unfilled.
We still have work to do!
Dr. Thornton captained a technology revolution that brought computers into the classroom and education online. And yet, the pandemic showed that many of our residents couldn’t access online education.
We still have work to do!
Dr. Johnson achieved remarkable increases in persistence and graduation rates. But if even one student stops out before achieving a degree or certificate ― we still have work to do!
I am persuaded, my friends, that together we will make a difference.
People come to Tri-C with dreams of a career or life they’ve always wanted, with hopes for a better future for themselves and their families.
Their dreams are our dreams, and we will not let them die. We will continue to fight for our students’ futures as old challenges persist and new ones arise.
As the fifth president of Cuyahoga Community College, I pledge to our past presidents and to all of you that our College will fight the good fight for our people and keep moving forward ― building momentum together.
Take a look at all of the Inauguration memories, view the photo album here.
Tri-C wrapped up its inauguration with the "Baston Bash" celebration and a special announcement: the Tri-C Foundation’s historic Skills to Succeed Campaign surpassed its $50 million goal to support student access, equity and success. Read about what this means for Tri-C and its students here.
View the Baston Bash photo album here.
Celebrating Legacy - Building Momentum: A Discussion With Tri-C's Past Presidents
As part of the events leading up to inauguration, the College, in partnership with the Cleveland Public Library, hosted a panel of past Tri-C Presidents. The panelists discussed the founding of the institution, its mission and contributions to the community. Watch the discussion here.