Interview With Steve Bowron and Gary Schindler: The Rise of Community Colleges

By Andrew Nyquist
For Steve Bowron and Gary Schindler, education isn’t just another field; it’s a way of life. As Deans at their respective Community Colleges, both men have dedicated the better part of their careers to assisting young adults with their learning, development, and career choices, while immersing themselves in their local communities. I have known Steve and Gary for many years as family friends and I can say this: both are hard working, passionate, family men that love life. And in their own way, this love shines through in their dedicated career paths.

Steve Bowron, Dean of Institutional Advancement at Riverland Community College, grew up in Rochester, MN with a love of history and the arts, along with an athletic gift for hockey. But growing up with 5 siblings brought challenges, as resources were often stretched thin. This dynamic placed a heavy emphasis on work ethic and passion. And to this day, Steve cites his parent’s work ethic as an example to live by, and “a driving force for me in my own career and success.” As well, Steve’s passion for theatre (and a great sense of humor) has carried into his adult years, partaking in local plays and productions. Steve has been with Riverland Community College for 24 years and is married to Jody, a master’s level special education teacher. They have 3 children: Jennifer, Nicole, and Eric.

“Engage, work hard, and make a difference!” ~ Steve Bowron

Gary Schindler, Dean of Student Affairs at Anoka Technical College, grew up in East Grand Forks, MN with a passion for band, choir, theatre, debate, and student council. Challenges were plenty during Gary’s early years. He was raised in a household with limited resources and his father passed away when he was starting 9th grade. But Gary was fortunate to have strong male role models within his church community, as well as a good head on his shoulders. “I was the first person in my family that went to college. Education provided me with great opportunities.” And it is this concept that pushes Gary to mentor and give back. Furthermore, his fantastic outlook on life always carries the day. Gary has given back to the education field for more than 20 years and lives with his wife Jeanne who is a nurse. They have two children: Daniel and Kelli.

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“Good things happen to people that are kind, honest, and work hard.” ~ Gary Schindler

Clearly, hard work and education have afforded these gentlemen the opportunity to find their passion and give back. And at the heart of this passion lies the Community College education system; it has afforded Steve and Gary the opportunity to counsel, educate, and give back, while offering an affordable opportunity for students to specialize and find fulfilling career paths. And considering the volatile, uncertain state of the economy, the two-year education has thrived as a competitive alternative to the four-year option.

So without further adieu, let’s dig in to the latest SIM interview edition on the rise of two-year community colleges.


Andrew Nyquist:  What drew you to the education and career counseling field?

Steve Bowron:  24 years ago, I got into education as a third career path (after stints in social work and general business) and have loved it every day since (well most every day).  What has kept me in education is a passion for ensuring education is at the forefront of everyone’s mind as a tool for a fruitful career and life success. I am especially passionate about helping people understand that a college education is very important in today’s world.  And with the cost of education rising each year it is also very important that young people begin exploring their options at an early age.

Gary Schindler:  On my career journey, I realized that I received great satisfaction in working with adult learners. I had the opportunity to do that while I was employed as a career counselor at a North Dakota high school through a federal grant that I secured to work with displaced homemakers and dislocated workers. With that realization, I made a decision to change careers and sought employment at a local college as a career counselor.

Andrew:  What is the most rewarding part of your job? Better said, what makes you come back each day excited/hungry?

Steve:  Helping people get involved and connected to education so they can improve their lives, obtain a future career they are passionate about, and find the success in life. That is the goal.  I spend my days/weeks working with donors who care about students and want to help them afford their education through scholarship support and/or invest in Riverland programs to enhance the quality of education.  I also work with the students and instructors who are the recipients of the donors’ generosity.  It is a people helping people business within the foundation and feels good every day.

Gary:  I feed off of accomplishing major projects, solving problems, mentoring staff, and dialoging with students about their career plans and their successes at college.  I love to tap into the skills that I have developed over the years and apply them to situations at work.


job skillsAndrew:  What types of people benefit most by attending a 2-yearCommunity college?

Steve:  The beauty and the challenge of community colleges is that they are typically open enrollment institutions.  This is good because it means everyone has the opportunity to enroll, not just the students with high SAT/ACT Scores, as are with most universities.  The challenge is that many of the students who enroll need more help with developmental education, as some did not do as well during their K-12 years as they could have.  The following are the types that I feel benefit most from a community college education:

  • Students who want a more affordable education.  Community Colleges are typically the least expensive higher education choice.
  • Students who have an interest in practical, hands on learning, which leads to a specialized skill such as carpenter; electrician; nurse; mechanic; wind turbine technician; computer technician.
  • Students who want to live at home while attending college (young students living with their parents a couple years more to save on living costs, older students with families, jobs, homes etc.)
  • Students who went off to the 4 year universities pursuing their education only to find out it wasn’t what they really expected/wanted.
  • Students who have graduated from a 4 year university and couldn’t find a job/career and are coming back to the community college to get a skill and degree with a higher probability of getting a job/career.
  • People recently laid off from their previous job/career and needing the education to embark on a new job/Career.
  • Students who didn’t find their “passion” while in K-12 education and didn’t do as well academically and now need the developmental education and support that a community college offers to help them find their “passion.”

Andrew:  Two-year community college enrollments have increased over the past several years. What do you consider to be the main factors behind the recent surge in enrollments?

Steve:  A quick top of mind list would include the higher cost of education at 4 year universities, the higher number of dislocated workers, Post Secondary Enrollment Options enrollment increase, skills gap among skilled labor due to retiring baby boomers, advancements with technology, culture of students attending 4 year universities versus technical/community colleges for skilled labor careers.

Andrew:  What are the near term and long term 2-year Community College enrollment trends?

Gary:  Near term, there could be a slight drop in enrollments. The number of high school graduates is expected to decline slightly in many areas of the US. In addition, many students that started college to retrain following a job loss are now graduating and that could shrink the ranks in the community colleges.

There are many dynamics in play longer term, including an emphasis on the value of the community college by the President [of the United States], which has helped raise the profile of community colleges. Additionally, there is an emphasis in high schools around the country on career clusters that help students understand their career and education options across 16 career clusters (see And finally, innovations across many occupations are generating a need for technical technicians.

Andrew:  What is the most popular specialization? And what is the fastest growing specialization?

Gary:  Allied health careers including nursing are near the top for this region, followed closely by computer sciences, manufacturing related fields, diesel and industrial mechanics, welding, alternative energy technicians, and transportation careers (auto technicians and truck drivers).

Andrew:  What is the breakdown between students there to specialize and students there to save money by getting “generals” completed prior to attending a four-year college?

Gary:  This will vary from college to college but my experience at comprehensive community colleges has been around a 65% Liberal Arts and 35% Technical Education split.

Steve:  Varies year to year, but most often the higher percentages of students are on the liberal arts track.

Andrew:  Name a few near term concerns for future growth?

Steve:  Concerns would include any decrease in upfront funding of higher education or increase in the cost of tuition. Also of concern is the decreasing number of high school graduates any continuation of the poor economy that keeps boomers from retiring. I am also watching student loan interest rates and Pell Grant funding.

Andrew:  Give me a motto for yourself and for your students?

Steve:  Engage, work hard, and make a difference!

Gary:  Good things happen to people that are kind, honest, and work hard.

Andrew:  Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedules to talk with See It Market. Your dedication and commitment to educating and mentoring young adults across America is commendable. Keep up the great work.


Twitter:  @andrewnyquist and @seeitmarket     Facebook:  See It Market

Any opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author, and do not in any way represent the views or opinions of his employer or any other person or entity.