From attending Glendale Community College to helping establish Paradise Valley Community College in the 1980s and serving as president of Estrella Mountain Community College, Dr. Ernest “Ernie” Lara boasts years of involvement with the Maricopa County Community College District.
He is now retiring.
After more than 37 years of service, Lara, who has witnessed and contributed largely to the growth and success of the Maricopa Community Colleges, said he believes it’s the right moment for him to step away from his role.
“I think the colleges worked very hard to become part of the community. We’ve got great staff; great programs. We’re in the position where we’re getting ready for accreditation and different opportunities,” Lara said. “For me, right now is the right time because it will allow somebody else to come in and continue with the missions we’re working on.”
One of those missions mentioned by Lara is strengthening local partnerships.
“We’ve worked very closely with WESTMARC looking at the potential businesses that are coming here,” Lara said.
“Another extremely important partnership is the West Valley Think Tank, where we meet with the elementary school and high school leaders; the community colleges including Glendale, Phoenix College; and the local universities. Basically, what we want to do is all of us have an investment in this pipeline.”
And the goal for these partnerships is not to benefit one institution alone, but to support and connect local students with exceptional postsecondary education, Lara added.
“We’ve always said, ‘Sure, we’d like you to come to Estrella Mountain.’ But basically our main goal is: Just go somewhere. Glendale, Phoenix, Gateway or any institution where you can get the type of training you want,” Lara said.
Lara will remain in his position until a viable candidate is identified and a start date determined.
Public forums for final candidates for the president position were hosted by Maricopa Community Colleges at EMCC on May 6. He hopes the new president continues initiatives that strongly encourage students to transition from EMCC to a university.
“We want to make sure that our students can continue to transfer to any of the local universities. That they actually get to where they can get the premium years of skills needed to go on and be part of the workforce,” Lara said.
“And then they can even work here in the community and stay out here and help the West Valley grow.”
Lara knows about education. He earned an associate degree from GCC. Lara holds all of his additional degrees from ASU.
He holds a Bachelor of Arts in history, a Master of Guidance and Counseling, a Master of Counseling, and a Ph.D. from the Higher and Adult Education Program with an emphasis in student development.
Besides the West Valley Think Tank, Lara serves on several local boards, including West Valley Hospital Board of Directors and Valle del Sol. Other community service includes the Hispanic Leadership Forum del Oeste Advisory Board, Estrella Rotary, Leadership West, and Luke Air Force - Honorary Commanders Program.
A Goodyear resident, Lara said he plans to remain in the area and looks forward to spending time with his family.
In the meantime, Gold Hill Associates (GHA), the independent search firm conducting this national search effort, has identified two potential candidates.