Northwest Vista College President Ric Baser never intended to have a career in higher education.
The 64-year-old California native took a job teaching speech after graduating from college, thinking he’d stay a couple of years. He kept telling himself he would get a “real job” but fell in love with classroom teaching.
That was 41 years ago. In June, Baser will retire after serving as president of the second-largest community college in San Antonio since 2014 — and he plans to return to the classroom.
“I’m not one that can just sit around,” he said. “Getting back to the classroom will be something that I will enjoy a lot. I missed the students.”
For Baser, his time at Northwest Vista has been all about the students. In the almost eight years he’s been president, Baser is most proud of the improved three-year graduation rate, which he said grew to 34.7% in 2020 from a rate in the mid-teens in 2014. He said that rate is higher than most community colleges.
“It’s not one person,” Baser said. “I can set an agenda and a vision, but believe me, I have some unbelievable faculty and staff that have made this thing work. We’ve been able to really turn around this ship.”
Baser also is proud of the student programs Northwest Vista has expanded during his tenure. The community college established through business partnerships the Amazon Web Services Academy and the Microsoft Datacenter Academy, one of seven in the country. At both academies, students can graduate with industry certifications that will help them get high-paying jobs in in-demand fields.
Moreover, Northwest Vista is one of the few community colleges with field schools, where students can get hands-on experience in anthropology and environmental sustainability, Baser said. The school maintains a dig site near Von Ormy and an ecological lab near Lake Medina, where students conduct environmental studies with local landowners.
“Those are the kind of things that really make me excited,” he said, “because I know those end up providing exceptional jobs and great salaries for our students.”
In a prepared statement, Alamo Colleges District Chancellor Mike Flores said Northwest Vista College received numerous recognitions and “significantly improved its rankings” with Baser at the helm. It is one of five colleges in the Alamo Colleges District.
“Under Dr. Baser’s leadership, NVC gained local, regional and national recognition and was invited to compete three times for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation’s highest recognition in community college education,” Flores said.
In 2019, the West San Antonio Chamber of Commerce recognized Baser with an Educator of the Year Legacy Award.
As Baser transitions out of his role, the Alamo Colleges District will begin a nationwide search to have a new president in place by the fall 2022 semester.
Baser ended up in San Antonio because he was looking for a leadership position in which to finish his career. He interviewed for both the San Antonio College and Northwest Vista College president positions, which he felt prepared for after serving as vice president at four other community colleges over 18 years.
A first-generation college student, Baser grew up in Sacramento the son of a preacher. He competed in speech and debate in high school and college, earning a football and theater scholarship to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College.
Baser recalled the day he drove into Miami, Oklahoma, where the college is located. As he tried to find the college, everyone he drove by waved at him. He thought to himself, “This is the most friendly city I’ve ever been in in my life” until moments later when a police officer pulled him over. He had been driving the wrong way down a one-way street. The officer didn’t issue him a ticket, but he did give Baser a police escort to the college.
A year later, Baser transferred to the University of Arkansas, but he graduated from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in 1979. He earned a master’s degree in 1981 and a doctorate in 1992, both from Oklahoma State University.
In college, Baser worked as a radio DJ to make money, so it felt natural for him to announce basketball games at Northwest Vista and other institutions. He said he probably announced more than 1,000 basketball games in his time at the community college.
“I can put it on. I can compete with the Spurs,” he said, switching into his announcer’s voice. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, welcome!”
Baser said announcing games helped students to see me as just a person. I’m not that stuffy guy in an office.”
Baser said he’ll miss announcing, live theater productions on campus, his relationships with colleagues and the “excitement that occurs every day.” That’s why he wants to teach.
“One of my favorite things every year was to get back on campus that first day of the fall, when all those new students are coming on campus and everyone has that excitement in their eyes,” he said. “Only during the first week or two, I make people really uneasy because nobody wants to make eye contact. They’re just trying to blend in, and I won’t let them do that.”
Instead, Baser would maneuver himself into their sight line and make them smile.
“I’ve discovered in my 41 years that if they feel that they’re invisible, they’ll disappear.” he said. “We have to care out loud, show them that we know that they’re there.”
Baser said he still plans to make students smile, even when he’s no longer president.
“I won’t be president,” he said with a laugh, “I’ll just be that weird faculty member.”