NORMAL — Allen Goben said Thursday that if he hadn’t found his absolute dream job, he wouldn’t be leaving his position as president at Heartland Community College.
Goben, 45, who has headed Heartland since 2010 through what have been times of economic difficulty and community outreach, announced Thursday he’s leaving to become Missouri statewide chancellor for Utah-based Western Governors University.
Following a Heartland board of trustees meeting Friday morning, a public announcement is expected to include information about plans for an interim president and the search for a permanent replacement.
The Iowa native said he has received several offers from colleges and universities but didn’t apply because he liked his job and the people at Heartland so much. “It had to be the perfect fit for us to leave,” he said.
Then he got the offer to head a brand new branch of WGU.
“WGU is at the leading edge of education. Their mission is so tightly aligned with my own,” he said.
Goben, currently on vacation, plans to be back Aug. 12, his final day at Heartland, to say goodbye and to thank the staff. He informed the board of trustees privately of his plans Tuesday and intended to make a public announcement Friday, but word began to leak out Thursday, he said.
“President Goben has helped Heartland Community College achieve national recognition and furthered its commitment to student learning and success,” Board Chairman Gregg Chadwick said in a statement Thursday. “We wish him the best of luck as he pursues this new and exciting opportunity.”
Goben, his wife, Kelly, and three daughters, ages 8 to 15, will move to the St. Louis area this summer. He will start his new position in mid-July.
WGU, which has about 40,000 students enrolled nationwide, opened the Missouri-based online school in February. While it has about 450 students, Goben said his goal is to increase that “to 2,000 in two years and 5,000 in five years.”
Among the achievements Goben takes pride in at Heartland is broadening connections with the community and businesses, including bringing in $4.8 million in grants and significant donations to the college’s foundation.
Charlie Moore, president and CEO of the McLean County Chamber of Commerce, said he was personally saddened that Goben is leaving because he has been as asset to the community.
“We appreciated what he was able to do here. Allen has been a tremendous resource to the community … (with) outstanding initiatives he put in place, a great leadership team that he has assembled, and a fantastic continuation of what the college has started to better serve the greater McLean (County) and Central Illinois population,” Moore said.
Goben succeeded Jon Astroth, who was president of Heartland since its founding in 1990.
Heartland’s second president said he was especially pleased to be part launching Guided Path to Success in 2011 to reach college-bound students and help them move through college more confidently.
“When in a role like president, it’s really about the team,” he said.
Post-recession financial challenges characterized his term. Like other community colleges across Illinois, Heartland has seen declines in state aid, property tax values and enrollment.
A cost-cutting plan to restructure staffing and eliminate positions ran into controversy this spring when eliminating the position of full-time athletic director had to be canceled in the face of public pressure.
The skyline of the Normal campus continued to evolve under Goben. An $18 million, 18,000-square-foot facility Heartland will share with the Illinois Army National Guard is under construction, and a $5.2 million wind turbine supplying half the campus’s electricity needs went online in September.