Dr. Marvin L. Baker, retired president emeritus of South Plains College, has died at the age of 88.
Baker, who served 33 years as the second president of South Plains College from 1961 to 1994, died Feb. 5, 2015 in Weatherford.
A memorial service has been scheduled for 2 p.m. on Feb. 20 in the Sundown Room of the Student Center on the South Plains College campus in Levelland.
“Marvin Baker’s leadership as one of the longest-serving presidents of a Texas community college shaped the early years of South Plains College and set the path for the growth and excellence that characterizes the college today,” said Mike Box, chairman of the South Plains College Board of Regents who served eight years as a Regent while Baker was president. “Dr. Baker was among a select few educators who dedicated a lifetime to the Texas community college movement.”
When Baker took over the SPC presidency in June 1961, he became the youngest junior college president in Texas at age 35. When he retired from the college in July 1994, he held the distinction of holding the longest presidential tenure of any college president at a single institution.
For Baker, watching South Plains College grow over his 53-year association with the college was the unfolding of a dream that he shared with faculty and staff who he considered to be the “best in the nation.” And the growth over the past 53 years has been phenomenal, surpassing the gloom and doom predictions of the skeptics in the early 1960s.
SPC enrolled 383 students during Baker’s first semester as president. When he retired in 1994, enrollment had grown to 5,760 students. Today, SPC enrolls more than 9,600 students and has enrolled as many as 10,500 students.
Under Baker’s leadership, the college grew from a single campus in Levelland to a multi-campus system with locations in downtown Lubbock, the former Reese Air Force Base and in Plainview. The college’s faculty has grown from 13 instructors and four administrators in 1961 to 451 full-time and part-time faculty members and an administrative support staff of 290.
The educational program was greatly expanded during his administration, including SPC’s entrance into vocational education and training in 1966 with the addition of 12 new occupational and career programs. Today, the college’s educational program encompasses more than 100 associate degree and certificate options in the arts and sciences, technical education and health occupations.
“Few people realize the impact Dr. Baker had across the state with what was then the Texas Public Community and Junior College Association because his work was behind-the-scenes,” said Dr. Kelvin Sharp, current SPC president. “He led the community college cause in so many areas of higher education and was greatly respected across the state.”
Baker served two terms as president of the TPCJCA, now known as the Texas Association of Community Colleges. He was a long-standing member of that association’s legislative concerns committee.
One of his most significant accomplishments was a piece of landmark legislation he and C.A. Robinson, former long-time chancellor of Tarrant County Community College in Fort Worth, developed and helped push through the Texas Legislature in the early 1970s. That legislation, a product of the work of the Public Junior College Formula Study Committee, established contact-hour rate funding for community colleges, a revolutionary approach to higher education funding at the time.
Baker believed that legislative change in how community colleges were funded, which is still in place today, caused community colleges to grow rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s.
He served on a number of select committees, which addressed higher education issues and planning for the Texas Legislature, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Association of Community Colleges, and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
A native of Avery, Baker was born Nov. 8, 1926. After graduation from high school in 1994, he served in the United States Navy for two years, receiving an honorable discharge in 1946.
He attended East Texas State College, receiving his Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics in 1949. A master’s degree soon followed, and he accepted his first college teaching assignment with Southwest Texas Junior College in Uvalde.
He went to work for Howard College in Big Spring in 1951 as director of the evening college. He left Howard College in 1953 to enroll in the community college leadership program at the University of Texas-Austin. He received his Ph.D. in 1956 and returned to Howard College where he worked four years as assistant to then president Dr. W.A. Hunt.
Baker spent a year at Florida State University in Tallahassee as professor and consultant in junior college administration before becoming president of South Plains College in 1961.
Over the years, Baker shared his leadership talents with a number of civic groups and organizations. He was a life-long Rotarian and served as president of the Levelland Noon Rotary Club. He served more than 25 years on the Levelland Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and was a past Chamber president. He was named Levelland Citizen of the Year in 1965.
“I have always believed that everyone should have a chance to see their dreams become reality,” Baker said on the eve of his retirement in 1994. “That is the philosophy we have built this college on.”