Retiring Sault College president reflects on 15 years at the helm

Ron Common, long serving Sault College president, will leave his post in August 2023

After a long and successful career in education, Sault College President Ron Common says that it is time for him to spend more time with his family and take to the sky more often as a pilot.

Common, after a 55-year career in education, announced on Thursday his intention to retire from the helm at Sault College at the end of August 2023.

Common announced his retirement plans as Sault College enjoys its second highest enrollment figures in the 2022-23 academic year after its highest enrollment ever in 2021-22.

“This is a good time to retire. I thought about retiring a year ago, but the pandemic wasn’t wrapped up,” Common told SooToday in an interview at his office on Thursday.

“I wanted to get everybody back into the building again so now it’s probably a good time to go,” Common said as cheerful unmasked students went about their studies at the college’s Northern Avenue campus.

“We’re completing all of our building projects in the engineering lab and we’re well on our way in planning for a center for health studies and a new student residence,” Common said, referring to Sault College programs and the bricks and mortar that goes with them.

“I am looking forward to more freedom to do things. I couldn’t fly my plane as often as I wanted,” said Common, a licensed pilot and owner of a four-seater Piper Archer plane.

He has been a pilot for 58 years and still hopes to fly in a two-seat Spitfire in England.

He also said he wants to spend more time with family members who live in the United Kingdom.

Although retiring from Sault College, Common said he isn’t completely through with education.

“I can see myself working with Indigenous institutes that are trying to set themselves up as post-secondary players. Consistently I will continue to be involved in helping Indigenous people in the area where I have expertise, which is education.”

“To me, education is my vocation. I came here wanting to make Sault College the most student centered post-secondary institution around. I think my single greatest accomplishment is that the students ranked us number one or number two year after year. We want them to say ‘I got the education I want, and more’ so I feel that I’ve helped instill this attitude and climate where students do come first. That’s probably my single greatest satisfaction for a big organization like this.”

“We fought for years to get degree granting authority for colleges. A short time ago we were given the authority to grant three year degrees, so getting that was a big accomplishment for the system,” Common said, adding the establishment of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree (BScN) program was a major accomplishment under his watch at Sault College.

Sault College has had many presidents over the years but Common said he has brought his own talents to that role.

“I brought a lifelong commitment to education. I didn’t start as a businessman and then do this. This is what I’ve done my whole life. I’ve tried to motivate people and move initiatives along. I’ve introduced a lot of organizational change. That’s what I’ve brought. I’m a change agent.”

Amid all the success, Common said there are challenges with the job of college president, but he has used a strategy to deal with it.

“When I get discouraged and overwhelmed I just go and talk to the students. You come away and feel good. They’re happy and I’m happy.”

“The biggest challenge is the demographics. I’m in the youth education business and we’ve got an aging population in the north and that’s a major challenge, and that’s exactly why we went with international students. I’m excited about that. They want to be here. They’re happy and they want to stay. We need them here, we need them in the north.”

Born in Calgary and raised in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Common has worked as an educator in three provinces – Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador and Ontario.

Prior to joining Sault College in 2007, Dr. Common was Nipissing University’s dean of education for seven years. He was a university administrator for 12 years at Nipissing, Brandon and Memorial Universities, and held positions at Queen’s University, Brock University, Memorial University, Brandon University and Nipissing University as a professor of education administration.

Common planned to retire from his post at Sault College in 2013, but was asked to stay on.

“It’s hard to turn down when your organization asks you to do something. You feel valued. It’s been extremely rewarding.”

Common has shown expertise in obtaining millions of dollars in funding for infrastructure and programs from former Sault MPP David Orazietti and current MPP Ross Romano.

“To be successful you’ve got to work hand in glove with your partner in collaboration. That’s for sure.”

As he prepares to leave his post, Common offered one key piece of advice for students.

“Follow your passion. It’s not just taking courses because you have to but it’s finding something you feel passionate about. That’s extremely important, especially if you’re going to spend your life doing it.”

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