Flexibility and Peers Help Elsa Holguin Continue Education and Provide Nonprofit Leadership

February 6, 2020
Apple, books, pencils and blocks on table

Elsa Holguin (Exec. MPA ’11) had her hands full raising two young daughters as a single mom and working full-time in the nonprofit sector. Because of the structure of CU Denver’s School of Public Affairs, she was able to continue her education, and it paid off.  

Holguin now serves as president and CEO of the Denver Preschool Program, a nonprofit organization that helps make preschool possible for all Denver families through financial tuition support and access to information. Each year, the organization serves 60% percent of Denver’s 4-year-olds and approximately 5,000 children total. Through a portion of dedicated city sales tax, first approved by voters in 2006, the organization provides to families $785 per month in tuition support for preschool.  

“We also work closely with community providers and school districts, training, coaching, providing scholarships and incentives for teachers, to ensure quality is maintained over the years,” Holguin said.

Elsa Holguin, president of the Denver Preschool Program

Holguin strongly believes in the value of education. An immigrant from Mexico, she moved with her family to the U.S. after graduating from high school. As the eldest of seven children, she knew she would have to take on more responsibility. “It was very clear to me from the get-go that I was going to help my parents,” Holguin said. “My dad’s dream was that we would come to another country and have the opportunity to access education. As immigrants, we understood that the key to success was going to be education.”

A first-generation college graduate, Holguin earned her bachelor’s degree in finance from Metropolitan State University of Denver. In 2000, just two classes shy from earning her master’s from CU Denver, she made a significant transition in her career at the Rose Community Foundation, where she developed and managed the Child and Family Development program, overseeing more than $50 million in foundation grants, as well as statewide initiatives and budgets. She ended up going back to school in 2011 to complete her executive master’s degree in public administration.

In the School of Public Affairs at CU Denver, she furthered her knowledge of public affairs, policy, advocacy, and the nonprofit sector—while working full-time. In addition to the accommodating schedule, a significant draw of the program was the mix of faculty and students, she said. 

“I knew that I needed an institution that would provide high quality but also practical and flexible educational opportunities in order for me to be able to attend,” said Holguin, adding, “For first-gen students like me, it became very important that I could see people that look like me, that understood me, and that could guide me as I was trying to figure out how the system works.”

Holguin left the Rose Community Foundation in 2019. Her passion and commitment to early childhood brought her to the Denver Preschool Program.  She also co-chairs the Early Childhood Leadership Commission, focused on improving outcomes for young children birth to age eight and their families. It has been a year of success for early childhood with approval of funding for full-day kindergarten and plans for universal preschool for all Colorado children. 

Holguin credits her experience at CU Denver and the power of partnerships for her organization’s success. “I think the best thing that we can do as leaders in the nonprofit community is to really see the world through these interconnected opportunities,” she said. “I am thrilled that CU Denver is at the cutting edge of these approaches.”