• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

The Award I’d Like to See

Winners and losers.

March 1, 2018
 
 

The AACC named its finalists for excellence awards this week. I read the list, noting with pleasure that I know personally both of the presidents who are finalists for “best CEO/Board relationships.” (They’re both great.)  But then I noticed the geographic distribution of nominees.

Going down the list, the nominees for the various awards come from:

Tennessee

Colorado

Texas

Wisconsin

Florida

Texas

Ohio

Illinois

Arizona

North Carolina

California

Michigan

Montana

Ohio

Texas

Maryland

Florida

Tennessee

Ohio

Nebraska

Alabama

Tennessee

North Carolina

With the arguable exception of one nominee from Maryland, the entire Northeast got skunked. On the map of awardees, everything from Delaware and Pennsylvania northward and eastward could be marked “there be dragons.”

I doubt that it was a conscious snub; that’s not how these things typically work. And I don’t deny the merits of any of the nominees. But the pattern was striking.

At the same time, the Chronicle featured an article detailing the demographic challenges facing Maine specifically, and New England generally.  In a nutshell, it comes down to a declining number of 18 year olds. The piece notes that the birthrate fell off a cliff in 2008, so the slow decline of 18 year olds should become a precipitous drop in 2026. Add to the demographics the fact that this region tends to have highly unionized faculty and staff, and administrations are squeezed between inexorable trends and inflexible rules.

As I mentioned recently to a colleague from the South, only half-jokingly, her colleagues are playing the game on the “easy” setting.  We’re playing it on the “black diamond” setting. 

That’s not to deny that other states have challenges; certainly, Illinois should get full credit there. But it’s also easier to excel when you aren’t fighting accelerating demographic headwinds and an abundance of private colleges. Growth forgives many sins.

As a sector, we’re good at noticing how measures like graduation rates tend to favor institutions that screen out anybody high-risk. But we don’t seem to apply that lesson to ourselves. I’d like to see serious attention at AACC and the League to colleges that have coped well with negative demographic trends. 

So, the award I’d like to see: “Best Management of a Significant Enrollment and Funding Drop in a Collective Bargaining State.” The winners of that one could really teach us something useful.

Your move, AACC...

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