Equipping Community Colleges' New Leaders
It is well-established that the higher education work force is aging, particularly in the upper/senior ranks of both faculty and administrators. And that higher education as an industry isn’t particularly well-equipped to purposefully prepare the next generation of leaders.
A new study reinforces those concerns among community college presidents and adds another one: that the traditional methods of training new leaders may not be arming them all that well to handle the issues that current presidents see as the biggest problems on their plates.
The study was prepared by Chris Duree, a lecturer and faculty clinician in Iowa State University's Community College Leadership Program, as part of his dissertation. Taking as his starting point research showing that 79 percent of community college presidents said they would retire by 2012, and 84 percent by 2016, Duree surveyed more than 400 current two-year college leaders about their experiences and training.
His goal: to find out how well prepared they believed they were for the biggest challenges they face in their jobs, with the hope of assessing where the gaps are in the current training methods for would-be community college chiefs.
The demographic data Duree compiled, with the help of other Iowa State researchers and the American Association of Community Colleges, reveal an aging group of presidents (average age: 58) that is slowly becoming less male-dominated (32 percent women, up from 28 percent in a 2001 survey).
Eighty-seven percent of the presidents had a doctorate, split evenly between Ph.D.'s and Ed.D.'s. About 38 percent of the college leaders had earned their doctorates in higher education with a specialization in community colleges; that was far higher than a 2002 study cited by Duree. "This finding may suggest that the newer generations of community college leaders who are following the first wave of retirements are pursuing doctoral programs that offer a community college leadership emphasis," Duree writes. Many other community college presidents participated in formal leadership development programs (some with a two-year college emphasis) either before or after assuming their first presidencies.
While Duree said it should be seen as heartening that community college leaders seem increasingly likely to have specific training in issues related to the institutions they head, other of his findings are worrying. Using a set of six "competencies" that the American Association of Community Colleges identified as most needed by community college presidents going forward -- organizational strategy, resource management, communication, collaboration, community college advocacy, and professionalism -- Duree found that the vast majority of presidents said they came into their jobs well-prepared over all for their jobs.
But there were significant gaps in preparation on a set of issues that are likely to be essential for community college presidents in the coming years. Two of five respondents, for instance, "did not rate themselves prepared or well-prepared to take an entrepreneurial stance in seeking ethical alternative funding sources," at a time when two-year colleges are under increasing pressure to replace declining state and local funding.
A third of the presidents said they came into their first jobs unprepared to demonstrate "cultural competence in a global society," and a third said their pre-president training did not prepare them to be "transformational leaders," the survey found.
Those shortfalls, Duree says, suggest that too many community college presidents are emerging from their doctoral programs -- even those that specialize in producing community college leaders -- without sufficient training in some key areas that they are likely to need during their presidencies.
"Presidents who responded to the study did not feel like the formalized leadership programs or formal preparation programs had had a significant positive impact on preparing them for presidencies," Duree said. "Those of us in these programs need to take a good strong look at what we’re doing here in training people to be community college leaders."
Possible problems, he said, are that "if you look at a lot of the leadership progs, they are staffed by faculty who have spent little time out in the field as community college leaders. My thought is that we truly need to build curriculums that get people through the Ph.D. program and maintain the intellectual integrity of the Ph.D., but have a real strong practitioner element, particularly in the areas in which community college leaders said they feel underprepared."
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