WASHINGTON -- The American Association of Community Colleges announced Monday  that it had selected Walter G. Bumphus, who has led two-year institutions of all types in nearly 40 years in higher education, as its new president and chief executive officer.
Bumphus,  now A.M. Aikin Regents Chair in Community College Leadership at the University of Texas at Austin, will succeed George R. Boggs  as AACC's top official in January. The former president of Brookhaven College, Baton Rouge Community College, and Louisiana's two-year-college system will take the reins of the 1,200-member community college association at a time when the institutions are in the public policy spotlight -- and potentially the cross hairs -- as never before.
While two-year colleges have faced (and are likely to continue to face) increasing pressure to improve their completion rates at a time of diminishing state and other resources, Bumphus takes what he calls a "half-full" view of the institutions' status.
"There has never been a brighter spotlight, and flashlight, on community colleges than today, but community colleges have never been better than they are today," Bumphus said in a telephone interview Monday after AACC announced his selection by its Board of Directors. "We're starting to become a community of colleges that are focused on a culture of evidence, truly looking at performance, and I am convinced that we are moving the needle in terms of student success.
"Do we have more work to do? Absolutely yes. Some colleges have been stuck on 'good,' but we're on a pathway to most colleges becoming truly, truly great institutions."
Bumphus said he believed the community college association had made significant strides under Boggs in agreeing (with other organizations) on a "framework of accountability " to assess how well the institutions are educating students, and in taking advantage of President Obama's assertions that "if we're truly going to be on a ramp to get more of our citizens into the middle class, it's going to be community colleges that do that."
But asked if he thought the pressure on community colleges to improve their performance would require someone in his new role to ask "tough questions" of two-year-college officials, Bumphus said: "I don't anticipate the need for tough discussions that haven't already occurred."
In selecting their new leader, AACC's board members followed a well-established pattern of Washington's major higher education associations: turning to longtime leaders with established track records running the institutions that make up their memberships. (He is also one of their own, having headed the AACC board in the late 1990s.)
Bumphus is known for his passion about, and broad array of experiences with, two-year institutions. He came up through the student affairs offices of East Arkansas and Howard Community Colleges in the 1970s and 1980s, and became president of Brookhaven College, part of the urban/suburban Dallas County Community College District, in 1991. After three years in the corporate world at Voyager Expanded Learning, he became chancellor of Baton Rouge Community College and then was tapped by then-Gov. Mike Foster to head the newly formed Louisiana Community & Technical College System.
Since 2007, he has been on the faculty of the University of Texas' community college leadership program, helping to develop the next generation of senior administrators for the sector.
"Walter has been tested over and over as a leader, and he has consistently risen to every challenge," Boggs said of his successor-to-be. "He brings both intellect and experience to the leadership of AACC, and he has a deep commitment to community colleges and the people they serve."
Jerry Sue Thornton, president of Ohio's Cuyahoga Community College, who has known Bumphus since they grew up in nearby towns in western Kentucky, described him as having "tremendous energy" and as a "dynamic leader" who has the ability to generate excitement and inclusion so that people will want to be part of things.... His real strength is likely to be working with colleges to put forward ideas that are entrepreneurial, which is what we need to be today."