AUSTIN – John E. Roueche, the founder of the most established graduate program for aspiring community college leaders, located here at the University of Texas at Austin, is moving in July to National American University, a for-profit institution, where he will attempt to create a similar operation.
“We’ll be working with them to design and build a doctoral program,” said Roueche, who has led UT’s Community College Leadership Program for 41 years.
News of his departure to a for-profit will be a bombshell for many administrators at community colleges, and it had people buzzing here at the annual conference of the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD), which is an affiliate of Roueche’s program. Big changes may loom for NISOD, one of the top supporting organizations for community colleges, many observers said.
Also in flux may be the work of the Center for Community College Student Engagement, a research and service group that falls under the program’s umbrella. Kay McClenney, an influential national expert on community colleges and student success, is the center’s director.
“Our programs are strong, well-supported and growing,” McClenney said, adding that the center’s “intent right now is to keep doing our work.”
Roueche, who is 73, had previously announced his retirement, with an August departure that has been moved up. UT has yet to announce his successor, and the Community College Leadership Program is being merged with the university’s training program for other sectors of higher education, under the new name of the Higher Education Leadership Program, as Community College Week reported  this week.
The magazine also reported that only four students have been admitted to the community college leader track for the incoming class, down from 12-15 students in previous years. The smaller program has fueled worries that UT is ceding ground it has long held as the dominant player in the field.
Roueche said he was not sure whether his program’s work, or the jobs of its 50 employees, would remain secure at the university. But he said it’s clear that UT is following other major research universities in disengaging from the business of training community college presidents, despite a coming wave of retirements among leaders in the sector, which faces newfound prominence and deep challenges.
“It makes no sense,” he said.
Norma Cantú, professor and chair of UT’s Department of Educational Administration, said the university remained committed to its community college leadership work, as well as research on the two-year sector. Cantú was effusive in her praise for Roueche and his legacy, but said remaining faculty members would be up to the task of keeping the program strong.
“This is the university that supported Dr. Roueche in becoming the major force that he is,” she said, adding that in recent years, Roueche did a good job “making sure that the program was more than just his work.” The university plans to hire a new faculty member in the merged program, she said.
As for the smaller class size, Cantú said professors had struggled in the past with classes that were as large as 18 or so students. “We were strained to keep up with the larger classes,” she said, and “needed to be more selective.”
Opening the Door?
Roueche has had a Texas-sized role in the education and placement of community college leaders, including those at the helms of Cuyahoga Community College, Austin Community College, and Sinclair Community College, to name a few. Walter G. Bumphus, president of the American Association of Community Colleges, was a professor in Roueche’s shop, while his predecessor, George Boggs, is a graduate.
“Roueche and the program have trained enormous numbers of leaders,” including some of the most successful community college presidents, said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program, which is researching the preparation of the next batch of two-year college leaders.
Even so, UT has inspired grumbling from outsiders, who complain that the program is too clubbish. And others say the overall quality of community college leadership development is lagging. But the university has had the most success by far, and Roueche has been widely praised for his research, writing, prowess as a fund-raiser and mentoring of students and alumni.
He has clashed with administrators at UT in the past, however, usually over funding. The university has reassigned an endowed professorship and taken substantial annual fees from the program. The Texas Association of Community Colleges filed a complaint  with the state's attorney general, claiming the university had inappropriately diverted the funds.
Roueche hopes to continue his success at National American, a regionally accredited for-profit based in South Dakota. The university has multiple campuses, including three locations around Austin, and a heavy online focus. It offers associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in health care and business-related disciplines.
National American University Holdings, Inc. on Monday announced  the creation of the Roueche Graduate Center, which will house the Harold D. Buckingham Graduate School at a new Austin site. The university is pursuing “potential doctoral programs,” according to a news release.
Roueche, however, said he planned to launch a doctoral program for community college leaders, which would be based at the graduate center. Cohorts of students would also be clustered at other sites around the country, he said, perhaps 20-25 per group, in cities like Chicago.
“We’ll be bringing in national leaders to speak with these students,” Roueche said.
The shifting landscape for community college leadership programs may open the door to other emerging players. The University of Maryland University College is ramping up its offering, which Charlene Nunley, the former Montgomery College president, is leading.
Wyner calls the moment an “enormous opportunity.” Many existing programs were created decades ago with seed money from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and have faded over time, said Wyner and other observers. Going forward, training for community college leaders may look different, which Wyner said could be good for the sector.
“The next generation will have to come to grips with moving the student success agenda forward,” he said.
(NOTE: This article has been updated to correct a reference to Roueche's age, which is 73.)