Community College Leadership Program Opens a New Chapter

As he prepares to leave for National American University, Dr. John E. Roueche, the longtime director of the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin, is criticizing the direction of the program that he helped develop.

Roueche said he’s concerned that at a time when community college enrollment is growing, UT’s College of Education is making cuts and other decisions that could jeopardize the future of the nearly 70-year-old program. “Why tinker with a program that is needed, and when community colleges are a point of entry for two out of three students of color, and most women?” he asked.

The loss of senior staff at CCLP and a decision to include master’s students in the doctoral program were “directions in which I could not be supportive and helpful,” Roueche said. Those changes prompted him to accept a two-year buyout from UT, which offered early retirement packages to several faculty members in the College of Education in response to steep cuts in state funding for higher education. He’s among 12 people across the college who accepted the packages.

Roueche says though he respects his colleagues and their abilities, the program doesn’t have people with significant experience in the community college field — starting with interim CCLP director Norma Cantu, a former assistant secretary of education for civil rights in the Clinton administration. “She is a world-class civil rights attorney,” he said of Cantu, “but this is not her field of specialization.”

Cantu, head of the Department of Educational Administration, which oversees the program, said UT is grappling with an unprecedented loss of state funding, but remains committed to CCLP. “We’re acting in a responsible way to deal with deep budget cuts and to preserve the unique nature of the community college program,” she said.

In an interview with Dr. Manuel Justiz, dean of the College of Education, Cantu pointed to a decision to tap the expertise of educators

with longtime community college experience. Dr. Barbara Mink, a trustee at Austin Community College, will work closely with her and the staff, helping them address critical issues in the field such as completion and retention rates.

“The CCLP is one of our star programs, but we have many others,” Justiz said. “We try to [make budget adjustments] in the most thoughtful, deliberate way, and everybody has to take a little bit of pain.”

CCLP has been a premier recruiting ground for community college leaders and the most successful program of its kind in the nation in graduating women and people of color. During his 42-year tenure, Roueche was credited with influencing the community college field through CCLP’s who’s who of graduates. He’s widely considered a leading researcher and educator in the field.

Recently, he announced that he would become director of the Roueche Graduate Center at the for-profit National American University (NAU). His departure and changes in the program have stirred concerns among community college leaders about the future of the program and two CCLP-affiliated organizations: the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) and the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE). Both rely on membership fees and external grants. A few weeks after Roueche’s announcement, Dr. Coral Noonan-Terry, interim director of NISOD, said she was joining Roueche at NAU.

Changes Afoot

UT’s College of Education is No. 1 among public universities, according to U.S. News and World Report; it’s also top-ranked among all universities, along with prestigious private institutions such as Harvard and Vanderbilt.

Roueche said he doesn’t understand why the college would threaten its standing by reducing staff and adding master’s students to CCLP. “The program has been focused on the key execution of community colleges. … When you don’t reappoint faculty, you’ve changed the makeup from the beginning,” he said, adding that the program has gone from three to one full-time faculty member.

When Dr. Walter Bumphus left CCLP more than a year ago to head the American Association of Community Colleges, his position as A.M. Aiken Regents Chair in Junior and Community College Leadership was not filled.

Cantu said CCLP has two full-time faculty members, including herself. There are also plans within the next year or more to hire a replacement for Roueche, she said.

According to Cantu, no decision has been made to add master’s students to the program. But, according to Roueche, faculty members have been informed, “for every doctoral student, we had to add five master’s students.”

Roueche said faculty members would have to pay more attention to students seeking their first entry-level job in the field rather than training community college leaders. And without senior faculty who could oversee dissertations, he said, CCLP will admit fewer doctoral students.

The program admitted five students for fall 2012. Typically, it enrolls about a dozen students annually. Cantu said the number reflects budget cuts.

Last year, the CCLP was collapsed into a Higher Education Leadership Program; Roueche led the team. Cantu said the move was to reduce the number of department heads, freeing up their time and making it easier to share their resources throughout the department.

“All students get an educational administration degree,” Cantu said, adding that integrating CCLP and other higher education programs “made sense.”

“Faculty has always taught each other’s students,” she said. “It’s only in the concentrations that students focus on specialized areas.” Justiz said he wanted to see more integration of programs. Budgetary considerations, including a mandate to set aside 2 percent annually for contingency for five years, have forced college officials to  consider how to be more efficient and effective, he said.

“All five departments in the college have been asked to rethink and combine to make them stronger,” Justiz said. “They don’t lose their identity but get to have interaction, energy and synergy that creates a rich environment for discussion and … less of a silo orientation and more of an open architecture.”

Fiscal Controversy

Questions about the direction of CCLP first surfaced publicly in 2010, when a letter from the Texas Association of Community Colleges (TACC) was sent to Justiz expressing concerns about the use of restricted funds, including endowments, for the support of community college programs. The group was concerned that funds were transferred to other programs within the College of Education from CCSSE and NISOD.

“Our institutions pay those dues as a way to support those programs,” said Steve Johnson, spokesman for TACC. “And they’re dedicated for those purposes … specifically for community college issues and initiatives.”

The association has questioned the use of about $900,000 from the NISOD and CCSSE budgets. Cantu said the college didn’t take money from the programs’ dedicated funds, rather it recouped administrative fees, going back five years, for servicing grants to the programs. The fees were for services such as human resources, accounting and legal support. She said the university had never collected the fees from these and several other programs in the College of Education. About $2.8 million was collected college-wide, she said, adding that a portion of the money was used to provide financial aid for students over five years.

The issue continues to generate disagreement. Johnson said the group sent a follow-up letter to UT President William Powers when Justiz did not respond. TACC later filed a complaint with the Texas attorney general’s office, alleging that the college was using proceeds from endowed chairs for activities that were not directly tied to community colleges, in addition to the use of NISOD and CCSSE funds. Johnson said the office acknowledged receipt of the complaint but TACC has not received any communication about the allegations. UT’s legal counsel received a letter, dated June 11 of this year, from the attorney general’s office stating that “the opening of a formal investigation was not warranted.”

Before the letter from the attorney general’s office was received, Justiz said legal counsel had responded to the concerns, which he shared with faculty. “When this administrative fee was approved and was communicated to me from [UT’s] general counsel, I forwarded it to every member of my faculty so they could see the opinion,” he said. “It’s really a shame that this lack of communication continues.”

A New Chapter

Roueche starts his new job at National American University this month. He said the “culture and values” of the for-profit university based in South Dakota are consistent with his own. And the 70-year-old institution has one of the lowest student default rates in the industry, he said.

The graduate programs will be relocated to Austin. The doctoral program at the Roueche Graduate Center will be a hybrid of online and in-person instruction, he said. Instructors will be flown in to meet students, who will be organized in cohorts based on location.

They’ll meet on weekends, and NAU will fly in “world-class instructors.” He hopes the program can be accredited and running by this time next year.

As for the program he helped build and the questions surrounding its affiliate organizations, NISOD and CCSEE, he said, “We’ll have to wait and see how that all turns out. They’ve been successful because we’ve had strong field ties to our constituency.… The fact that the program is losing all of its senior faculty, it’s unknown how the colleges will react.”