Within only a couple of decades, women of color have come a long
way in their representation among college presidents. The place where
they are most abundant is at community colleges. There are currently
104 women of color heading postsecondary institutions, and 61 of these
are at community colleges.
In this edition, Black Issues In Higher Education profiles five of
these talented, brilliant, and pioneering women, all of whom preside
over campuses where the full-time student enrollment exceeds 20,000
Del M. Anderson
Chancellor, City College of San Francisco, since 1995
Degree: B.A. — San Diego State Univ., family life education, 1965;
M.A. — San Diego State Univ., social work, 1967; Graduate study —
Claremont Graduate School, executive management, 1985-86
Previous appointments: President San Jose City College; Vice
president, Skyline College; Dean of students, Los Angeles Harbor
Boards: Accrediting team, University of California-San Diego;
American Association of Community Colleges (1996); San Francisco
Chamber of Commerce.
As the first female and African American chancellor of her district,
Del M. Anderson of the City College of San Francisco says she has
frequently been called upon over the years to be part of various
organizations and causes.
“You get called on to do a lot of things just because you’re a
woman. You get called on to do a lot of things just because you’re
African American. For me personally, I’ve been the first African
American to do so many things, I don’t even think about it anymore.”
Anderson heads the only community college in San Francisco with its
$136.5 million budget, the college district is the city’s primary
provider of vocational training.
Under Anderson’s leadership, the college recently designed a
computer multimedia training program to respond to the needs of the
high-tech industry in San Francisco. The district also has a
long-standing hotel and restaurant program which trains students for
hospitality, San Francisco’s leading industry. In a partnership with
United Airlines, the district trains aircraft maintenance engineers at
San Francisco International Airport. And, after completing their
associate’s degrees, many of the college’s students go on to four-year
universities, particularly to nearby San Francisco State University.
Anderson is deeply concerned about the damage the dismantling of affirmative action is having on California.
“An important tool has been taken away from us. In California, if
you don’t have people to color trained and prepared for the workforce,
the state will go down the tubes because that’s going to be the
majority of our citizens. I think it is very shortsighted in terms of
After a twenty-seven-year career in higher education, Anderson
plans to retire in August. Experience has taught her the importance of
staying her core beliefs and values.
“If you can do that, you’ll be okay no matter what happens. People
may not always agree with you, but you’ll be centered and you’ll be
confident and feel like you’ve done the right thing.”
Dr. Constance M. Carroll
President, San Diego Mesa College, since 1993
Degrees: B.A. — Duquesne University, humanities, 1966; M.A. —
University of Pittsburgh, classics, 1969; Ph.D. — University of
Pittsburgh, classics, 1996
Previous appointments: President, Saddleback College, President,
Indian Valley Colleges; Interim Chancellor, Marin Community College
District; Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, University of
National boards: Chair, Accrediting Commission for Community and
Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges: National
Community College Humanities Association; American Association of
Community Colleges Commission on International/Intercultural Services
“I had the good fortune of serving as a dean, then rather
serendipitously was offered a position as president of a small
California community college. Since I was experimenting with many
things, including where to live in the world, I accepted the position
and loved it.
“I can’t think of a more rewarding job than being a community college president.”
In the past twenty-one years, Dr. Constance M. Carroll has held the
presidential post at three different two-year institutions. She
currently presides over a $32 million budget as president of San Diego
Mesa has the highest rate of student transfers to four-year
universities among San Diego colleges and ranks tenth among California
community colleges. Carroll considers student transfers to universities
Mesa’s biggest mission.
The college has a strong allied health program — training students
in radiology and computer information — and recently struck a new
partnership with Woodbury University of Burbank, Calif., to provide the
first two years of a five-year architecture curriculum that Woodbury is
launching at its new San Diego campus.
Carroll has actively fought against the dismantling of affirmative
action, but views the current struggle in its historical context.
“I view the fact that we’ve always been in struggle as a reality of
life, and the struggle simply continues in different and more
“I feel that given my knowledge and role, perhaps I can make a
difference — or at least help other people make a difference — in
setting things right again.”
Dr. Ruth Burgos-Sasscer
Chancellor, Houston Community College System, since 1996
Degrees: B.A. — Maryville College, sociology, 1953; M.A. —
Columbia University, religion, 1956; Ph.D. — Florida State University,
higher education, 1987
Previous Appointments: Faculty, Aguadilla Regional College, Puerto
Rico; Department Chair, Aguadilla Regional College; President,
Aguadilla Regional College; Vice President for faculty and instruction,
City Colleges of Chicago-Harry S. Truman College; President San Antonio
Boards: Education Policy Committee, Greater Houston Partnership;
City of Houston Ethics Committee, Houston City Council; American
Association of Women in Community Colleges; National Community College
Hispanic Council; International Consortium for Education and Economic
Development; American Association of Community Colleges
Dr. Ruth Burgos-Sasscer, president of Houston Community College, didn’t start out to be a college president.
“I fell into it accidentally. I went into education because that
was an easy thing for me to do when I had young children. Then I found
myself in administration and I loved it.”
Burgos-Sasscer now heads the largest higher education institution
on the Gulf Coast of Texas, where everything is big, with 55,000
students and an operating budget of just less than $127 million.
“I loved teaching, but when I got into administration it put me in
the position to make decisions that make a difference. This is a very
exciting time. There’s always something new.”
Since assuming the presidency, Burgos-Sasscer has been a player on
the Houston scene, forging links between the community college and the
local business community and setting up programs that prepare students
not only for transfer to university but also for employment in the
booming oil business (soon to come: a geologic computer information
program), in transportation, and in medicine. To facilitate the latter,
Houston Community College is about to build a facility at Houston’s
medical center — the largest in the world — on land leased to the
college for $1, right alongside such prestigious institutions as Baylor
College of Medicine.
Burgos-Sasscer is one of the few Latina college presidents in the
country and her sister — Dr. Naomi Lynn, chancellor of the University
of Illinois-Springfield — is another.
“Our parents believed in education and saw it as a key to success,”
she says, giving a clue to why she has her life in community colleges.
“I love community colleges because we really make a difference in people’s lives. We get diamonds in the rough.”
Dr. Jerry Sue Thornton
President, Cuyahoga Community College, since 1992
Degrees: B.A. — Murray State Univ. English and speech, 1969; M.A.
— Murray State Univ., communications, 1970; Ph.D. — The Univ. of
Texas-Austin, educational administration, 1983; Other education —
Harvard Univ., Institute for the Management of Lifelong Education,
Previous Appointments: President, Lakewood Community College; Dean,
Associate Dean, Assistant Dean, Triton College, English Instructor,
National Boards: American Association of Women in Community and
Junior Colleges; Association of Governing Boards of Universities and
Colleges; american Council on Education; Presidents’ Roundtable of the
National Council on Black American Affairs
As President of Ohio’s first and largest community college, Dr.
Jerry Sue Thornton oversees three campuses and manages an annual budget
of $151.5 million. Since arriving at Cuyahoga, she has reallocated
resources and updated technology. She has also succeeded in getting new
university transfer agreements signed with the University of Akron,
Bowling Green State University, Cleveland State University, Kent State
University, Ohio State University, University of Toledo, and Youngstown
For Thornton, the most fulfilling part of her job is “having the
opportunity to initiate projects that have been instrumental for
underrepresented and underprivileged students,” she says.
Cuyahoga offers seventy associate’s degree programs in business and
technology, engineering and industrial technologies, public service
technologies, and health careers. The school also has thirty arts and
science programs available for university transfer. The college serves
the needs of local business and industry through its United
Technologies Center, which offers access to seminar rooms, a
manufacturing resource facility, microcomputer laboratories, and the
Stokes Telecommunications Center.
Committed to the community-focused mission of her institution,
Thornton serves on several local boards including the Greater Cleveland
Growth Association, National City Bank, Applied Industrial
Technologies, the Urban League of Greater Cleveland, and the Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame.
While Thornton began her career as a junior high school teacher in
Earlington, Ky., the move to community college leadership has enabled
her to have a greater impact on shaping educational agendas, something
she always wanted to do.
“I set out in a very strategic way to get where I am today. There’s
no question that there’s a host of impediments out there, like
prejudice. You sure can get hung up on them and defeat yourself. But
you should never start closing doors for yourself. Other people are
willing to do that for you.”
Dr. Belle S. Wheelan
President-elect, Northern Virginia Community College, July 1998
Degrees: B.A. — Trinity University, sociology and psychology, 1972;
M.A. — Louisiana State University, developmental and educational
psychology, 1974; Ph.D. — The University of Texas at Austin,
philosophy and educational administration (Community College Leadership
Previous Appointments: Associate professor of psychology, Acting
director of counseling, Director of developmental education, San
Antonio College; Director of academic support services, Alamo Community
College; Dean of student developmental services, Thomas Nelson
Community College; Provost, Tidewater Community College; President,
Central Virginia Community College
National Boards: American Association of Community Colleges;
Convener, Presidents’ Roundtable of the National Council on Black
American Affairs; American Association of Higher Education.
When named president of Central Virginia Community College in
Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1992, Dr. Belle Wheelan became the first
African American woman to head an institution of higher education in
While there, she infused technology throughout the institution;
built a new building and renovated the student center; included
non-faculty employees in the governance structure of the college; and
established articulation and transfer policies with four-year
Wheelan’s achievements attracted the attention of people around the
state — so much that she has just been selected to head Northern
Virginia Community College (NOVA), a powerhouse system of five campuses
and 37,000 students feeding into the dynamic Washington, D.C.-area,
economy, particularly the area’s growing technology industry.
“That area is becoming the Silicon Valley of the East. I’m going up
there to continue to build on the successes already achieved. One of
the challenges is meeting the training needs of the business community.”
Like many of her colleagues, Wheelan began her academic career in a different direction from higher education administration.
“I was going to be a child psychologist.”
Unforeseen circumstances led her to a teaching job at San Antonio
College, where she first learned about the Community College Leadership
program at the University of Texas-Austin. Attending the program gave
her a road map to administration.
“I went from faculty to president in seven years.”
Today, Wheelan is committed to the community college mission of
providing an education to everyone who wants one. Toward that end, she
demands nothing less of the people who work for her.
“We hire people who are dedicated to the proposition that everybody
can learn and has a right to learn. Regardless of their position, they
have got to buy into that.”
COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com