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Study: Impending Community College Leadership Shortfall Could Be Avoided Through Diversity Efforts

A significant number of community college presidents will be retiring in coming years, creating a leadership void that could be filled through a concerted effort to groom more minorities and women, according to a new report.

In surveying 415 community college presidents — representing about 38 percent of the national total — researchers at Iowa State University found that 79 percent will retire by 2012, and 84 percent by 2016.

The study also documents a shortage of qualified replacements, reporting that the number of degrees awarded to graduates of community college leadership programs decreased by 78 percent between 1983 and 1997. Identifying women and minorities to fill these positions will prove critical in addressing this impending crisis, analysts say.

“The findings in the study show that there was a disproportionate percentage of female and minority representation in the office of the presidency. We need to look at why that is happening,” said Christopher Duree, the report’s lead researcher.

“The bottom line is we need to have the leadership in the community colleges better reflect the [demographics] of the students they serve.”

In terms of the ratio of male-to-female presidents, Duree concedes that progress with gender balance in the presidential ranks may be reaching a plateau. While there was tremendous growth in the early ’90s among female community college presidents, women hold about 30 percent of community college presidential posts. Women represented 32 percent of the community college presidents surveyed.

The percentage of female leaders in no way reflects the percentage of female students enrolled in public two-year institutions, researchers found. In 2005, approximately three-fifths of all students attending community colleges were female.

According to a U.S. Department of Education report, entitled “Enrollment in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2005; Graduation Rates, 1999 and 2002 Cohorts; and Financial Statistics,” 59 percent of all students enrolled at public, two-year institutions are White/Caucasian, and 34 percent are non-White. Yet, Whites constitute nearly 80 percent of the community college leadership.

“If, in fact, the community college of the new century is expected to take on the responsibility of the ‘underserved and disenfranchised’ and genuinely create a multicultural environment that is a reflection of the lives of the students they serve, then it would seem reasonable to think that promoting greater diversity in the leadership ranks would be of utmost concern,” the report states.

Duree, who will be a lecturer and faculty clinician in the Community College Leadership Program starting this fall, says, “Increasing the number of community college presidents from minority groups in the leadership pipeline would serve as positive role modeling for underrepresented students. At the same time, increased numbers of minority males and females in leadership positions may also be one approach to ensure organizational structures are not creating barriers that discourage the advancement of underrepresented populations into leadership positions in the future.”

The data was collected in 2007 by a group of ISU researchers in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and Office of Community College Research and Policy.

The American Association of Community Colleges provided a national list of community college presidents to the researchers. The ISU Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology staff mailed letters to 1,112 community college presidents serving during academic year 2006-2007 to notify them of the study and invite them to participate in the online questionnaire. Presidents were given a little over a month last summer to complete the questionnaire, and 391 were completed entirely, with 24 partially completed surveys also included in the final data set.

To hear more from Christopher Duree click here.

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