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A New Solution to an Aging Problem

It is no longer a secret that community college leadership is experiencing an unprecedented level of turnover. Baby boomers’ mass exodus into retirement is paralleled only by the immense expansion of community college campuses created in the 1960s and 1970s. This millennium’s first decade will see more than three-quarters of its twoyear college presidents and senior administrators leave their posts to begin other stages of life. According to American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) research, each year sees fewer and fewer would-be employees entering the pipeline to fill leadership voids.

So, what does this mean for institutional stability? From what positions and areas will our leaders emerge? And, does this convergence of sociological factors offer an opportunity to fix problems whose solutions have evaded colleges for years — namely, the lack of diversity among college administrators?

Leadership development institutes (LDI), also known as “grow your own” programs, have entered the lexicon at campuses of many technical and community colleges. Traditional professional development workshops are yielding to lengthier leadership development programs. Hopes are aimed towards creating and strengthening current and future leaders in order to ensure that qualified applicant pools are in place as today’s leaders become tomorrow’s retirees. Remarkably, outcomes from many of these institutes are showing not only positive individual change but unexpected institutional transformation.

History provides evidence of these programs’ continued success. Before 2001, fewer than five leadership institutes were documented in the literature. In 2008, hundreds of programs are flourishing. Recently, researchers have begun assessing the qualities of effective leadership institutes. The common threads have been an unwavering commitment to changing the views about leadership, the way employees perceive their own abilities and places in the college, and a desire to create a future healthier than the one the colleges would have inherited otherwise.

Two programs from the aforementioned studies are the El Paso Community College Leadership Development Academy (EPCCLDA) in Texas and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System Leadership Development Institute (LCTCS-LDI). At El Paso Community College, leadership is everyone’s business, and everyone in the institution can be a leader. Morale, diversity and institutional effectiveness have increased among its 1,200 employees, who serve more than 36,000 students, and testimonies repeatedly point to president Richard Rhodes’ commitment to the program and his employees. A renewed commitment in the EPCC mission is pervasive across its five campuses and employee groups. A culture of leadership has evolved into an environment where employees look forward to arriving at work each day. Through this process the El Paso program has facilitated a leadership structure that is vastly more representative of its community’s predominantly Hispanic community.

Created in 2001, the LCTCS-LDI has a dual focus: providing the components for successful leadership as well as paying special attention to the “self ” as leader. While the Louisiana community college system’s focus is to “shore up” the pipeline, it is also important to stress leadership from all vantage points in the organization, or “leading from the middle” of the organization. The Louisiana program is a year-long program designed for emerging leaders in middle-management positions that aspire to acquire the skills necessary to move toward senior-level positions within the two-year college and is open to full-time employees, including faculty, professional staff and administrators. Since 2001, approximately 140 employees have participated in the program.

There is no “cookie-cutter” approach to resolving a leadership shortage that has evolved over time. However, there are many “best practice” programs at the institutional, regional, district, and state level that can be modified and implemented. One of the most important caveats is that without active and enthusiastic participation by the organization’s president/chancellor, the best programmatic framework will “die on the vine.” Also, it is important to address the following areas upfront before embarking on a program: (a) the ultimate goal of the program, (b) the time to be allocated for the program to provide a holistic view of leadership consistent with AACC’s competencies for leadership, (c) the components that the organization believes are essential to effective leadership, and (d) evaluation of the program to determine if the goals have been achieved.

Leadership development is a journey with no “finish line.” There is always the opportunity for continued development and improvement as the journey for leadership development progresses. While the terrain may sometimes be rocky and other times relatively flat, as long as the organization continues to provide personal and professional growth opportunities and scenarios in which the employees can practice implementing real-time learning, research has proven that that knowledge will have a lasting impact on community and technical college education.

— Dr. Walter G. Bumphus is a professor and chairman of the Department of Educational Administration at The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Phillip Neal is provost at Bowling Green Technical College (Ky.). The forum is sponsored in partnership with the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) at The University of Texas at Austin.

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