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Perspectives: Ascending the Hierarchy of Success

As baby boomers retire in rapid numbers, an influx of job vacancies will occur across the work force, including those in the field of community colleges. According to the American Association of Community Colleges (2006), more than 80 percent of current community college presidents are planning to retire within 10 years. Community colleges, such as Guilford Technical Community College (N.C.), are instituting succession planning to prepare for their future institutional needs as well as their employees’ professional aspirations.

In The Chronicle for Higher Education, George Vaughan, a long-time community college leader and advocate, observed that he became a community college president after only three years of administrative experience. Of course, this was in the late 1960s, early 1970s, when a new community college was opening its doors almost every week. When asked how he achieved this position so quickly, Vaughan explained, “The escalator came by, I got on, and I rode it up.”

How will future community college leaders prepare themselves for the presidency? We describe here several programs providing professional development opportunities to individuals interested in ascending the community college hierarchy.

Future Leaders Institute (FLI) and Future Leaders Institute/Advanced  

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) hosts the FLI, a five-day leadership seminar for mid-level community college administrators who are ready to move into a higher level of leadership. The seminar, designed for up to 40 participants, is intended for faculty, administrators and staff, with titles such as vice president, dean, associate dean or director.

Over time, and as some of the early participants began to experience upward career mobility, there were repeated requests for a “Part 2” of the FLI. Future Leaders Institute/Advanced (FLI/ADV) was designed to be an intensive five-day institute, focused on senior-level community college administrators who were on the direct path to a presidency.

Experienced community college leaders serve as coaches for the participants, providing significant networking experiences. The FLI network has grown to more than 570 alumni, of which 34 have been named to a presidency. More than 200 others have made significant career changes or enrolled in or completed doctoral programs.

Executive Leadership Institute (ELI)

Founded in 1988, ELI is sponsored by the League for Innovation in the Community College, with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. It is a week-long program designed for senior-level administrators who aspire to become community college presidents.

During the program, distinguished community college leaders make presentations and actively engage in discussions with participants, exploring a wide range of topics, designed to provide future chief executive officers with a solid foundation for addressing issues that challenge presidential success. Participants enhance their interview skills through presidential interview simulations under the guidance of national presidential-search consultants, and these consultants critique their professional résumés and applications.

More than 650 participants have graduated from ELI, creating a network of ELI graduates. Forty-three percent of ELI graduates, and as many as 70 percent of some graduating classes, have accepted presidential appointments.

Community College Leadership Program (CCLP)

The National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD), the sponsor of this column, is the outreach vehicle and service arm of the Community College Leadership Program (CCLP), the nation’s oldest doctoral program with a primary focus on the preparation of community college leaders, housed at The University of Texas at Austin. More than 600 students have graduated from the program since its inception in 1944. CCLP has received numerous accolades, including recognition as one of the most diverse graduate programs in the nation for its unparalleled record of success in preparing women and minorities for leadership positions.

The program of study is anchored in a fall semester, 12-hour community college “block of time” core program. Outstanding leaders (community college chancellors, presidents, vice presidents, deans and state and federal officials) — as many as 25-35 each year — instruct the students about problems encountered in the “real world” of educational leadership. Students make on-site visits to community colleges across Canada, Mexico and the United States, during which they interview college leaders, personnel and students. In addition to the other coursework, students are required to complete a semester-long internship under the tutelage of an experienced community college president.

The distinguished graduate list is long and includes the current presidents of the League for Innovation and the American Association of Community Colleges, and the executive director of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

Equipping Future Leaders

Whether you are an emerging scholar or an experienced administrator, the time to prepare yourself for your next role is now! Clearly, there are many paths to the presidency and many resources available to prepare oneself to meet the challenges of the future for community colleges. There are many paths leading to a community college presidency, from the more traditional path of moving up the leadership ladder at one’s institution or participating in a program designed to jumpstart a leadership career. Whether you choose to climb the ladder or ride the escalator, if the top leadership position is in your sights, the time is now to plan your future.

Dr. Evelyn Waiwaiole is the Suanne Davis Roueche Director of the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) at The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Coral Noonan-Terry is NISOD’s Associate Director and Lecturer, Educational Administration, College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin.


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