Six leading community college organizations have joined forces to address an important yet little-known challenge facing community colleges across the U.S.: the impending departure of hundreds of presidents.
Seventy-five percent of current presidents say they plan to retire within the next 10 years, an exodus that would drain off several millennia of collective knowledge and experience at a crucial moment for community colleges and the nation.
The consequences of this dramatic change in leadership could be profound – for community colleges, the men and women we serve and our nation’s economy.
As a member of the Executive Committee of the American Association of Community Colleges for 2013-14, I can attest to the seriousness with which AACC views this situation. As AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus has stated, “The pool of potential applicants to fill those CEO positions who possess the requisite skills to ‘hit the ground leading’ is shrinking. In order to develop and implement a student success agenda, leadership development and faculty engagement are critical.”
AACC and five other groups – the Association of Community College Trustees, Achieving the Dream Inc., Aspen Institute College Excellence Program, League for Innovation in the Community College, and Student Success Initiatives at the University of Texas-Austin – have pledged to share information and support as they ramp up efforts to get qualified individuals into and through the leadership pipeline.
The goal of the collaboration among our organizations – who represent more than 1,100 community colleges, educating some 13 million students – is to leverage our strengths and resources in ways that align recruiting, selection and development. For its part, AACC, which has offered relevant, high-quality leadership development programs to our membership for more than 10 years, intends to launch several new leadership initiatives in the coming year.
The leadership challenges facing community colleges nationally also have a local component. Here at Pima – an institution that has had four chancellors in the last 20 months – I am working with my team to redefine what it means to be a college leader. After a little more than three months on job, it’s clear to me that the vast majority of my colleagues are eager to set new, higher goals for themselves and the College.
The students, staff and faculty at Pima know that leadership transitions can be tough. But here and nationally we must remember that the challenge before us also represents an excellent opportunity to reinvigorate our institutions with a new generation of leaders. With the right recruitment, preparation and selection, the next wave of CEOs can guide community colleges to substantially improve students’ access, completion and competitiveness in the job market.
The legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said that “failure to prepare is preparing to fail.” The change in community leadership will happen. We need to prepare for it.