Tips on Getting a Community College Presidency

‘You shouldn’t have to leave your own college to become a president,’…which is especially important for women, who are place-bound more often than men.

Dr. Sylvia ManloveDr. Sylvia Manlove

Community college presidencies are changing. High turnover in the next few years will bring a new cohort with different demographics, duties and backgrounds.

Student affairs officers at the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) conference in Boston in March heard from Dr. Patricia Stanley, deputy assistant secretary for community colleges in the U.S. Office of Vocational and Adult Education, on how to chart a course toward this challenging and shifting position. Community college VP Dr. Sylvia Manlove responded to Stanley’s remarks. Initiating and facilitating the session was Dr. Yvette Galloway, director of NASPA Community College Education Programs and Services.

Community colleges mushroomed in the 1960s and 1970s, attracting many bright young idealists into leadership roles. Typically tax supported and oriented toward local needs, community colleges embodied a vision of open access to education beyond high school.

Half of those bright young idealists—whether faculty or administrators—are now facing retirement. Stanley said 50 of California’s 109 community colleges are now in presidential transition. That’s a lot of change. The picture is similar in other states.

Presidential responsibilities are changing too. “Success” has joined “access” in defining the community college goal; not only should everyone be able to enroll who wants to, but everyone should have support to succeed and graduate.

As states tighten their budgets, fundraising—always a big part of the president’s job at private colleges—is becoming important at community colleges as well. Some have started foundations or active alumni associations.

Cast a larger net

The graying of community college leadership can open doors for women and minorities. Most of the retiring community college presidents are white males. The pipeline is more diverse, especially if it’s envisioned broadly.

“We need to cast a larger net to get people as community college presidents,” Stanley said. Strong potential presidents can be found in other high leadership roles besides chief academic officer or chief financial officer.

Her path was through home economics. She taught high school and then at the University of Dayton OH. She became a department chair at California State University, Los Angeles. Later she was dean of vocational education in the California community college chancellor’s office and served as executive VP of a college in that system. Her criterion before signing off on anything was, “How will it affect students?”

In January 1998 Stanley became president of Frederick Community College MD, where she stayed eight years and started a leadership program. “I’ve become a leadership junkie,” she said. With a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the University of the Pacific, she’s attended leadership programs at Harvard, Maryland and the National Institute for Leadership Development in Phoenix AZ.

She advocates the “grow your own” approach to leadership development. Having moved across the country for her presidency, she believes, “You shouldn’t have to leave your own college to become a president.” That’s especially important for women, who are place-bound more often than men. Developing leadership on-site broadens the image of whom to consider as potential leaders.

From student affairs to president

“I strongly believe student affairs is a viable path to the presidency as it teaches many of the skills needed to be an effective leader of a college, which include leadership development, strategic planning, conflict resolution, collaboration and developing a sense of community with students, faculty, staff and other stakeholders,” Galloway told WIHE.

While most of the retiring presidents are men, women have come to dominate student affairs officers—another reason to welcome student affairs as a valid path to president.

Before Dr. Charlene Dukes was named president of Prince George’s Community College MD in May 2007, she served the college for 12 years as VP for student services. As president, she said her administration would be student-centered and guided by the question, “How does our work benefit students?” She described her approach as one of teamwork, collaboration and collegiality.

When a scheduling conflict prevented Dukes from speaking at the NASPA session, Manlove filled in. At the time of the NASPA meeting Manlove was VP for student services at Gateway Community College in Phoenix, part of the Maricopa Community College System. This summer she’s stepped up to system VP for student services—perhaps another student services officer en route to a presidency?

“I was once told I had to get out of student services to become president,” she said. Not so. She said three or four student affairs officers had gone on to become presidents in her community college district alone. “I think the skills we develop are advantageous for a president,” she said.

Preparing to be president

Community college president is a worthwhile objective, Stanley said. Half the students in higher education attend community colleges. Two-year schools train 80% of Homeland Security staff and 60% of teachers. University students who’ve transferred from community colleges do as well as, or better than, students who started at four-year schools.

“You may not get a presidency on your first or second try, but stay with it!” she advised potential presidents. She summarized minimum qualifications and helpful experience for a community college president.

Required: earned doctorate. Even if the job ad says “doctorate preferred,” it’s the union card: Get it. Most of your competitors will have it. Choose a graduate program that’s dedicated to preparing senior educational leaders and offers opportunities for mentoring.

Required: administrative and teaching experience. Strong presidential candidates have three to five years administrative experience at a senior level. You also need some teaching experience; the faculty will demand it.

Required: commitment to the comprehensive community college. More than 90% of community college presi-dents come from within the ranks of community colleges. If you’re hoping to cross over from a four-year system, seek out some adjunct faculty or other experience at a community college. Most importantly, establish a connection with open access, the defining feature of the community college movement.

Required: sensitivity to and understanding of diversity. Community college students and staff have diverse academic, socio-economic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. How does your record demonstrate your commitment to recruitment and the success of underrepresented members of the community? Seek out committees or assignments to strengthen the evidence. Get on boards where you can make an impact on the community.

Strengthen your experience

“They expect a new president to walk on water,” Stanley said. Few candidates will have everything they’re looking for, but you can seek out experience to fill important gaps. Your record should show you’re prepared to:

Address workforce needs and demographic changes of the college service area. If you’re weak in this area, volunteer to work with local economic development groups or the Chamber of Commerce.

Nurture and sustain a campus climate of shared governance and mutual respect. She’s found community colleges more inclusive than four-year schools. Whatever your current position, make connections across campus; act like any-body you work with might be asked for a reference. Build strong faculty ties if you’re not in academics. Do you interact well with students? Have you worked with labor unions?

Manage resources through budgeting, fundraising, financial aid and strategic planning. Show that you can run a budget. “Few presidents get fired for screwing up student services, but if you screw up the budget, you’re gone,” Stanley said.

Oversee technology growth. You don’t have to do your own programming, but get involved enough with technology to evaluate proposals and manage initiatives within a budget. “If you put in PeopleSoft or Datatel and lived through it, it’s a bonus,” she said.

Work with the board. According to the Carver Model of Policy Governance, the board sets policy and the president implements it. The most important thing a community college board does is to hire, support and fire presidents.

Community colleges are exciting, important catalysts for change for individual students, communities and the world. Women can prepare for leadership roles at this time of transition in the community college presidency.


Galloway:  or 202. 265.7500 x1173

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