By now, we’re all aware of the reality that community college leadership is suffering from both a high turnover and a shortage of qualified candidates to fill empty positions. According to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), half of the 1,100 community college presidents in the United States may retire during the next decade.
The good news is that there are a lot of ways for people to prepare for presidency, including leadership preparation programs from AACC and other industry organizations, as well as workshops and coaching opportunities offered by higher education institutions. These programs, which help people confirm their interest and learn about the strategies they need for advancement, are absolutely critical, but figuring out a pathway can be complicated.
“I’ve benefitted personally from several programs that helped me expand my network and learn the good, bad and ugly about what I was getting into,” says Joseph Seabrooks, president of Cedar Valley College in Dallas, Texas.
However, as Seabrooks points out, the process is anything but intuitive. “Just because you work in higher education doesn’t mean we lay out succession plans and a career ladder for you,” he says. “If you talk to 100 college presidents, you’ll hear 100 different journeys.”
Because no pathway is the same, people have to design customized strategies. Helping aspiring leaders — even if they are entry-level employees or simply curious about a president’s role — understand their options is not just helpful; it’s essential. That’s why AACC decided to step in.
Last year, AACC leadership formed the Commission on Leadership and Professional Development to review leadership competencies and to keep the association apprised of leadership needs in the field.
“AACC felt that it would be beneficial to literally map out the different options available to aspiring leaders and provide guidance on the different pathways one might choose,” says Christine Sobek, president of Waubonsee Community College in Illinois.
Sobek, who chairs the commission, says the goal is to put together an inventory describing the various offerings so that AACC members can determine which program is the right fit.
“We talked about looking at offerings by functions within the pipeline,” she says. “Are there key associations offering opportunities for student development professionals, for chief academic officers, or for people on the business side?”
Seabrooks breaks down training into four different categories: academic affairs, student affairs, administrative affairs and advancement. Depending on a person’s current position, the first goal is to become a chief executive in one of those domains. There are organizations offering professional development in each arena, such as the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators’ Women in Student Affairs Drive-In Conference. Next up are the higher-level leadership programs such as the American Council on Education’s Institute for New Chief Academic Officers.
“Currently, we are sorting through the programs and starting to map out the executive-level leadership programs before tackling the chief executive officer ones,” Seabrooks says. “After that, we’ll look at the programs for presidents that help them remain successful.”