The entrepreneurial community college

Community colleges are becoming more entrepreneurial in their operational strategies. This entrepreneurism trend is partially in response to declining financial resources from traditional funding sources alongside increasing demands.

In the face of many challenges, community colleges have adopted new ways of thinking and acting. Researchers note a number of strategies in their definition of entrepreneurship: strategic alliances, business and industry training, programming, foundations, fund-raising and friend-raising, outsourcing, and legislative lobbying. For these strategies to be successful, they usually involve cost-sharing and profit-generating.

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from a chapter in the book Community Colleges as Incubators of Innovation: Unleashing Entrepreneurial Opportunities for Communities and Students (Stylus Publishing, 2019) edited by Rebecca Corbin and Ron Thomas. It is reprinted with permission.

Strategic alliances with community, business, and industry often lead to participation on advisory committees, student internship programs, and other initiatives. Business and industry training outside of credit and con­tinuing education programs can also be a source of revenue for colleges; since they are not subject to state funding, they must be self-sufficient and there­fore competitively priced.

Community colleges may vary their traditional programming to be entrepreneurial by redesigning course offerings and exploring alternative modalities, as well as being flexible with session lengths. College foundations can seek private donations and engage in fund-raising to bring in sources of revenue. In an effort to reduce costs, community colleges may choose to outsource services such as maintenance, information technol­ogy, bookstore, and cafeteria. Lastly, many entrepreneurial community col­leges use lobbying efforts to identify state funding sources in support of key mission activities.


For community colleges to be truly entrepreneurial, they must be will­ing to embark on a transformative journey grounded in responsible risk-taking, problem-solving and creative-thinking. Leaders of entrepreneurial colleges are facilitators, collaborators, consensus makers and incentive pro­viders. Their role is to cultivate a spirit of entrepreneurship across all areas of the institution by recognizing that people, more so than process, drive change.

Below are some strategies that community college leaders can consider when trying to promote entrepre­neurship on their campuses and in their local communities. To create a spirit of entrepreneurship, community colleges should:

Consider embedding principles of entrepreneurship across the cur­riculum. While entrepreneurship programs will continue to be relevant in many community colleges, key concepts of entrepre­neurship are valuable to students in programs outside the business department. The Ice House Entrepreneurship Program is a good example of how to teach entrepreneurship using an interdisciplinary approach.

Invest in makerspaces. Along the same lines of interdisciplinary approaches, makerspaces promote creativity and innovation for students from many disciplines and programs. Incorporating makerspaces into courses and extracurricular activities encourages student usage, thereby creating a “maker culture” across the campus.

Offer support to small businesses and start-up businesses. There are many resources and frameworks available for how community colleges can offer training, guidance, and support to small business and new businesses in the start-up phase. SBDCs provide a source of potential funding. Colleges can also seek investments from community, business, and industry to support incubators and investor funds.

Engage in economic development for your local community. Having a seat at the table is the first step in promoting economic development. For community colleges to do this work, they must be equipped to create a highly skilled labor force for the jobs that are in demand. Creating reciprocal arrangements can boost college efforts.

Create a culture of social entrepreneurship and commit to developing entrepreneurial skills and mindset in students across multiple disciplines to help them address relevant challenges in their local communities. Community colleges should explore the resources of Ashoka University, which has been engaged in the space with community colleges for years.

Cultivate an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Community colleges play a key role in providing a talent pipeline for business and industry. They are positioned to serve as a convener of multiple stakeholders as well as a collaborator to ensure entrepreneurs are equipped with the necessary resources.

Embed entrepreneurship into the college’s culture. Community colleges should foster a culture in support of entrepreneurship. Including it in the strategic plan or signing a pledge to take specific entrepreneurial actions are strategies that demonstrate institutional commitment to entrepreneurship through responsible risk-taking, problem-solving, and creative thinking.

A starting point

While not an exhaustive list, these strategies can serve as a starting point in the journey to promote entrepreneurship in community colleges. Looking forward, community college leaders must be prepared for further challenges, such as waning government support, enrollment declines, and greater calls for accountability in student success and completion.

New, less familiar challenges will be determined in the future as globalization and technol­ogy continue to advance. But with these challenges come great opportunity. Community colleges with an entrepreneurial mindset will be most prepared to seize these opportunities and thrive in an environment of uncertainty and change.

About the Author

Madeline Pumariega / Carrie Henderson
Madeline Pumariega is executive vice president and provost of Tallahassee Community College in Florida. She previously was chancellor of the Florida College System. Carrie Henderson is the current executive vice chancellor of the system.