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Colleges grow their own future leaders

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​Community colleges, like other organizations in a variety of industries, face the prospect of a leadership gap as many baby boomers approach their retirement years.

To address this, some colleges are starting up or reinforcing their own professional development programs for future college leaders. The colleges hope to ensure that there are sufficient replacements for top positions as they become vacant.

“Many institutions are implementing grow-your-own programs as a response to impending retirements in the senior levels of administration,” said Angel Royal, associate vice president of leadership development and board relations at the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

Some of these anticipated retirements have not yet happened, probably due to the dip in the economy, Royal noted, but it is inevitable.

“As the economy continues to rebound, these retirements will happen, and the gap in leadership that many studies have referenced will materialize,” she said.

AACC’s renewed program

Leadership development programs serve to prepare individuals for future vacancies in critical positions, Royal said.

“It appears that colleges see a moral obligation to grow leaders, which will have a major impact on the colleges' ability to continue delivering high-quality services to students,” she said.

AACC is revamping its own leadership programs, and one component will offer support to do-it-yourself campus programs.

“In the coming months, AACC's leadership programs will be enhanced through the use of technology, and will include a virtual classroom,” Royal said. “In addition, participants will be provided with the option to participate in a week-long intensive program only, or the week-long intensive program with sustained engagement over the course of a semester.”

The program will include hands-on activities that allow participants to test their mastery of the AACC Competencies for Community College Leaders, Royal said. AACC is also developing a toolkit with step-by-step guidelines to help colleges build new leadership programs.

Looking within

Some colleges have excelled in the development of their own programs. In the summer of 2010, the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC), under the guidance of its president, Alex Johnson, began creating a Leadership Development Institute (LDI) based on AACC's leadership competencies.

“It is part of the institutional culture to look within for potential leaders,” said Charlene Newkirk, president of CCAC’s South Campus. “Many of the current senior leaders have been in the institution in progressively responsible positions over the years, and it is important to cast our net widely for the next generation of leaders.”

Many of the school’s top leaders will be eligible to retire within the next five years, she noted.

All permanent college employees who aren’t full deans, campus presidents, vice presidents or college president and those who have worked at the college for at least two years are eligible to participate in LDI.

The goal is to help participants explore their potential for leadership in various college roles, including department head, committee chair, union steward, dean, vice president, campus president and even college president.

LDI incorporates a variety of speakers, topics and activities to enhance leadership skills by giving participants opportunities to interact with and gain insight from leaders in various fields related to the mission of the college. Other benefits include opportunities for gaining more awareness of organizational structure and culture and increasing knowledge of resource allocation, budgeting and finance.

“We sincerely hope that the participants leave the program with the confidence that they know more about the institution, its mission, how strategic decisions are made and who we serve,” Newkirk said. “We also hope that they are better prepared to become institutional leaders.”

A multi-faceted approach

Another college with a leadership program—the College of Southern Nevada (CSN)—runs the CSN Executive Leadership Institute (ELI), a comprehensive professional development program conducted by content experts within higher education and the private sector. CSN launched the program because the executive team recognized it was time to grow leaders internally, said Chemene Crawford, interim vice president of student affairs at the college.

“Through the program, scholars enhance their leadership knowledge and skills to prepare for potential high-level advancement,” she said.

ELI requires about 48 hours of time over an eight-month period in group learning formats, independent study, teleconferences and videoconferences.

“Participation in the ELI requires a commitment to all aspects of the various planned program activities,” Crawford said.

The program consists of Group Learning Sessions in which individuals participate in seven, four-hour sessions and one eight-hour seminar focused on moving participants toward an increasing depth of personal understanding and leadership development.

A leadership inventory is administered during the program, and participants also take part in a personality assessment to better understand how personality can influence a leader’s effectiveness.

Graduates of the program are asked to engage in quarterly alumni activities and continue peer mentor relationships developed in the institute. They are also encouraged to serve as mentors to future ELI scholars.

The success of ELI has sparked an interest in leadership opportunities campus-wide, Crawford said.

“I don’t know if many thought this was just ‘one more thing’ we were going to do and not continue,” she said. “But there has been a new level of awareness among the college community, and many have expressed the desire to participate in the program.”

Developing real solutions

In 2008, Houston Community College (HCC) implemented a year-long executive leadership development program, with a curriculum and lecturers coordinated by the HCC training department and AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus, who at the time was with the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin.

Topics included leadership, planning, budget and finance, current issues of education and higher education, student retention and completion and board-CEO relationships. At the end of the program, the class is divided into teams to develop and present a capstone project that benefits the college.

“The college created the program to help develop potential in new leaders with the hope that many of these individuals would succeed in helping the institution growth,” said Art Tyler, deputy chancellor at HCC. “The other major driver was the need for succession planning and development of the leaders of HCC. This was done with the reality that some of the current senior leaders would be retiring in the next four to five years.”

Indirectly, the training has helped the college find new ideas and processes to manage the nearly 40 percent growth it has had without any new funding from the state, Tyler said.

“Nearly 85 percent of all graduates from the program have been promoted at least once,” he said. “Several are on a career track to senior leadership positions.”

HCC has a moral and professional obligation to invest in its people at every level, especially at the leadership levels, Tyler said.

“These leaders are the problem solvers of the institutional challenges we face,” he said. “They continue to grow and provide support to the success of our students. The investment in our future leadership is paying significant dividends in our institutional growth and support of Houston.”