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New competencies for new (and seasoned) leaders


​With an eye toward what skills successful community college leaders will need over the next few years, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) has revamped its leadership competencies.

The association, which represents nearly 1,200 associate degree-granting institutions the U.S., this week released the second edition of “AACC Competencies for Community College Leaders,” which first lays out why the competencies are needed in an ever-changing college environment and how they fit into the broader strategies of developing successful two-year colleges.

While many of the initial AACC competencies developed in 2005 may still apply, the changing landscape at community colleges required adjustments, according to AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus.

“The nature of the business is changing so much,” he said.

The time was also right as the association works on strategies to help member colleges implement the recommendations of AACC’s landmark 21st-Century Commission report.

While a full implementation plan will be released in April at the annual AACC convention, the team charged with examining a new framework for leadership has drawn some conclusions. They include:

  • Successful leaders move institutions to achieve high and improving student success rates.
  • More dramatic steps, such as a greater sense of urgency and alignment, are needed to improve student success results.
  • Expectations of college leaders are changing, so priorities must shift to accountability for improving student success.
  • Deliberate preparation is needed to produce leaders with the right competencies, particularly in risk-taking and change management.

Problems in the pipeline

The issue of leadership is especially crucial for community colleges as a wave of college presidents—and other leaders, such as vice presidents and deans, and faculty—are expected to retire over the next decade. A 2012 AACC survey found that 75 percent of responding college CEOs said they plan to retire within the next 10 years.

To help develop a strong pipeline and sustainability of leadership on campuses, AACC is tweaking its professional development programs. 

“I feel that has more potential to change an institution,” Bumphus said of the team approach to leadership development.

AACC is also looking to align its efforts with other organizations that offer leaderships development, such as the League for Innovation in the Community College.

Reaching out

The association will reach out to graduate programs around the country that focus on community college leadership, from long-established ones that include the University of Texas at Austin, to more recent programs at institutions such as Ferris State University and George Mason University. Bumphus said he hopes visiting with leaders of these programs about the competencies will help “energize the field” to coach the next generation of leaders.

You're a CEO—now what?

Another important and growing aspect of leadership development has been grow-your-own leadership programs. An increasing number of colleges are investing in their own programs and have used the AACC competencies as a foundation. Bumphus said he hopes colleges will continue to look to the document to offer fluid and flexible guidelines.

In addition, the competencies can serve potential leaders coming from nontraditional areas, Bumphus said. While most college leaders come up the academic ranks, a growing number of leaders are coming from the workforce side and even from K-12, such as superintendents, he said.

Keeping in mind that the requirements of the job periodically change, an AACC advisory committee will review the competencies annually and revise them, if needed.

Room to develop

The competencies also addressed the role of college trustees in nurturing successful leaders, especially in providing them with enough time to implement a student success agenda. AACC noted that a review of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence found a similar trait among the colleges that were finalists in the first year of the competition: Longevity of the CEO was a major factor contributing to change within a college.

“Trustees cannot recycle leaders every 2 years and expect to move the institutional needle on student success and completion in a significant manner,” according to the AACC competencies document.