Leading change

As I proudly — and gratefully — begin the year as chair of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) board of directors, I am reminded of an unusual fact.

In 1967, when I joined the English faculty at Prince George’s Community College (Maryland), I — along with many others like me — became a pioneer as the community college movement spread across the country. Now 50 years later, as the president of the Community College of Baltimore County, I fiercely embrace the spirit of becoming a pioneer once again as America’s community colleges retool for the 21st century.

In 1967 we were academic innovators, creating a new form of higher education with the metaphoric equivalent of duct tape, bobby pins and chewing gum. We since have matured into a powerful sector that serves 12 million students a year. Each one of those 12 million deserves the best education and training we can offer, equipping them to meet the challenges of this century rather than the last.

This column comes from the new August/September issue of AACC’s Community College Journal. Read it online.

This is not merely a matter of adapting 1970s processes and practices to a computer. Instead, we face the challenge of creating cutting-edge currency in everything we do: curriculum, facilities, equipment, institutional systems and faculty/staff expertise. We must do the hard things necessary to make this happen as gently as we can – not only to reduce the human collateral sometimes associated with rightsizing, but to understand that for most of us there will be no new money, unless we find a way to generate it ourselves.

A new world with new challenges

Does this mean higher education is in crisis? I say a resounding NO. We are in motion, rapidly hurtling toward some new point of stasis that differs vastly from the one that shaped the community college in the last century.

For those of us who must lead this transformation, there are several challenges. First, we must continue to embrace and celebrate the magic of our open-door mission, while simultaneously ensuring that the equity equation remains a fixed part of this “access to success” matrix.

Second, in an era of acute enrollment decline, rightsizing our institutions to a size appropriate to our resources is of paramount importance. We must be creative in our quest for cost-savings, engaging people who are most impacted by tightening budgets into thoughtful conversations to find solutions.

Third, launching a serious review of internal processes, systems and products throughout the institution will serve to strengthen and improve both content and delivery, while bringing economic stability to the institution.

As AACC prepares to celebrate its 100th year in 2020, I am proud to serve as AACC board chair. More than any other sector of higher education, it is the community college that America turns to for postsecondary credentials. Every day we earn our stripes as democracy’s colleges. This is our mission. This is who we are. This is who we serve.

And I ask you, as I ask myself, if we do not support these students, who will? The answer lies in our resilience, flexibility and motivation. Just as we have grown, progressed and advanced to meet the changing demands of students through decades past, so will we rise to meet the developmental, academic and career training needs of students today and into the future.

About the Author

Sandra Kurtinitis
is president of the Community College of Baltimore County (Maryland) and chair of the American Association of Community Colleges board of directors.