Good old-fashioned honesty

Strong core values — integrity, honesty and trustworthiness — are the most important leadership attributes for a community college CEO to succeed, according to a recent survey of public two-year college CEOs in California.

The category was the one most often cited by participating CEOs who were asked to select three of most the important attributes for a successful CEO. Communication skills and diplomacy was second, and the ability to manage challenges/opportunities simultaneously was third. Consideration of all outcomes/difficult decision-making and sensitivity to and understanding of diversity rounded out the top five attributes.

The Center for Community College Leadership and Research at the University of California, Irvine, polled CEOs (campus presidents, superintendents-presidents and chancellors) on a range of topics, from strategies to address declining enrollments, to where they find inspiration.

Why CEOs leave

The issue of challenges and conflicts with trustees was a recurring theme for responding CEOs, with “conflict with boards” as the most often cited reason that top college executives leave, according to the survey. (It was also the top reason noted in the center’s 2016 survey). Conflict with constituencies was the second reason, followed by: leaving for another job with a better salary and benefits; retirement; and stress/burnout.

What’s the hardest part of their job? Most surveyed CEOs said juggling multiple competing interests, followed by: interaction with their board of trustees; time management and workload; and policy changes/state mandates; and scarce resources.

More than 40 percent of the 74 responding CEOs said that their districts were experiencing enrollment declines, with 35 percent saying enrollment was stable and 18 percent reporting growth. Those who were facing declines used a variety of strategies to tackle the accompanying fiscal challenges. Topping the list was dual enrollment and other enrollment strategies focused on online education, adult education, and career and technical education. The second most common strategy was fiscal management, efficiency and “right sizing,” followed by adjusting programs/course offerings.

Serving students

Participants also generally agreed about the barriers to students’ success, with financial barriers and social securities at the top of the list. They were followed by institutional barriers (such as lack of programs and placement clarity), and lack of support/services.

When asked what they would do to improve student completion, most said they would simplify paths to completion or implement guided pathways. They also said they would increase academic support and counseling, followed by increasing financial support and improving course scheduling flexibility.

About the Author

Daily Staff
CCDaily is published by the American Association of Community Colleges.