Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), has received the American Council on Education’s (ACE) 2020 Reginald Wilson Diversity Leadership Award.
The award, named in honor of Reginald Wilson, senior scholar emeritus at ACE and founding director of the council’s Office of Minority Concerns, is presented annually to an individual who has made outstanding contributions and demonstrated sustained commitment to diversity in higher education.
For his entire career spanning more than 40 years, Bumphus has been committed to increasing student success, especially for those from disadvantaged and minority groups, noted ACE President Ted Mitchell.
“All of higher education should be inspired by his courageous and unflappable focus on inclusive excellence,” he said.
At the national level
Bumphus is well known for his leadership and expertise on community colleges, serving on several White House commissions under President Barack Obama. He also served on President Donald Trump’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion and currently is a member of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, a blue-ribbon advisory board to a national council that is crafting a comprehensive national workforce strategy.
Early in his tenure at AACC in 2011, Bumphus formed the 21st Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges, resulting in a report, “Reclaiming the American Dream,” that urged leaders to re-imagine community colleges as centers of collaboration focused on the support of better learning outcomes. It was followed by “Empowering Community Colleges to Build the Nation’s Future: An Implementation Guide.”
More recently, Bumphus has focused the association on equity through Unfinished Business, which aims to identify why achievement gaps persist and how to address them, from cultural sensitivity in the classroom, to ensuring there are jobs with family-sustaining wages waiting for students on the other end.
“It’s our next frontier,” Bumphus said in 2018 when he kicked off a series of meetings with community college leaders and other education advocates to discuss the challenges and opportunities around equity.
Leading in crisis
With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Bumphus has ensured that the voice of community colleges is heard on Capitol Hill, advocating for emergency funding to help AACC-member colleges and their students, many of whom are struggling to keep their jobs, access technology to take courses and find childcare, among other challenges.
Bumphus is not a stranger to leading during unprecedented crises. While president of Louisiana Community and Technical College System from 2001 to 2007, he led the state’s two-year colleges through the aftermaths of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, working with local, state and federal officials to restore campuses, help students return to school and prepare them for the workforce. For example, after Katrina, he helped to quickly secure a $5 million U.S. Labor Department grant to develop construction trades centers in hurricane-devastated areas of the state. The centers helped fuel a rebirth of hard-hit coastal areas.
Prior to AACC, Bumphus was a professor in the Community College Leadership Program and chair of the Department of Educational Administration at the University of Texas at Austin. He also held the A. M. Aikin Regents Endowed Chair in Junior and Community College Education Leadership.