Preparing Rural Community College Professionals

Article excerpt

A limited number of universities offer graduate programs that focus specifically on preparing rural community college leaders. At the same time, community colleges are facing projections of unprecedented turnover in both administrative and instructional leadership. The rural community college is a unique educational institution which faces distinct challenges in meeting its mission in regions traditionally under-served by higher education. Future leadership in the rural community college will require innovative thinking by the colleges themselves and colleges of education to prepare students who would like careers in rural institutions. The following case study suggests innovations to help colleges of education prepare leaders for rural community colleges.

Introduction

Researchers have identified many challenges unique to small, rural community colleges and the distinctive problems facing those who lead these institutions (Killacky, & Valadez, 1995; Pennington, Williams, & Karvonen, 2006). Community colleges are often t he only institutions of higher education serving rural America, and leaders of these institutions face challenges which are not found at other two-year colleges or at universities. Leaders need preparation through programs of study that will prepare them to address the community college's special role in serving rural communities. Graduate programs in colleges of education have, however, seldom adequately prepared leaders to meet the special needs of rural service regions.

Preparing future rural community college leaders will require colleges of education to plan for innovations in areas such as curriculum content, delivery format, and instructional methods. Without adequate planning, a college of education will, at best, provide only mediocre educational experiences for an important and growing group of potential students. Additionally, leaders of colleges of education cannot accomplish the task without the expertise of present community college leaders.

The opportunity

A very limited number of universities offer successful graduate programs that focus specifically on preparing community college leaders, and enrollment in these programs has declined in recent years (Duvall, 2003). Despite the unique challenges facing rural areas and the growing enrollment in rural two-year colleges, graduate leadership programs expressly for rural community colleges are even more difficult to find. Some in higher education have become concerned that graduate leadership programs are such a low priority to universities that programs focusing on rural institutions may not survive (Evelyn 2001). The situation has developed as community colleges face projections of unprecedented turnover in both administrative and instructional positions due to retirements:

   Community colleges are facing an impending leadership crisis.
   College presidents, senior administrators, and faculty leaders have
   been retiring at an alarming rate--a trend that is expected to
   continue as baby boomers age. The average age of people in these
   positions continues to increase, and upcoming retirements in the
   positions are projected to be higher than normal. As a consequence,
   higher numbers of administrators must be trained to fill community
   college leadership roles. (Shults, 2001, p. 1)

Graduate education programs prepared to meet the demand and focus on the unique requirements of rural institutions can provide a needed service to rural college regions. According to Duvall (2003), colleges of education that are most successful at addressing the leadership needs of community colleges will be innovative, will challenge traditional ways of thinking, and will focus specifically on community colleges.

Rural community colleges and colleges of education

The rural community college is indeed playing an important and expanding role in today's higher education community (Pennington & Williams, 2004). …