Academic journal article Journal of Applied Research in the Community College

Voices from the Field: Learning about Community College Transformation and Change from the Words of Practitioners

Academic journal article Journal of Applied Research in the Community College

Voices from the Field: Learning about Community College Transformation and Change from the Words of Practitioners

Article excerpt

This article examines the characteristics present in community colleges that have gained a reputation for exemplary performance. Using narratives from winning and honorable mention entries of a national competition, the authors examine common themes in relation to the literature on organizational change and case studies of award-winning organizations outside of higher education. The findings indicate that the award winning institutions have adopted a continuous improvement process that uses data to identify the needs of their respective communities and to develop initiatives to address these needs. Common themes in the narratives point to planned change as a common characteristic.

Community colleges have earned both a national and global reputation for being innovative and responsive to the needs and demands of their students and geographical service areas. Perhaps more than any other sector of American higher education, community colleges have mastered the art of staying "in touch" with their internal and external customers.

Although 2-year institutions continue to face numerous and varied challenges in meeting constituent needs (Amey, 2010), there are arguments that today's environment stresses the importance of rapid response to meeting needs (Wallin, 2009). And there a number of award programs that recognize community colleges for their development and implementation of highly successful programs.

The purpose of our study is to examine community college success stories in an attempt to identify common characteristics involving exemplary programs and services. Although a number of research efforts have examined effective programs, these studies have typically concentrated on the personal and professional qualities of the senior organizational leader and how this individual has facilitated exemplary organizational performance. This study invokes a somewhat different strategy. We assume that the recognized programs have addressed a need, and begin by examining whether the need is internal or external to the community college. We then examine the narratives of the projects to determine whether there are common themes that bridge across the respective categories in the competition and compare our findings to the extant literature. In conducting this study, we hope to gain a greater understanding of change and transformation within community colleges and suggest how the basic principles associated with these terms can enhance performance, if embraced by an institution. This increased level of performance can, in turn, lead to further exemplary programs and services to support the needs of both internal and external constituents.

To answer this purpose, we performed a content analysis of "winning" and "honorable mention" narratives from a national competition between 2002-2003 and 2008-2009. Two-year colleges across the nation voluntarily submitted these narratives to showcase a specific initiative in their instructional programs. A panel of community college instructional administrators evaluated the narratives using criteria created by fellow practitioners, and selected the winning and honorable mention entries.

Literature Review

The term change, one that surfaces frequently in textbooks and studies concerned with organizational behavior and is often paired with the word leadership, has appeared increasingly in research focused on improving the effectiveness and efficiency of higher education institutions (Craig, 2004; Hawkins, 2009; Wallin, 2010). Based on the current research, we begin this literature review by providing an overview of the concepts associated with change and how it is effected and then examine why change has become-and will continue to be-so important to the survivability and vitality of today's community colleges. To draw parallels with the purpose of the study, the final section of this literature review chronicles common executive leadership characteristics that have surfaced in award-winning organizations outside of higher education. …

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