Magazine article University Business

Making the Switch: Community Colleges Are Benefiting from Leaders with a Four-Year Background

Magazine article University Business

Making the Switch: Community Colleges Are Benefiting from Leaders with a Four-Year Background

Article excerpt

THE LEAGUE FOR INNOVATION in the Community College hasn't heard much about it. The American Association of Community Colleges says it's not a trend. The American Council on Education knows of one person who did it 10 years ago. It doesn't happen often, but leaders do move from the four-year to the two-year sector. And once they do, they often find that things they learned working at a university can be helpfully applied at a community college.


When William Harmon first became president of Houston Community College Central College (Texas) two years ago, there was an issue with extreme turnover of first-year students. The school had been addressing it as an admissions issue, but it turned out to be a matter of retention. "[Being at a four-year college] brought me to discuss aspects the community college didn't consider, such as orientation and retention strategies," he says. Harmon was in the four-year sector for 20 years when he decided to move to Houston to be near his daughter and her new family. He received job offers from HCC and a four-year IHE. "It was a conscious decision to choose the community college," he says.

"Community colleges are going through a maturation and evolutionary process," explains Steven Ender, president of Westmoreland County Community College (Pa.). "Institutional research, fundraising--those are new for community colleges, and people from four-year institutions can offer a lot." Ender accepted his position after talking to his twin brother Kenneth, president of Cumberland County College (N.J.), and realizing the opportunities available. "I spent time at universities doing things not related to education," Steven says. Now he is excited by how nimble his new college is and shares how they began offering a course in radiological technology 12 months after realizing there was a high need in the region.


"I don't think the skill sets are all that different," says Kenneth Ender, listing abilities such as relating to a wide range of people, multitasking, future planning, proper delegating, and fundraising. For 10 years he has been president of Cumberland County College, making the switch after completing an ACE fellowship. "I can't underscore enough how important it is to find the right fit," he says. "Most successful presidents, regardless of sector, will say the fit is good." The focus on students at community colleges is what sold him.


"When you see [a student's] whole family is in the audience [at graduation], you realize they changed the destiny of the entire family," Kenneth says.

"In some instances [students] see this as their last opportunity for education and it becomes a family affair," Harmon says. But the difference in the makeup of the student body can be one challenge new leaders aren't expecting. "If you don't create a smooth transition from high school or work during the registration process, it is easier for them to walk away than fight barriers," Harmon adds.

"You can't make assumptions that you would make based on a four-year institution," says William Shields, president of University of Pittsburgh at Titusville (Pa.), a two-year regional campus associated with the University of Pittsburgh. During his career, Shields has been president or interim president at five different institutions. He says it's easier to get to know the students at Titusville because the school is smaller.

The relationship with faculty, and the type of faculty hired, is also different. "You try to hire and retain good faculty depending on what kinds of teachers they are rather than their publishing history," Shields explains. And the research that faculty pursue is usually related to "the art of teaching," Kenneth says.

And don't forget the local community. "There is much less separation between town and gown at community colleges," points out Norma Kent, AACC vice president for communications, Just as Westmoreland responded to a local need by adding a new program, community college leaders have to be integrated in civic, workforce, service, and other activities, she says. …

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