Staff Mentoring in Community Colleges

By Pearch, William J.; Craig, Barbara M. et al. | Community College Enterprise, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Staff Mentoring in Community Colleges

Pearch, William J., Craig, Barbara M., Willits, Eileen, Community College Enterprise

Over the next ten years, retirements will bring a leadership crisis in community colleges. One way to combat the impending crisis is to develop formal mentoring programs which nurture future leaders. One way to ensure the mentoring program achieves its objective is by using a framework to assess leadership strengths and weaknesses. Mentors who are strong in particular skills may be paired with the mentored who need to develop the skills.


"Community colleges are facing an impending leadership crisis," reported Charles Schults in 2001. With about four-fifths of incumbent community college presidents planning to retire within 10 years (Weisman & Vaughan, 2002), leadership development is now an essential focus for community colleges. Successful colleges of the future will be the ones that today are cultivating new generations of leaders at all administrative levels (Amey & VanDerLinden, 2001). Amey and VanDerLinden's 2000 survey revealed that only 22% of presidents were promoted to the presidency from within their institution. Many respondents also indicated they have acted or currently act as mentors. When these leaders retire, colleges lose their knowledge, expertise, and mentoring, too. Organized and well-planned mentoring programs are crucial to the future of community colleges.

Several scholars have surveyed the state of current leadership training initiatives within the community college (Anderson, 1997; Duvall, 2003; Watts & Hammons, 2002) and have concluded that the skills new leaders require are much different from the traditional ones in the past. Senior leadership must concern itself with many issues that require solid business skills as well as skill working with legislators and foundations; lobbying; managing elections for bonds, tax rate, and tuition increases; handling collective bargaining; and litigation (Duvall, 2003). Twombly and Amey (1991) believe that current presidents are identifying their own agenda for the twenty-first century, by "creating institutional effectiveness and distinctiveness, establishing over-arching purpose, building communities on- and off-campus, working with and serving diversified populations, acting affirmatively, and many variations on organizational renewal and institutional leadership" (p. 395).

Developing peak performers

Recognizing the need to attract peak performers, Zeiss (2004) suggests that colleges ask themselves whether they have an effective supply chain of new employees. If they hope to maintain their relevance as community service providers, community colleges must learn how to increase the performance of their employees. The three keys to developing peak performers are training, motivating, and supporting. All three of these fundamental strategies can be combined efficiently in a mentoring program. Further, the most commonly cited reasons for leaving one's job at a community college include "little or no recognition" and the "perception of being undervalued" (Zeiss, 2004). Both of these reasons apply when talent is not recognized or fostered.

Professionals embark upon careers in the not-for-profit sector, not to acquire great wealth, but out of care and concern for fellow humans and because of a desire to make a difference. As a result it is important to make sure employees feel a sense of respect and recognition. A formalized mentoring program can help develop an environment of vision and stability. Staff members with leadership potential can inject energy and experience into meeting the challenges facing today's community college.


Mentoring embraces a philosophy about people and how important they are to educational institutions. Luna & Cullen (2000) believe "mentoring is useful and powerful in understanding and advancing organizational culture, providing access to informal and formal networks of communication, and offering professional stimulation" (p. 5). It is culturally significant that leaders of tribal colleges "believe it is their responsibility to actively encourage and train the next generation of educational leaders" (Stein & Eagleeye, 1993, p. …

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