Writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Nell Gluckman explains why community college presidents have been leaving their posts at a faster pace.
Not only have many of them reached retirement age, but also the skill set required to be a successful community college president has shifted toward one area: public relations.
Community colleges are no longer exclusively serving their respective communities. They are now being celebrated (and critiqued) on a national scale. "I think we were always visible locally in our communities, but the national attention has increased people's awareness of and, honestly, expectations around the way the local community college performs," says Karen Stout, president of Achieving the Dream and former president of
Ensuring a seamless transition between collegiate presidents
With state funding in decline, a president's responsibilities now include keeping the school afloat. Stewart Sutin, now a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, shares that when he was president of Community College of Allegheny County, the school was under extraordinary scrutiny. The institution's operating budget was so low that its accrediting association began warning them about failing to meet all of its standards.
Social media presents new public relations challenges as well. Because of social media, any crisis that erupts at a community college demands a timely response from the president. This can include shootings, sexual-assault charges, or controversial statements from faculty.
These tasks—on top of representing unpopular decisions such as increasing tuition—can make being a community college president a difficult role.
This unpopularity has caused tenure for community college presidents to decrease dramatically. In 1997, their average tenure was just under a decade, and a 2015 report by the League for Innovation in the Community College shows that 40% of 280 community college leaders surveyed had only been in their role between one and five years. A study by Southern Methodist University found that four-year university presidents have experienced a similar trend in recent years.
To combat the trend, organizations that support community colleges have expanded their professional development programs for current and future leaders.
Leading a community college is not "an impossible job," says Anne M. Kress, president of Monroe Community College. But she emphasizes that "you need to really focus on what skill sets are necessary, and they're changing over time" (Gluckman, Chronicle of Higher Education, 3/29).
What's behind the high turnover among college presidents?
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