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By Paul Bradley  /  
2010 December 13 - 12:00 am

COVER STORY: Going and Coming

Photo courtesy CCLP, University of Texas Austin

Walter G. Bumphus, shown here teaching a class at the University of Texas at Austin, will begin his tenure as president of the AACC Jan. 3.

C  O  V  E  R    S  T  O  R  Y
Going and Coming
As Boggs Departs, Bumphus Prepares To Take Helm of AACC

By Paul Bradley

When George R. Boggs arrived in Washington, D.C., from California a decade ago to become the ninth president of the American Association of Community Colleges, he was smart, committed, ambitious and thoroughly bewildered.

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It wasn’t the city’s notorious traffic circles and one-way streets that left Boggs scratching his head, though most newcomers find those confounding.

Rather, it was all those acronyms that are such a central part of the vernacular of the nation’s capital.

There is of course, ED, which means the Department of Education, not to be confused with DOE, which stands for the Department of Energy. There wasn’t much problem with that.

Then there was the TAA, short for the Trade Assistance Act, a Labor Department program to retrain displaced workers and in which community colleges long have played a central role. When the legislation was amended in 2009, it became the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program — or TAACCT.

“I found out that people around here speak in acronyms,” Boggs said with a chuckle of those first days in Washington. “It was kind of a steep learning curve.”

A decade later, as Boggs prepares to retire, he has mastered both the federal alphabet soup and the intricacies of working with both Capitol Hill and the White House through a time of unprecedented growth and change for community colleges.

On Dec. 31, Boggs will step down as the leader of AACC, the nation’s largest and most influential community college group, and turn the reins over to Walter
G. Bumphus. Boggs will return to Southern California where he and his wife are building a house and most of his family lives.

Bumphus, a longtime community college educator, is currently a faculty member and administrator at the University of Texas’ renowned Community College Leadership Program, helping to develop the next generation of college presidents, provosts and chancellors. Both Boggs and Bumphus are CCLP graduates.

In his final days at the helm, Boggs has hardly been easing into retirement. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, he finished packing his office inside the National Center for Higher Education, the glass-and-marble building that houses an array of groups representing the interests of America’s colleges and universities.

He then embarked on a trip that would take him to Texas, Arizona and California before returning home to Washington.

Frequent Communication

“It’s been pretty packed,” he said, adding that he spent about half his time as AACC president and CEO on the road, meeting with college presidents and promoting community colleges.

Still, Boggs said he has found time to communicate frequently with Bumphus. The pair have exchanged numerous emails and met in Washington at least four times during the transition process. Boggs has introduced Bumphus to some of the major figures with whom he will be working — Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Undersecretary Martha Kanter, Second Lady Jill Biden and others.

It is not as if Bumphus is an unknown quantity in community college circles. Indeed, when he was named to succeed Boggs, the AACC board turned not to an outsider, but to a longtime leader with an established track record. In addition, he was also one of their own; Bumphus was elected to the AACC board in 1993 and served as board chair in 1996-97.

Despite those ties, Bumphus said he did not initially seek the position when Boggs announced his retirement plans last year.

“When I came to Texas, I really thought it would be the capstone of my career,” he said. “I was doing what I loved to do, teaching and working with small groups of emerging community college leaders.”

But when some AACC board members encouraged him to apply, he had a change of heart.

“As I heard what they had to say, I thought what a privilege it would be to make a difference at the national level,” he said. “It really was at the last minute. In Texas, I get to work with 10 to 12 young scholars. At the AACC, I think I can have an impact on a greater level.”

Bumphus is perhaps best known for his work in Louisiana. In 2000, he was named chancellor of Baton Rouge Community College, which became one of the fastest-growing colleges in the nation under his leadership.

He later was named president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS), leading an expansion of the system that included the creation of two technical community colleges, the creation of the LCTCS Leadership Development Institute and statewide efforts to improve transfer articulation agreements.

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Bumphus led an painstaking recovery effort. In all, 21,305 students — or about 40 percent of LCTCS’s total enrollment — were displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Under Bumphus’ stewardship, the system quickly set up a call center to re-establish internal and external communications. Temporary offices were quickly organized for the affected institutions. Working with his leadership team, he set up channels to ensure that both students and displaced employees received assistance after the storms.

He led a major post-Hurricane Katrina initiative, quickly securing a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to develop construction trades centers in areas of the state devastated by the Hurricane.

Champion of Diversity

He was also a champion of diversity. When he first came to the system, all but one of its seven chancellors were white men. Under Bumphus’ guidance, the board hired three female chancellors, two of whom were black.

Bumphus’ believes his experience in the rough-and-tumble world of Louisiana politics will help prepare him for the difficult political environment he’ll encounter in Washington when he takes office on Jan. 3.

“It’s all about relationships,” he said. “I think I have an ability to build relationships and to nurture them. I also have the ability to bring together people over a set of core values.”

Those abilities surely will be put to the test in his new job. Boggs and Bumphus, in fact, have been spending a lot of time talking about the fact that when Bumphus arrives in Washington, he’ll encounter a Congress that is bent on cutting spending at all levels. Higher education has always been a convenient target for budget-cutters, and community colleges already are feeling squeezed between rising enrollments and shrinking resources.

“I think there will be some opportunities and some obstacles,” Boggs said. “With the federal government, we have some big changes. Congress looks like it might be locked in a stalemate for the next two years. Groups such as the AACC have to know how to position themselves with a Congress that might be more concerned about the deficit than it is about the economy.”

During his time in Washington, Boggs can point to numerous successes, perhaps none more important than burnishing the image of community colleges. Once an educational afterthought, the colleges are now in the spotlight, being relied upon to help revive the national economy.

The AACC now has strong relationships with the White House and members of Congress. Though elitism lingers, community colleges now command the respect of other sectors of the higher education community.

“Thanks to the association’s strategically designed plan for consistent messaging and media relations, the visibility and perceived value of American community colleges throughout the world is at an all-time high,” Boggs wrote in his resignation letter.

Bipartisan Support

Community colleges were lauded by the administration of former President George W. Bush as critical to preparing the nation’s workforce for in-demand jobs of the future. A Community Based Job Training Grant program was developed to provide $250 million per year to the colleges. In Congress, both the Senate and the House established community college caucuses, which now number 34 and 201 members respectively.

The Obama administration has also provided significant support for community colleges, including key appointments of people with strong community college backgrounds at both the Department of Education and the Department of Labor.

Under Boggs’ leadership, corporate and foundation support for AACC and community colleges reached record levels. AACC was a founding member of “Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count,” the multi-year initiative to increase success among community college students, particularly low-income and students of color. The effort now involves 102 colleges in 22 states, with a total philanthropic investment of $125 million.

“Major foundations that would not have touched community colleges are now funding us,” he said.

Boggs was also a leading proponent of the Voluntary Framework of Accountability initiative, a two-year $1 million program established in 2009 and funded by the Lumina Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation todevelop common performance measurements to evaluate institutionaleffectiveness.

He has also supported the evolution of colleges from mere open-access institutions to schools devoted to seeing that their students earn degrees and certificates.

“I am pleased to see that we are now devoted to student completion and success,” he said. “We can’t give up on access. But it doesn’t mean a lot if students don’t succeed.”

But there have also been disappointments. Boggs did little to hide his displeasure when the $12 billion American Graduation Initiative, announced by President Obama amid much fanfare, died in Congress amid the health care debate. He hopes that Obama will make good on his pledge of more support for community colleges.

The AACC has also faltered in its effort to find a philanthropic sponsor to fund a proposed research institute focusing on the development of faculty. Boggs sees it as a critically important step as baby boomer generation faculty members approach retirement age.

Window of Opportunity

“I really think we can make a big difference in student success if our faculty really understand community college students and give them tools they need to succeed,” he said. “I think this is a real window of opportunity.”

Boggs also departs Washington having learned some hard lessons that he wants to pass along to Bumphus.

“One of the most negative things I learned is how much influence lobbyists have,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of money, but we do have a community college in virtually every congressional district. That’s where our strength is, and that’s where we can have influence.”

Bumphus, for his part, is getting to know his staff and preparing to return to an area where his eldest son and seven of his 12 grandchildren live.

“I am eager to get started,” he said. “I have been at this for 30 years, and community colleges have never been better. Do we have work to do? Yes. But we have the brightest and strongest group of college presidents that we have ever had. And they have to be, because they all know the challenges we face.”

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