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2013 September 16 - 12:00 am

POV: NAU’s Daytime Dreamers Strive To Leave Legacy of Leadership

All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did.

— T. E. Lawrence

The growing need for trained and resourceful leaders has become a mantra among retiring community college CEOs and trustees. College leaders are scheduled to retire at an astonishing rate over the next ten years. How to address the impending gap poses a significant problem as the need grows for leaders who can navigate a myriad of challenges: the influx of nontraditional students, mounting accountability measures, scarce resources and ever- changing workforce needs. Such demands are not for the fainthearted or ill-prepared.

For the past several years, principals, involved in National American University (NAU) — including the Board of Governors, President Jerry Gallentine, CEO Ron Shape, President of Online Learning Bob Paxton, and Provost Sam Kerr — recognized the critical need for a program to prepare community college leaders. Paxton, who had a long-term relationship with John E. Roueche, director emeritus of the Community College Leadership Program (CCLP) at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, was “commissioned” to approach Roueche with an idea: What would he think about starting a doctoral program incorporating the best of his experience in Texas with blended and technology-assisted learning?

Paxton was well aware of the need for a quality doctoral program from his many years as a community college president. It would be a missed opportunity if NAU did not explore discussions with Roueche. With news percolating about Roueche’s imminent departure from UT, he was being approached by other organizations inquiring about his availability.

Roueche was soon to excel at failing retirement. This new breed of “retiree” recognized that the knowledge, energy, commitment, and ability to turn great ideas into reality would be necessary to carry out NAU’s vision. He also was well aware and deeply concerned about the significant community college leadership gap that was projected over the next decade. The crisis was being exacerbated by the withdrawal by most major state universities in addressing the need. He turned his attention to developing an NAU national advisory board and assembling a team to get about preparing the next generation of community and technical college leaders.

The inaugural meeting of NAU’s National Community College Advisory Board (NCCAB) was held in Rapid City, S.D., home to NAU’s central administration, in November 2011. Composed of nationally-renowned CEOs and community college thought leaders, the NCCAB provided enthusiastic support for the program, strategic leadership and seasoned insights to necessary planning and preparation.

The board supported Roueche’s vision for a program incorporating competencies addressing the new community college imperatives: improve student learning, equity, progression, and completion, while staying true to the community college mission, vision, and values. If crafted with access, student success, civic engagement, economic, workforce, and global competitiveness in mind, the program would meet the critical demand and unmet need for community college leadership.

Roueche then set about identifying his team. I was hired in January 2012 to help implement the vision and develop the program. My background on Capitol Hill, experience in international development, and work on initiatives to improve student outcomes gave me a perspective of the need to prepare the next generation of aspiring leaders from both inside and outside community and technical colleges. I was intent on drawing from these endeavors and collaborating with colleagues to foster a program that embedded Roueche’s vision, adapted
to meet contemporary leadership development needs and delivery.

Work began to craft the foundation for a blended program that could be delivered throughout the country – inclusive of critical face-to-face sessions, the best of technology-assisted learning, interaction with leaders from across the country, and a broadening network of community college learners and leaders. Within the first six months, five of the 15 envisioned courses were developed by senior community college leaders who served as subject matter experts. During the same period, NAU leaders and NCCAB members presented alongside other community college leaders to further explore current leadership needs and demands at national conferences.

In the late spring of 2012, Roueche announced his retirement from the University of Texas. Within weeks of his announced UT departure, he was approached again, this time asked to consider moving NAU’s graduate school to Austin. He agreed and accepted the position of president of NAU’s Roueche Graduate Center. With this new challenge upon him, he quickly identified the second person to join his leadership team: Coral Noonan-Terry, who had served as interim NISOD director at UT, became dean of NAU’s Harold D. Buckingham Graduate School, housed at the Roueche Graduate Center. Her charge: to improve operations, build enrollment, and increase retention and completion in NAU’s master’s programs as the doctoral program evolved.

By mid-summer 2012, development of the doctoral program was well underway, with the first group of courses shipped to the Higher Learning Commission as part of the accreditation process. Construction began at the Roueche Graduate Center, literally and figuratively. Between July and August, 16 new staff members joined the graduate center as plans for designing, planning, renovating and moving into the new center began. In November 2012, Terry O’Banion, president emeritus and CEO of the League for Innovation in the Community College, joined the NAU-RGC team as distinguished professor and chair of graduate faculty. He would help identify quality faculty (approximately 50) for the program and contribute to the formation of the program and foundational documents.

Accreditation was the next major milestone. In early January 2013, plans would ratchet up once again. Kerr, the provost, had received a call from the HLC and would be flying to Austin to review next steps. The program and center leaders were informed that the HLC required a course to be offered as part of the accreditation process. The phrase “building a ship and sailing it at the same time” would be one way to describe this start-up phase of the program and center.

Stakeholders rose to the task. Roueche called his longtime friend Terry Calaway, then president of Johnson County Community College in Kansas. Calaway invited NAU to convene an “information day” in mid-February about its new CCLP to interested JCCC faculty and staff and to surrounding college presidents and their invitees. Three weeks later, the first blended course was offered, thanks to the willingness of George Boggs (the first course developer and instructor) and NAU’s curriculum design team. The second course, developed by Christine McPhail (who also served as course instructor) was offered in May. NAU’s first CCLP cohort was underway in Kansas.

What started as a plan to submit for accreditation approval in the fall 2013 became an avalanche of activities beginning in January. We had to identify a location and roll out a course by March; finalize doctoral-level processes, policies, and materials; and prepare for the accreditation site visit in April 2013. NCCAB members, Cohort #1 members, and NAU leaders joined discussions to provide varying perspectives to the HLC visiting team about NAU’s preparedness to offer a sustainable doctoral program.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,”goes the old adage. And so it was for NAU. As we enter the fall 2013, we are proud to announce that the sacrifices, determination, belief, persistence, stakeholder involvement, and leadership paid off. NAU received word from the Higher Learning Commission, Aug. 15: NAU’s community college leadership doctoral program had been accredited.

“Accreditation of this program opens the door for a new era in preparing community college leaders,” O’Banion said. “The quality faculty already engaged in this program, provide the foundation for one of the most successful leadership programs ever created.”

It is taking an ardent and committed team to prepare the next generation of leaders to effectively tackle daunting issues and redefine and revitalize our nation’s community and technical colleges for the 21st Century. Said Roueche, “The ‘how’ is about 90 percent of effective leadership.” Through a shared vision, fostered relationships, life-long leadership experience, pent-up will, and a passion to make a difference in the lives of community college students, Roueche, other NAU leaders, and NCCAB members are living their value of leaving a leadership legacy.

I have the good fortune of being able to share a glimpse of these daytime dreamers in action. As Hall of Famer Lou Brock said upon getting his 3000th hit: “If you can perceive a goal and then make it happen, you live a dream.” Our thanks go to all of you who toil in the field to help students live their dreams with open eyes.

Margaretta B. Mathis is senior vice president of NAU’s Roueche Graduate Center, and dean of master’s and doctoral programming. She served as senior lecturer in the CCLP at The University of Texas at Austin, and as the associate director for UT-CCLP’s involvement in Achieving the Dream, the Developmental Education Initiative, the Board of Trustees Institute, and the Governance Institute for Student Success. This article is the continuation of a series authored by principals involved in National American University’s Roueche Graduate Center and other national experts identified by the center. Mathis and John E. Roueche serve as editors of the monthly column, a partnership between NAU’s Roueche Graduate Center and Community College Week. For additional information send emails to mbmathis@national.edu or, call 512-813-2300.

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