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2013 October 28 - 12:00 am

POV: Leadership Development At the Speed of Thought

Almost 40 years ago, community colleges were growing faster than they ever had since their founding at the turn to the 20th century. By 2012, however, with the economy stuck in second gear, many community college leaders are retiring or in the fourth and final quarter of their careers. Walter G. Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, reminded us that within the next decade, “close to 75 percent of sitting community college CEO’s indicate that they plan to retire, and approximately 43 percent will do so in the next five years.”

As we look for ways to replace these leaders, we see many doctoral-granting institutions dismantling their top-ranked higher education programs, cutting graduate intake, combining programs with other education programs and often folding their programs into other parts of the university. In general, the original major Kellogg programs offering doctorates in community college administration have received death sentences, as measured by reduced support, inappropriate evaluations and administrative admonitions. Programs that model ethical behavior and teach responsibility to future college administrative leaders have unfortunately found themselves mostly out of alignment with the policies and procedures of the typical university.

The National American University’s newly developed Roueche Graduate Center (RGC) is out to replace and offset this dismantling process of community college leadership doctoral programs that has become so prevalent in recent years. RGC plans to draw its enrollments from a narrow cohort of working educators and provide them with a powerful, experiential, applied leadership program. The RGC seeks to upgrade these working educators’ competencies and expertise while they continue to improve performance in their current professional roles.

The RGC program is a blended/hybrid, formal education model in which these community college leaders will learn on-line, convene for face-to-face sessions and apply their learning in their workplace while keeping control over their time, place, path and pace. In these settings, RGC graduate students will have opportunities to lead team interaction, gather data, make decisions, customize instruction and seek individualized paths to research to resolve critical issues that center on student learning today.

One might ask why the team of RGC faculty and advisory board members, made up of educators who have served up to four decades in higher education, would be motivated to lead in a new direction. For the short answer, we can look at key state legislatures that in the 1980s began to see major inequities in the productivity accounting systems that measure the effectiveness and efficiency of university programs within their public college structures. The standard professional, bureaucratic model in American universities is pyramidal, meaning that a very large effective base — lower division undergraduates — feeds a less-effective upper division. The highly selective graduate program provides cheap labor through teaching and research assistants so that star professors, whose reputations are built on their publications and not teaching, are freed up to be paid handsome sums by the state and attract lucrative federal and private grants. This model is not likely to change without major battles.

Russell Mead, a chaired professor at Bard College who is critical of higher education, accused institutions, especially the highly competitively and expensive colleges and universities, of “devouring its young.” Author Nathan Harden argues that a higher education revolution is coming. He claims that in a few decades, half of the colleges and universities in the United States will have disappeared, but schools such as Harvard will enroll a million students. Bill Gates, through his foundation, reminded us that a one-million-students model is possible through a “digital nervous system,” where all phases of meeting students learning needs are achieved by uniting all systems and processes under one common infrastructure.

What Gates predicted at the turn of the 21st century has come to the fore at the start of the decade’s second decade. The technology and knowledge are now available and in place where forward-thinking colleges and universities can allow students to complete a doctorate program with its best components online and face-to-face in teams. This includes an effective, feedback-based quality writing framework that will far exceed the quality and productivity we were able to achieve in the traditional seat-bound model.

RGC’s new vision, mission and supervised cohort model will act to keep students working together as a team through their entire program of study. As of spring 2013, graduate courses for the RGC doctorate of education have been developed and approved by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. RGC’s administration, staff, faculty, and advisory board consists of knowledgeable, experienced, and notable leaders in the community college field who have long- established reputations for quality teaching and research. The center will maximize the use of digital technology in new competency and team-building concepts to fully engage the graduate student.

The program will also bring green technology to campuses by leveraging technologies from the Information age We can only imagine the appreciably smaller environmental footprint of the RGC doctoral program, where powerful technology enhances all aspects of learning, and where the clear majority of experiential learning and teleconferencing is delivered without the logistics nightmare of getting there — and at the speed of thought.

Here on the forward edge of the new century, the tools and know-how and the connectivity of the digital age, with its rapid ways, will now give our graduate students and their mentors a way to easily obtain, share and act on information in new and remarkable ways. We believe that our thinking and effort will result in a quantum leap in the efficiency and effectiveness of community college leadership as learning organizations across America and the world.

George A Baker III is the Joseph D. Moore Distinguished University Professor (Emeritus) of North Carolina State University who retired from the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas-Austin. He serves on the National Community College Advisory Board and is a senior professor in the Roueche Graduate Center of the National American University. 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. John E. Roueche and Margaretta B. Mathis serve as editors of the monthly column, a partnership between NAU’s Roueche Graduate Center and Community College Week. For additional information, please send emails to mbmathis@national.edu or call 512-813-2300.

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