The Nature of the Community College Leadership Shortage Crisis: a descriptive work-based study

PhD by Publication

Curtis, Burt. 2021. The Nature of the Community College Leadership Shortage Crisis: a descriptive work-based study. PhD by Publication Doctor of Professional Studies. University of Southern Queensland.

The Nature of the Community College Leadership Shortage Crisis: a descriptive work-based study

TypePhD by Publication
AuthorCurtis, Burt
1. FirstProf Luke van der Laan
2. SecondBruce Millet
2. SecondDr Sophia Imran
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Professional Studies
Number of Pages134
PublisherUniversity of Southern Queensland
Place of PublicationAustralia
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

The literature shows that the pace of retirements among presidents, and top administrators exceeds the pace in which these positions are filled in community colleges located in Illinois, Kansas and Virginia today. The American Association of Community Colleges in its Leadership 2020 report indicates that in the next 10 years, community colleges will need to replace 800 of the 1,150 presidents. Despite these declining numbers, the preparation of presidents and other community college leaders has dropped, and the number of people prepared to step into leadership roles at higher levels, including the presidency, has dramatically diminished. Community colleges today function by adopting outdated management practices, traditional instructional delivery systems and inadequate approaches to student and institutional support services.

As the number of potential candidates in the internal leadership pipeline diminishes, due to retirements, lack of efficient recruitment and succession planning in urban areas and unprepared new leaders, institutions need to explore more unconventional options to increase the number of inside candidates or look for leadership outside higher education, by utilizing better ways in recruiting. Identifying potential solutions for the community college leadership crisis is urgent and critical for community colleges, as they cannot afford to maintain a status-quo view about their prospective leadership. To achieve a complete understanding of the community college leadership shortage, further investigation is needed related to the cause of the shortage and the efficacy of the response to resolve this problem. This leadership crisis has been projected but not sufficiently addressed and mitigated.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the nature and causes of the leadership crisis in community colleges, describe what responses are in place to mitigate the impact of the crisis, to assess the efficacy of these responses, and consider suggestions that emerged from the study as possible ways to look forward in addressing the problem. As such, the study seeks to make a knowledge contribution to professional practice that can assist policy makers, community colleges, leaders and other stakeholders in addressing the leadership crisis.

The study describes the nature of the crisis, reports on community college responses to the crisis and reports on community college leaders' assessment of the efficacy of these responses. It describes the importance of development programs in supporting and preparing future community college presidents and leaders and their effectiveness in resolving the leadership crisis in these colleges.

The researcher is a practitioner in the education sector and recognises the purpose, importance and function of community colleges in the United States education system. Further, that structural changes in the system have the potential of undermining the priorities of higher order skills development, access and equity in higher education. This study employed a qualitative descriptive approach. It selected 11 community colleges in rural and urban areas in the three states of Virginia, Kansas, and Illinois of the United States. The data collected was through semi-structured interviews with presidents and other top administrators working in the selected community colleges. The descriptive work-based study with the thematic analysis of interview transcripts analysed the perceptions of the participants about the nature of the leadership shortage, community colleges responses and the extent to which community college leaders assessed current measures in meeting the current and future leadership challenges.

The results from the study suggested both internal and external influences converged to create the problem of the shortage of leadership in community colleges. The internal factors included limited financial resources, weak management structures, lack of succession planning and lack of effective leadership development. The geographic location of the college was a significant external factor that contributed to difficulties in leadership succession especially the dramatic increase in competition from universities recruitment of students and academic leaders. In addition, the inability to fundraise indicated that it was getting increasingly difficult to retain leaders in colleges due to their regional geographic location and an increased likelihood of talent moving to more populated urban settings. Emerging leader talent in urban settings perceived working at a university as a more attractive career advancement. The results suggested that the retention of talent in community colleges was a compounding issue influencing leader shortages.

The qualitative analysis revealed 21 themes regarding the strategies that community colleges could adopt to address the leadership crisis. These themes revolved around succession issues within the community college, limited financial resources, leadership recruitment, and weak management structures. These themes highlighted the challenges the community colleges face and the best practice regarding the strategies that community colleges are applying to address the leadership crisis. The findings demonstrated that the development of new team leaders was crucial through training programs, recruitment from within, and training and skill development of future leadership to resolve the issue of leadership crisis within community colleges.

A main theme suggested that the inability or failure to complete effective succession planning influenced the severity of the shortage and as a result the performance of community colleges. The lack of succession planning presented a critical challenge for community college leaders because it is fundamentally a strategy for identifying and developing future leaders at an organization at all levels. Developing a dedicated team with innovative ways to assist in identifying leadership needs and developing succession plans was seen as a helpful intervention. Developmental programs were considered important for future and current leaders as these effectively implement the succession plans by the identification of talent, the creation of training opportunities and objective alignment across all departments. The study indicated that lack of funding was an important precondition for effective succession planning and ultimately influenced the ability to recruit new leadership.

The development of strategies that are proactive in terms of a leadership succession crisis such as succession planning, training, retention, and fundraising and inside recruitment for future leadership could reduce the challenge of leadership shortages for community colleges. The study concluded that there is not a leadership shortage of community colleges, but that despite this, there was still need for this institutions to consider effective and well-resourced succession planning rather than external recruitment. This would require that community colleges include succession in their corporate strategy and prioritise systemically and purposefully developing future leaders.

The findings of this study culminated in recommendations that can be used for further research to address the issue of leadership issues in community colleges by addressing the barriers to leadership retention and development in community colleges. Further to the purpose of the study, the study recommendations contribute to professional practice by providing insights that can be used by policy makers, college boards, leaders and other stakeholders.

Keywordscommunity college; retirements; America; presidents; top administrators
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020390303. Higher education
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Byline AffiliationsSchool of Business
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