During the past century, the roles of community college presidents have changed significantly. Leaders have had to keep pace with a changing economy and workforce, readjusting their strategies to focus less on traditional economic models while navigating recent poly-pandemics (COVID-19 and racial injustice) that have spotlighted issues permeating higher education. What remained an enigma, until recently, are voices of younger Gen X and Millennial leaders. In a 2021 study, Minority Community College CEOs Perceptions of Underrepresentation, Preparation and Ascension to the Presidency, 34 currently serving and/or emeritus African American, Asian Pacific Islander and Latino/Hispanic CEOs were interviewed —13 of the CEOs reflected the newest and least-explored generation. The research offered a glimpse into the leadership style of these younger leaders.
CharMaine HinesMany Gen X and Millennial leaders arrive in their roles via non-traditional pathways, are technologically astute and are more diverse than previous generations of community college presidents. They also possess an abundance of cultural wealth that resonates with their students and community members, which they see as value-added capital. One African American female president interviewee put it this way: "If you look at a lot of women of color who are in the presidency, and people of color period, there is a life story that gave them a certain amount of grit and distinction because it was preparing them for what's going to happen next. I have a life story that prepared me for this moment."
Many CEOs’ experiences and journeys mirror those of their students, providing them a keen perspective on how to maintain an open door, open access and success agenda. As one Latino male president noted: "Seventy percent of my students are still first-generation college students in 2020. Eighty-seven percent of them are on some type of financial aid or scholarship — I just feel it's a tremendous responsibility, but a real opportunity as well to serve this community who needs us [leaders of color] so desperately."
Leaders caution against describing equity as limited to the student experience because, as an African American male president said, “We then make it palatable to deal with the population but not with the problem.” Yet, they highlight the transformative potential of higher education, as in the words of this Asian Pacific Islander female CEO: "Education is key to any anti-poverty work. … I'm privileged to be able to contribute."
Compared to presidents from older generations, the Gen X and Millennial presidents who participated in the study offered perspectives that were more attuned to creating environments that foster inclusive and diverse climates that support equity in student resources and achievement. Study findings provided the following insights about these younger leaders:
• They use an equity-minded approach to leadership and strategy to align the mission of the institution around student success for all learners.
• They are cognizant of and attuned to identifying and eradicating symbols in institutional culture that malign diverse and inclusive environments.
• They value being role models for students, the community and future leaders ascending to the presidency.
• They see formal and informal leadership preparation as necessary and significant to be successful in the community college presidency.
• They support the need for culturally relevant pedagogy, instruction and training in cultural competency to eliminate prejudicial stereotypes, biases and microaggressions.
As one African American president said: “What we have in common is a consistent core commitment to serving all students — it is … these experiences that make our students more creative, resourceful and committed to completion.”
The diverse perspectives and leadership today’s CEOs wield have been forged through poly-pandemics unlike those any other generations of leaders have experienced. Current cultural shifts offer opportunities to improve racial and cultural awareness and create more diverse, inclusive and equitable environments in today’s community colleges. Increasing diversity of representation of leaders of color in the presidency, adopting equity-minded practices that lead to parity in student educational outcomes and creating inclusive climates that value diverse voices are goals all leaders in higher education should embrace. Gen X and Millennial leaders have been mentored by the best that came before them. With the skills they’ve honed and cultural wealth they possess, these and successive generations of community college leaders are poised to refocus their institutions on the promise of higher education as institutions that are diverse, equitable and inclusive.
Dr. CharMaine Hines is a graduate of the John E. Roueche Center for Community College Leadership at Kansas State University and serves as vice chancellor of academic accountability and policy at the Wayne County Community College District in Detroit, Michigan.
The Roueche Center Forum is co-edited by Drs. John E. Roueche and Margaretta B. Mathis of the John E. Roueche Center for Community College Leadership, Department of Educational Leadership, College of Education, Kansas State University.
This article originally appeared in the October 28, 2021 edition of Diverse. Read it here.
Dr. Linda GarciaWhen the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) at the University of Texas at Austin first polled students about their experiences during the pandemic in fall 2020, almost 60% of students said they didn’t know if there were COVID-related support services offered on their campus.
So, six months later, CCCSE followed up with 120,833 students across 273 colleges. Dr. Linda Garcia, executive director of the center, said she hoped to see the needle move to indicate more familiarity with the help available. The percent of those unfamiliar went down to 49.
“Is that progress? Yes," said Garcia. "Is it enough? No.”
The results, and other findings in this latest survey, underlines the continuing impact of COVID-19 on higher education and its disproportionate affects on students of color. Garcia said the results are a signal that colleges and universities have more work to do to help their students gain access to the resources they need and overcome the burdens the pandemic continues to create.
Over one third of students surveyed (34%) responded that their personal financial situations were worse than before the pandemic, a four-percentage point increase from the fall 2020 survey. Just under one quarter said they were struggling to pay for college as a direct result of COVID. Disaggregating that data shows that Asian, Native American, Black, and Latinx students were more likely to have financial difficulties than their white counterparts.
Colleges across the country have employed federal relief funds to aid students, from accessing hot spots in areas without broadband to covering outstanding loans, allowing students to continue their educational journey. But if students don’t know about these resources, then no one will access them.
“I believe colleges are doing everything they can do to communicate, but how are we communicating and [at what] frequency?” said Garcia. “The students are trying to soak the info in, they’re thinking about a million things. It’s about putting the support information in front of them.”
Dr. Monica Parrish Trent, vice president for network engagement at Achieving the Dream, said that even before COVID, emails were not the best way to communicate with students.
“[Email] is not what students use, but it’s the system that’s easiest to execute on a community college campus.”
The most successful way to communicate, said Trent, is by picking up the phone. Those community colleges that saw an increase in enrollment during the pandemic did so, said Trent, because they reached out and connected with their students one by one.
Dr. Monica Parrish Trent
“It takes a lot more manpower,” she said, ”It’s a deep commitment, but it works.”
Another successful technique involves faculty relay. Most students, said Garcia, interact with faculty, so it’s important to equip them with information they can share.
The survey results, said Garcia, “are conversation starters. How are we engaging with students about how they’re feeling? How do we seek feedback regarding those concerns and other COVID precautions on campus? Does that impact their emotional wellbeing, are we proving support?”
It’s important, Garcia said, to remain flexible, not just in ways to connect with students, but also in scheduling.
“Students may want to take classes online rather than face to face, or wanting half and half, remaining flexible with advising doing it through zoom or having students come to campus,” she said.
Flexibility impacts the feeling of safety. Most of the students polled (59%) said they actively avoid situations on campus where social distancing of at least six feet was not guaranteed. Of that 59%, the majority were students whose communities experienced higher COVID mortality rates, women, and older students.
“Our students are traumatized by the loss of stability. Many suffered the loss of employment and caregivers,” said Trent. “The stress of, how do I keep myself healthy, employed, and try to advance myself in my studies? The mental health impact has been significant. It’s been incredibly stressful for our students.”
When students know about the resources available to them, “they’re so grateful,” said Garcia. “Students [tell us] they’ve lost their jobs, that they’re trying to live paycheck to paycheck; they’re so relieved that colleges are providing that support.”
“Every student who comes to community college comes to be successful, they don’t come to fail,” said Garcia. “We have to help every student get to the finish line of meeting that goal. That’s why it’s so important to work collaboratively. Every person who works at the campus has a role to play to make sure students get to the finish line.”