Leadership Symposia for Community College Presidents

Achieving the Dream and the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program announced a new series of leadership symposia for community college presidents, made possible by generous funding from the Kresge Foundation, John M. Belk Endowment, Greater Texas Foundation, and College Spark. Anticipated dates for the several symposia are September and November of 2015 and March and June of 2016, with 25 presidents from the networks of Achieving the Dream and Aspen participating in each.

Utilizing a curriculum developed by the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program with national experts in research and practice, each two-to-three day educational symposium will address student success in two broad areas:

  • Building Capacity for Excellence – Builds understanding of how exceptional leaders can ground their institution’s internal and external work on measurably improving what students need.
  • Adopting Strategies of Excellent Colleges – Teaches essential practices that have been enacted by colleges that have achieved high and improving levels of student success.

The symposia will provide opportunities for groups of presidents to engage in reflective discussion and problem solving, using each other and national experts as sounding boards and advisors for change strategies. The presidents will be exposed to best practices for leading institutional reforms drawn from Achieving the Dream Leader College and Aspen Prize finalists’ experiences. They will leave each symposium with plans for how they will apply lessons and new skill sets, and report back periodically over the following year on the impact of their plans. The symposia will connect presidents from across the country, fostering new relationships that presidents can draw upon for further consultation and problem solving.

The 2013 report, Crisis and Opportunity, co-produced by Aspen and Achieving the Dream, highlights the significant number of presidential transitions occurring in community colleges and takes a fresh look at the skills presidents will need if significantly better student outcomes are to be achieved. The Achieving the Dream/Aspen research affirms that presidents who lead their institutions to high and improving levels of student success are deeply committed to student access and success, understand how to strategically lead institutional change, are willing to take calculated risks, understand how to build external partnerships, and are strong fundraisers. In interviews with entities that help community college boards with presidential searches, Aspen and Achieving the Dream found that these characteristics are not the ones that boards focus on most when hiring a new president. The report also identifies a set of essential skills that presidents will need to deliver more high quality credentials to an increasingly diverse population.

With these skills in mind, the leadership symposia are designed to help presidents lead critical reforms that put students on more efficient pathways to credential attainment, transfer, and joining the skilled workforce. Rather than discrete programmatic interventions, the symposia will focus on systemic and campus-wide solutions to stubborn challenges and on ways presidents can help advance needed reforms on their campuses. To do this, leaders must understand what research is showing to be effective policy and practice and deepen their skills for guiding institutions through the ups and downs of transformational change.

This series of leadership symposia has been made possible by generous funders who have chosen to invest in community college presidents to enable them to lead reform efforts aimed at increasing student outcomes at their colleges. These funders are:

  • The Kresge Foundation - $250,000
  • The John M. Belk Endowment - $50,000
  • Greater Texas Foundation - $125,000 
  • College Spark - $20,000

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