Supporting Current and Future Community College Leaders

By Teri Cettina

California community college leaders have a new leadership and research center.

Beginning in October 2016, a select group of current and aspiring educator-leaders at California community colleges will begin attending quarterly leadership sessions at the University of California, Davis. Wheelhouse: The Center for Community College Leadership and Research, on the UC Davis campus, launched in late March of this year.

University officials determined early on that they would tailor their program specifically to California educators rather than to a national cohort.

“We have a very distinctive set of challenges here in California — the size of our state, the number of students we serve, state governance issues, funding systems and more,” explains Susanna Cooper, Wheelhouse’s managing director. “Rather than send community college leaders to national conferences, we felt it was time to develop a customized, leadership-support program in our home state.”

How Wheelhouse will work

Beginning in October, approximately 20 community college CEOs and other leaders will attend their first three-day institute at the UC Davis campus. Participants will return for three more seminars over the course of a year.

Each fall, UC Davis will select a new cohort to attend Wheelhouse sessions. Community colleges will be responsible for some of the institute’s yet-to-be-determined price; however, UC Davis hopes to underwrite at least half of the cost.

The Wheelhouse team is still fine-tuning the curriculum. “Business school faculty will likely lead sessions on ways to effectively evaluate evidence-based college programs,” Cooper says. Another expert is expected to explore ways to enhance the relationship between California community college provosts and their elected district-governance boards. Both UC faculty and outside experts will lead the sessions.

Why a community college institute makes sense

Four-year institutions like UC Davis clearly benefit from creating programs that attract community college students to their campus, but why is the university interested in helping community college professionals?

“For one thing, we see it as a trickle-down effect,” Cooper says. “Solid community college transfer students come from solid community colleges. And those institutions need talented, professionally supported leaders in order to be successful. That’s where we come in.”

Cooper and her colleagues expressed concern upon learning that community college leaders tend to stay in their jobs for only three years. “That’s less than half the average tenure reported by their colleagues at four-year universities,” she says.

Cooper believes that UC Davis is in a unique position to help community college leaders. One reason is that, over the years, a number of doctoral students at the School of Education have ascended to community college leadership positions. And in 2012, UC Davis became the first four-year California university to build a community college extension program on its campus. Finally, UC Davis’ Michal Kurlaender, associate professor of education, has been researching the California community college system for more than a decade.

“Community colleges are a basic part of our state’s economic infrastructure,” Cooper says. “As such, we want to support knowledge, trends and policy recommendations that may help the state.”

Wheelhouse receives funding and support from UC Davis, the Hearst Foundation, the Foundation for California Community Colleges and the U.S. Department of Education.

Teri Cettina

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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