As more college presidents retire, more midlevel administrators need training and preparation to take the next step in their careers: positions at the helms of the nation’s community colleges. The Association of California Community College Administrators (ACCCA) is paving the way, offering several statewide leadership programs to encourage, support and provide practical skills to the next generation of leaders.
“There is a sea change from the mass exodus of retirees, and it’s left a gap. A lot are coming back to mentor and help, but we’re losing institutional memory. [The new leaders] need to learn from the past as well, even though they’re energized to take over,” says Susan Bray, executive director of ACCCA, who’s been with the organization for 28 years.
How ACCCA puts members first
ACCCA relies heavily on membership dues to facilitate trainings. With five full-time positions in the Sacramento office, ACCCA offers nearly 1,200 administrators each year 10 to 12 events, including a statewide budget workshop and a yearlong mentoring program. ACCCA also partners with the Association of Chief Business Officials and coordinates its annual conferences.
The organization “burst on the scene in the ’70s” as an advocacy group, explains Bray, but has evolved into a professional-development resource. “We’re seen as leaders in the state.”
“All of our training programs are characterized by the members at the time,” she says. “It’s a direct conduit of what they look like and how they are produced.”
The state values professional development
ACCCA’s keystone program, Admin 101, is a boot camp for administrators. A cohort of 72 participants spends one intensive week learning about everything from human resources to financial management to campus culture. ACCCA staffs the event, but seasoned professionals from California community colleges do the training.
“New administrators, particularly those from another state, need boot camp to navigate California’s system,” Bray says. Planning is underway for Admin 201, “which will focus on the soft leadership skills that will come into play later in their careers.”
Those with fewer than five years of experience can participate in Great Deans, a newly launched program with three major training events, in addition to regional trainings each year. The program — so popular that it has a waitlist — is a result of data collection and a survey from 2014.
“The dean is probably the largest contingent in our state and our organization,” Bray says. “We’ve paid attention to the new kids and the CEOs, but it’s the huge group in the middle we needed to pay more attention to.”
Bray points out that professional development for community college leaders is an essential yet overlooked component of higher education. It’s often the first item to get cut when fiscal times are tough, but California schools benefitted from a “state windfall,” and more money was invested in professional development.
Investing in the future
Student success and the completion agenda require well-trained faculty and administrators, Bray says.
The outcome, she says, is that “the institutions can be better run, serve students more effectively and make a difference in society.”
“The more subtle reason is that no one does this alone,” Bray says. “We rely on history, the expertise of our colleagues and innovation. These people do program after program for us because they are ensuring that, after they’re done with this game, the person behind them is going to carry on. It’s a very emotional connection.”