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3 Keys to More Effective College Leadership

By Emily Rogan

Howard Community College President Kathleen Hetherington shares her recipe for stronger community college leadership.

If anyone understands the value of a community college education, it’s Kathleen Hetherington, president of Howard Community College (HCC) in Maryland. A community college graduate herself, Hetherington has devoted her career to community college leadership and has earned her share of accolades, most recently AACC’s 2014 Emerging Leadership Award.

Since becoming HCC’s president in 2007, Hetherington has led the college to national recognition for its emphasis on student completion. Also, for the past six years, HCC has landed on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Great Colleges to Work For list.

What’s her secret? Here, Hetherington shares three keys that help her guide HCC through the ever-changing landscape of completion-focused education.

A mission statement that makes sense

“Our mission statement is the guiding light of what we do here, day in and day out,” Hetherington says.

When she became president almost eight years ago, Hetherington says no one really knew what the mission statement of the college was, apart from the fact that it took up half a page in the annual report.

Although she provided the framework, the new mission statement — “Providing pathways to success” — was the brainchild of the college’s planning council. It was circulated to all faculty and staff members for input and buy-in.

The mission works because it resonates, Hetherington says. It helps that it ties in nicely with President Obama’s completion agenda and with Maryland Governor O’Malley’s goal to ensure that at least 55 percent of the state’s residents hold at least one college degree by 2025.

“Before, the mission statement was too long and confusing, and now, everyone knows it,” Hetherington explains. Those four simple words drive everything HCC faculty and staff do for students.

Extensive professional development

HCC also has a vision statement: “A place to discover greatness in yourself and others.”

To Hetherington, this statement applies as much to faculty and staff members as it does to students. “You have to have comprehensive professional development. If you do the best you possibly can for faculty and staff to help them develop new talent and skills, they will have greater self-awareness, sharpen their skill sets and be better prepared to help students.”

More than half of HCC’s staff has participated in the college’s training programs, which include the EXCEL Forum and the Professional Learning Community for Leadership. Both training programs focus on building leadership skills, including how to motivate and inspire others, with the Professional Learning Community for Leadership a more advanced version of the EXCEL Forum.

“We want to make sure we have leaders throughout the institution, whether in plant operations, the nursing department or the mailroom — not just at the top,” Hetherington says. “We have a responsibility to provide opportunities for people to develop that leadership. When people are engaged and think of themselves as leaders, it’s better for that unit, for the college and for the students.”

Personal opportunities also appear to breed happiness. HCC is the only Maryland community college to make the “Great Colleges to Work For” list for six consecutive years; the list is derived from randomly distributed surveys completed by staff members.

“I do think the fact that year after year [people] say [HCC] is a great college to work for is a clear indicator that we are working together for student success,” Hetherington says.

A personal experience

The first HCC president with a community college degree, Hetherington comes from a working class family; of her six siblings, five have earned degrees from two-year career and technical colleges.

“If you go back to where I got my start, I probably wouldn’t be here now without community college,” Hetherington says. “It was a wonderful foundation and set the tone for what I did for the rest of my life.”

HCC staff members know that when it comes to budgets, projects and processes, Hetherington will always ask, “What impact does it have on students?” She knows that an HCC education can help transform the lives of current students and generations to come.

“Many say they are the first to go to college,” Hetherington says of her students, “but I know they won’t be the last.”

As a leader, what areas do you focus on to make your college stronger? Let us know in the Comments.

Emily Rogan

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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