FSU helps community colleges' leadership with unique program
With about 50 percent of community college presidents expected to reach retirement age in the next few years, the scramble is on to prepare the next generation to fill the leadership gap.
Some 29 students are enrolled in Ferris State University’s unique doctoral program in community college leadership, the first Ph.D. outside of health care that the Big Rapids university has offered, and unlike any other in the state, said Andrea Wirgau, program coordinator.
“It’s for the person to take a leadership path within each institution, whether the person ends up as dean of their area or vice president or moves out to a different state,” Wirgau said of the program. “With the saturation of retirements, each month there are hundreds of positions available.”
FSU’s first cohort to enroll in the new program began studies in June, and a new cohort is being recruited to begin this spring, added Roberta Teahen, director of the program and associate provost.
“We look for applicants who have demonstrated passion and have a fierce commitment to community colleges,” Wirgau said. “We only accept those who are passionate about the mission of community colleges.”
The program begins with a week at the Ferris campus in Big Rapids. The majority of each course is conducted online, but each one requires one weekend of in-person meetings, conducted at community colleges around the state. Each student takes two seven-and-a-half-week classes per semester, so that each semester requires a two-weekend commitment, Wirgau said.
“We probably have two-thirds women, one-third men. All of them are working professionals, which is exactly what we targeted,” Teahen said. “There was some pent-up demand for a program like this in Michigan. This is designed for the working professional.”
Also, FSU has one person assigned to help students navigate the details of the program, from obtaining books to financial aid. “That person is responsible for intervening to eliminate the need to do what too often we require students to do, and that’s call three or four different offices to solve a problem,” Teahen said.
The University of Michigan offers community college leadership courses, but the program requires a full-time commitment, she added.
Topics covered in the FSU program include leadership, qualitative and quantitative research, leading during change, managing physical resources, human resources, policy and governance and others, Wirgau said.
Norma G. Kent, senior vice president, communications and advancement, at the American Association of Community Colleges, said a study by her organization done several years ago reported that between 40 percent and 50 percent of chief executive officers at the nation’s 1,173 community colleges are planning to retire shortly. Some 25 percent of CEOs are between ages 60 and 65, according to the AACC website.
“We had our heyday in the ’60s. All those people are getting to retirement age. That’s just the situation,” Kent said. The AACC also reports that 72 percent of community college CEOs are men and 81 percent are white.
AACC runs several leadership training programs, and training the next generation of leaders is the top priority of the organization’s CEO, who was hired last summer, she added.