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Business Officer Magazine
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Create Culturally Aware, Interactive Leaders

Spotlight: Community Colleges, from "Business Briefs" department in December 2009 issue of Business Officer

By Judith Gay and Susan Tobia

As the Community College of Philadelphia celebrates more than 40 years as a major institution of higher education, we realize that some of the key elements of the college's success will not be as effective in the years to come. Decreased funding, rising enrollment demands, changes in operational context, and an anticipated flurry of retirements are factors that demand leaders who can meet tough challenges in an era of rapid change.

To train future leaders in the skills to support our college's mission and values around accessibility and affordability of quality education, we initiated in 2002 the Leadership Institute (LI). In the eight years of the program, a number of LI graduates have earned promotions as well as placement in leadership positions.

Gaining From Group Dynamics

A competitive selection process for LI participation results in a mix of staff, faculty, and administration from diverse units of the institution. The goal of inclusion is twofold: (1) given the operational complexity of public community colleges, we want the various units within the college to know and understand each other's functions and ensure that their employees interact effectively, and (2) we want the program to increase each individual's understanding of our organizational culture and inclination to network with other colleagues.

The office of academic affairs funds LI at a cost of $11,000 per year (not including facilitators' time). Facilitators are administrators who are selected to serve during regular work hours. The program is aimed at staff who see themselves in leadership positions in the future or who are motivated to upgrade their skills for the positions they currently hold. A committee, including the vice president of academic affairs and three former institute graduates (representing staff, faculty, and administrators), reviews and ranks applications using established criteria. In the seven completed years of the program, the number of participants has ranged from 8 to 20 per institute, with a 94 percent completion rate.

Nourishing Open Minds

In an intense schedule from August through April, the LI class learns about the internal and external issues affecting the college. More than 38 hours of presentations and in-depth workshops cover topics such as diversity, fiscal management, leadership styles, and grant writing. Other elements of the program include interactive presentations with local, state, and national educators, and team projects, such as developing a tutorial for students on how to use the student Web portal or creating a video to help students navigate the library and all its resources. (For more information, visit the Leadership Institute Web site.)

More than 50 percent of the first two cohorts of LI graduates have earned promotions or placement in leadership positions. More than a third of the participants in the first seven classes have done so. Feedback from employees who have experienced the immersion in leadership skills indicates that the program has had a transformative effect on them in terms of supporting the college's core values of integrity, academic excellence, diversity, commitment to teaching and learning, communication, and respect. As one graduate said: “The most valuable elements of the LI project were learning how to build effective relationships and learning to think globally about how leaders impact the community college environment.”

SUBMITTED BY Judith Gay, vice president for academic affairs, and Susan Tobia, executive assistant to the vice president for academic affairs, Community College of Philadelphia