Mary Ann Danowitz: Aligning Educational Doctorate Programs with Community College Leadership Needs

The reality of the community college leadership crisis is well upon us. The crisis is intensified by not enough graduate programs in community college leadership equipping tomorrow’s leaders with the skills needed for success.

The skills community college leaders need to be effective are no secret. The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) convened leading voices in community college leadership and developed these core competencies for presidents:

  • organizational strategy
  • finance and resource management
  • communication
  • collaboration
  • advocacy

The Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Plan identified similar leadership skills in Crisis and Opportunity (2013). The Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED) stresses a focus on practitioners addressing problems of practice.

In short, future community college leaders need graduate programs that teach how to make data-informed decisions that pool resources with external stakeholders to achieve collective impact.

NC State University has embraced the need to redesign its educational doctorate program to instil critical competencies in emerging leaders. The College of Education is realigning its doctoral program through a partnership with the Aspen Institute, aligning with CPED’s work, and being informed by AACC’s competencies.

This realignment cannot be done without the input of successful practitioners in and leaders of community colleges. For this reason, Envisioning Excellence has formed an Advisory Board comprised mainly of community college presidents to inform this process. The Advisory Board has been instrumental in guiding and supporting NC State’s efforts to equip North Carolina’s community college leaders.

NC State now offers a cutting-edge doctoral program in community college leadership, thanks to the diligence of our program faculty and input from the Envisioning Excellence Advisory Board. The program is evidence-based and anchored in practice. Each class has been linked to the Aspen Institute’s and AACC’s leadership competencies.

You can learn more about the realigned Ed.D. in Adult and Community College Education by reviewing this form or visiting the program’s webpage. A number of unique features distinguish NC State’s educational doctorate in community college leadership:

  • Executive format: Students attend classes on Friday nights and Saturdays so they can continue working while advancing their career in the program.
  • Cohort model: Students complete their coursework in a cohort, allowing them to build a professional network of colleagues who support them throughout the program.
  • Research rigor: The curriculum has three research methods courses, making it one of the most rigorous educational doctorate programs in North Carolina.
  • Integrated dissertation: Students write their dissertation while completing coursework, and finish their coursework and dissertation simultaneously. This stops the “all-but-dissertation” far too common among graduate students.
  • Thematic research areas: Dissertations focus on one of six key thematic areas, increasing the impact of their scholarship.

This doctoral program provides emerging community college leaders with the knowledge and competencies needed to enter or step up as senior leaders. More importantly, students gain these skills in a supportive and collaborative classroom environment. Completing a doctorate while working full time and supporting a family is challenging, but the cohort program is designed to minimize sacrifices while maximizing program outcomes.

The process of redesigning NC State’s Ed.D. in Adult and Community College Education has yielded promising initial results. Mapping coursework to evidence-based leadership competencies increases a program’s effectiveness in preparing future leaders. Accelerating the path to graduation and providing a cohort model makes program completion within reach for more students. Equipping leaders who can conduct and critically interpret quantitative and qualitative research improves their ability to implement evidence-based practices and reform.

Community colleges have embraced America’s call for providing increased access to higher education and workforce credentials. Yet the leadership skills needed to accomplish this goal have to be embedded in graduate educational programs training tomorrow’s community college leaders. Fortunately, NC State has found is that this can be done by accommodating future leaders’ current obligations, aligning curricula with core leader skills and competencies, and accelerating degree completion.

Mary Ann Danowitz is Dean of the College of Education at NC State and Principal Investigator of Envisioning Excellence for Community College Leadership.

For more on the education doctorate redesign process, click here.

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