Ours is an era of declining social mobility and increasing inequality. Historically community colleges have used their open-door policy to create an array of opportunities for students. Given today’s challenges, though, students rely increasingly on community colleges to help them overcome the staggering economic odds and make it into the middle class.

Community college presidents are uniquely positioned to erect the infrastructure needed to make student success a reality for the students attending their institutions. These presidents will have to exhibit dynamic traits to spark change: cast a vision of student success, take risks, raise and allocate resources carefully, and sustain institutional changes. Most important of all, presidents must themselves be champions of student success.

Community college presidents recognize that student success is directly linked with institutional effectiveness for community colleges. Presidents have to build an institutional culture that values and works toward achieving greater student success. They also have to oversee changes to practices that, when done well, increase institutional effectiveness and render greater student success within reach: alignment of career and technical programs with the labor market, strengthening relationships with neighboring four-year universities for transfer students, improving advising, using data to maximize student learning, emphasizing equitable outcomes for students, and more. If supported by their trustees, presidents working toward student success can in so doing transform the effectiveness of their institutions.

The Belk Center is dovetailing its focus on student success with work around improving institutional effectiveness. It will help community college leaders interpret and act on various data to pinpoint opportunities for improvement, and thereby building an institutional culture that is responsive to such data and willing to undertake change initiatives.

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