Our History

Continued Commitment to Community College Success

For more than 60 years, the NC State College of Education has been committed to serving the community college community. One of the bedrocks of the program has been the doctorate in community college leadership.

Ed Boone
Ed Boone
Pioneers including W. Dallas Herring and Ed Boone helped prepare generations of community college leaders and ushered in the Community College Review, which has led the nation for more than 40 years in the publication of scholarly research and commentary on community colleges. More recently, the college strengthened its efforts to support all 58 NC community colleges by developing a national model and a pipeline of talented community college leaders able to effectively lead the state’s community college system, which strengthens North Carolina’s economic vitality.

Dallas Herring
Dallas Herring

However, like other states across the country, North Carolina is facing a critical leadership shortage in its community college pipeline. Armed with a $10.86 million grant from the John M. Belk Endowment, the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research will work to continue its efforts in enhancing and strengthening its support of North Carolina community colleges — and producing the next generation of community college leaders.

The Background

In 2001, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) reported an “alarming rate” of personnel — many in positions of senior leadership- retiring after decades of service. AACC updated its projections in 2006, forecasting 86 percent of community college presidents would retire a decade later.

From 2015 to 2019, 34 of 58 presidents in the North Carolina community college system are new, either to the presidency or to their current institutions, with the highest number of leadership transitions occurring in 2017. And the changes will continue.

Additionally, over the next decade, North Carolina is expected to add over a half-million jobs, with most of those in occupations requiring training or education beyond high school but not necessarily a four-year degree, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce’s employment projections. With these changing economic conditions, the skills North Carolina’s community college presidents need have evolved. Today’s community college leaders, for example, must ensure access for students, particularly nontraditional and historically underrepresented students, as well as find better ways to ensure program completion and strong postgraduate outcomes.

“Community colleges are at a crossroads,” said Belk Center Executive Director Audrey J. Jaeger, Ph.D. “Their open door policy keeps them at the forefront of efforts to create social mobility, but they have to be strategic as they build pipelines to universities for transfer students and to careers for career and technical students.”

Finding a Solution

Through its College Excellence Program (CEP), the Aspen Institute has identified “an unprecedented opportunity to reconsider community college leadership.” In the past, many community colleges have relied on “grow your own leader” approaches, but the volume of presidents retiring has sparked the chance to develop intentional, cutting-edge community college leadership development programs offered through professional development, redesigned graduate programs, and more.

The focus of these refined leadership programs will require a new understanding of the challenges of community college leadership in the future. The previous generation of leaders focused on assuring college access, but the next generation of leaders will need to make a concerted effort to improve both access and student success. The Aspen Institute has made an important contribution to this fresh understanding with its emphasis on student success as equity, learning, completion and labor market outcomes. Community college leaders are having to expand their definitions of student success to all stages of the student experience — before, during and after coursework.

We are thrilled to be partnering with our community colleges to develop and apply innovative approaches to prepare leaders to transform community colleges to increase student success and labor market outcomes for thousands of North Carolinians.

Mary Ann Danowitz, Dean, NC State College of Education

In 2015, the NC State College of Education received a $525,000 grant from the John M. Belk Endowment to begin addressing the state-wide community college leadership pipeline in three ways: by redesigning its Ed.D. program, creating executive leadership development, and building capacity to engage in action research. This body of work was named Envisioning Excellence for Community College Leadership.

Envisioning Excellence partnered with the Aspen Institute to create a degree program  for students who aspire to executive positions within community colleges. Aspen has recently developed a practice-oriented curriculum in leadership following its extensive research on the nation’s top-performing community colleges. NC State is the first institution to adopt Aspen’s framework, which emphasizes equity, completion, learning and labor market outcomes and how those factors impact the presidency.

In 2018, the College of Education received an additional $10.8 million planning grant from the John M. Belk Endowment to develop the two remaining arms of Envisioning Excellence for Community College Leadership to support community college leaders at all levels: executive leadership development through a Presidents’ Academy and Trustees Institute, and an increased research capacity that focuses upon action and applied research of relevance to the field of practice.

The Presidents’ Academy and the Trustees Institute are being developed in cooperation with the North Carolina Association of Community College Presidents (NCACCP), the North Carolina Association of Community College Trustees (NCACCT), and the North Carolina Community College System Office (NCCCS) to strengthen institutional leadership at community colleges. An increased capacity for research will identify “best practices” across the state that are moving the needle in college completion and post-college success, analyzing where the leaks are in the college transfer pipeline that are barriers to increasing baccalaureate completion, and evaluating the relative success of state-wide efforts.

“We are excited to partner with the John M. Belk Endowment and North Carolina’s community colleges to increase economic opportunity for the residents of our state,” Jaeger says.  “Together we will focus on working with today’s community college leaders to increase college access and program completion, preparing the next generation of community college executives, and using our strength as a top-tier research university to help community colleges enhance their performance and impact. Our focus will be centered on improving economic outcomes for community college students and the communities where they live.”