Working in a community college is a test of one’s ability to fit every component of the four-year college experience. As a higher educational professional, I attended a private four-year college, followed with two years pursuing my Master of Arts in Higher Education and Student Affairs. Throughout that time, I learned about the numerous areas of student affairs and how to create, implement, and maintain programs for students over the course of their four years in college. Every move was intentional, and every step led to something more educational and developmental. I remember discussing community colleges in class, particularly their importance to the higher education system, but I never imagined upon completing my degree that I would find myself working at a community college. I quickly realized in order to truly support my students, I had to discover ways to re-imagine and reconfigure programs typically found at four-year institutions into neatly packaged two-year models.
Knowing that community colleges have diverse student populations, student motivations for education are different, and that many community college campuses are non-residential, has many implications on the work that I do as higher education professional working at a community college. Since students do not live on campus and typically have responsibilities outside of school, there is a higher level of turnover within programs. When students can commit to programs, very often the programs must take place between the hours of 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM when students are able to be engaged on campus. Transportation concerns tend to arise when programs are scheduled to go beyond these times. Lastly, since our students vary in age, I must be ready to work with individuals across all levels of development – from the first time college student to the veteran academic who wants to learn a new skill.
As I started examining how to develop a theory based Leadership Development Program at my institution, I looked at several community college programs as well as programs that were developed by four-year institutions. I found several challenges in my search. The community colleges that I researched that offer leadership development programs are not actually using leadership theory in their programs, but are offering skill-based trainings instead. Other community colleges outsourced their programs to outside companies. Lastly, many of my counterparts at four-year institutions use a tiered leadership program that span several semesters.
Based on all the information I gathered, I was torn. I wanted to offer my students a Leadership Development Program based in theory, but due to my concerns with the population and a lack of funding to outsource my program, I needed to find a way to offer it in one or two semesters using existing resources. For those also struggling with this process, I have outlined the steps I took to accomplish this.
1. Do your research – Begin to look at the many leadership theories that currently exist. Find a model that resonates with you that will fit the needs of the students.
2. Develop Learning Outcomes – Determine what you want your students to learn while they participate in the program.
3. Build a curriculum – Determine the medium you will use to educate your students. This can be in a semester long interactive program, a series of workshops that students do on their own pace, pre-designed webinars, etc…
4. Reach out to members of your community (both on and off campus) – Do not do this alone. There are other higher education or business professionals who can assist you in educating your students.
5. Assess the program – Use your learning outcomes to assess student learning and determine if the program is working.
6. Make changes – Based on the assessment results, make changes. With community college populations in constant flux, your program should change to meet their needs.
Following these steps, I was able to develop a 12-week intensive program centered on the Social Change Model of Leadership titled the Commit to Change Leadership Development Program. I meet every Friday morning with up to 20 students who have committed to attending a two-hour session each week. I have adjusted the program several times since its inception. The Student Leadership Challenge is now a component of the program, along with connections to our campus commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative University.
Click on the link below for more information on the structure of the Commit to Change Leadership Development Program.
I am currently working with my sixth cohort and as this program continues to grow, I am now looking to use these steps detailed in this post to develop a program that students can complete on their own as they strive to complete their degrees. By constantly re-imagining the possibilities, community college professionals can develop meaningful leadership programs for their students that bridge the gap between their institutions and their four year counterparts.