Facilitator's Notes

The community college landscape is changing rapidly. Driven by a combination of increasing accountability and declining state funding, community colleges are being forced to rethink and redesign the way they do business: how to cost-effectively increase graduation rates; how to build urgency among faculty to reinvent systems of teaching and learning; and how to align their programs with those at receiving universities and with a changing job market. At the same time, community colleges are facing unprecedented demand from students who have historically entered college underprepared and graduated only infrequently, particularly minority, low-income and first-generation students. To respond to pressures to improve student outcomes while maintaining broad access, community colleges must deliver more credentials of higher quality at a lower per-student cost to an increasingly diverse population.

Scaled, sustainable reform such as this requires exceptional leaders at a time when there is a huge turnover in senior leadership in the nation’s community colleges. We know after decades of research and reform efforts in K-12 and higher education that exceptional educational institutions have excellent leaders. Even more than others, institutions that serve large, under-resourced student populations need leaders who are deeply committed to increasing student success and who have the knowledge, skills, and tools to achieve that objective.  But during the current decade hundreds of our most experienced community college leaders have retired and hundreds more will do so in the next several years.  The American Association of Community Colleges has estimated that more than 40% of community college presidents – approximately 500 of them – have already or will soon retire along with hundreds more senior college executives.  The community college sector needs resources to help them develop the next generation of college leaders who are dedicated to and have the knowledge and skill to dramatically improve student success.

To respond to this challenge, the College Excellence Program at the Aspen Institute has crafted a set of curricular resources complete with case studies, videos, discussion questions, and recommended activities designed to help existing graduate education and community college professional development programs produce exceptional leaders in the area of improving student success. These curricular materials are based upon Aspen’s years of experience with the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence competition and original research with Achieving the Dream concerning leaders who have guided their institutions to high and improving levels of student success.

With funding from the AACC Pathways Project, the Kresge Foundation, and Lumina Foundation, Aspen has developed these modules on leadership for community college excellence.  The resources do not attempt to duplicate existing formal and continuing professional development programs in community college leadership that help prepare community college leaders broadly or in core management areas and external relationships that are necessary for a professionally operated institution.  Instead, the focus is upon developing existing and aspiring community college leaders on the actions they can take to dramatically improve student success. The curriculum centers on three broad themes:

  • Foundational leadership principles of defining student success and the qualities of effective leadership for student success;
  • Core student success strategies for leading internal transformational change and external partnerships with K-12 schools, universities, community-based organizations and employers; and
  • Evidence-based student success reforms related to designing guided pathways, improving transfer at scale, improving teaching and learning, and aligning programs with the labor market.

Our curriculum modules and their respective learning resources and activities are made freely available under a Creative Commons license for all who believe these materials can be beneficial to developing exceptional community college leaders in the area of improving student success. Please see the "About Curriculum" page for terms of use.