DMC: Growing its own leaders
Article by: Michael Bratten
Rachel Benavides is getting a look behind the community college curtain. What she sees is an industry going through tectonic change.
“In the past, community colleges have been more enrollment-based than outcome-based,” said Benavides, director of Del Mar College’s Adult Education and Literacy program and a member of its inaugural Next Generation Leadership Academy (NGLA). “Now, instead of looking at the front end, we’re looking at the back end and what we as a college have to do to help students get to completion. This is all fresh and new to me.”
Del Mar kicked off the NGLA last fall to nurture in-house talent and address an impending void of qualified college leaders. A partnership with Civitas Learning, the yearlong program puts 23 selected employees together in a room one day a month, where they learn about the issues facing colleges today and discuss how to drive change in the future.
Participants hear from nationally recognized higher education professionals such as Drs. Gerardo de los Santos and Mark Milliron, as well as Del Mar’s own leaders.
It’s been noted that Gen Xers, myself included, are inclined to reach out, impart knowledge and pass on leadership opportunities to the next generation. I’m proud to be a part of that.
Besides theory-based curriculum and lunch-and-learn discussions, the program includes a fun component reminiscent of the “Shark Tank” TV show, in which NGLA participants must decide the best way to use an imaginary gift of $1 million from business tycoon Warren Buffett to benefit the college.
“They have to think outside the box about what would have a minimum cost and a big impact,” said Dr. Rito Silva, Del Mar vice president of Student Affairs and the NGLA facilitator. “At the same time, they’re creating leaders and forming relationships.”
There is an element of urgency to the program. Widespread retirement of leaders in the next five to seven years is expected to create more vacancies than can be filled, Silva said. And most college leaders are so busy dealing with budget crunches, declining enrollment, government regulations and a changing political climate that worrying about who’s going to be a dean or president in the next few years is a luxury they don’t have.
“That’s why these programs are important for the overall survival of the college,” Silva said.
It’s important to grow our own leaders. We could look externally, but there are certain things about internal candidates that are valuable…they have a history and they know the culture of the college.
Del Mar’s goal with the NGLA program isn’t to indoctrinate employees into doing things in established ways, Escamilla said. It’s to create new ways of thinking by sharing information that previously was held close to the vest.
Hanging on to the tricks of the trade is an outdated, selfish practice. Sharing knowledge and skillsets is what makes us all better and more proficient in our jobs. This is key to embracing changes happening across the country in higher education.
Programs like the NGLA are becoming commonplace. There are some 70 community college leadership programs across the country, both degree- and non-degree-granting, according to the Council for the Study of Community Colleges.
The NGLA isn’t the only leadership program Del Mar has adopted with Escamilla’s encouragement. In 2019, a group of employees will begin graduating with doctorates in education through National American University’s Community College Leadership Program, one that Escamilla himself completed.
“It’s admirable that Del Mar has recognized the critical need to prepare its future leaders,” said Edward Leach, director of the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development at the University of Texas at Austin. “Those institutions that will be most successful going forward, especially when it concerns the most important metric – student success – will be those that have the appropriate people, systems, processes, partnerships and other necessities in place.”
In 2013, a report from Achieving the Dream and The Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program predicted that more than 40 percent of the nation’s 1,200 community college presidents would retire in the next five years, and that the pipeline to replace them was inadequate.
The estimate turned out to be conservative, with about 365 presidents retiring in 2017 alone, said Josh Wyner, vice president of The Aspen Institute and founder and executive director of the College Excellence Program.
Factors behind the exodus probably include the combination of favorable post-recession retirement conditions and challenging cuts in state funding for community colleges, Wyner speculated.
“Cuts were immense when enrollments were booming, so the pressure on community colleges was greater than anticipated.”
Leadership programs that have sprouted up in the past five years bode well for the future of community colleges because, in part, they’re breaking the leadership mold, Wyner added. He points to The Aspen Institute’s partnership with Stanford University, a program that kicked off in 2015 and welcomed 40 students this year. About two-thirds of them are women and 40 percent are people of color.
“That’s important because the majority of leaders are white and men,” Wyner said. “There is an enormous amount of talent on the sidelines. We’ve sought these people out who have the potential and given them the opportunity to be in the next generation of transformational leaders.”
Sara King, one of 19 women in Del Mar College’s NGLA cohort of 23, sees herself as a future vice president of student affairs.
“I love working for a college that wants to mentor you and pave the way for new leaders,” said King, 33, coordinator of recruitment at the college. “It gives you a sense you’re a part of the change and growth. It’s exciting and empowering.”
Del Mar College empowers students to achieve their dreams. We offer quality programs, individual attention, outstanding instruction through faculty with real-world experience and affordable costs to credit and noncredit students in Corpus Christi and the South Texas Coastal Bend area. Nationally recognized while locally focused, we’re ranked in the top two percent of community colleges in the country granting associate degrees to Hispanic students (Community College Week). Del Mar College focuses on offering our students programs that match current or emerging career opportunities. Whether students are interested in the fine arts, sciences, business, occupational or technical areas, students get the education they need for the future they want at Del Mar College.