Mobilizing Change in Community Colleges
March 02, 2020

​Community college leaders looking to take action and make meaningful change should be focused on strategies that consider a variety of approaches, which are outlined in a new paper published by ACE.

To start, leaders at all levels can make meaningful change by incorporating plans that consider diversity, innovation, relationships, and data.

The brief, Tools in a Toolbox: Leading Change in Community Colleges (1.4 MB PDF), was authored by Jaime Lester, associate dean of faculty affairs and strategic initiatives and professor of the Higher Education Program at George Mason University in Virginia.

Lester writes “while the core mission of community colleges remains the same—teaching and learning for all citizens—these colleges have a history of adapting and changing to meet the needs of their constituents and responding to external pressures on higher education. Especially now, community college leaders are looking for guidance when responding to change but are often frustrated by the lack of specificity in how to manage change."

This brief reviews the literature on change management and suggests research-based tools to lead change at community colleges.

Key takeaways are:

Leaders should have a specific plan for the process to implement change. Have a detailed plan that articulates the overall vision, identifies several specific goals, outlines the activities and people responsible for those activities, and includes an evaluation plan.

Develop a leadership team. Avoid having one brain trust—articulate the value of shared leadership on campus and create a leadership team outside of direct reports. Effective leadership teams need to engage multiple perspectives and represent the constituents of the college, such as faculty, staff, and students; be given the specific charge of critically advising the leader or unit; and constantly question and challenge each other in the decision-making process.

Evaluate and assess—communicate the results. Spend time evaluating and making meaning of data through conversation and reflection. For example, create and engage a leadership team with constituents from across the campus that represent different colleges, academic units, and groups. Give members of the community opportunities to make sense of the data and have a voice in how the results are interpreted and acted on.

Center the vision in everyday decisions. At every opportunity, repeat elements of the college vision and values and ask campus employees and stakeholders to articulate how their decisions are consistent with those elements. Center the vision and values in everyday decisions so that individuals are able to connect their work to the overall mission of the organization, even as structures change.

Click here to read the full paper (PDF). It is the fourth in a series focused on community colleges—see below for links to the first three papers.