Leadership Makes a Difference, Especially in Complex Times


The past year has challenged higher education leaders at all levels, yet some were likely far better prepared to respond to the times than others. Leading a community college has become increasingly complex, as the issues are more significant and the pace of change faster. While the narrative about accelerating change has existed for decades, few could predict the disruption that occurred in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of the economy, colleges closed, and classes moved online. Successful leaders need diverse abilities and exceptional commitment to thrive in times like these, and into the future.

Effective leadership has always been valued, but never has it been more important. While there are many philosophies of leadership, such as transformational and servant leadership, more important are the personal attributes leaders bring to their work, including listening, communicating, and learning, and being strategic, purpose-driven, trustworthy, and empowering. Popular author James Collins, best known for his book Good to Great, describes leaders at the top of the leadership game—whose organizations produce consistent positive performance—as having two qualities that other good leaders may lack: humility and fierce resolve or will. The social, political, racial, financial, and public challenges colleges must address will require all of these qualities and attributes in tomorrow’s leaders. Leadership can be learned and learning leaders will seek out learning opportunities.

Ferris State University Doctorate in Community College Leadership

The time is right to invest in the development of next-generation leaders through professional development programming and graduate education designed for the future. From its inception, the Ferris State University Doctorate in Community College Leadership (DCCL) established its niche as a practice-focused program. This niche was created through a variety of design considerations, including the utilization of practitioner faculty, case-based learning activities, and a curriculum that enabled enrollees to gain experience in all key college functions. Thus, course emphases include strategic planning, resource development, student success, data analysis, financial management, equity, and organizational transformation, among other topics.

Additionally, the Ferris program was among the first to pioneer new approaches to dissertations that enabled the optional production of assets of value to institutions in the form of projects such as assessment plans and implementation, enrollment management strategies, foundation development, student success protocols, entrepreneurial ventures, or developmental education reform. Grounded in relevant literature, program graduates have advanced practices in their organizations through their relevant contributions.

Enrollees are almost exclusively full-time employees in America’s community colleges who are involved at some level of leadership as program coordinators, department chairs, directors, associate deans, deans, and vice presidents. Most are from either the academic or student affairs areas, but a higher proportion are also coming from areas such as business affairs, marketing, and advancement. Throughout the program, enrollees relate these functional responsibilities to the values and strategies that make effective leadership probable, such as the attributes described above.

With enrollees or graduates from and/or in 26 states and over 103 colleges in 2020, and over 200 graduates, the program is producing significant impact in America. Conversations with graduates reveal that what the program’s founders set out to achieve has been realized: DCCL Leaders have relevant experience and a deep understanding of the purposes of community colleges, are diverse, and are prepared to meet the leadership challenges of 2021 and beyond.

Click here to listen to Cohort 8 members share their perspectives as a part of Ferris State University DCCL program’s 10th anniversary celebration. Click here or email for more information.

Ferris State University is an Innovations 2021 sponsor and exhibitor.

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