NEW ORLEANS — Although Black students enroll in great numbers at America’s community colleges, the number of African-Americans who occupy the “C-suite” as chancellor, president or CEO remains embarrassingly low.
Throughout the 1990s, the number of Black community college CEOs hovered at about 4.9 percent. Today, the number of Blacks who are community college presidents has only grown to about 8 percent. Of the 1,067 community college CEOs, only 93 are Black.
“The numbers are not moving as quickly as we would expect,” said Dr. Kirk A. Nooks, president of Metropolitan Community College-Longview in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.
Since 1994, a handful of Black community college presidents have been actively working to reverse this trend.
Sponsored by the Presidents’ Round Table — an entity of the National Council on Black American Affairs and an affiliate of the American Association of Community Colleges — the Lakin Institute for Mentored Leadership was founded to prepare Black senior-level community college executives for positions as chief executive officers.
Named in honor of Dr. Thomas Lakin, who was a longtime president and community college chancellor and visionary, the institute has had tremendous success in producing the highest number of African-Americans who have gone on to assume CEO positions over any other leadership institute in the United States.
Of the 333 participants who have gone through the weeklong program, two have become chancellors, 86 have become community college presidents and about 13 have become provosts.
At the annual institute held each October, veteran community college presidents mentor participants. They participate in mock interviews, receive assistance on how to prepare their curriculum vitae and cover letter, and learn about the various aspects of running an institution. The record of accomplishment of these cohorts is impressive. About one-third of the participants go on to become college presidents within the first three years of completing the institute.
The institute’s curriculum is nuanced as well. Topics such as accreditation, fundraising, legal and human resources, and strategic planning and institutional effectiveness initiatives are all covered.
“We know we put out a good quality,” said Nooks, who is dean of the Institute and was a former participant. An engineer by training, Nooks made the transition to higher education in the early 2000s. And, after working in a variety of leadership positions at different institutions, in 2013 at the age of 37, he became the youngest college president in the state of Missouri.
He is passionate about expanding the number of Blacks in senior-level community college positions, and volunteers his time, along with others, to keep the institute going.
Although there are a handful of other leadership initiatives for individuals seeking to become college presidents, such as the Fellows program sponsored by the American Council on Education, Lakin is different. The program is designed to speak specifically to the context of the African-American experience in the role of the community college presidency.
In addition, that alone, is significant, particularly at a time when community colleges are struggling with how to close the achievement gap and to focus on the ongoing retention challenges that affect African-American males.
Dr. Stacy Thompson, vice president of academic services at Chabot College, was a participant in last year’s Lakin cohort. With more than 20 years of experience in higher education — the last three years as vice president — she now has her eyes on the presidency.
She said that the institute was invaluable, and that she was assigned a full-time mentor and a network of other Lakin college presidents who have offered her ongoing advice as she now contemplates her next move.
“Once they know your face, you can call them for advice and support,” said Thompson. “We had an all-star cast of leaders who came in and talked with us. They shared their personal experience.”
While the need to diversify the leadership of community colleges remains a daunting task and is the subject of numerous panel discussions at the AACC annual meeting in New Orleans, the Lakin Institute is providing future college presidents with a briefcase of strategies and knowledge that will ensure their success when they arrive on the nation’s campuses.
Anyone who is deeply concerned about diversity and the future of the community college should support this laudable mission.
For more information about the Lakin Institute, visit http://www.theprt.org/lakin-institute/
Jamal Eric Watson is the executive editor of Diverse: Issues In Higher Education. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.