Sunday, March 03, 2019

Ask the Administrator: Advice for Sector-Jumpers

A new correspondent writes:

I loved your book on community college administration. I'm now transitioning to a 4-year university which is a completely different formal and informal structure. One advantage of my transition is I'm going from community college to a relatively small technical university. Both systems focus on instruction and applied learning which is to say the university I'm going to is not a R1 institution. Do you have suggestions that will supplement your book and looks at navigating administrations and culture within a 4-year environment?

Maybe your reading community does as well?


I appreciate the plug, but let’s focus on the second half of the question.  What resources are out there to help community college administrators who (want to?) make the leap to four-year schools?

I haven’t looked for those, so I can’t speak to it specifically.  There’s a pronounced difference in tone at conferences that include both sectors as opposed to those specific to community colleges, but outside of the elite institutions, I suspect that many of the challenges are similar.  Demographics, for one: tuition-driven institutions located in parts of the country where college-going populations are flat or declining have some obvious financial issues. Student persistence and completion concerns cross sectors.  Based on local observation, I can attest that community colleges don’t have a monopoly on dual enrollment anymore.

Slightly over a quarter of community colleges nationally have dorms, so what used to be a pretty clear distinction is now much less clear.  (At many regional four-year campuses, a significant number of students commute, too.) Both sectors, at least on the public side, have endured significant disinvestment since the Great Recession.  And human behavior is human behavior.

Off the top of my head, I’d guess that philanthropy plays a more conspicuous role at many four-year colleges, and that deans (and up) would be expected to play active roles in cultivating donor support.  That’s still mostly nascent in the two-year sector, though it’s starting to change. Most four-year colleges also have geographically larger service areas than most community colleges, though again, your mileage may vary.  For instance, Brookdale is focused (appropriately) on Monmouth County, but Ramapo and Montclair State Universities serve the entire state. Depending on the specific role you occupy, that sort of distinction may matter.

So I’ll ask my wise and worldly readers, some of whom have likely made the leap.  What advice would you have for a community college administrator who’s making the move to a four-year school?