Educational Administration, Department of


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A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Educational Studies (Education Leadership and Higher Education), Under the Supervision of Professor James P. O’Hanlon. Lincoln, Nebraska: July, 2013

Copyright (c) 2013 B. Jeanne Bonner


Leadership of 21st century community colleges is more demanding today than at any other time. Community colleges are faced with an array of challenges previously unimagined, generally resulting from the impact of concurrent socio-economic changes, competing demands from various college constituencies, growing complexity of the leadership role of the community college president, and increasing competition for scarce resources in the face of the continuing decline of funding support. Thus, the leadership role of the community college president has never been more difficult, nor more critical.

The purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore the leadership skills and characteristics that beginning, mid-career, and senior community college presidents perceived to be important to lead 21st century community colleges effectively today, to learn how these perceptions compared to the AACC guidelines of 2001, and to discover whether sitting presidents’ perceptions of leadership characteristics were similar or different depending upon tenure in the presidency.

Research for this qualitative study was founded upon interviews of nine sitting community college presidents from one Midwestern state, representing presidential tenure categories of early, mid-career or senior. The findings shed light upon perceptions of today’s essential presidential leadership characteristics, validated characteristics put forth in 2001 by the AACC, and identified numerous leadership challenges facing today’s presidents. Guidance was offered for prospective presidents, Boards, and educators.

The findings suggest: (a) new presidents may struggle with the solitary nature of the presidency during their first years in office; (b) prospective presidents should develop diverse professional experience and demonstrate characteristics such as passion for the presidency and the ability to adapt to the demands of the job; and (c) presidents should possess the energy, persistence, and grit necessary for the long hours and multiple pressures associated with 21st century presidencies. Recommendations were offered for additional research regarding the transition and support for new leaders in the presidency and for further investigation of grit as applied to presidential leadership.

Advisor: James P. O’Hanlon