Iowa State University
College of Human Sciences
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Human Sciences Matters

Leadership program is change agent for community colleges

Greg Schmitz
Greg Schmitz, president of Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, is one of many students who bring a wealth of expertise, experience, and knowledge to the Iowa State University Community College Leadership Program. Photo courtesy of Hawkeye Community College.

By Kevin Brown

Greg Schmitz, the president of Hawkeye Community College, Waterloo, embodies the mission and goals of the College of Human Sciences' Community College Leadership Program.

Schmitz, who completed his coursework this spring, will graduate in May from the community college leadership masters program and is now enrolled in the Leadership Ph.D. Academy. He brings a history of financial expertise, a priority for learning more about the other areas of the college experience (student services, athletics, technical and vocational training), and a keen awareness of the growing need in Iowa for a seamless transition from K-12 school districts to higher education.

Frankie Santos Laanan
Frankie Santos Laanan, assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies, says the strength of Iowa State's community college leadership program is its focus on research. Photo by Brent Herrig, student photographer.

All are basic tenets of the leadership program, said Frankie Santos Laanan, assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies and one of the faculty members managing the program. Larry Ebbers, University Professor of higher education, is the founder and director of the program.

"It is critical that Iowa's K-12 school, community college, and four-year college and university sectors work together to ensure seamless transitions for students as they advance through the educational system," said Laanan.

Ebbers, Laanan, and their research team in the Office of Community College Research and Policy study issues and opportunities facing community college students, faculty, and administrators. The changing demographics of Iowa are of particular interest to the researchers.

Laanan said those changing demographic trends include the rise in nontraditional students (typically older students seeking re-education or higher degrees or certification), new immigrant populations (in Iowa, primarily Latino/as, Bosnian or Sudanese), and responding to the needs of existing racial/ethnic/socio-economic residents.

"The role of public education at all levels is access and affordability," Laanan said. "Community colleges fulfill a unique role in the educational spectrum by training and retraining talented Iowans for high tech, high wage careers. They also are pathways to entering a higher education institution. The image of community colleges as providing only remedial or GED training is outdated."

Laanan stressed that the strength of Iowa State's program is its focus on research. That research, he said, is used to build a curriculum that is relevant and focused on the unique needs facing Iowa's community college system.

Masters students identify issues and research solutions

For example, one change to the leadership masters program resulting from research was a broadening of the 30-credit hour, cohort program from only serving teaching and vocational faculty members to serving additional community college employees--administrators, program coordinators and student services officials.

"Originally, the program was designed for vocational faculty but we identified a need and an interest in broadening the program's base," Laanan said. "As in Greg's case, there are talented community college employees working in all areas who have an interest in bettering both their individual education and the future direction of community college instruction."

Laanan said students in the masters program examine the role of teaching and learning in community colleges, the role of students and student services in the success of those colleges, technology trends, distance education instruction and techniques, and assessment tools.

"The most unique feature of the masters program is that students complete a creative component in lieu of a thesis," Laanan said. "The students identify an issue, a problem or an opportunity that is facing their own community college and suggest a timely and holistic report with recommendations. The students are required to present those reports to their colleges. Several colleges are reviewing the recommendations for possible implementation."

For example, Laanan said one student in the masters program did her creative component on the Southwestern Community College's nursing program. She examined how the Creston-based college could use an online pharmacology curriculum to enhance learning and training.

"The student looked at feasibility, start-up issues, needed resources, and the tools and programming offerings," Laanan said. "The college's administration is now considering the recommendations the student made."

In another example, a masters student from Des Moines Area Community College did a creative component on how instructors could more effectively teach online. Laanan said the student conducted an online survey to learn about the technology tools, challenges, issues and needs. The report even included technology options that could benefit student learning, including the use of streaming videos or the infusion of live chats, group work or interactive blogs. That proposal is also under college review, Laanan said.

Ph.D. Academy grooms administrators for presidential positions

Like Schmitz, students who complete the masters program may go on to the Ph.D. Academy. Laanan said this program targets mid- and senior-level community college administrators (human resources, financial aid, student affairs, deans, vice-presidents, directors, department chairs) to groom for jobs as college presidents.

"We are now expanding this program to include students from neighboring states," Laanan said. "We currently have three doctoral students from Nebraska. We also have had interest from Illinois and Minnesota community college employees in this full-time, cohort program."

Laanan stressed that this program, which meets on either Thursday/Fridays or Friday/Saturdays each week for a semester, is designed to be responsive and flexible to accommodate students who are also working. He said the program takes three years to complete, with the final year devoted to dissertation work.

The first class was started in 2003 and will graduate its first cohort this year. Each cohort can accommodate 20-25 students with more than 45 students enrolled in the Ph.D. program.

"Greg is an excellent example of the type of person this Ph.D. program is designed for," Laanan said. "He is a certified public accountant with private and public sector experience. This program will now give him perspective on the entire range of strategic planning and the processes needed to engage the whole college. It examines the different constituencies interested in community colleges (legislators, local taxpayers, business and industry professionals, etc.), student success and retention programming, and the bridges needed with both business and industry and the K-12 educational system to complement the college's curriculum and services."

Laanan said the program brings in national experts on educational policy, scholarship and student leadership trends with a focus on what those talented Ph.D. and masters students identify as important to Iowa and Midwestern community colleges.

Professional development programs target women, minorities, senior leaders

The Community College Leadership Program also offers professional development designed to appeal to a wide-range of potential students. Courses run the gamut of curriculum, student services and administration issues. Graduates may apply the credit to a masters or other degree program. The two programs are the Leadership Institute for a New Century (LINC) and the Community College Leadership Initiative Consortium (CLIC).

"Those programs are a significant base of entry to our masters program," Laanan said. "Our programs are also designed for a seamless flow of teaching and experience."

Laanan said the LINC program created in 1989 primarily for women and minorities who are working in entry- to mid-level positions at community colleges. Today the students enrolled in LINC are diverse and represent a talented group of community college professionals. The program provides exposure to contemporary issues facing community colleges as well as networking experiences and formal instruction. More than 270 students have participated in the program with about 260 of those being women.

The CLIC program is designed for senior-level administrators and directors at community colleges. It provides additional training on skills and programs to improve the overall operation and experiences of community colleges.

"There is no other program like CLIC in the country," Laanan said. "We've had more than 190 participants with 17 of those coming from other states."

"Our overall goal is to impact the community college world at all levels," Laanan said. "We want to be change agents that influence the success and growth of community college programs. All of our instruction is grounded in current research.

"Dr. Ebbers and I work very hard to ensure that our courses reflect the current thinking in the field," said Laanan. "An important aspect of our program is that our students bring a wealth of expertise, experience, and knowledge of community colleges. Our approach is to take advantage of their contributions and help connect research and theory with practice to become 'scholarly practioners.'"

For more information or to enroll in the program, contact Ebbers, email or phone (515) 294-8067, or Laanan, email or phone (515) 294-7292.

Education and Human Development

Frankie Santos Laanan
Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Leadership programs offered by the College of Human Sciences:

Certificate in Advanced Studies (School Superintendent Licensure Program)

Child Nutrition Program Leadership Academy

Community College Leadership Program

Dean's International Leadership Seminar in Australia

Dean's International Leadership Seminar on Becoming a Global Citizen (Austria)

Family and Consumer Sciences Education Leadership Academy

Educational Leadership Ph.D. Program

Preparation for Leadership Program (School Principal Preparation)

Frankie Santos Laanan
Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

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