Education & Government
Kathleen Vail Image
Kathleen Vail
Former Editor-in-Chief, National School Boards Association

The role of technology in community college succession planning

August 2, 2023
0 min read
the role of technology in community college succession planning

The longest serving trustee of a community college board just announced that she is resigning. She’s moving across the country for a new job opportunity. The rest of the trustees are stunned. This trustee holds much of the institutional knowledge about the board and the community college. Her connections to the business community made her pivotal in fundraising and endowment efforts.

The board feels adrift and unsure about how to replace this vital member. Together, they set the vision, mission and tone for their institution. When a veteran trustee leaves a community college board, they take their experience, connections and institutional knowledge with them.

Community colleges play an essential role in our society and economy by offering pivotal job training and certification programs. They give students a chance to earn credits that transfer to four-year institutions, allowing them to save money and accrue less debt.

Community colleges also face challenges in recruiting and replacing trustees with qualified and appropriate candidates. These schools tend to be smaller, regional, and have a lower public profile than four-year colleges and universities. Funding and fundraising are constant concerns for these institutions, and trustees are an important part of building and maintaining strategic partnerships with local industries and organizations.

Trustees are charged with keeping their institutions thriving and growing. Succession planning to avoid leadership vacuums, scattered focus and mission drift can give their colleges competitive advantages. Solid planning for trustees can enhance their institution’s reputation, which in turn helps attract talented administrators and faculty as well as potential partners and funders.

Technology tools like board management software can make the planning process transparent and efficient for trustees.

Plan for change

The succession process for community college trustees should begin well before any vacancies occur. In the world of academia, succession planning for positions in administration leadership tends to receive attention only when a need or vacancy occurs, according to Building the Community College Leadership Pipeline: Prioritizing Succession Planning, published by Ferris State University. The same holds true for trustee vacancy and succession planning.

Planning for vacancies give trustees time to discuss and understand the types of candidates they seek to join their ranks. It’s an opportunity for trustees to look at the board’s strengths and weaknesses and how those assessments fit into the overall mission of the board and the college. It also allows trustees to be intentional about increasing the diversity of the board.

Another reason to plan ahead: Starting succession planning when a vacancy suddenly occurs could mean that vital leadership positions go unfilled for long periods. With the challenges facing community colleges, a vacuum in leadership for any amount of time will hurt the organization, its reputation among funders, community stakeholders and potential students. It can damage your ability to recruit top classroom talent, as well. Disruption in leadership is costly and can waste trustee time and focus.

Technology for succession planning

Planning tools and technology such as board software can make many aspects of succession planning more effective and efficient for trustees.

A succession plan should be flexible to current needs, updated regularly, and integrated into the goals and vision that the trustees hold for the community college. This plan clearly will put your community college ahead of other institutions that don’t have such a plan. The efforts that you make to craft the plan, nurture a pipeline for potential trustees, and make the planning documents and materials available will demonstrate to potential candidates — as well as to administrators and faculty — that trustees are prepared to lead the institution into the future.

Success planning starts with good, easy-to-access data. This data includes enrollment numbers, industry trends, student demographics, high school dual enrollment offerings, program funding and fundraising status, and state funding trends, among others. Gathering this data in one place and making it readily available to trustees will reveal important information about the community college and its needs.

The data gathering should include the board’s self-evaluation results. Online evaluation tools are available that can be adapted to individual board needs and requirements. The board’s self-evaluation can be first performed by each trustee then shaped after discussion with the whole board. The results can be shared electronically among trustees and, if desired, sent to the college’s top administrators for feedback and input.

A hard look at the trustees’ strengths and weaknesses can spark discussion about what qualities are needed in potential and future trustee candidates. The names of potential or recommended candidates should be available online. Potential candidates should be added frequently to strengthen the leadership pipeline and keep the issue of success in the forefront of board business.

Succession planning should include a discussion about the future plans of current trustees. If they are considering leaving their positions in a certain timeframe, or if their term is ending, they can let their colleagues know that recruitment should begin for a new member. These planned vacancies should be included in planning documents.

Roles and expectations for trustees should be clearly delineated and available for easy reference. Trustees should keep notes on their current responsibilities and duties. Departing board members can draft documents outlining the knowledge and experience they’ve gained over their tenure on the board. These drafts should include community partnership and funder connections. This way, the entire board can continue to tap into the accumulated experience of the veteran trustee.

Depending on board of trustee bylaws, it might be possible to broaden the range of available candidates by allowing them to participate virtually through online meeting platforms and tools.

More effective succession planning

Careful planning for potential board members will allow trustees to recruit more efficiently and effectively. Candidates will gain a better understanding and perspective of their roles and how the board operates, which will help in recruiting for the best fit. Tangible plans to avoid leadership gaps and encourage stability on the board will improve the college’s standing and reputation among potential funders, as well.

Diligent Community can support your leadership succession planning with online collaboration tools, planning templates, and readily available data and information.


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