UT's Community College Program Faces Transition

Since its inception in 1944, the University of Texas at Austin’s Community College Leadership Program has established a reputation as one of the country’s top talent generators for community college administrators. Its graduates include Texas standouts like Austin Community College President Richard Rhodes and Western Governors University Texas Chancellor Mark Milliron.

But with the departure of its longtime leader and restructuring involving the program, some fear that the university’s commitment to community college issues may be on shaky ground.

John Roueche, who has been the CCLP director since 1971, is leaving this summer. He is joining the National American University, a for-profit university with a presence in Austin, and heading up its soon-to-launch Roueche Graduate Center, which will also focus on doctoral programs in community college administration.

The man the center is named after shrugs off distinctions between its funding model and that of his longtime employer. “It’s proprietary,” Roueche said, “but you know how public universities raise their money; we’re so reliant on proprietary organizations and companies.”

Roueche accepted a generous retirement incentive package from the university, though he said money was not the only reason for his departure. “I really didn’t want to be part of a move I thought was a bad move strategically at a time when community colleges are growing like crazy,” he said.

The move he’s referring to is a decision to merge the CCLP with the university’s other higher-education administration programs under a new Higher Education Leadership Program. This has prompted concerns from alumni, along with a recent shrinking of the program's enrollment. The CCLP's latest incoming class only included four students, less than a third of its usual amount.

“There’s been some sense that something’s being dismantled,” said Norma Cantu, chairwoman of UT’s Department of Educational Administration. “But what’s being dismantled is the state’s higher-education funding.”

Cantu said that the number of students in the program was reduced to focus more resources on ensuring that CCLP students graduate, and that similar restructuring was occurring throughout the college to boost efficiency. But she concurred that four was too small a number for an admitted class and expressed an intention to grow CCLP enrollment. And she insisted that the students focusing on community colleges within the new department would move through the pipeline similarly to how they had under the old model.

Despite rumors that open senior faculty positions at the CCLP, including Roueche’s, would not be filled, Cantu said she was recently given the green light for a full-time hire with a community college administration background to start in the fall of 2013. 

“Our level of commitment [to community colleges] is going to increase,” said Manuel Justiz, dean of UT’s College of Education. “If anything, it’s going to evolve somewhat.”

In 2010, Justiz found himself at odds with some community college leaders.

Justiz proposed charging a 25 percent fee on the revenue of programs contained within the CCLP that sustain themselves through membership subscriptions and external grants: the Center for Community College Student Engagement, a research program, and the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development, whose annual conference is a major event on the community college calendar.

Justiz said the decision was a product of budgeting needs that the large coffers of these programs, which were not paying for university support services at the time, could help with. But the Texas Association of Community Colleges President Rey Garcia sent a complaint to Attorney General Greg Abbott requesting that he look into whether it was acceptable for the university to appropriate private funds given to these programs for specific purposes.

Nothing ever came of the complaint — Garcia is not an official to whom the attorney general is compelled to respond. And ultimately a 15 percent administrative fee on the programs’ total expenses was put in place, in part, to cover the costs of the support services the department provides, though some still think it’s too high. It was also retroactive going back five years.

Justiz said the lion’s share of the money has been put toward support for graduate students in the Department of Education.

Kay McClenney, who runs the Center for Community College Student Engagement, said it is able to operate despite the new fee and the confusion surrounding the CCLP. “I have no reason to believe we are at risk,” she said. “Is there uncertainty because of the transition? I’d have to say there is, but it’s not something I can do anything about.”

Coral Noonan-Terry, leader of the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development recently tendered her resignation, but Cantu pointed out that the hotel has already been booked for the institute’s conference for the next two years and said its future is bright.

Byron McClenney, husband of Kay McClenney and the director of Student Success Initiatives within the CCLP, said that it is a critical time for community colleges. “If community colleges don’t deal with the students who come in their doors, this nation is going to be in decline," he said. "It’s just that clear and just that critical.”

He said the country needs more doctoral programs for people interested in being community college leaders and that "this one certainly does not need to be diminished.”

While he expressed concern about the doctoral program, Byron McClenney spoke hopefully about his other initiatives within the CCLP that support major national efforts to improve two-year institutions.

“While the foundation that allowed us to create all this was the Community College Leadership Program, we are looking at the prospect of the CCLP as we’ve always known it not being in place,” he said. “In spite of that, I don’t see anything slowing us down.”

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