Turnover in CC Leadership

May 3, 2022 by

The global pandemic exacerbated the problem of finding and keeping community college leaders. A 2016 study found that the average job length for a California college president or district chancellor was only 3.5 years, half the tenure of similar leaders at four-year schools. And California was and now is not alone. In 2019, 12 of the 58 community colleges in North Carolina hired new presidents. In 2015, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) surveyed community college CEOs and found that 80% indicated that they would retire within ten years and 35% within five years (Phillippe, 2016).

According to Christianson (2020), the high turnover and low retention of community college administrators are because of the need for dynamic leaders, the leadership succession process, the lack of professional training and development, and the influence of stakeholders and outside forces. In addition, community college faculty and leaders are often at odds with poor communication and differing views on how to progress (Christianson, 2020). Community college leaders also contend with changing student demographics, an increasingly polarized political climate, and increasing safety and student mental health concerns.

Financial implications and economic circumstances significantly impact community college leadership. Budgetary pressures due to fewer financial resources are a considerable stressor. As Chiu and Walls (2019) found in their study, when organizations experience financial distress, an outsider can more quickly shift their attention and prioritize stakeholders’ interests than a leader promoted from within.

Guse (2021) acknowledges that aspiring community college leaders’ knowledge, motivation, and organizational needs are often neglected, and enhanced professional development is required. The 21st Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges warns that the leadership challenge is dire because of three trends: “the pool of current leaders is graying and approaching retirement, the pool of potential presidents is shrinking, and the continuous rotation and re-composition of governing boards mean that at any given time a significant number of board members are relatively new to their responsibilities.” If community colleges are going to continue their work to level the playing field through accessible education, they need to inspire new leaders while providing the programming and resources for aspiring leaders.


What kind of initiatives can help to bring new community college leaders to the position?

What needs to change on community college campuses, at the state and at the national levels to retain leadership?


community college, leadership, turnover, higher education administration


Chiu, S. & Walls, J.L. (2019). Leadership change and corporate social performance: The context of financial distress makes all the difference, The Leadership Quarterly, 30 (5), 101307. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2019.101307

Christianson, E. W. (2020). Critical followership: Faculty and leader relations impact on leadership turnover at a California community college (Doctoral dissertation, University of San Francisco). Retrieved from https://repository.usfca.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1546&context=diss

Guse, S. (2021). The development of change leadership skills in aspiring community college leaders. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Southern California). 28714212. Retrieved from


Phillippe, K. (2016, April). AACC CEO survey: Compensation. Washington, DC: American Association of Community Colleges. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED569338

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