Exemplary rural community college presidents: A case study of how well their professional qualities mirror job advertisements



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Major differences exist between rural community colleges (CCs) and their urban and suburban counterparts, especially in the areas of mission, location, culture, and constituencies (Valadez & Killacky, 1995; Eller, Martinez, Pace, Pavel, & Barnett, 1999; Rosenfeld, 2001). The educational, economic, and sociological challenges endemic to rural America may require a CC president to possess professional qualities not needed in a city-based venue. Although research has suggested this fact, presidential job advertisements continue to treat rural, urban, and suburban CCs as a homogenous group—thus perpetuating the notion that a universal set of professional qualities exists. This can lead to an advertisement focused on personal attributes rather than organizational needs and challenges and prevent a “good fit” between a president and an institution (Bumpas, 1998).

This study examined how well the professional qualities of exemplary rural CC presidents mirror job advertisements. Archival records and telephone interviews supported the collective case study methodology. Ninety-five job advertisements published over a five-year period in The Chronicle of Higher Education provided data for a baseline template. This document offered a marketplace perspective of the professional qualities typically sought in rural CC presidents. Fifteen rural CC presidents participated in one-on-one interviews. They critiqued how well the template depicted the qualities for their position. They also suggested changes for future advertisements—to improve the potential for a good fit between a president and a rural institution.

Despite acknowledging the existence of a universal set of professional qualities, these senior leaders nonetheless emphasized that rural CCs are different. As such, a president must possess special traits and characteristics to successfully confront the challenges and issues posed by the geography, politics, and culture of a rural setting. These challenges and issues require a president to genuinely engage, respect, and embrace local citizens—and assimilate—into their rural way of life. Most institutions either downplay or fail to mention this "concept of rurality" in their advertisements.

The baseline template also failed to address the situational context of an institution. The 15 presidents argued that advertisements must emphasize the current status of the organization and its future goals and challenges, to help applicants understand where the institution is, where it wants to go, and what factors might serve as barriers in getting there. Rural CCs should use this situational context to identify the professional qualities listed in a presidential job advertisement.

This feedback, coupled with inputs focused on other aspects related to the professional qualities needed by a rural CC president, resulted in a new format for future job advertisements. This format utilizes the concept of rurality and the situational context of the organization to identify specific professional qualities that will maximize the potential for a good fit between a president and the institutional mission, location, culture, and constituencies.