Collegis Education has appointed Kenneth (Ken) L. Ender, Ph.D., to its board of directors and chair of its executive committee. With a career dedicated to higher education, Ender brings decades of knowledge and experience from the community college and university sectors. He currently serves as Professor of Practice in the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research at North Carolina State University and President Emeritus of William Rainey Harper College in Illinois. Prior to that he served as New Jersey’s Cumberland County College President.
Under Ender’s leadership, Harper College increased graduation, transfer, and certificate completion rates, so we sat down with him to get his expert take on key strategies for college leaders in today’s changing landscape.
You’ve dedicated your career to public post-secondary education. What keeps you inspired?
I’m driven by the belief that universal post-secondary education is essential for all Americans if we wish to assure economic and social mobility for all. Higher education is in the midst of a great disruption or “upheaval” to borrow from the work of Levin and Van Pelt. Ultimately, it’s our job to ensure everyone has the experience of living the American Dream. Our job, through higher education, is to provide multiple pathways to that dream.
Can you describe your work at the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research?
My work there is to provide North Carolina community college presidents with strategic planning tools and support their leadership initiatives. I support two doctoral classes in the community college leadership program and co-chair several dissertation and advisory committees. Today’s leaders need a strong set of management skills, including being able to adopt and scale technology enhancements, bring innovations to their campuses and their partners, and rapidly respond to challenges and trends despite scarce funding.
What is one of the biggest shifts you think community college leaders need to make?
Our community colleges have built their reputations on access for all students. Now they must double down on providing pathways for student completion, transfer, and successful job attainment. The student bodies on their campuses are increasingly populated by first-generation, adult, and marginalized students. And these students are also becoming more the norm for private and regional colleges and universities. These are the students we need to design and tailor our programs and services for.
What’s the biggest obstacle keeping community colleges from leveraging third-party support?
Larger community colleges typically have the resources and can anticipate and plan for future challenges. If needed, they can align their resources accordingly to partner with third-party experts to help solve the challenges they face. But it’s a question of affordability.
State systems where community colleges share centralized support services and standardized service delivery are one way that smaller colleges can take advantage of outside expertise in areas of enrollment management and growth, technology management, and data enablement. It’s becoming more common for these systems to turn to service providers for technical support and managed services. Midsized and small institutions with autonomous boards have a greater degree of difficulty affording and leveraging those external resources.
We’ve seen a trend with larger community colleges turning to online programs to move beyond their local population. Do you think that will continue to grow?
Yes, but they must be of sufficient size to be able to do that. The challenge is scalability. The locus of authority to make those decisions is different for each college. If it’s at the state level, then the focus is on the system to make the decision and perhaps benefit from centralized support. If it’s at the institution level, then presidents and boards can make those decisions by determining if they can scale for a sufficient return. In some cases, this scale may only be developed through consortium arrangements with other likeminded institutions and service providers.
How are community colleges using data to optimize their enrollment and retention?
Most don’t have sufficient resources to do much more with data than compliance. Data enablement would be a tremendous boon to mid-level and small community colleges if someone can help them put their data together to tell a story — like Collegis can — so they can get buy-in to make the changes most needed. Most community colleges are not getting their data in a form that they can use. I saw this through my own experience leading a small, rural community college and then through the lens of a well-resourced, large, suburban community college.
We are excited to have Ender on the Collegis board and look forward to how his expertise will help drive Collegis and our partners even farther. Sign up for the Collegis newsletter to keep up to date on the latest developments!