While this post is going to be a bit of “preaching to the choir”, I know my MSACC colleagues will understand why I’m preaching. I’ve been a president at a very large suburban community college in Arizona and am currently president at a small rural community college in Colorado. Now that I’ve experienced both, I know rural is the place to be. I would advise presidential hopefuls not to ignore rural opportunities and not to view them as just a stepping stone to a bigger college. Being a rural president is the most rewarding leadership opportunity I’ve ever experienced in my long career in higher education and I hope future presidents take a good look at rural jobs because they are the best job anywhere!
Rural colleges are connected to their communities in ways a large urban or suburban college could never be. Yes, we help our students succeed and that’s vitally important no matter your college’s size. However, rural college presidents also know our colleges are essential to the economic and social wellbeing of our communities. If our colleges didn’t exist, not only would our local students have limited access to postsecondary education, but our communities would be profoundly and negatively affected. As rural presidents we find ourselves engaging in local discussions, decisions, and actions that have far-reaching and positive impacts on not only students but on the cities, towns, and people in our regions. I believe our visible and vocal leadership and advocacy for our colleges and communities is one of the best parts of our job. When I was president at a large college, I never saw or felt that impact the way I do now.
They say it’s lonely at the top and I know every president will agree it’s true. I would even go further and say it’s even more lonely to be a rural president because no matter how much our urban and suburban colleagues try to understand the unique challenges of rural college presidents, until you’ve lived the experience you just don’t get it. That’s why I so greatly value the friendship and leadership of my fellow Mountain States Association of Community Colleges presidents. Our collective wisdom and experience in leading rural colleges provides a rich source of knowledge and support. I know I can pick up the phone or send an email and connect with a colleague who can help me think through an issue, share an idea, offer recommendations and support, or just be the shoulder I need during a challenging time. It’s a great organization and an even greater group of presidents.
Rural America is vital to our country’s future and our colleges play an essential role in supporting the success of our rural communities. We make a difference! Okay, I’m off my soap box and done preaching… for now.
Lamar Community College