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Dr. Debbie L. Sydow

PRESIDENT Sydow WEBSITE High Res Head Shot copyDr. Debbie L. Sydow is president of Richard Bland College of William & Mary, Virginia’s only public, residential two-year college. She is president emerita and distinguished professor of English at Onondaga Community College—one of the largest community colleges in the State University of New York (SUNY) system. Sydow has served as President of the New York Community College Association of Presidents, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Community College Development at Cornell University, and Chair of the American Council on Education’s Commission on Leadership and Institutional Effectiveness.

Strategic reinvestment and reinvention as a means of improving student learning outcomes has been the central focus of Sydow’s leadership, and her research. Her writings have been published in a wide range of publications, including the Community College Journal of Research and Practice, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, and the American Council on Education Leadership Briefs, and her recent book is entitled Re-visioning Community Colleges.

Sydow’s discipline is English literature, rhetoric and linguistics. She earned a B.A. from the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, M.A. from Marquette University, and Ph.D. from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She has received numerous awards and honors, including an honorary Ph.D. from Keuka College, the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) CEO of the Year Award for the Northeast Region, and the Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society’s Shirley B. Gordon Award of Distinction.

Re-visioning Community Colleges

Extreme make-overs have value beyond the confines of reality television. This book presents a “no holds barred” analysis of the shape and direction of community colleges in a landscape of dramatic and unstoppable economic, social and political change. Re-visioning explores the ways that community colleges are or could innovate and recreate structures and systems to become leaders of an industry that is in the midst of transformation.

The very characteristics that have made community colleges simultaneously the outcasts and the darlings of higher education-open-access, low cost, convenience, community focus and responsiveness to local demand-have now positioned them for innovation and reinvention. Perpetually scarce resources and the accretion over time of inefficient programs, systems and practices common to the higher education industry have coalesced to impede the ability of most colleges to advance scalable and sustainable innovation. Change, particularly change that is innovation-driven, can defy the best efforts of leaders. Re-visioning highlights the people, the organizations and the cultures that are leading innovative change.

At a moment when community colleges are at once vulnerable and enjoying unprecedented public favor and attention, Re-visioning contemplates what future success could look like and how to get there. It presents a candid snapshot of the past and the present, and then attempts to adjust the lens to bring into focus the blurry outer reaches of the future. The ideas and insights of some of today’s leading thinkers and practitioners add nuance and texture to the image that emerges.


Developing Tomorrow's Leaders: Context, Challenges and Capabilities

The contributions of community colleges to society are well-documented. Yet, today’s community colleges are at a cross road. Decreases in funding support, a push for college completion, attention on developmental course work, and a host of other demands create a dynamic context for community college operations. Who leads these colleges matters as they face these demands and how they lead influences outcomes. Pending leadership retirements provide a prime opportunity for thinking about community college leadership in new ways. Entering this environment are prospective and aspiring leaders who are often not adequately prepared for the complexities of managing in a paradoxical organization. The era of accountability puts a fine point on the need for leaders to pay heed to the policy making process and to requirements dictated by state legislative bodies and accreditation bodies.

Foundations and grant funders serve as instigators for changes in community colleges, as well and also support research into ways to link employer needs to college curricular changes. This book argues that neo-leaders are required to lead transformational change for today and tomorrow’s community colleges. No longer can we rely on single leaders atop a hierarchy. Talent throughout the institution must be tapped. The authors argue that networked leadership is needed. For networked leadership, we begin to advance thinking about the role of networks and connections among leaders throughout the college and beyond the college’s walls. This volume outlines underlying values critical for neo-leaders and offers questions leaders at various levels can use to jumpstart the type of courageous conversations needed on campus. The tools presented in this book provide current and aspiring leaders with resources to prepare for successfully leading the way and developing new leaders to shape the future. Our community colleges and their students require nothing less.

View the BookTalk Distinguished Author Series Video with President Sydow

Community Colleges As Economic Engines

Over the past 19 years, Economic Modeling Specialists International (Emsi) has responded to the demand for credible and affordable economic impact studies by completing over 2000 such studies for colleges in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. The book chronicles the lessons learned over this time period and highlights what an economic impact study is, is not, what the results mean, and why they are important. It also discusses how presidents and governing boards can leverage the impact results to address other issues they deal with on a daily basis. Few college presidents are fully aware of this opportunity, however, and thus do not fully exploit the richness of the study. A strong case is also made that the college leadership should play a much stronger leadership roles in regional economic development of their region in addition to their roles as advocates for their colleges only.

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