Responding to an Educational Imperative: The Community College Presidents’ Initiative

George R. Boggs, Charlene M. Dukes, Elizabeth Hawthorne, Clayton A. Railey, and Vera Zdravkovich
Leadership Abstracts

Community colleges play an essential role in preparing the U.S. workforce. Historically, they have responded to the needs of local economies, working closely with industry, government, and other education sectors (Boggs, 2010). Despite the successful track record of community colleges, the nation is faced with a significant challenge: By 2022, skilled technical job openings in the U.S. are projected to exceed the skilled technical labor force by 1.3 percentage points, or about 3.4 million (National Science Board, 2019).

The Challenge

The National Science Board (2019) estimates that there are currently more than 16 million skilled technical jobs requiring an associate degree or similar level qualification, and the number of jobs requiring substantial science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) expertise has grown nearly 34 percent over the past decade. Community colleges have an opportunity—and indeed the responsibility—to strengthen their curricula and faculty to positively impact the growth and diversity of the STEM technician workforce.

It has never been more important than today to prepare a diverse STEM-capable U.S. workforce that leverages the talents of all segments of our population. According to a Pew Research Center study (Funk & Parker, 2018), African Americans make up 11 percent of the workforce, but only 7 percent of all STEM workers; Hispanics are 17 percent of the workforce, but only 7 percent of all STEM workers; and 69 percent of all STEM workers are White. Community colleges can play a large role in equalizing the playing field and changing the future of the STEM fields.

Community colleges serve the most diverse student body in higher education, with students of color making up 51 percent of those taking college credit classes (American Association of Community Colleges, 2022). These institutions are fertile ground for effective diversification of the STEM workforce, and they have a partner ready to provide support. The National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technology Education (ATE) program has a track record of supporting community colleges to meet the nation’s STEM workforce needs, providing $1.11 billion in support over 25 years (National Science Foundation, 2019). While community colleges’ attention to STEM education has increased over the years, their effective use of available government support is still inadequate to address the workforce shortage. As of February 2022, the ATE program had 390 grant awards supporting 206 distinct community colleges (National Science Foundation, n.d.). Only 22 percent of eligible public community colleges are taking advantage of NSF ATE funding opportunities.


The Community College Presidents’ Initiative in STEM education (CCPI-STEM) intends to galvanize and support community college leaders (i.e., presidents, trustees, vice presidents, deans, and lead faculty) to prepare ATE proposals and to implement and sustain ATE projects. CCPI-STEM will build on the strength and successes of other ATE programs, such as Mentor-Connect, MentorLinks, Mentor Up, Fortifying Community College Education-ATE, and Pathways to Innovation, that educate faculty about ATE funding opportunities and provide ongoing support in proposal development. Collaboration with Project Vision, a project designed to broaden the diversity of institutions supported by ATE, will benefit both projects by sharing lessons and expertise. CCPI-STEM is also collaborating with the premiere national associations that support and advocate for community colleges: American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), and League for Innovation in the Community College (League).

Regional Networks

CCPI-STEM will provide information to community colleges through Regional Networks (RNs) comprised of presidents and senior administrators from the community colleges in six to eight geographic regions. The initial four are the Western Region, chaired by Dr. Frank Chong, President of Santa Rosa Community College in California; the Midwest Region, chaired by Dr. Dan Phelan, President of Jackson College in Michigan; the Mid-Atlantic Region, chaired by Dr. Anne Kress, President of Northern Virginia Community College; and the Southeast Region, chaired by Dr. Ed Massey, President Emeritus of Indian River State College in Florida. Additional regions will be developed as the project progresses. RN partners will include representatives of local and regional business and industry and members of the professional associations.

Resources, Publications, and Dissemination

An important outcome of CCPI-STEM will be the creation of digital and print resources such as a funding guide, infrastructure guide, and economic impact guide as well as models that work and exemplars. A CCPI-STEM economic resource guide will showcase successful community college business and industry partnerships and will provide recommendations to strengthen these programs. It will serve as a resource and provide examples of model partnership programs. These publications will be broadly disseminated through various events and conferences and available on the project website, spreading the benefit and potential impact. Once created, these resources will be regularly updated to maintain currency and relevance.

CCPI-STEM plans to develop a schedule of webinars and meetings to encourage topic-specific dialogue in the RNs. Building a cohesive community in different regions, while challenging and requiring consistent communication, stimulation, and resources, is well worth the effort to introduce community college leadership to the power of grant development and acquisition in sustainable innovative and transformative efforts to build the STEM pipeline.

Effective regional and local academe-business partnership programs will be promoted and shared through webinars and meetings. Regions will be encouraged to include business and industry representatives as partners in their network. Business and industry representatives will be encouraged to copresent and coauthor publications that advance STEM education programs.

Project Website

The CCPI-STEM website provides important current information about the project, includes a calendar of events and meetings, shows the regional networks, and lists current ATE awards by region. Interested individuals can follow the progress of the initiative on the website.

Economic Impact of ATE Programs

ATE programs at community colleges have a significant positive impact on the communities served by the colleges. CCPI-STEM intends to contract with an external organization to quantify the ATE economic impact of selected RN affiliate colleges. The selection of the institutions, programs, impact measures, and other characteristics of this study will be determined as the project progresses.

Annual Summit

An Annual CCPI-STEM Summit will provide opportunities for showcasing academe-business programs in different regions and potentially strengthening these relationships. Examples of collaborations that enable the participation of small and rural colleges will be included. Representatives of business and industry will participate in the Annual Summit to strengthen the synergistic relationships.

Module Development

CCPI-STEM will develop curricular modules focused on STEM education and funding opportunities intended to be used in community college leadership doctoral programs and leadership institutes. These materials, planned to address the role of community college leadership in ATE proposal development and in the implementation and evaluation of funded programs, will:

  • Provide examples of successful colleges and how they have been able to leverage grant funds to expand and improve their STEM curricula;
  • Improve student enrollment and completion in STEM disciplines;
  • Address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion; and
  • Strengthen partnerships with local STEM businesses, public schools, and transfer universities.

The modules will also provide links to valuable resources. The materials will be written with the understanding that many community college leaders may not have STEM backgrounds. The process for curricular materials development will include a Curriculum Development Team (CDT) that will give direction and work closely with the curriculum materials developer. The three community college presidents on the CCPI-STEM National Advisory Board (see below) have agreed to be on the CDT. CCPI-STEM leadership will work closely with universities that offer leadership in community college programs as well as with faculty that teach or direct these programs who are willing to pilot test these materials in their courses and write an in-depth review. A Curriculum Review Team (CRT) made up of representatives from community college leadership programs has been identified, and members have enthusiastically agreed to be the reviewers of the newly developed modules. The instructional materials will be revised based on CRT recommendations.

CCPI-STEM Scholars

CCPI-STEM also intends to establish the CCPI-STEM Scholars program. Graduate students who are selected will be supported in their research that is related to STEM and workforce education in community colleges. The CCPI-STEM Scholars will be expected to present at different events, publish their research findings, share with the broader community, and pursue teaching or serving in a leadership capacity at a community college.

National Advisory Board

CCPI-STEM has a strong National Advisory Board (NAB) that includes three Presidents of community colleges known for their experience with ATE projects: Dr. Sylvia Jenkins, Moraine Valley Community College; Dr. Annette Parker, South Central College; and Dr. David Harrison, Columbus State Community College. The NAB also includes the Presidents and CEOs of national organizations, Jee Hang Lee, ACCT, and Dr. Rufus Glasper, League for Innovation in the Community College, and will include business and industry representatives.

Project Leadership and Evaluation

Co-Principal Investigators of CCPI-STEM are Clayton Railey, Executive Vice President and Provost of Prince George’s Community College; Charlene Dukes, President Emerita of Prince George’s Community College; George Boggs, President Emeritus of Palomar College and President and CEO Emeritus of the American Association of Community Colleges; Vera Zdravkovich, Academic Vice President Emerita of Prince George’s Community College; and Elizabeth Hawthorne, Distinguished Association for Computing Machinery Scholar. Elizabeth Teles, former NSF ATE program Co-Lead, is the Senior Advisor. The project evaluation will be led by Blake Urbach, Principal Consultant of Preferred Program Evaluations.

Additional Information

Interested individuals are encouraged to follow the development of the initiative on the CCPI-STEM website. Questions or suggestions can be addressed to the Principal Investigators, members of the National Advisory Board, or RN Chairs through the website.


American Association of Community Colleges. (2022). Fast facts.

Boggs, G. (2010). Democracy’s colleges: The evolution of the community college in America. Prepared for the White House Summit on Community Colleges.

Funk, C. & Parker, K. (2018). Diversity in the STEM workforce varies widely across jobs. Pew Research Center.

National Science Board. (2019). The skilled technical workforce: Crafting America’s science and engineering enterprise.

National Science Foundation. (2019). Advanced Technological Education impacts: Twenty-five years of advancing technician education.

National Science Foundation. (n.d.). Awards advanced search.  

Lead image: Columbus State students in the Future Scientists of Ohio cohort meet weekly to collaborate and study together in the college’s dedicated STEM study room. (Image courtesy of Columbus State Community College)

George R. Boggs is Superintendent and President Emeritus, Palomar College; President and CEO Emeritus, American Association of Community Colleges; and Chair, Phi Theta Kappa Board of Directors. Charlene M. Dukes is President Emerita, Elizabeth Hawthorne is Distinguished Association for Computing Machinery Scholar. Clayton Railey is Executive Vice President and Provost, and Vera Zdravkovich is Academic Vice President Emerita, Prince George’s Community College.

Opinions expressed in Leadership Abstracts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.