At the beginning of the new millennium, concerns were raised that a leadership crisis was soon to develop due to a high percentage of community college presidents and chief academic officers (CAOs) approaching retirement within the decade. With concerns that there would not be a sufficient number of leaders ready to assume these roles, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) developed a list of six competencies essential to community college leadership (AACC, 2005). The purpose of this study was to examine the pathways, competencies, and preparation of community college presidents and CAOs. Leaders in those positions at two-year colleges in eight southeastern states were surveyed in August-September 2017. Demographic data was collected to determine common career pathways and it was found that an overwhelming majority of current respondents earned doctorate degrees and that many of them had focused their advanced degrees in the areas of education and/or leadership. Approximately 84% of the leaders who responded expected to retire within 10 years of the study. Also, at least 50% of the presidents who responded followed an academic pathway to the presidency. Respondents were asked to rate the extent to which they agreed that the AACC competencies were essential to their leadership roles and the extent to which they agreed that they had been prepared for each competency prior to assuming their current roles. The results indicated high levels of agreement that all six competencies were essential; however, tests did reveal statistically significant differences between the levels of agreement, namely that one competency -- community college advocacy – had a lower level of agreement than the other five competencies. Respondents also indicated that they had been adequately prepared for each competency prior to assuming their current roles, with on-the-job experiences being the most common method of preparation for the competencies. A correlation analysis revealed that there was a positive relationship between the extent to which leaders agreed that the competencies were essential and the extent to which they agreed that they were prepared for the competencies. There were also no statistical differences between presidents and CAOs on the preparation ratings for each competency and there was only a difference in the essential ratings for the competency of collaboration. Recommendations for future practice based on the leadership frameworks of Bolman and Deal (2013) and Nevarez, Wood, and Penrose (2013) are provided, along with recommendations for higher educational leadership doctoral programs and future research regarding pathways, competencies, and preparation.


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Graduation Date





King, Kathy (Kathleen)


Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


College of Education and Human Performance


Child, Family, and Community Sciences

Degree Program

Educational Leadership; Higher Education









Release Date


Length of Campus-only Access

3 years

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)