An Exploratory Examination of the Factors Contributing to the Increasing Presence of Women Presidents in Maryland Community Colleges
Martin, Amy Beth
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Many women faculty build their academic careers in the community college environment but are reluctant to consider, and face barriers to pursuing, the presidency in those same environments. The percentage of women presidents in Maryland two-year colleges has been increasing since 1989 and has been above the national average of women presidents in associate's institutions since 1998. This study is about the collective presence of women presidents in the 16 Maryland community colleges using embedded units of analysis. Utilizing feminist standpoint theory and Bolman and Deal's four organizational frames, this exploratory case study examined the factors that contributed to the comparatively high numbers of women presidents at Maryland community colleges. The methods used included interviews, analysis of trend data, and analysis of archival documents. The findings from this study suggest that the comparatively high number of women community college presidents in Maryland was the result of several interrelated factors that mitigated or removed gendered barriers for women academic leaders who were pursuing community college presidencies in Maryland. Significant factors related to each of this study's conceptual frameworks contributed to the high number and increasing appointments of women community college presidents in Maryland between 1989 and 2012. First, Maryland's abundant labor market, educational attainment trends among women, pipeline of potential women applicants in Maryland community colleges (faculty, chief officers) and geography (proximity between community colleges) proved to be strong structural factors. Second, national and regional leadership development opportunities, intentional and pervasive mentoring of women community college leaders at Maryland community colleges, and non-traditional approaches to presidential searches by Maryland community college boards of trustees were strong human resource factors, particularly between 1989-2006. At the same time, strong alliances among women legislators, political activists, and higher education leaders between 1989 and 2006 proved to be significant political factors. Additionally, Maryland's perceived progressive state politics and MACCs collaborative organizational structure were strong cultural factors that attracted women community college academic leaders from outside the state and provided a collective community college culture that supported the development of women presidents and academic leaders in Maryland community colleges. Finally, women community college academic leaders' agency (personal and collective) around balancing family (gendered work norms), pursuing critical experiences in preparation for the presidency (career aspirations), and owning collaborative and constructive leadership orientations (gendered leadership norms) were strong feminist/gendered factors that contributed to this phenomenon.