ABOVE PHOTO: Dr. David E. Thomas
The Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program announced the 2019-2020 class of the Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence, a leadership program aimed at preparing the next generation of community college presidents to transform institutions to achieve higher and more equitable levels of student success, both in college and in the labor market. Dr. David E. Thomas, associate vice president of strategic initiatives at Community College of Philadelphia is the only educator in Pennsylvania to be included in this distinguished group.
Thomas joined Community College of Philadelphia in 2010 as dean of the Division of Access and Community Engagement. In 2015, he assumed the additional roles of associate vice president of strategic initiatives, executive director for the Institute for Community Engagement and Civic Leadership, and manager of the College’s record label, Spring Garden Records. Under his leadership, the College founded the Institute for Community Engagement and Civic Leadership, which has taken on critical issues ranging from support of fostering youth to voter registration and citizen engagement campaigns. The College adopted Spring Garden School, promoting college as a destination for elementary school students. Additionally, the Division provided leadership in creating new dual enrollment opportunities for Philadelphia high school students. More than 1,400 high school students took classes between fall and spring semester last year. The College and the School District of Philadelphia created the only four-year middle college of its kind in the Commonwealth.
The select group of 40 Aspen Presidential Fellows will embark on a 10-month fellowship beginning in July 2019. Delivered in collaboration with the Stanford Educational Leadership Initiative, the fellows will work with mentors – current and former community college presidents – who have achieved exceptional outcomes for students throughout their careers. Fellows will also learn from national experts about ways to harness data to assess student success outcomes, strategies for internal change leadership, and how to create strong external partnerships with K-12 schools, four-year colleges, and employers.
“Evidence shows that substantial improvements in student success are achieved only when presidents have the commitment and skill needed to lead change within their institutions and through partnerships in the community,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program. “These fellows have been chosen because they embody that commitment and, we believe, will build their skills even further to become transformational presidents.”
The Aspen Presidential Fellowship responds to a specific and growing need for a new generation of leaders who are well-equipped to meet the challenges of the future. Nationally, nearly 80 percent of community college presidents plan to retire in the next decade. The pathway to replace them has traditionally excluded women and people of color. Currently, 64 percent of sitting community college presidents are male, and 71 percent are White. The incoming class of Aspen Presidential Fellows is 65 percent female and non-binary, 43 percent are people of color, and their institutions vary widely in size and location.
With the average community college enrolling approximately 14,000 students, each fellow who becomes a president has an opportunity to improve outcomes for hundreds of thousands of students over his or her career. To date, 33 Aspen Presidential Fellows are now sitting community college presidents at institutions that collectively serve more than 450,000 students nationwide.