Latino Leadership Fellows Filling in the Gap to Presidential Pipelines at Community Colleges, by Sylvia Mendoza

The educational pipeline often refers to the outreach K-12 schools perform to better prepare Latino students to transition into college. Once through that pipeline, however, what awaits them on the college side is a limited number of Latinos/as in administrative positions who might better understand their needs.

The disconnect is that community colleges are in need of Latino presidents. In a 2014 report from Excelencia in Education, there were 370 colleges which were Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). Of these, almost half were community colleges. 

“We need a pipeline of leadership,” Angela Salazar, a former trustee for Rio Hondo Community College in Whittier, Calif. and former director of leadership development for women for HOPE—Hispanas Organized for Political Equality, said. Her role with HOPE informed the need she saw for representation. “In the time I was a trustee, Latinas were in the mix of being qualified, but they did not have the experience. If no one hires them, how do they get the experience? They have to learn a way to get into the pipeline.”

Dr. Ted Martinez

Dr. Ted Martinez

The Leadership Fellows Program at the University of San Diego (USD) provides that way. Developed in 2002 to address the lack of Latina/o leaders in American community colleges, the program is designed for midlevel community college administrators whose career interests focus on becoming executive leaders—presidents, deans, provosts, chancellors—in two-year institutions. It is part of the National Community College Hispanic Council (NCCHC), an organization with a mission to develop a pool of highly qualified Latino leaders and assist them in attaining high-level positions in community colleges throughout the country. 

“It’s hard to break into the ranks,” Dr. Ted Martinez, Executive Director of the NHCCC’s Leadership Fellows Program and adjunct professor at USD, said. “When we do have an opportunity to promote Latinos, we are often blocked by a white faculty or board. We have Latino leaders, but we have to get them into these positions. This program increases their chances.”

The Program

An NCCHC advisory board assesses hundreds of applications from across the nation, from a variety of administrative and faculty positions for the Fellows program. “The applicants from the student services side need to know the academics side—and academics need to know the student services side,” Martinez who is also former Superintendent and President of Rio Hondo Community College explained.

This balanced outlook gives Fellows an opportunity to better understand the needs and problems facing the business side of the puzzle as well as become educated about the student body, the campus and the politics. 

Only 20 Fellows are selected. They commit to the program, which offers professional development training for a year (from June to June). 

They meet in person at two training sessions a year—at USD and at the Leadership Symposium held in conjunction with the NCCHC’s conferences. They learn the competencies associated with specific positions. All their training is learning outcome-based, Martinez said. They work on group projects, are logged into a mentorship program with current presidents and deans and are offered networking opportunities.   

The mentorship program is vitally important, providing access to presidents as realistic sounding boards. Fellows can talk about resumes, interview dos and don’ts and how to navigate the system. 

“We encourage them to meet face to face at the symposiums,” Martinez said. “That’s what makes the difference—for them to see a Latino in a position they’ve only dreamed about. They can identify with them—current, seasoned administrators with experience.” 

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The program’s commitment to deliver a high quality leadership development experience has been successful to date. “We are proud that more than 20 of the 72 original Fellows are now or have been community college presidents, and many others have moved to positions of increased responsibility as upper-level administrators.”

The Wider Perspective of Presenters

A variety of presenters at training sessions brings a unique perspective in leadership qualities and best practices. While she was a trustee at Rio Hondo, Salazar (who is also an adjunct professor in Chicano Studies at Cal State Fullerton and the Los Angeles Community College district) learned about the gaps in Latino leadership. Her presentation to the Fellows revolved around data from her dissertation. 

What she learned was to aggregate data—to study the student body and sub-groups like women, men, returning students, Latinos, foster care kids, those with families—and ask questions. What were there needs? Were there commonalities? She found that 80% of Latino students start at a community college. 

At the same time, there was a lack of people of color in hiring pools who could address the needs of these populations. Only a small number of Latinas were in decision-making positions, like the five in trusteeships in California. What were their challenges? What strategies did they use to overcome and transform their institutions of which they were a part? How could they rise in the ranks? 

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Salazar feels it important that Fellows know the lay of the land. Armed with data, Fellows can practice leadership styles, address their student population needs, assist with new programs and learn best practices of success models. 

“That’s why the Fellows program is so critical,” Salazar said. “They are already qualified and competent, but then they become better-prepared candidates. We can accelerate Latino leaders.” 

Walking The Walk

Martinez received the NCCHC Outstanding Latino CEO Leadership Award during the 19th Annual Leadership Symposium in Scottsdale last year. He has been a vibrant example of success for Fellows—but he sees them as the future of better education models.

The goal is to double the number of fellows in the program annually from 20 to 40. More funding is needed to keep that momentum going. 

There are now 225 NCCHC Leadership Fellows alumni most of whom serve in executive leadership capacities in community college administrations across the nation. He urges alumni to get involved on their campuses. “If there’s an empty slot for volunteers on the academic senate, take it. If there’s a slot for president of the academic senate, volunteer.” 

Continued outreach will be to like-minded organizations like AAHHE—American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education -- which is also developing the leadership pipeline. Building a nationwide network that can serve as a model program for diversity and professional training is the start of an effective and powerful pipeline to fill the leadership gaps in community colleges with visionary, qualified Latinos.

“We want all these pools to be filled by Latinos,” Salazar said. “They can be part of something greater.” •

Photos Courtesy of NCCHC’s Leadership Fellows Program

For more information on NCCHC and the Leadership Fellows Program, visit