Date of Award

Fall 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Leadership

Committee Director

Dana Burnett

Committee Member

Shana Pribesh

Committee Member

Mitchell Williams


Combined with other economic development challenges in the region, this context presents unique challenges for community college leaders in this part of Appalachia. The American Association of Community College Six Competencies for Community College Leaders are considered within this context to explore how those leading community colleges in the region feel about the competencies, what is unique to leading in Appalachia, and their most useful professional development experiences. Those competencies are: organizational strategy, resource management, communication, collaboration, community college advocacy, and professionalism.

The Appalachian Regional Commission subdivides Appalachia into several regions which share similar topographical, demographic, and economic characteristics. South Central Appalachia, includes the mountainous Appalachian regions of Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. To explore this topic, data were collected via interviews with 18 presidents and vice-presidents in the South Central Appalachian Region were interviewed and a document analysis of publicly available documents was conducted. The study utilized a qualitative approach and phenomenological research design. 10 presidents and 8 vice-presidents were interviewed.

The following major themes were identified: (1) Leaders in South Central Appalachia see value in all of the leadership competencies, but especially value collaboration, communication, and resource management; (2)Leaders in South Central Appalachia feel that the ability to adapt to regional and organizational culture is an imperative skill which is not addressed by the AACC competencies and there are special concerns for adapting to the culture at rural colleges in South Central Appalachia; (3) Leaders in South Central Appalachia cite on-the-job training and formal academic experiences as most valuable for their professional development, but those who have had entrepreneurial experiences feel strongly that those experiences better prepared them than other experiences could; and (4) many leaders who are not native to Appalachia commented that even after many years they are still viewed as outsiders or “being from off”.

This study has implications for leaders currently serving or aspiring to leadership roles in Appalachia, hiring managers, search committees, boards of trustees or others responsible for finding institutional leaders, leadership development programs, and scholars with an interest in rural community colleges, community colleges of Appalachia, and leadership development in community colleges.