Big Man on Community College Campus

Saturday, November 14, 2009
TIME recently crowned 10 college presidents (nearly all men) the "best" in the nation. The article spurred the usual pushback against "top 10" lists and raised questions about the criteria used, but a notable aspect of the list hasn't drawn much attention: one of those presidents is Eduardo Padron, a community college president.

This was a smart, strategic pick on TIME's part. 2009 is the year of the community college, and while Miami Dade is exceptional in many ways (including that it's officially Miami Dade College, since it awards BAs) inclusion of a president from that sector was wise. The signals abound: the status of the public 2-year college is rising, at least in the press. And what a relief.

The role of the "snob factor" in resource allocations and overall treatment of community colleges has gone without mention for far too long. How many of us will openly praise the work of open-access institutions, while at home privately acknowledging there's no way our kids are going to these places? By casting them as institutions of last resort, schools to attend only by default, and excluding their leaders from any awards that aren't strictly focused on "do-gooders", we keep them down. It's got to stop.

So it's a pleasure to see the ambitious, audacious, strategic and smart Eduardo Padron given the credit he deserves. While the profile focuses mainly on his college's open access mission, Padron balances a commitment to that value with a continual attempt to put Miami Dade's work in the spotlight, making it central not only to education in Miami and in Florida, but to the nation. I've had the opportunity to meet him a few times this year, but on a least one occasion the chance to speak was scuttled when President Barack Obama summoned him to the White House for a meeting. Better than TIME magazine recognition for sure-- the nation's president is bringing him in for consultation and discussion. A real step in the right direction.

Next year, I hope we'll see several more community college presidents added to this list. Of course, identifying the best will require TIME to look beyond colleges possessing the most power and resources, and instead work to find those helping students excel without the benefit of all that glitters.