Book by Matthew Reed
Review by Neete Saha, PhD
Higher Education Administration
Kent State University

Confessions of a Community College Administrator is worth reading for either a current or future college administrator—not for an academic advisor. However, advisors interested in becoming senior level administrators and who want to learn how community colleges operate will benefit from this book.  Matthew Reed addresses community college’s contributions to American society, the past and the future of community college, overall operations, and where it stands today. By working as a dean and a faculty member for many years at a for-profit institution and a community college, Reed was not only able to speak to the challenges of being an upper-level administrator, but also was able to provide practical solutions to effectively address some of those challenges. He advocates for the need to reform the community college system. Reed warns and reaches out to future community college administrators to be aware of the realities and challenges and offers sensible suggestions for a positive change. He points out the various difficulties administrators run into in community colleges, such as, “complicated organizations with conflicting missions, considerable internal politics, and chronic funding constraints” as well as dealing with faculty members (p. 14). However, it is unclear in what ways these problems are only specific to Community Colleges since many four-year institutions face similar problems.  

Reed’s take on funding and community college administration would be particularly helpful for novice administrators and graduate students interested in academia but not mid-level or upper-level administrators. These chapters provide elementary information on operating and capital budget, various funding sources (i.e. state and local funds, tuition and fees, contracts, grants, financial aid, foundations, reserve and endowments), and responsibilities of different administrators based on hierarchy. Moreover, Reed’s suggestions on how to work with faculty members could be useful for some inexperienced administrators, but for most it may not provide any new perspective. Nevertheless, faculty members are an instrumental part of an institutional culture and learning to work with them will serve administrators well in the long run. Clearly, every case will be different but Reed’s overall suggestions seemed practical to me such as: “assume the best; know when to listen, when to share, and when to keep a secret; know the difference between power and control—and which matters; practice humility; stick to roles and rules; keep a tight hand on the reins—dealing with victim bullies; be straight with exiles; and don’t try to mix oil and water” (pp. 86-94). He also raises some important questions and proposes solutions for topics including turnover, meetings, helicopter parents, academic freedom, credit transfers, curricula, and student retention.

Whether it’s due to access, affordability, or vocational programs, community colleges play an important role in the American Higher Education system. For this reason, Reed’s recommendations to restore community colleges are worth considering for legislators and policy makers. He suggests that community colleges can move from credit hour to learning based measures, streamline developmental education with faculty support, recruit more male students to address low enrollment numbers, “charge differential fees, leverage and expand partnerships, locate alternate funding, and resume philanthropy” in addition to exploring effective strategies implemented by for-profit institutions (pp. 135-149). In conclusion, while reading this text may not help advisors to advise college students, it will certainly inform them about the intricacies of being college administrators.

Confessions of a Community College Administrator. (2013). Book by Matthew Reed. Review by Neete Saha. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 176 pp., $36.00, (paperback), ISBN # 978-1-1180-0473-9
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