Academic Leadership Academy prepares higher education leaders

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Academic Leadership Academy prepares higher education leaders

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.— In June, the Center for the Study of Higher Education in Penn State’s College of Education hosted the Academic Leadership Academy (ALA). The ALA provides practical administrative knowledge and skills to academic administrators from across the United States, including program directors, academic deans, vice presidents and provosts. In addition, the fifth-annual ALA hosted international leaders to help solve a problem halfway around the world in India.

“India is a large country with 1.2 billion people, 500 million of whom are under the age of 18,” said Nirmal Pal, director for India initiatives in Penn State’s Office of Global Programs.

According to Pal, roughly 22 million people turn 18 every year, but only about 17 percent of them go into some sort of higher education, one of the lowest percentages worldwide.

“So India has this vacuum,” said Pal. “They have all of these young people who need to develop skills. This is a big need for India.”

Another issue facing India, according to Pal, is that Indian higher-education institutions have a tremendous need for leadership.

“How do you take a faculty member or somebody who is teaching and suddenly have them become a dean? They are two very different jobs,” said Pal.

Bob Hendrickson

Bob Hendrickson addressing ALA participants.

Image: Kevin Sliman

Three years ago, Indian participants started coming to the ALA through the Obama-Singh Knowledge Initiative of the 21st Century. Bob Hendrickson, founder of the ALA and co-principal investigator of the Obama-Singh initiative, said, “The concepts of leadership, management, faculty development, institutional research and planning and budgeting are universal concepts applicable to global higher education when another country's context is considered in implementation and practice.”

Tobias Linden, a lead education specialist for the World Bank, and participant in the ALA for the past two years, said he thought the structure of the event and the topics being discussed would be very important to help develop leadership in Indian higher education. He added that the goals of the ALA fits in nicely with the goals of his organization.

“Higher education is a critical component of competitiveness and economic development,” said Linden. “And because the World Bank's mission is to eliminate poverty, it's a natural fit that we would be helping to improve their economic performance, bringing more people out of poverty. In order to do that, you need a robust higher-education system.”

ALA Session

A session during the 2014 ALA at the Nittany Lion Inn.

Image: Kevin Sliman

This year, the World Bank provided 16 scholarships for Indians to attend the ALA conference. They primarily came from two of the largest and poorest states in India, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, according to Linden.

“We’re basically helping them revamp their whole higher-education system,” said Linden, who added that a key aspect of revamping is establishing institutional leadership.

Hendrickson said he worked with Linden and Pal to bring teams of Indian administrators to the ALA in 2014 to assess how the ALA could improve leadership skills.

Another important and appealing feature for both Indian and American participants  is the ALA’s strong networking opportunities.

“We wanted to replicate that for this group of people in India,” said Linden. “They come to ALA as a group, and then when they're back in India, they can talk to each other and support each other. They can help each other overcome challenges.”

To help build this network, the ALA developed what Pal referred to as “India experts.” These are Indians who attended the ALA in previous years. They prepare briefing papers on all of the topics being presented so that the new attendees will understand in advance what is being presented and what the India context is.

“This is so they can keep their ears open for what applies to India,” said Pal.
Each evening the Indian participants and the India experts do a debriefing where they discuss the important aspects from that day.

“And that process has worked wonderfully so far,” said Pal. “We are hoping that we can continue this in perpetuity because India's needs are so humungous. I strongly believe that this is going to work, and India needs it. I talked to a few of the vice chancellors, and they are very positive.”

Individuals from U.S. higher education institutions also attend the ALA each year to improve their practical administrative knowledge and skills. This year, some of the schools represented at the ALA were: West Texas A&M University, Lebanon Valley College, Champlain College, Albion College, University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Future Generations Graduate School, Saint Francis University, National Intelligence University, Gwynedd Mercy University, Champlain College, The College of St. Scholastica, Kirtland Community College, Ohio Wesleyan University, Excelsior College and University of the Arts.

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