Shaping the Future of International Education at Community Colleges Through Entrepreneurial Leadership Styles

View of Community College campus with students walking on and through the campus.

by Rosalind Latiner Raby, California State University Northridge
Heidi Fisher, Old Dominion University
Natalie Irby Cruz, Charleston Southern University

Community college international educational leaders, who Raby and Valeau (2021) refer to as CC-IELs, intersect two professional worlds. In the first, the CC-IEL is a leader within the community college, which requires knowledge about the community college sector and general higher education issues. In the second, the CC-IEL leads international efforts and necessitates knowledge about the field of international education. Over the past twenty years, the full-time dedicated positions for leading community college internationalization have greatly expanded and evolved parallel to the university SIO (U-SIO).

The CC-IEL position developed as a response to internal institutional change and the external professionalization of the field. While earlier generations of CC-IELs had internationalization added to their primary roles and responsibilities, today’s CC-IELs have various job titles, such as vice provost of international affairs, dean of global education, or director of global education. The current professionalization of the field mandates unique leadership positions that require specific leadership skillsets, specifically entrepreneurial leadership.

Entrepreneurialism responds to emerging or current problems with innovative actions and is an acknowledged essential skill for community college and international leadership. CC-IELs use entrepreneurial skills to identify opportunities and implement creative solutions by building something that did not previously exist (Cruz et al., 2020). Entrepreneurial strategies focus on academic capitalism to gain profit and social entrepreneurialism to build socially-focused solutions.

While the U-SIO position has been explored, research on the CC-IEL position is emerging. U-SIOS and CC-IELs face different demands, reflect different profiles, and approach entrepreneurial problem-solving in different ways (Cruz et al., 2020). For example, the AIEA (2017) survey of SIOs indicates that universities honor the skills of institutional finance, budgeting, organizational strategy, resource management, legal and risk analysis knowledge, country-specific knowledge, intercultural training, and language proficiency. At the same time, a survey of CC-IELs shows that the most important skills are deep knowledge of community college teaching, curriculum development, and understanding the community college structure (Raby & Valeau, 2019).

The authors interviewed 14 CC-IELS in Summer 2019 and Fall 2020 as part of a broader research study, which explored the experiences of CC-IELs and identified essential leadership skills that these professionals use. Purposeful sampling was used to get an inclusive sample of CC-IELs from different regions of the country and ensure diverse racial and gender representation. All 14 CC-IELs were mid- or senior-level leaders responsible for overseeing international education initiatives at their college. From this study, the following findings help to better understand CC-IELs through an entrepreneurial leadership lens.

While there are many commonalities in the entrepreneurial leadership skills of U-SIOs and CC-IELs (Cruz et al., 2021), there are a few notable differences. First, many CC-IELs use their entrepreneurial skills to create their own position. This is different from universities that have long had established SIO positions. Second, CC-IELs must design all activity within the community college mission and vision of their particular community college. These policies are grounded in the three tenets of U.S. community colleges: a) an open access mission in which no student is denied opportunities to learn; b) service to local communities; and c) focused attention on student learning. The creation of new programs is not primarily based on profit but rather grounded in decisions based on these mission-driven tenets. Another difference is the high turn-over of community college presidents (Raby & Valeau, 2021), which demands that CC-IELs apply their entrepreneurial skills to adapt and build new agendas with each new administration. In addition, faculty and curriculum committee members, fine tune entrepreneurial skills while developing strategy and implementing educational reforms.

Another example is the unique collaborations that are external to the institution and that the CC-IEL needs to strategically balance. Community colleges heavily work with consortia for education abroad conducted at the state level and at the multi-state level. This extends to how virtual study abroad is offered as well. This is seen in pathway programs for international students to obtain a 2+2 degree or a 2+2, 1 degree. In addition, university collaboration can include a community college representative traveling with a local university on recruitment trips, and sometimes having the university sponsor that participant.

CC-IELs also use entrepreneurial skills for on-campus relationship-building, fostering a culture of innovation and empowering others to take risks. The CC-IEL’s entrepreneurial style is coupled with being a transformative leader, valued by all community college Presidents (Raby & Valeau, 2021). Essential characteristics of the transformative leader include acting creatively and strategically, using passion, perseverance, and resilience. It also includes balancing risk, being innovative in defining a vision, and then embarking on steps to see that action to conclusion. CC-IELs use one set of solutions to apply to another set of problems in an effort to change institutional culture. They also have a good understanding of when to take financial and programmatic risks considering the cost-benefit of choices. The community college environment which is inherently risk tolerant, requires an entrepreneurial attitude to create constructive changes in the institution.

CC-IELs’ professional background and personal characteristics influence their role and success as an entrepreneurial leader. Many female-identifying study participants view their CC-IEL role as an opportunity to highlight women as leaders on their campus. Several immigrant or first-generation American CC-IELs use origin-country connections to build partnerships and innovative programs. Oftentimes, personal experiences of studying abroad or as an international student in the U.S. laid the foundation for a strong entrepreneurial skill set and built an acute understanding of the importance of internationalization at a community college.

The position of a CC-IELs is entrepreneurial as these leaders use their vision, their passion, and their ability to balance risk to create new initiatives at their institution. Community colleges are inherently entrepreneurial, and so is the position of CC-IEL. The CC-IEL uses intentionality to try new initiatives, create a climate of innovation, and mitigate potential problems. CC-IELs use their vision to guide innovation and capture their win-win spirit to try something different. Most importantly, CC-IELs are leaders both in the general college community and in the local community. This is particularly important as these leaders navigate the international education field during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Cossey, K., & Fischer, H. (2021). COVID-19 impact research brief: Virtual exchanges at community colleges. NAFSA.

Cruz, N., Raby, R.L., Glass, C.R., & Fischer, H. (2020). Catalyst of change: Entrepreneurial problem-solving for unscripted futures. Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA) Occasional Paper.

Jones, E., Leask, B., & Brandenburg, U. (2021). Global social responsibility and the internationalisation of higher education for society. Journal on Studies in InternationalEducation. OnLine First, July 22,2021.

Raby, R. L., & Valeau, E. J. (2021). Position training and succession planning for community college international education leaders. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 45(2), 86-102.