Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

First Advisor

Bill Phillips

Department Affiliation

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Second Advisor

Charles S. Hausman

Department Affiliation

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Third Advisor

Norman W. Powell

Department Affiliation

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies


The purpose of this qualitative, phenomenological study is to investigate the lived experience of females who ascended to rural community college presidencies. This study explores their perceptions of barriers and facilitators that influenced their success in capturing a rural community college presidency. Lastly, this study aims to examine their leadership approach and their intended leadership legacy. An imminent leadership crisis exists for community colleges and has created an uncertain future for these open access institutions. The number of qualified applicants to fill the presidential pipeline is declining and sitting presidents are retiring at alarming rates, threatening the sustainable of community colleges across the country. Women, ascending in leadership, are often overlooked for senior leadership roles, including presidential positions. A plethora of evidence exists to support the notion of the persistent glass ceiling in higher education and research, investigating the factors contributing to this glass ceiling, need to be explored to enable women to successfully navigate the leadership ladder. This qualitative, phenomenological study explored the lived experience of 10 women who successfully captured the presidential position in various community colleges and investigated experiences impacting their ascension. Study findings depicted a circuitous ascension pathway for these women, multiple challenges with work-life balance and career delay and diversion. Additional findings reflected the value of emphasizing authenticity in leadership, finding the good fit in a presidential position, and committing to mentoring other women. Findings did not reveal geographical binding and rurality as major issues of relevance for study participants. This research may be of value to help determine specific strategies to empower women through mentoring, networking and leadership development opportunities.