How Roy Church transformed LCCC for generations to come

It was music to his ears when Roy A. Church, Ed.D., heard that a community college in Ohio wanted a president — particularly one who could help make the institution more dynamic and more embedded in the fiber of the community.

“That was what I thought community colleges were supposed to be,” says Church, who recently retired as Lorain County Community College president after nearly 30 years leading the institution. The college’s former provost/vice president for academic and learner services, Marcia J. Ballinger, Ph.D., took over as president on July 1.

The board of trustees laid out the challenge before him: The college is among the best-kept secrets in this county. The people don’t really realize what’s here and what can be accomplished. It has somewhat of a — not a negative image — but a questionable image because it’s a two-year institution in a state with a four-year history and heritage, and people need to learn what community colleges are and what they can do.

Realizing that this was about positioning, Church also saw it as an opportunity to put into use the leadership skills he used in his former position at St. Petersburg Community College in Florida.

“I had worked very closely with the community and the business community in community development, and I knew how these colleges could function. So I was happy to jump into it and start making progress.”

When Church arrived in 1987, the college lacked a strategic plan. He knew this was a critical part of establishing a vision so it was one of his first priorities. As a result of his strategic leadership, enrollment climbed, including a 46 percent increase from 2002 to 2011.

In addition, the LCCC Foundation, a local director support organization, is now at $50 million, makes LCCC the fourth largest community college in the country in terms of funding, Church’s jobs was to get to get buy-in on three functions of leadership: setting the goals, changing the goals and resolving any conflicts within to achieve the goals.

Here is a look at how Church sees these three functions as the recipe to successful leadership.

Finishing the transformation

LCCC came about following an effort in the 1960s when the Ohio legislature gave counties the authority to create community college districts. The movement for two-year colleges for adult students grew after World War II.

“We had sent a whole generation of GIs away to war,” Church says. “Many came from farms across America, and when they returned, they returned to industrial America, so they needed a different set of skills. The educational programs would provide that set of skills.”

President Harry S. Truman put a commission together that created this concept.

“It was an American innovation that said every geographical area with a significant population should have an institution where everybody could get access to at least the first two years of a baccalaureate degree,” Church says.

LCCC and Cuyahoga Community College were the first two community colleges created in Ohio, and when LCCC in 1966 moved to its current location on North Abbe Road in Elyria, it made LCCC the first community college in Ohio to have a permanent campus.

When Church first came to LCCC in March 1987, part of the challenge was to help the community understand what it had in LCCC.

“By the time I came, Lorain County had the highest percentage of adults with associate degrees of any county of northern Ohio,” Church says. “The educators had done their job, and they had succeeded. But at the bachelor degree level, we were dead last — dead last by a lot because of the local manufacturing heritage; all those jobs were disappearing.”

In the 1980-83 recession alone, 80 companies went out of business in Lorain County, Church says. Unemployment rates were 25 percent.

“So part of my goal was to educate the community about what it had created, and to use it. Once you’ve created it, how do you use it to finish the transformation?  As a results of the 1980-83 recession, by 1984, the community was just reeling.”

Church asked himself how he could help the community resurrect itself from the major economic catastrophe of the 1980-83 recession. With that question, he defined the external leadership challenge. Internally, the challenge was to take a basically sound institution and breathe life into it to become the dynamic, responsive institution that community colleges were intended to be.

The first clue he found to explain the situation was that there was no strategic plan.

“I didn’t see any strategic plan; no blueprint. The college operated on an annual planning cycle, and did not have a strategic vision. So I created a long-range strategic vision for the institution,” he says.

By tapping into the community to understand its needs and desires, Church’s team built a plan, called Vision 2000, and it became a key ingredient to revitalizing the college.

Changing the goals

The college’s strategic plan, Vision 2000, embraced engagement, collaboration and partnership as values for how the college would fulfill its mission: educational, economic, community and cultural development. Using a stakeholder-based approach to setting direction and priorities, this process would be applied and expanded as future plans for the institution were developed.

Part of the Vision 2000 plan was to recognize the macro trends that were happening in the region, Church says. It was clear that the manufacturing industry was changing; jobs were vanishing or moving overseas. A new industry was growing — technology. The digital revolution was beginning. That meant amending some of the traditional educational methods for the new kid on the block — IT.

Along with the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce, the college created the Digital Economy Taskforce.

“The idea was we would convene a group of interested people to think about this digital revolution — all this disruptive technology — and what could we do to enable Lorain County to be a player in that digital economy,” Church says.

“We started out with a dozen people meeting on Friday mornings once a month and within six months, we had 70 or 80 people from all walks of life coming to that voluntarily — no real structure other than the chamber president and myself managing the conversation.”

One key thing that the taskforce’s assessment concluded was that there was no infrastructure in place to nurture the growth of entrepreneurs and new businesses, he says.

“If you lose all these manufacturing jobs because big companies go away or go elsewhere, how are you going to replace those jobs? Well, you’re going to have to begin again by attracting entrepreneurial startups.”

As this goal emerged, it became clear that startup cash was needed for the would-be businesses. In 2001, the Great Lakes Innovation Development Enterprise (GLIDE) was created in partnership with the Lorain County commissioners and the chamber of commerce.

“The county commissioners staked us to $500,000 a year for five years so we’d have startup cash; the college provided the venue and the management; and the chamber provided the connection to the private sector. GLIDE was to be the coaching, teaching and mentoring unit that would help startups,” Church says.

Since its founding, GLIDE has worked with 3,500 startups, Church says, and about 220 have developed what is called an incubation relationship for in-depth coaching, teaching and mentoring. Of those, 150 have succeeded, and 50 of them have grown up in facilities at the college.

Business incubator space of 4,500 square feet was made available inside the Patsie C. Campana Sr. Engineering and Development Center. When it was filled, the Desich Business and Entrepreneurship Building was built, with 20,000 square feet of space dedicated to incubation.

“If you think about economic development, one of the metrics that’s generally accepted is if you can get 1 in 5 startups to last five years or more, that’s a good track record,” Church says. “We have more than a 90 percent success rate.

“People give us credit for being visionary leaders, but we were just following the needs and the opportunities and seeing where we could connect the dots.”

Resolving conflicts within

The Vision 2000 process wasn’t a bed of roses at first. The faculty and staff were suspicious of the plan.
“The attitude was, ‘Who’s this young punk coming in from Florida, trying to stir everything up and create all this change? Where is it going?’” Church says. “’We’re the experts. Why is this community being brought into this to help us plan? We know what needs to be done.’”

Church was unruffled, and the board of trustees warned him that it might be a tough job. He was previously vice president and chief academic officer at St. Petersburg College, a junior college founded in 1927. The college has evolved from being an all-white, private institution using classrooms loaned from a high school to a 12-campus state postsecondary institution dedicated to equal opportunity concepts.

He had worked closely with the business community and the general community in community development and knew how the two-year colleges could function.

“What I learned there was what I consider the processes — the processes of becoming ingrained strategically in the community,” he says.

His first step was to learn everything he could about where the community is, listening to its leaders and understanding where they’re going.

“Then you try to piece together what you have as resources and opportunities, and then how do you create the bridge between where you are and the opportunities you have. I had experience in helping a community grow using its college, and so I said, ‘That could work here.’ We kept adding piece after piece and going where the opportunities would allow us to go, as long as they were all in the context of the strategic direction we needed to go.”

The challenge ahead

As educators scan the environment and look for major trends, one of the things that has become clear in the last two decades — particularly with the digital revolution — is that innovation has become much more accessible to the common person.

“When you put a desktop computer on everybody’s desk and launched the internet, you gave tools to people who before that period were locked out of innovation,” Church says. “But the question is, ‘How do you put the structures and programs in place to encourage people to capitalize on those tools?’”

There are approaches to innovation that colleges can pursue that have the good prospect of producing results, and then you try to implement them in a variety of different ways, Church says.

The challenge that colleges face is to marry educational programs with ways to help companies develop jobs.
LCCC hopes to see more programs like its suite of not-for-college-credit entrepreneurship education and training experiences — seminars, short courses and boot camps for those in the community who had an idea to create a company.

“We’d provide a structure that would help them translate that into an enterprise or an invention,” Church says. “Then we took that and translated it into college credit. So now, if you wanted to become an entrepreneur, you essentially could take a business or an engineering degree program that could teach you how to create things and eventually make that into an enterprise that you could develop.

“We then got that on the associate degree level and found a university partner to provide the baccalaureate degree. That gave us an educational continuum in place to provide the underlying education for people.”

One of the things espoused at LCCC is that leadership is everyone’s business, Church says.

“You can be a leader if you’re a member of the support staff, the faculty or part of IT — you can be a leader in your own sector, and that can all contribute toward the whole. We do a lot to try to encourage folks to try things, because, you as an individual, or as a management team — you can’t do it all.”

Roy and Bobbi Church Visionary Leadership Institute honors vision of LCCC president

The Lorain County Community College Foundation has established a leadership institute to honor retired LCCC President Roy Church, Ed.D., who led the college for nearly 30 years. The Roy and Bobbi Church Visionary Leadership Institute has raised $3 million as an endowment in Church’s name.

The institute is intended to sustain Church’s leadership and innovative spirit within the college and community by attracting renowned leaders for keynote addresses.

For example, the institute’s first speaker was Michael Porter, Ph.D., a Harvard Business School professor widely recognized around the world for his expertise on competitive strategy; the competitiveness and economic development of nations, states and regions; and the application of competitive principles and strategic approaches to social needs.

Porter was the keynote speaker at the Legacy of Leadership Gala in April on the LCCC campus, which honored Church for his nearly 30 years of service at LCCC and kicked off the Institute’s speaker series. Nearly 700 people attended the event.

Speakers will deliver valuable insights to students, faculty, staff, employers and the greater community that will inspire and strengthen a culture of innovation.

The institute will surround the speaker series with programs and workshops, providing a strategic, deliberate process for leadership development, strategic thinking and innovation.

How to reach: The Roy and Bobbi Church Visionary Leadership Institute,

The Church File

NAME: Roy A. Church, Ed.D.
TITLE: President Emeritus (“It’s a way to keep me connected.”)
ORGANIZATION: Lorain County Community College

Born: Near Syracuse, New York

Education: Undergraduate degree from the State University of New York at Cortland; master’s degree from Florida Atlantic University; doctoral degree from Florida Atlantic University

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? We had a 260-acre dairy farm, so my first job was milking Holstein cows. One of the things that you learn on a dairy farm is how to improvise. You can’t just go to the hardware store down the street for a replacement part. You learn how to innovate just to survive on a dairy farm. You’re also working with live animals, so you learn the biosciences inside out and psychology as well.

What is the best business advice you ever received? Be a good listener. The Lord gave us two ears and one mouth, and the intention might be to use them in that proportion. You learn by listening, by understanding from others and by being open.

Who do you admire in business? One of the people that I have long admired is economist Michael Porter, a professor at the Harvard Business School. I was absolutely delighted to be able to meet him earlier this year and spend some time with him. There also are a lot of individuals who are very motivating and very powerful.

And some of them are not the heads of Fortune 500 companies. As I’ve interacted with folks across Northeast Ohio, what I’ve observed is that you can find good leadership in every sector; you just have to look for it and then try to learn from it. Each sector has a different set of challenges, constraints and problems, but you can find good examples of leadership in them.

What is your definition of business success? You can’t define success unless you can define where you’re going — what you’re trying to accomplish. So you have to try to help groups define where they’re going. Now, the group can be an institution; it can be a company or a unit within an organization.

But once you establish the goals, then you can measure success against those goals. And part of the challenge is to identify goals that are large enough to make a difference. You have to do the small things, have the organization run efficiently and effectively and you have to be able to use your resources wisely. But you have to be strategic enough to do big things that make big differences.