There are more than 1,100 community colleges in
the United States and numerous organizations that
work with and on behalf of our colleges. Each year
at our AACC convention, I report on the state of the
association. In that report, I provide the number of
times AACC has interacted with our member colleges
and affiliate organizations. I am always astonished
and proud of that number as we take great pride in
serving our members. Of course, all of that interaction
requires a great deal of travel and I know first-hand of
the ups and downs of life on the road. It can be tiring
and frustrating as you navigate the country with little
to no control over flight changes and weather patterns.
But, for me it is more often inspiring and powerful.
Business travel is often the first victim of less-
than-ideal budgets. Traveling can create personal
challenges for presidents who strive to find a
balance with the needs of their campus community
and the need to represent the college to the outside
world, be it legislators, business associates, potential
program partners, funders, etc. It is a critical part
of the president’s job to be in the field. For some, it
is easy to think that technology can replace travel
and be used to connect with contacts and partners.
After all, today’s technology allows us to connect
wherever and whenever, making the decision to cut
travel expenses seem easy and reasonable.
But, are those virtual connections helping you to
create the relationships that are needed to develop,
maintain and expand upon the programs and services
that help students and your community? Or is there
a greater value to meeting face-to-face? It is a question
that I am often asked by first-time college CEOs.
Technology is a great and convenient way to communicate. I often used video- and teleconferencing
during the course of business. I have even participated in events and taught classes via technology. It
certainly saved time and money and enabled participation in a way that allowed me to connect with the
audience. At the same time, it is sometimes difficult
to “read the room” as you are presenting. The organic
interaction with the audience can be compromised
when you are not actually there in person.
As with most things in life, I find that a balance is
needed in order to achieve the best outcomes possible for the college and for you personally. Recently,
I read an article that showcased a study by Oxford
Economics about the return on investment of traveling for in-person meetings for corporations. The
study shows that face-to-face meetings garnered
increased corporate revenue and profits with both
current and potential customers. The study also
notes that decreasing expenses for corporate travel
resulted in an overall profit loss in that same year as
well as stunted profits for the following three years.
It took a full three years to realize the same level of
profits prior to eliminating travel. Of course, we are
not leading corporations, but this data reminded me
that the intrinsic value of face-to-face meetings may
not be so easily replaced with technology.
There is also something very personal to be
gained from face-to-face meetings. The connections
that you make when you are with others who share
the same goals and drive to help the 12 million students who attend community colleges are strong.
Walter G. Bumphus is president and CEO of the American Association of
Connecting in person
By Walter G. Bumphus
“It is a critical part of the president’s job to be in the field.”