Skip to main content
Ed. Magazine

Q&A with Anne-Marie McCartan, Ed.D.'86

Anne-Marie McCartan

Unexpected Influence
Earlier this year, Anne-Marie McCartan, the former executive director of the national Council of Colleges and Arts & Sciences and a 40-year veteran of various higher education positions, published Unexpected Influence, a series of profiles of women who helped shape the early community college movement. After the book came out, she spoke to Ed. about why she tackled this topic, what she discovered doing her research, and what surprised her the most.

INITIALLY, WERE YOU SURPRISED THAT THE NAMES TYPICALLY ASSOCIATED WITH COMMUNITY COLLEGES WERE ALL MALE? Actually, I started the research because I was perplexed by the fact that few women ever seemed to be prominently featured in community college histories, magazines, on national boards, or as organizational leaders. Since three women in the field were mentors to me, I knew there were some and that there must be others.

YOU INCLUDED 16 PROFILES. WERE MOST ACADEMICS? A quarter of the women were on university faculties. These positions allowed them to research, publish, and speak and thus spread their influence in a way that an administrator in a community college might not have the time or opportunity to do.

THE WOMEN YOU CHOSE HAD TO HAVE MADE A CONTRIBUTION BY 1990. WHY THAT YEAR? From the early 1940s through the 1980s, community colleges changed in every conceivable way — their size, types of students they served, their prominence, breadth of curricular offerings, and acceptance within the larger framework of American higher education. By the late 1980s, growth in the number of colleges and student enrollments had slowed considerably. Women had broken through the glass ceiling of the presidency and were becoming visible leaders across the country.

MOST OF THESE WOMEN WERE ATTRACTED TO THE COMMUNITY COLLEGE WORLD BECAUSE THEY SAW POTENTIAL. IN WHAT WAY? I found the answer to this question when I began to search for a common thread among all these women and, lo and behold, it appeared: All these women believed in the potential for human or organizational growth and development. Because community colleges were in their infancy and their students were often first-generation, there was ample opportunity to focus their passions on the betterment of community college students, faculty, administrators, and national leaders.

TWO OF THE WOMEN PROFILED HAVE CONNECTIONS TO THE ED SCHOOL, CORRECT? K. Patricia Cross served on the Ed School faculty during the 1980s and Carolyn Desjardins spent 1985 at the Ed School on a postdoctoral fellowship.

WHAT SURPRISED YOU MOST WHILE WRITING THE BOOK? I was astounded to learn that unbeknownst to me, American Indians had founded their own reservation-based community colleges throughout the West, Midwest, and Southwest. Women played a central role in making this happen. The book features four women who, each in her own way, are credited with crucial contributions to making possible the success of Tribal Colleges. Today there are 37 [tribal] colleges enrolling 18,000 students.

WHAT IS YOUR HOPE FOR THE BOOK? My fondest hope has already been realized — that the life stories and contributions of these remarkable women would be documented. Seven of the subjects are still alive, and it was with tremendous pride that I presented each of them with a copy of the book. None sought fame and fortune, but it feels good to know that they’ve made a difference in this world.

Ed. Magazine

The magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

Related Articles