The Courage to Be The Best

"I publicly set a goal for Muskegon to become the best community college in Michigan" -Dale Nesbary, Ph.D.

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The Courage to Be the Best

By Dale Nesbary, Ph.D., Former President, Muskegon Community College (2009-2022)
CampusWorks Executive Advisory Board Member

As we navigate the post-Covid-19 landscape, with its diminishing federal support and looming political and economic challenges, courageous leadership in higher education has never been more critical. Leadership expert Jim Collins famously posited that enduringly great organizations must be “built to last.” This philosophy has been at the core of my journey since I assumed the presidency at Muskegon Community College in 2009.

This is the essence of courageous leadership—navigating through uncertainty with a steadfast commitment to our core values and a clear vision for the future.

Dale K. Nesbary, Ph.D.

Dale K. Nesbary, Ph.D. served as President of Muskegon Community College from 2009-2022 during which time the college was named best community college in Michigan in 2017 and 2021 by BestColleges.com and Intellegent.com respectively, employing standard success metrics. The College featured perennially nationally ranked RN and LPN nursing programs, and two performance groups (West Michigan Concert Winds and the MCC Collegiate Singers) having performed in the Isaac Stern Auditorium of New York’s famed Carnegie Hall.

Prior to MCC, he served as Vice President and Dean for Academic Affairs and Full Professor of Political Science at Adrian College and as Associate Professor and Director of the Master of Public Administration Program at Oakland University. He also served as Research Director and Technical Services Director with the Boston Police Department as well as in leadership positions with City of Boston central administration. He also held analytic positions with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, Colorado, and the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency. During his professional career, he personally led multiple strategic planning processes, technology process redesign initiatives, and governance transitions.

He has presented on hundreds of occasions to academic, leadership, governance, legislative, and executive branch institutions and published three books and over 30 academic/refereed papers primarily in the areas of finance, technology, and policing. He earned a Ph.D. in Law, Policy and Society from Northeastern University, a Master of Public Administration degree from Western Michigan University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Michigan State University.

In addition to the CampusWorks Executive Advisory Board, he continues to chair the Trinity Health System Michigan Board and previously served on the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) National Board, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) Workforce Development Commission, and the American Council of Education (ACE) Fellows Executive Board among others. He remains a silver life member of the NAACP.

He resides in Newburg, MD with his beautiful wife of 43 years, Connie and is the proud father of two adult children, Nicole, and Matthew. His interests include baking bread, crafting jams, and gigging with any group needing a trombonist.

Upon my arrival, I publicly set a goal for Muskegon to become the best community college in Michigan. It was a bold statement, undoubtedly ambitious, but it resonated with the collective spirit and capability of our campus community. We believed it was achievable, and this belief fueled our actions. We didn’t wait passively in the appropriations line; instead, we took proactive steps to forge vital relationships with Michigan’s governor, granting agencies, and donors. This strategic outreach was designed to secure the financial and programmatic resources our students desperately needed to succeed.

Our approach involved not just seeking opportunities but creating them. For example, presenting a $5 million grant proposal to the state’s economic development corporation required meticulous preparation and an acute awareness of the high stakes. In academia, missing out on such significant funding can severely impede an institution’s progress. Success in these high-stake endeavors necessitated humility and collaboration, traits that are sometimes overshadowed by more aggressive tactics but are no less crucial. 

This concerted effort culminated in the development of a strategic plan that included our board members, students, employees, and the broader community. Together, we crafted a blueprint for advancing our institution, which led to unprecedented fundraising achievements and significant strides in student success. For the first time in its history, Muskegon was recognized by bestcolleges.com in 2017 and intelligent.com in 2021 as the best community college in Michigan and among the top 30 nationwide. Additionally, in 2015, we earned the distinction of being named an Achieving the Dream (AtD) Leader College—a recognition the College proudly maintains. These accolades were not just marks of honor; they were affirmations that our institution was indeed built to last. 

The journey of Muskegon Community College serves as a testament to the power of setting clear, ambitious goals and the relentless pursuit of those goals through strategic planning and inclusive collaboration. Whether in academia or any other field, the principles of diligence, strategic foresight, and collaborative effort remain consistent across all successful endeavors. 

As we look to the future, it is crucial that we continue to lead our institutions with resilience, innovation, and a commitment to inclusive excellence. We must ensure that our colleges and universities do not merely survive but thrive, transforming challenges into opportunities for growth and success. This is the essence of courageous leadership—navigating through uncertainty with a steadfast commitment to our core values and a clear vision for the future. Let us strive to be leaders who not only anticipate changes but who forge paths through them, inspiring our communities to rise and advance together.

Learn more about Dale and CampusWorksExecutive Advisory Board »