In 1999, college presidents, trustees and State Board members from the Washington Community and Technical College system convened to discuss their increasing concerns about the shortage of qualified candidates for executive level positions in the Washington system. Trustees were concerned that administrators from the two-year college system did not seem to make it into finalist pools as frequently as they felt they should. Presidents were concerned that institutional pools had fewer qualified candidates from in-state than they would have liked.
The demographics of administrative turnover in the community and technical system were an additional concern. The normal annual turnover in Washington State's executive level positions is approximately 10-20% of the state's executive level positions. The demographic profile of administrators indicated that the system would increase that replacement rate significantly over the next decade, as greater numbers of administrators retired. Since Washington State's demographic profile parallels that of the national community and technical college system, the system could expect increasing national competition for good administrators. Although current applicant pools for executive positions usually contained one or more applicants from within the system, too often they were not the successful candidates.
Based on these patterns, Washington’s community and technical college leaders believed it was important for the system to assume an active role in
developing the capacity of the system's administrators to not only perform well in their jobs, but to compete successfully for higher level positions so
that the state benefited from its investment in their experience. An advisory team from the
Washington State Association of College Trustees (ACT), the
Washington Association of Community and Technical Colleges (WACTC),
the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC), and SBCTC staff guided a team
led by Dr. Kae Hutchison and Steve Wall from The ASSOCIATION in the development of the Washington Executive
Leadership Academy (WELA). Over the spring and summer of 1999, the concept for the Academy was shared at WACTC and ACT meetings and their feedback incorporated.
Work with the system's commissions began in fall 1999 and the program was publicly announced in February 2000 with a brochure and a website. The first class
began in June 2001.
In 2007, by resolutions adopted by WACTC, ACT, the State Board and the Association, the advisory team was converted to a formal Board and governing
by-laws were adopted. Dr. Kae Hutchison served as the first WELA Director until her retirement in July 2008. Cindy Hough was hired to
succeed Dr. Hutchison.