James C. “Jimmie” Williamson, head of the South Carolina Technical College System, will be the next president of North Carolina’s community college system.
Williamson, 57, becomes the eighth president of the system, succeeding Scott Ralls, who left North Carolina last year to become president of Northern Virginia Community College.
“What a great legacy you have in North Carolina,” Williamson said in his remarks Thursday after the State Board of Community Colleges voted unanimously to hire him following a nearly yearlong search. “You have a great infrastructure in place. For over 50 years, you’ve been dedicated to affordability and accessibility and providing opportunities for people in North Carolina to make it to the next level.”
He will start the job July 1 at an annual salary of $285,000. Interim System President George Fouts will continue to lead the system until then.
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Williamson has spent his entire career in higher education in South Carolina, including two decades with the technical college system, rising through the ranks as registrar, dean and president at two community colleges – Northeastern Technical College in Cheraw and Williamsburg Technical College in Kingstree. In 2008, he left higher education for the private sector, spending six years at Agape Senior, a 2,400-employee health care company that runs assisted living and hospice facilities in South Carolina. There he led human resources and employee training.
Two years ago, Williamson was hired as president of the S.C. Technical College System. In that role he was heavily involved in the state’s business recruitment efforts and worked with the growing auto industry to develop training for companies such as Volvo, Michelin, Continental and BMW. He traveled to Sweden to work on high level final negotiations with Volvo, which is manufacturing a new product near Charleston.
Board members said they were taken with Williamson’s economic development chops and his track record in both the public and private sectors.
“The depth of his knowledge and experience within higher education, and specifically within a community college system that was literally modeled after our own North Carolina community college system, would be impressive on its own,” said Jerry Vaughn, who chaired the presidential search committee. “But once the committee members met Dr. Williamson and came to understand the breadth of his business experience, we knew we had the right person for the job.”
Williamson called his academic background a hodgepodge, but one that has helped him bridge different skills and settings. He has an undergraduate degree in visual art and a master’s degree in guidance and counseling, both from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. He received his doctorate in higher education from the University of South Carolina, where he also focused on gerontology and social work. His dissertation examined the learning styles of older people.
Williamson said Thursday he couldn’t have been successful as president of a public system without his experience in the private sector. “I hope that that will serve me well as I come into the North Carolina system,” he said.
The North Carolina system, with 58 colleges, is much larger than the one in South Carolina, which has 16 schools. And North Carolina is richer in state dollars for community colleges, Williamson said. He cited the passage earlier this month of a statewide bond referendum that included $350 million for buildings at community colleges.
“That speaks to the level of commitment that the citizens of North Carolina feel towards the community colleges,” Williamson said. “And so we can’t let that down. We have to be accountable, we have to have that public trust. We have to make sure that we are accountable to the voters that we’re going to spend those dollars wisely and invest those dollars wisely, so that we can grow our communities.”
As chief of the community college system, Williamson will coordinate a sprawling enterprise with a broad mission – serving students seeking continuing education, workforce training or two-year associate’s degrees. The system may very well have a larger role in educating North Carolina students in the future. Legislation adopted last year would divert some of the least prepared UNC-bound students to community colleges for the first two years.
North Carolina community colleges have undergone big changes in recent years, with a revamp of remedial education, a streamlined curriculum and more emphasis on counseling. In 2014, the system inked a deal governing transfer credits with the University of North Carolina system. But faculty and staff pay in North Carolina has lagged other community colleges in the country.
Williamson said while the North Carolina system always needs more resources, “you have a little more than South Carolina.”
A survey of community college presidents last year showed that they want a system president with the political skills to make a compelling case for more legislative funding. Williamson said he’s up to the task.
“It’s all about relationships,” he said. “When I am here before the General Assembly or any other entity, I’m representing the system. But they will have a relationship with me, peer to peer. That’s where the rubber really meets the road, and things get accomplished.”
James C. Williamson
Family: Wife, Kim; two sons
Education: Doctorate in higher education administration, University of South Carolina, 1994; master’s degree in education in guidance and counseling, Winthrop University, 1985; bachelor’s degree in visual arts, Winthrop University, 1980
Career: SC Technical College System president/CEO, 2014-present; chief human capital officer, Agape Senior, 2008-2014; president, Northeastern Technical College, 2003-2007; president, Williamsburg Technical College, 1998-2003; interim president/dean of instruction, Williamsburg Technical College, 1997-98; dean of instruction, Williamsburg Technical College, 1996-97; dean of student affairs, Central Carolina Technical College (Sumter, S.C.), 1994-96; registrar, Florence-Darlington Technical College, 1989-94; director of admissions and retention instructor in education and psychology, University of South Carolina, 1987-89; registrar, Limestone College, 1985-86; assistant registrar, Winthrop University, 1983-85; student coordinator, Winthrop University, 1981-83
Civic activities: past district governor, Rotary, 2014-15; former board member, SC Chamber of Commerce, 2014-15; former member, Winthrop University Board of Trustees, 2012-14; former trustee, Chesterfield County School Board, 2008-12; service on various economic development, hospital and community mental health boards
Fashion statement: Williamson is a big fan of bow ties, though he didn’t wear one in the job interview