NC Community College System looks for a new president after sudden resignation

Wake Tech students attend a career fair on campus.
Wake Tech students attend a career fair on campus. 2015 N&O file photo

The North Carolina Community College System needs a new president, and the search could point close to home.

On Friday, Scott Shook, the chairman of the system’s governing board, said a search committee would soon be appointed and it probably won’t be using a consulting firm. Search consultants are often hired to attract and screen a field of national candidates for executive positions in higher education.

The system is on the hunt for the next president after the abrupt departure of Jimmie Williamson, whose resignation was announced July 31 and takes effect at the end of this month. There was no reason given for Williamson stepping down after only a year on the job. He had come from South Carolina, where he had been president of the state’s technical college system for two years and had previously led two community colleges there.

Shook said he could not discuss Williamson’s resignation, calling it a personnel matter. Efforts to reach Williamson on Friday were unsuccessful.

The system’s chief of staff and former chief financial officer, Jennifer Haygood, will serve as acting president starting Oct. 1. On Friday, the board voted to raise Haygood’s pay from $191,000 to $270,000 as she takes on the interim role. Williamson was hired at an annual salary of $285,000.

Shook said he hoped the system would hire someone who has “very little learning curve” when it comes to North Carolina’s community college system.

“They need to understand the lay of the land, the 58 community colleges, where we are, how we operate ... how the system staff interacts with community colleges,” Shook said, “and also be able to have some effectiveness at the General Assembly and be able to move the needle for us at the General Assembly.”

Shook said the search committee would be named after Oct. 1. There is no set timeline for the process, he said.

The state board will begin work on a strategic plan for the system, which is one of the largest in the country. It has 58 colleges that provide a wide range of basic skills, degree and certificate programs and continuing education classes. In 2016-17, the system had more than 225,000 full-time equivalent students.

North Carolina’s community colleges have undergone changes in recent years, with a revamp of remedial education, a streamlined curriculum and more emphasis on counseling. There have also been concerns about management issues at a few of the colleges. Last year, the system threatened to withhold funding for Martin Community College after audit problems and mismanagement, which led the president to step down under pressure. Also last year, the Fayetteville Observer reported that a lawsuit was filed by former Fayetteville Technical Community College employees who claimed they were fired after raising concerns about grade inflation aimed at boosting student retention rates.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill