The next president of the state’s community college system needs the political acumen to make a compelling case for more legislative funding, members of a presidential search committee say.
A panel made up largely of system board members is working to find a successor to Scott Ralls, who will leave next month to be president of Northern Virginia Community College. In a conversation Thursday about desired skills in the next leader, the search committee zeroed in on advocacy.
A survey of local community college presidents show they tend to agree. Forty-four presidents responded to the survey, and 84 percent said the most critical quality in the next leader would be ethical, fair and honest leadership. But a close second was the ability to develop strong legislative relationships to secure more support for the colleges. Third was a similar trait: being politically astute, with proven advocacy skills and solid knowledge of legislative issues at the local, state and national levels.
“We want to be able to look at our next system president and say, ‘Let’s get this thing done.’ It’s been a struggle for us over 50 years as a system to get to the level that we need to be,” said Garrett Hinshaw, president of Catawba Valley Community College. “We’re proving our value. We’re reinventing ourselves, and we need a leader that’s going to be able to go across the street and make the difference that needs to be made in terms of the funding and the policy.”
The system in North Carolina is one of the nation’s largest, serving 850,000 people a year with workforce training, continuing education or two-year degree programs. System officials say 40 percent of wage earners have received education or training at a community college in the past decade.
Clyde Higgs of Kannapolis, chairman of the search committee, said the community college system is well respected — even loved by the political establishment, but added: “Show us the money.”
“I think we have a high-performing system, I think we have a lot of innovative programs in place, a focus on completion,” Higgs said. “I think we’re doing a lot of innovative things, but at the end of the day, it’s about the dollar. It’s about the money.”
Board members discussed the pluses and minuses of choosing a homegrown leader or looking outside for someone who could bring a fresh perspective. They said they want a consensus builder and someone with a vision.
Jerry Vaughn, a committee member from Charlotte, said the system is achieving without much money or recognition.
“Maybe we need someone who’s accustomed to winning. As we look about, I want to think about someone with a perspective of winning, with the expectation of winning, and to infuse that sense of winning to the community college system,” Vaughn said. “It’s got to be someone that has the weight and power to win, with a track record. Not to say that doesn’t exist within the system, but we haven’t been winning. We’ve been losing.”
Hinshaw said the community college system gets nine cents out of every dollar spent on public education in North Carolina. “Is what we’re doing worth nine cents out of that dollar, compared to 27 cents for the university system?” he asked. “I think there needs to be a re-look at higher education.”