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National firm named to recruit next community college system president

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  • "The firm is expected to move quickly in finalizing and producing the position profile to start the recruitment process," the N.C. Community College System said. The system has previously said that it aims to hire a new president in the spring.
  • Moving forward, the State Board's search committee will build an official presidential profile for the search using input from a statewide survey and Buffkin/Baker.
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National search firm Buffkin/Baker will “recruit and assess” the next president of the N.C. Community College System (NCCCS), the system announced on Wednesday.

The State Board of Community Colleges’ Presidential Search Committee selected the firm on Tuesday “following a competitive bid process,” the system said in a release. The full Board approved the firm along with the state Department of Administration.

“The search process includes an assessment and finalization of the position profile, candidate sourcing and recruitment, and advisement of the Presidential Search Committee, background and reference checks and additional consulting,” the release says. “The firm is expected to move quickly in finalizing and producing the position profile to start the recruitment process.”

The search follows former President Thomas Stith’s resignation in July. Stith was the sixth NCCCS president in seven years. He took over the system after Peter Hans left in June 2020 to lead the University of North Carolina System.

Bill Carver was named interim NCCCS president shortly after Stith’s resignation. Carver, former president of Nash Community College, served in the interim role previously in 2020. In August, the State Board appointed a bipartisan search committee in a closed-session meeting and unanimously voted to hire a firm experienced in higher education leadership searches. 

The process of hiring a search firm began in September. The search committee met for the first time then to develop a Request for Approval (RFP) to hire a firm.

“Selecting a firm will have a critical impact on the search calendar and ultimately, on the speed at which we can acquire a new president,” Committee Co-Chair Shirley Carraway said at the time.

Buffkin/Baker has led more than 1,500 searches for diverse corporate and nonprofit organizations, the system said, including 700 searches in higher education institutions. The firm is located in seven cities across the country, including two in North Carolina: Charlotte and Winston-Salem.

The firm has completed 99% of searches, according to its website, with a 92% retention rate after three years. NCCCS said the firm “has led searches for many of North Carolina’s premier colleges and universities.”

“The State Board looks forward to working with an experienced educational firm in Buffkin/Baker as we recruit a new president to lead our great system over the next many years. Buffkin/Baker’s track record of successful searches will be helpful to the search committee and to the full State Board. I am grateful for the leadership of Committee co-chairs Dr. Shirley Carraway and Mr. Hari Nath. They have already devoted a tremendous amount of energy to the search process, and the Board is indebted to them and optimistic about the process now fully underway.”

— Burr Sullivan, Chairman of the State Board of Community Colleges

Moving forward, the search committee will build an official presidential profile using input from a statewide survey and Buffkin/Baker.

Out of the more than 1,300 people who responded to the presidential survey, 40% said previously serving as a community college president best qualified a candidate to be system president. Community college presidents were the most likely to answer the question that way, at 67%, and foundation members were the least likely, at 17%.

Nineteen percent of student respondents said a community college president was the most qualifying position for a candidate. Another 42% of students said leading a community college system or university system was the most qualifying position. Among Board members, 45% also selected that prior job experience. The lowest-selected qualifying experience was previously serving as the president of a university at 2%.

Nearly seven out of 10 respondents (69%) identified faculty staff/retention as one of the biggest challenges for a president in the next five years. The next top challenge was the political landscape (49%) and increasing enrollment (48%). You can view the full aggregated results here.

The system has previously said that it aims to hire a new president in the spring. The search committee meets next on Dec. 14 at 9 a.m. to hear a presentation from Buffkin/Baker and discuss next steps, ahead of the full Board’s virtual Dec. 16 meeting. The presidential search committee meeting scheduled for Nov. 30 was cancelled.

Hannah McClellan

Hannah McClellan is an EducationNC reporter covering community colleges, postsecondary access and faith.