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YC community forums spotlight progress in college’s presidential search

Dr. Pam Fisher updates Yavapai College officials on the search for a new president during a forum Monday, Aug. 27, 2018, in Prescott. (George Lurie/Courier)

Dr. Pam Fisher updates Yavapai College officials on the search for a new president during a forum Monday, Aug. 27, 2018, in Prescott. (George Lurie/Courier)

Yavapai College officials held forums Monday, Aug. 27, at YC’s Verde Valley and Prescott campuses, offering an update on the college’s search for a new president — and soliciting input from community members and college faculty on what YC’s next leader might look like.

The forums, held in the morning on the Verde Valley campus in Clarkdale and in the afternoon on the Prescott campus, drew a total of about 70 people, many faculty members and staff at the college.

“When all is said and done, we may have eight or 10 really good candidates, but the real question is are they a good fit for your college and community — and do they want to live here,” said Dr. Pam Fisher, a Bozeman, Montana-based consultant who moderated Monday’s forums. “In the end, a lot of it is about chemistry.”

Fisher was hired by the college and the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) to conduct a national search for a new president to replace Dr. Penny Wills, who is retiring at the end of this year.

Monday’s forums, Fisher said, were designed to focus attention on “the major perceived opportunities and challenges facing YC over the next three to five years.”

At the forum in Prescott, Fisher said the college’s presidential search committee had already received “quite a few applications.”

“Honestly, the strongest applicants tend to come forward in the last few weeks or even 48 hours” before the posting closes, added Fisher, who has conducted 50 presidential searches for other community colleges around the country.

College officials have set a target date of Oct. 26 to receive applications. In early December, YC plans to host additional public meetings with the three or four finalists for the position, to be narrowed down from the overall applicant pool by a committee of YC faculty members.

The college’s five-member governing board will make the final hiring decision. Board chair and District 1 representative Ray Sigafoos and District 2 board member Deb McCasland attended Monday afternoon’s forum.

Wills has run YC since 2011 and is the ninth president in the 50-year history of the college, which currently serves a total of 17,328 students – 7,150 at its six Northern Arizona campuses and another 10,178 students enrolled in the college’s online courses.

Stacey Hilton, YC’s dean for instructional support and online learning, said at the Prescott forum she hopes the college’s next leader will recognize the strength of YC’s online curriculum. “I would hope that our next president will support online learning and help move our initiatives forward,” Hilton said.

Tania Sheldahl, dean of student services, agreed. “I’m interested in somebody who is strong on enrollment growth,” she said.

“We really want somebody who can build on what we already have,” said Jane Hersh, district director of the college’s TRIO programs, which focus on outreach to area middle and high school students as well as military veterans.

Other comments voiced at Monday’s Prescott presidential search forum centered around finding a new president who was “strong on community partnerships,” “will support YC’s career technical programs,” and “won’t use the position as a stepping stone to bigger and better jobs.”

Fisher said that although college officials were not advertising a specific salary range, “in order to be competitive, the (new president’s) salary will have to be similar” to President Wills, who reportedly earns about $277,000 a year.

“Being a community college president is a tough job and fewer and fewer people want to do it,” Fisher told forum attendees.

“Community college presidents have been retiring in greater and greater numbers in recent years. There are currently more than 100 community college president positions open across the country right now.”

College officials plan to bring the finalists for the president’s position to the Prescott campus on Dec. 4, and say they will announce their selection in mid-December.

The new president’s anticipated start date currently is set for February 2019.

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