Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Colorado educator called top choice to head N.C. community colleges

The N.C. Community College System made an offer to veteran Colorado educator Matt Gianneschi to become its new president after a three-month search, according to people familiar with the matter.

Gianneschi and the system weren’t able to agree on a contract. On April 21, the system named Wilkes Community College President Jeff Cox as the new system president. He held the Wilkes job since 2014 after working nine years as superintendent for Alleghany County Schools. He is president of the president of the North Carolina Association of Community College Presidents.

Gianneschi is chief operating officer and chief of staff at Colorado Mountain College, which operates 11 campuses in central and western Colorado. The college provides various liberal-arts and skills-training programs, with a mix of seven bachelor’s degree programs plus dozens of associate degrees and certificate programs. Nearly 20,000 students are enrolled at the college, including about 25% who are Hispanic.

Cox will be the eighth interim or permanent system president in the last eight years, a turnover rate that is prompting discussion about significant changes by state leaders, particularly in the Republican-dominated General Assembly. The last permanent president, Thomas Stith, departed last July after about 18 months in the post. He was replaced on an interim basis by Bill Carver, who retired as Nash Community College’s president in 2019 after 14 years.

The state board’s search committee hired the Buffkin/Baker executive search firm last year. The job was posted in January, listing a preferred start date of May 31. The State Board of Community Colleges meets on Thursday and Friday.

Gianneschi has spent his career in state, federal and nonprofit education jobs in Colorado. He was a senior adviser for education policy for former Gov. Bill Ritter, and deputy executive director for the Colorado Department of Higher Education before moving to his current post in 2014. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver and a doctorate from the University of Arizona.

Each of the 58 N.C. campuses have historically operated with considerable autonomy, giving local presidents and their boards major influence. But key lawmakers and some board members are pushing for a more powerful central office and greater collaboration among campuses. Planning is underway for a building next door to the Legislative Building in Raleigh that would house UNC System, community college and Department of Public Instruction leadership.

A pending bill, co-sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, would require legislative confirmation of the system president. Other parts of the bill would give the system president authority to recommend either approving or denying a local board’s choice for a campus president; reduce the state board from 22 to 18; and move 10 appointments from the governor’s office to state lawmakers. The bill also would cut the size of campus trustee boards from 13 to 12 and shift eight appointments made by the governor to legislators.

Colorado Mountain College has a North Carolina connection: Vice President of Fiscal Affairs Mary Martin Boyd is the daughter of Martin Lancaster, who was president of the N.C. community colleges from 1997 to 2008. He previously served four terms in Congress, representing an eastern North Carolina district.


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