While Tony Zeiss and Don Cameron have left their long-term perches running two of North Carolina’s largest community colleges, they are teaming with a new consulting company aimed at making a big mark in state education circles.
Zeiss Cameron Group will offer coaching and consulting to boards at colleges and universities, joined by a group of experienced businesspeople. The duo gained national reputations for their work in North Carolina: Zeiss led Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte for 24 years before retiring in December 2016, and Cameron had a 20-year career at Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown.
Their services are needed as two-year colleges face financial challenges and rapid turnover at the top, says Zeiss. “There is a dearth of leaders and we have to get really busy,” he says. Over the last two-and-a-half years, more than 700 U.S. community-college presidents have retired, industry data shows, creating a huge demand for new talent given that the U.S. has a total of about 1,100 public two-year colleges, Zeiss says.
Moreover, public funding for community colleges is “dropping like a stone,” he says, even though politicians constantly emphasize the need for increased investment in worker training. In 1992, 79% of [Central Piedmont’s] operating budget was funded by the state of North Carolina. Today it is about 40%.”
Zeiss says Peter Hans, the newly appointed president of the N.C. Community College System, faces a challenge reinvigorating the state’s 58-campus system.
“I’m very pleased that they picked Peter because I know his heart and his expertise and I think he will really help us restore that innovative reputation.”
While South Carolina and 25 other states now allow community colleges to offer some four-year degrees in various occupational areas, North Carolina lawmakers rebuffed a similar attempt here a few years ago, Zeiss says.
To excel, Zeiss thinks community colleges need to boost their private fundraising. In Charlotte, Zeiss successfully sought substantial private donations from Charlotte business leaders including Wayland Cato and Ron and Katherine Harper, whose names are now on campus buildings. It’s no easy task competing with four-year schools, he notes. “We don’t have 50-yard line football seats.”
Cameron, who has had his own consulting business for seven years, says he “jumped at the chance to partner” with Zeiss after learning of his plans.
Among the consultants signing on with Zeiss Cameron are former Belk Inc. general counsel Ralph Pitts, who was a CPCC director for 16 years, including 11 as chairman; and George Little, an insurance-agency owner who has been board chairman at Sandhills Community College in Pinehurst for 33 years.
“There are a lot of different issues that require boards to interact effectively with college presidents,” Pitts says. “I can help navigate some of those issues.”
After leaving CPCC, Zeiss served as executive director of the Museum of the Bible that opened in 2017 in Washington, D.C. He left that post earlier this year.