Archive for February, 2020

When It’s Time to Hire a President – Executive Leadership Associates (NCACCT Business Partner)

Posted on: February 20th, 2020 by Caroline Hipple No Comments


North Carolina community college trustees have a number of important responsibilities to fulfill.  But GS-115D 20 (1) is very clear in establishing the most important responsibility: the election of the college president.  Searching for a new community college CEO is a responsibility almost every trustee will undertake sometime during his/her tenure, perhaps more than once.  Since Executive Leadership Associates (ELA), a consulting firm that assists trustees in presidential searches, was created in 2018, no less than 27.50 percent (16 of 58) NC community colleges have been or are currently searching for a new leader.

ELA is a partnership of six retired North Carolina community college presidents who are committed to ensuring our internationally recognized community college system continues its proud tradition of excellence, one college at a time.  ELA partners have served a combined 80 years as presidents at seven different community colleges; in addition, we have worked as interims at nine community colleges.  It is safe to say we know the system, which is why, with our decades of combined executive leadership, we have the proven expertise to help guide a board of trustees and the college through their most significant transition. ELA’s job is to ensure Boards of Trustees have all the information and advice they need to make the best decision for their unique colleges and communities.

When a board arrives at the point that it is “Time to Hire a President,” the first decision is how to organize the process: use a search firm or handle the search internally.  Of course, ELA suggests using a search firm.  While there is an expense in hiring a search firm, we think the advantages far outweigh any cost consideration.

A search firm will assist a board through the entire hiring process, which can be both lengthy and time-consuming for trustees.  We encourage trustees to consider a search for a new leader as that rare opportunity to assess where your college is and where you want it to go.  It literally provides the board with a “reset” button for the college.  It is also a time to involve both on-campus and community constituencies, and to provide these stakeholders with some ownership in the process.  That will help ensure a smooth transition for the person trustees select as the next CEO, and it will help satisfy the State Board requirement to involve the community in the search.

A search firm should use input from the faculty, staff, and community to help develop an institutional profile and the qualifications expected in the next college leader.  A search firm will also develop and place advertising in the right places to ensure both an acceptable quality and quantity of applicants. The right search firm not only depends on broad appeal advertising but on former colleagues, contacts in higher education, professional organizations, colleges, universities and finally personal contacts developed through years of experience in the field to help find the right person for a particular community college.

When those applications start coming, boards often begin inquiring about the number who have applied.  Some trustees equate the number of applicants to how well their college is doing.  Lots of applications mean, at least to some, that everybody wants to come to our community college because of some X factor they equate to success.  Actually, there are potential candidates around the country, literally the globe, with their resumes on the computer just waiting to hit the send key when an opening for a community college presidency is announced.  The right search firm is not as concerned as much about the application count as they are the quality of those who are hitting the send key.  The right search firm can sift through all those resumes with cover letters that can run from a couple of pages to several dozen and then do the deep dive reference checks and screenings to get a quality pool for the board.  From that group, a board will ultimately decide on several candidates with whom they wish to talk.

Making logistical arrangements to get those candidates to campus is an important next step, but the key is helping a board focus on asking the right questions and providing insight as to what a candidate said, and just as importantly, did not say.  The right search firm will be with the board from start to finish including keeping the State Board apprised of the timing of the search and those final candidates so the State Board can perform the due diligence required of them as well.

There are a number of good search firms that will seek your business when you are in the market for a new president.  We hope you will consider Executive Leadership Associates when you start reviewing those Request for Proposals (RFP’s) you are required to send out before hiring a search firm.  We believe our combined experience in North Carolina—our six partners have worked at North Carolina community colleges from the classroom to the president’s office a combined 182 years and one of our partners is a graduate of a NC community college—gives our firm an advantage.  We have done the job you are seeking to fill, worked in communities large and small and believe we can help any of our 58 colleges find the right person to lead their college.

But no matter whether you decide to do that important search on your own or hire a search firm we know a Board of Trustees does not want to be involved in a search very often.  But when it does happen, a board should embrace this opportunity to move the college forward, providing even greater opportunities for the reason you serve in the first place:  the students.


Dr. Michael Taylor, a partner in Executive Leadership Associates, is a graduate of Lenoir Community College and served as President of Stanly Community College for 15 years.  Contact ELA at


 Click here to learn more about NCACCT Business Partners

Spotlight on Community College Leaders: NCACCT Secretary/Treasurer Grayson Whitt

Posted on: February 20th, 2020 by Caroline Hipple No Comments

Spotlight on Community College Leaders: NCACCT Secretary/Treasurer Grayson Whitt

By Ashley Blizzard, NCACCP/NCACCT Communication Coordinator & Events Manager

“Listen to learn,” and “Don’t be afraid to ask questions.” Those are the two pieces of advice Grayson Whitt, NCACCT’s Executive Board Secretary/Treasurer, would give to a new community college trustee. Considering Whitt has been a trustee at Rockingham Community College (RCC) for 17 years, he ought to know a thing or two about the protocol of being a trustee.

Whitt became involved with the community colleges when he was asked to serve on RCC’s foundation board, a position he enjoyed for the nine-year allowable limit. As a banker (now vice president/business development officer of First National Bank in Eden), serving on the foundation board seemed to be a natural fit. When he was appointed a trustee of the college, however, he was not familiar with the governance of the community college system. Learning how community colleges work was a big learning curve for him. Additionally, he quickly realized that the definition of a community college trustee was not “someone who meets with other trustees for one hour a month.” Being a trustee was more work than he had anticipated; the position was certainly more than just “ceremonial.”

Whitt has found state regulations to be the hardest part of being a trustee. For instance, it has surprised him how long a community college construction project can take due to the extensive requirements on publicly funded building projects. “That wouldn’t work in the private sector,” said Whitt.

According to Whitt, community colleges really need to be concerned with enrollment right now. To ensure continued success for our community colleges, the colleges must continue to have increasing enrollment for students. “In my profession,” said Whitt, “I see how [community colleges] benefit all types of individuals at a very reasonable cost. I’ve seen people [attend community colleges] and come out doing well without a lot of student debt.” Increased enrollment will help ensure colleges receive the appropriate and necessary state funding to continue to offer a quality education at a reasonable price.

When asked about advancements he would like to see at his own college, Whitt said he would like to see increased enrollment and more scholarships being offered in the area of workforce development.

Something he is most proud of about RCC is that they are trying to get a building under construction that would be solely dedicated to workforce development. The county has shown its support of this project by approving a 25-cent sales tax for this $20 million, 40,000 square-foot building. Whitt is hopeful the project will begin soon.

Outside of the community college and banking arenas, Whitt enjoys working out, which he does at least four days a week at 5:00 in the morning. He also likes to play golf and follow football and basketball at his alma mater, Elon University. As he puts it, his favorite way to relax is “very simple.” He likes to go to North Myrtle Beach, which he does regularly, and listen to good music and play golf.

When recalling his best vacation ever, Whitt said it was when his family took a trip to Key West, Florida. He, his wife, Connie, and two teenage (at the time) children enjoyed unwinding there. “It’s one of the most laid-back places I’ve ever been in my life,” said Whitt.

One thing Whitt would really like to check off his bucket list is seeing Elon University’s basketball team in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) playoffs. Admitting that this bucket list item is “weird,” he commented, “I don’t need to go to Spain. I’m a simple person.” Whitt has had Elon basketball tickets for over 30 years.

Readers would probably be surprised to learn that Whitt is a former 9th grade biology teacher. Just out of college, he survived this undertaking for an entire day, after which he realized that teaching was not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. As a teacher, he was hopeful he could also coach. However, the offer of becoming the assistant junior varsity basketball coach alongside his 9th grade biology teacher status was not enticing enough to keep him in the classroom.

Another likely unknown fact about Whitt is that he is a certified soccer referee (although he no longer actively referees). His son wanted to become a soccer referee, so they both became certified and refereed for weekend travel soccer teams.

Finally, Whitt says that he has not missed a home football game at Elon University in over 20 years. He says he would have attended more, but he knew attending his children’s sporting events as they grew up was more important. However, he did add, “I’ve probably missed a few weddings I should have gone to!”

Whitt is most proud of his family—his wife of 38 years, and his son and daughter, who are both college graduates. “I know it’s generic, but it’s true,” he says. Both of his children live in Greensboro. His son works in supply chain management, and his daughter is a second-grade teacher.