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South Arkansas Community College has initiated the search process for its next president, hiring a consulting firm and holding meetings with faculty, staff and community members. A public forum that is open to the public will begin at 8 a.m. today in the library auditorium.

The college has hired the search firm RH Perry and Associates to shepherd SouthArk through the process. Company President and COO Paul Doeg and senior consultant John Hutchinson are on campus this week to begin generating feedback to build an executive search profile which the company will use to advertise the position.

Doeg said a recruitment phase would follow, with RH Perry using their own database as well as targeted recruiting efforts to find candidates that meet the search committees qualifications. Depending on those qualifications, Doeg noted the initial candidate pool could be anywhere from 30-70 applicants.

“What are some minimum qualifications? And then preferred qualifications. The goal is to cast a wide net and allow the search committee to rein it in and winnow that pool down,” he said. “You don’t want to start with such stringent qualifications that the pool isn’t sufficient. That being said, there are probably some minimums that you could think of, from their academic preparation to the number of years they’ve worked in a particular role. What kind of work have they done?”

The committee would then narrow that pool to 15 or so top candidates, after which RH Perry would interview and screen applicants to give the committee enough information to select eight-to-10 semifinalists. Those semifinalists would be interviewed by the committee, either in person or remotely, before the finalists are selected.

Confidentiality in the search process is key to getting qualified applicants, Doeg said, adding that pressure will mount on the board to reveal how applicants are doing, particularly if there are internal candidates. Only the finalists will be announced publicly.

The search committee, which is comprised of SouthArk faculty and staff, foundation and board of trustee members as well as members of the public, met in the library auditorium Monday morning to provide Doeg and Hutchinson some preliminary feedback on the opportunities and challenges at the community college, as well as to discuss minimum qualifications and a timeline.

Doeg noted that an initial timeline would have the new president on campus in January, which would put the three-to-five finalists selected by the committee on campus in the first few weeks of December. But he said the firm was committed to assisting the institution with the search process as long as necessary. Current president Dr. Barbara Jones, who has served as president since August of 2009, announced earlier this year her intention to retire after the fall semester, although Jones has stated she will stay until another president is hired.

The committee noted the strengths of the community college are its faulty and staff, the relationship between faculty and students, and the connections between SouthArk, the community and local industry. Challenges include increasing enrollment with competing two and four year colleges in the area, as well as limited state funding. Several committee members felt that the addition of student housing, the addition of athletic teams and a faculty/staff pay increase were important to recruiting students and retaining talented educators.

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