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A quarter of the applicants wanting to be the next president of East Arkansas Community College are from within the state, and three are from within the college.

So far, 40 people have applied for the Forrest City-based position to be vacated by Coy Grace. Grace, 68, is retiring to spend more time with family after having led the community college since 1999.

"When I announced my retirement back in May, I indicated to the board that the earliest effective date would be Sept. 1," Grace said in a recent interview, "but if a replacement would not be found -- if they needed me to stay into January, I would do that."

The search comes as boards for East Arkansas and its neighbor, Crowley's Ridge Technical Institute, have approved merging the two institutions that share a property line. The state's Higher Education Coordinating Board also gave the merger the green light, and it will need a final OK from the regional accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission.

The presidential search also comes as the state plans to switch the method in which it funds public colleges and universities from one largely based on enrollment to one based on student success.

The community college presidential search is one of two in the state. Southeast Arkansas College in Pine Bluff is also looking for a new leader.

At East Arkansas, a presidential search committee will ultimately recommend who will get the job, and the college's board of trustees will make the final hire. The committee has not yet met to review the applications and will continue to take applications until the position is filled, said Lindsay Midkiff, the school's director of public relations and marketing.

The college brings in students from a five-county area of about 75,000 people, according to the advertisement for the position. The 43-year-old school had 1,142 students in fall 2016, a decline of about 22 percent from fall 2016, according to state data.

The two-year school is home to 125 full-time professors, administrators and support personnel, according to the advertisement.

It is looking for a leader who holds a doctorate degree, has at least five years of experience at a higher education institution, understands the philosophy of a comprehensive community college and has a "demonstrated record of commitment" to equal opportunity and affirmative action.

The advertisement states salary is negotiable and lists housing as provided.

Under the college's state appropriation bill, it can pay the new president up to $161,444 annually, though Arkansas Code Annotated 6-63-309 allows exceptionally qualified people to earn up to 25 percent more than the line-item appropriated amount. Institutions also can supplement salaries through private funds.

At the end of his nearly two-decade tenure, Grace is earning an annual salary of $201,805 -- the 25 percent above the line-item maximum, according to his contract.

Under his tenure, the college has increased its programs and infrastructure significantly, Midkiff said. Grace's leadership brought online-degree offerings and the expansion of transfer programs, she said.

He also led campus expansions, including the Hodges Services Complex -- which provides student services from financial aid and counseling to tutoring -- and a 33,000-square foot Fine Arts Center that "was built and opened debt-free," Midkiff said.

She added that Grace's tenure is culminating with the community college taking in Crowley's Ridge. The merger, fought by Crowley's Ridge for years, happened after legislators filed a bill during this year's session that called for the union if the schools' boards approved it.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed two new members to the Crowley's Ridge board last month, and shortly afterward the technical school's board gave it the go-ahead. East Arkansas' board had been open to the merger.

Grace said in a recent interview that the two institutions could accomplish more working together than working separately. At the time, he also said he would work with the new East Arkansas president as needed.

"I want to make the transition for the college and the next transition as positive and as easy as I can," he said at the time.

Metro on 08/12/2017

Print Headline: 40 people seek top job at Forrest City college

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