Education, political adviser Hans new community college head
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s community college board on Tuesday hired a prominent public education and political adviser praised for consensus-building as the system’s president.
Peter Hans, who was unanimously chosen by the board in a brief meeting, immediately began the task of leading the 58-college college system, which educates some 700,000 students as one of the largest higher-education operations in the country.
The system plays a key role in workforce training for expanding businesses, as well as providing an accessible option for non-traditional students to get associate degrees. It also helps ease the costs of 10,000 students annually who can transfer more easily to a University of North Carolina school to obtain four-year diplomas.
“In many ways the stars are aligned for action ... we have a strong bipartisan commitment to community colleges,” Hans said at a news conference attended by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican legislative leaders. “Now we have the opportunity to do more, to achieve your goals and to help our citizens achieve their dreams.”
Hans, who will make $275,000 annually, was the board’s choice after a nationwide search to replace Jimmie Williamson, the former South Carolina system leader who abruptly resigned last summer after barely a year on the job. The board gave no reason for his departure. Williamson later said he was forced out.
While closely linked to Republican politics earlier in his career, the 48-year-old Hans has a reputation as a bipartisan collaborator. Hans began a government relations practice with former Democratic Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker.
After serving on the state community college board for six years, he sat on the University of North Carolina Board of Governors for more than a decade through periods of both Democratic and Republican power in Raleigh, serving as chairman from 2012 to 2014. Most recently, he’s been an adviser to current UNC System President Margaret Spellings.
“This is a guy who can reach across the aisle, this is a guy who can achieve consensus,” Cooper said. “And I think we have unanimous agreement that Peter Hans is the man to lead this system forward.”
“The governor, the speaker and I all support this nominee,” Senate leader Phil Berger said. House Speaker Tim Moore called Hans a man of “incredible integrity, a great work ethic and a genuine love of this state and a genuine love of education.”
Prior to Hans’ selection, a search committee reviewed more than 30 candidates. The panel interviewed six candidates and presented three finalists to the full board, comprised largely of legislative and gubernatorial appointees. The other finalists’ names weren’t released.
“We said we wanted someone with an understanding and appreciation of the community college system — a creative thinker capable of working with a variety of constituencies,” board Chairman Scott Shook said. “Peter Hans is that person.”
Hans, who grew up in Southport and Hendersonville, worked in the 1990s for GOP U.S. Sen. Lauch Faircloth. He became an adviser for then-Rep. Richard Burr, as well as for Elizabeth Dole’s successful 2002 U.S. Senate campaign.
Hans said his first immediate job is lobbying for the system’s budget requests for vocational education and data technology as the legislature reconvenes in two weeks. He said he wants to improve degree or certificate completion rates for students, and knows their challenges.
The students are “juggling jobs, families, life, school. I don’t know how they do it. But they’re busting their tail, and I’m going to bust mine to help them,” he said.