4 Finalists Named for Top Higher Education Post

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BOSTON (State House News Service) — The pool of finalists to serve as Massachusetts higher education commissioner includes two in-state applicants, and all four candidates will be interviewed at a public meeting on Thursday.

The Massachusetts Board of Higher Education Search Advisory Council on Tuesday identified the finalists to fill the job currently held by Commissioner Carlos Santiago, who said in January that he plans to step down.

The finalists are:

  • Marty Alvarado -- Executive vice chancellor for equitable student learning, experience, and impact at the California Community College Chancellor's Office;
  • Mary Churchill -- Associate dean of strategic initiatives & community engagement at Boston University Wheelock College of Education and Human Development;
  • Lane Glenn -- President of Northern Essex Community College;
  • Noe Ortega -- Former secretary of education for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The next commissioner will play a leadership role as colleges face more competition for students, challenges in serving a more diverse population, a slew of online learning opportunities, and cost and inflation pressures that are squeezing campus budgets as well as the finances of the students and families trying to afford college.

A board spokesman told the News Service that the council and its hired search firm, Academic Search of Washington, D.C., reached out to a pool of 3,000 potential candidates, had direct conversations with more than 100 people, and received full applications from 24 candidates.

The Board of Higher Education plans to interview each finalist for 75 minutes at a public meeting on Thursday, at the Parker House Hotel in Boston beginning at 8:30 a.m. Remote participation will be available.

Each finalist on Thursday will also participate in 45-minute virtual public forums with higher education and community stakeholders, according to the board, which made a link available Tuesday with information about how to submit questions for consideration at those forums.

The commissioner reports to the board and works with the governor, state education secretary and presidents of the state's 24 public colleges and universities, the University of Massachusetts system, and independent institution heads. According to the board, public colleges and universities in Massachusetts serve nearly 200,000 students, with 285,000 students receiving education at independent higher education institutions.

The board said its 23-member search council, which held its kickoff meeting in April, had conducted a national search and offered a webpage Tuesday morning that features detailed information about each finalist, the advisory council and the search process.

"We are delighted to have a strong and diverse slate of highly qualified individuals stepping forward offering to serve the Commonwealth as our next Commissioner of Higher Education. We were pleased to see that the momentum, focus and cohesion of Massachusetts education, governmental and civic leaders made this such an attractive opportunity," board Chairman Chris Gabrieli said in a statement.

The board plans to vote on its commissioner recommendation at a meeting next Tuesday, Aug. 30. The pick will be sent for formal confirmation to Secretary of Education Jim Peyser, a Gov. Charlie Baker appointee.

In April, officials described an early October time frame for the new commissioner to start work. Santiago, who earns a $243,734 salary, said earlier this year that he intended to leave at the end of June, but Gabrieli has said Santiago is amenable to staying on the job to ensure a smooth transition to his successor.

Written by Michael P. Norton/SHNS

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