JAMESTOWN — More than a decade ago, after seven years in the U.S. Army and two corporate layoffs, Anthony Clarke thought he might like to give teaching a try.
Clarke had taught part-time while working in private-sector jobs in and around Cincinnati. He managed to land a year-long, full-time teaching gig at a four-year university. A year later, in 2005, that turned into a permanent job at a community college in Kentucky.
That job launched Clarke’s rapid ascent through the ranks of higher education. On Wednesday, GTCC’s Board of Trustees announced that Clarke would be the college’s eighth president.
Clarke — president of Southeastern Community College in Whiteville since 2014 — will replace Randy Parker, who retired July 31 after nearly eight years as GTCC’s president. GTCC trustees said Clarke, 58, will start work no later than Nov. 1.
In a statement, GTCC board chairman George Ragsdale said that Clarke’s experience in both the private sector and at two North Carolina community colleges were big pluses.
“We could not be more excited about this appointment, ” Ragsdale said. “... We are confident that he is a dynamic leader for the future of GTCC.”
GTCC trustees picked Clarke from among three finalists and more than 70 applicants. The Association of Community College Trustees, a national nonprofit that represents more than 6,500 appointed and elected trustees of technical and junior colleges, helped the college find its new president.
“I’m really honored to be selected,” Clarke said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “GTCC is a strong college with great faculty and staff and a great board. I’m excited to get there and get to work.”
A New York native, Clarke moved to Cincinnati when he was in middle school. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After graduation, he served in the U.S. Army as an artillery field officer during the final years of the Cold War.
When he left the service, he got an MBA and worked in the private sector — on the factory floor as a production engineer for cereal maker General Mills, as a business consultant, and as a quality control manager for a General Electric subsidiary that makes airplane engines.
But Clarke said two rounds of layoffs got him thinking about a career change and, he said, “I always loved academics.” Clarke and his family were then living in the Cincinnati area, and Xavier University, a private Catholic school, gave him a visiting professorship to teach management classes.
That led to a more permanent job at a Kentucky community college, which hired him to teach business and management courses and develop a new degree program in manufacturing engineering technology.
After becoming dean of the college’s manufacturing and trades division, he left for North Carolina. In 2012 he was named vice president and chief academic officer at Richmond Community College in Hamlet. Two years later, Southeastern hired him to be president. The college of about 8,000 students serves Columbus County and sits about 50 miles west of Wilmington.
As GTCC and most other N.C. community colleges lost students over the past decade, Southeastern managed to increase enrollment in its curriculum programs by 9% during Clarke’s tenure. The number of high school students taking community college courses nearly doubled. Two years ago, with the help of its affiliated foundation, the college began offering a new scholarship that covered tuition and fees for all qualified graduates of Columbus County high schools.
Educational attainment and economic development were two key things Clarke said he focused on during his five years at Southeastern. He expects they’ll be important areas for him at GTCC as well.
As he approached his 60th birthday, Clarke said he was thinking about making one more move in his higher education career. The GTCC job looked promising, and he said his wife was OK with relocating once again. Like Southeastern, GTCC serves just one county. GTCC also has strong manufacturing programs in an area of North Carolina where manufacturing jobs still hold strong.
“I started to think that I might be a good fit because of my manufacturing background,” Clarke said. “That turned out to be so.”
Clarke’s hiring remains pending a final vote of the State Board of Community Colleges, which should come Aug. 16. A GTCC spokeswoman said the college wouldn’t make public Clarke’s salary and contract until after that vote.
GTCC’s interim president, Gordon Burns, will remain in that job until Clarke starts work. Burns is the retired president of Wilkes Community College.