After serving as acting president for a year, Derek Langhauser was selected Tuesday as the next president of the Maine Community College System.

“From the start of his service as interim president, the board has recognized and been deeply grateful for the strength of President Langhauser’s leadership,” Robert Clark, chairman of the system’s board of trustees, said after the panel’s unanimous vote on the appointment in Augusta. “Derek brings to the position an impressive combination of leadership skills, deep knowledge of our colleges, commitment to our mission, and proven ability to work with Maine leaders and MCCS colleagues to move the system forward.”

Langhauser said his immediate focus is continuing to work on the system’s top three priorities: helping students get their degrees faster, adding more support services to help them along the way, and working closely with local businesses to make sure graduates have the skills they need for today’s job market.

Langhauser has been interim president since February 2015, after longtime system president John Fitzsimmons resigned under pressure from Gov. Paul LePage.

When LePage presented a budget that flat-funded the system, he said Fitzsimmons, who led the system for 24 years, should resign because the system had withdrawn from a favorite LePage project, the Bridge Year Program, and wasn’t moving fast enough to set up a way to transfer credits between community colleges and other schools, such as the University of Maine.

Within six months of Fitzsimmons’ departure, officials announced the completion of the transfer agreement and the system got a $2 million increase in state funding, from $56.5 million to $58.4 million.

Langhauser has worked for the Maine Community College System since 1994 and was general counsel for more than 20 years.

He said his training as a lawyer, and his work to find solutions between parties with different interests, will serve him well as system president.

“This has not been my career path,” he said after the vote. He said he has worked hard in the last year to build ties – and bridges – to the governor, legislative representatives, civic and business leaders, and other higher education leaders in Maine.

“The governor is pleased Derek has been named president as they already have worked together on several initiatives, including the transferability of credits between the University and Community College Systems,” LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said in an email Tuesday. “We expect he will be successful in helping to further advance the development of the Community College System well into the future and the administration looks forward to working with him – specifically to improve access, affordability and overall opportunities for students.”

In January, the trustees passed a $175 million systemwide budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Tuition has not been raised at the system in several years, and now costs $90 a credit hour. That translates to a full-time cost of tuition and fees of $3,485 a year, slightly higher than the national average for community colleges of $3,440 a year.

The system has seen a dramatic increase in enrollment since converting from trade schools in 2003. However, enrollment has fallen about 6 percent in recent years to about 17,500 students, an expected result of a recovering economy: As more jobs open up, community college enrollments drop as some students leave school to enter the job market. When the economy is down, enrollments tend to increase as job-seekers look to improve their skills.

Currently, officials are in the process of laying off about a dozen employees across the seven-campus system due to budget challenges and efforts to realign academic programs to the changing job market. The exact number of layoffs is not yet available as the colleges continue to work on their budgets for the fiscal year beginning in July, according to system spokeswoman Helen Pelletier.

“The (academic program change) process will include some program discontinuances and some new academic offerings and is one that plays out in some form nearly every year,” Pelletier said in an email. “At the same time, budgets are tight. The colleges continue to face financial pressures, especially in the areas of retirement and health care costs, which are dictated by the state.”

Langhauser, of Cumberland, is a graduate of Bates College and the University of Maine School of Law. He has served as president of the National Association of College and University Attorneys, as an adviser to the Ford Foundation Initiative on Academic Freedom, and as chairman of The Journal of College and University Law Board of Editors at The University of Notre Dame. He is a member of both the council and executive committee of the American Law Institute.

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