Retired Air Force general to lead S.C. Commission on Higher Education

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COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley has appointed a retired Air Force brigadier general and former University of South Carolina administrator to lead the state’s Commission on Higher Education.

John Finan is again coming out of retirement to take a leading role in state government. He last ran the Department of Employment and Workforce.

Former Gov. Mark Sanford appointed him interim director in 2010 after a law that revamped the unemployment agency and put it in the governor’s Cabinet.

Finan left that position last September. When asked whether he would be willing to take the higher education job, he jumped at the opportunity, he said.

Finan replaces former Chairman Ken Wingate, who resigned in August after his four-year term ended. State law limits the position to one term.

Finan said a top priority will be hiring a replacement for former Executive Director Garrison Walters, who retired in February after nearly five years.

Finan will first meet with staffers today.

The agency is tasked with coordinating the missions of South Carolina’s 33 two-year and four-year public colleges. Its duties include evaluating college programs, approving new ones and making budget recommendations to state lawmakers. But legislative critics contend it’s become little more than a college advocacy group.

Finan said he would like to see the agency’s role strengthened.

The commission consists of 14 members appointed by the governor. The terms of all but three have expired. Eight others, besides Wingate’s, expired July 1. One spot is vacant.

Others have stayed on past their expired terms, including those that expired in 2010 and 2008.

A 15th member will be added from the state’s new 7th Congressional District.

Haley campaigned on changing how public colleges are funded.

She met with college presidents about it shortly after her inauguration in January 2011. At a joint news conference, she announced that she had asked them to come up with a way to evaluate their schools based on their graduation rates, how many of their students come from outside the state, and their contributions to the economy.

College presidents praised her tone of cooperation after years of bashing from Sanford.

But the effort seems to have waned since.

One sticking point is how to measure the economic development contributions of 33 publicly supported colleges that vary in size and mission. They include research universities, other four-year universities, regional two-year campuses and technical colleges.

Finan said college leaders are working on a system agreeable to all.

“There are metrics I believe universities and colleges can agree on, that are good for both the public and universities,” he said.

Finan’s 13 years of experience in college administration includes several years as a budget director at the Air Force Academy in Colorado. After retiring from the military in 1993, he worked as a vice president of business at the University of South Carolina and chief financial officer of Rowan University in New Jersey.

Commission board members draw no salary but receive mileage and per diems.


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