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Sherry Jones, a finalist for president of Heartland Community College, speaks with Hank Campbell, a retired Illinois State University professor and husband of Heartland board member Mary Campbell, during a public forum in the Astroth Community Education Center on Thursday on the Normal campus.

NORMAL — A finalist for president at Heartland Community College told participants in a public forum Thursday that “it's time to evolve” and community colleges are in a good position to respond to changes that are coming.

Sherry Jones, chief operating officer of the Technology Brands division of GameStop, is the third of four finalists to take part in campus meetings. She is seeking to fill the position to be vacated when President Rob Widmer retires June 30.

Although Jones said higher education overall faces challenges with funding and enrollment, she predicted, “Community colleges will see a resurgence in the role they play.”

Noting a trend toward shorter-term training, Jones said, “That's where community colleges are best positioned strategically.”

She said community colleges are “more agile” than universities, which makes it easier to create partnerships with industries.

Although her current job is outside the education field, Jones noted she has 20 years of experience in education — public, private, not-for-profit and commercial.

Before joining GameStop, she was group president for education services for Xerox. She also led the startup of a new university in Australia as managing director of GLC Solutions and was vice president of operations and dean of Independence University, a Salt Lake City-based, nonprofit online institution, from 2004 to 2009.

Jones said, “I've always wanted to be a college president from the moment I stepped into a classroom.”

And, although the path she has taken is not the usual one, Jones said, “I'm not sure I view myself as nontraditional.”

“It may behoove higher education to look at trends,” she said, and “hire a leader with experience in those areas.”

“Many of the shifts are around the micro-credentials (certificates from short-term training programs), but I think that can be fed into longer term (education programs),” said Jones.

Also, because of people shifting jobs and careers through choice or necessity, there is an ongoing “need for retraining,” she said. “While they may be challenges, they are also opportunities for community colleges.”

In addition to struggles with maintaining enrollment and funding, Jones said, “I'd throw in consumer behavior” as one of the challenges facing higher education, with students looking closely as what they get for their money.

“Look at it as, it's time to evolve,” she said. “This will help us be stronger.”

Jones said community colleges should “start younger” with the pipeline, reaching out to high school students but also look at older, nontraditional students.

She asked, “How are we best serving them? Will the models we had in the past serve us in the future?”

Jones is a graduate of the University of Utah with a bachelor's degree in medical laboratory science and a professional master of science and technology degree.

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota


Education Reporter

Education Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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