DOWAGIAC — Southwestern Michigan College board members decided Monday to search internally for the college’s next president.

Six of seven trustees voted to conduct an internal search for the successor to President David Mathews, who announced earlier this month that he will retire at the end of this year after 18 years as president.

Only Trustee Elaine Foster voted no. Both she and two faculty members spoke out in favor of conducting a national search to find the best available candidate.

The board majority, however, had other ideas. Board President Tom Jerdon explained that applications will be accepted from internal candidates until right before the board’s Sept. 16 meeting. Members also are inviting the public to attend that meeting to give their input as to what qualities they think the next president should have.

Jerdon said he expects the board will hold a special meeting sometime later in September or early October to conduct interviews with chosen internal candidates. He said the board’s goal is to have someone on board to take over Jan. 1, but noted that the board won’t hesitate to conduct a national search if they don’t find a satisfactory internal candidate.

The board majority felt there were more cons than pros to conducting an external search. They cited the cost of conducting such a search, plus the uncertainty of not really knowing an external candidate before having to take a vote.

“It’s tough to get to know someone in a 60 minute interview. There’s also a higher turnover rate when you do a national search. Just look at LMC and Glen Oaks,” said Trustee Beth Cripe. “The most expensive ‘con’ is the expense – it can cost $50,000 to $100,000.”

Foster disagreed about the cost, saying that the board wouldn’t have to hire a firm and could do it at a lower cost. “It doesn’t preclude an internal search, but SMC is at a pivotal point. Education is changing and it behooves us to look outside,” she said. “If you go to the same store all the time, you miss out on things.”

Trustee Rebecca Moore said she’s been through external searches with her association with the Cass County government, where they’ve had four administrators in five years. “I strongly recommend an internal search,” she said. “If we can’t find the person we need internally, then we can do a national search.”

Moore noted that she’d be disappointed if she was a current SMC administrator and was not given the chance to apply for the president’s job. Trustee William White agreed, saying that he thinks it turns out better when a college “can grow somebody up” internally.

Trustee Dr. Heidi Grabemeyer Layman said she thinks it’s important to look at internal candidates since they already know what’s going on at the college, including the current re-accreditation effort. “My fear is that someone from the outside will see SMC as a stepping stone and won’t want to stay very long,” she said.

Jerdon noted that SMC has had 54 years of balanced budgets and is in the top 10 percent in several community college performance categories.

“Our top administrators are high performing,” he said. “The idea that we will find somebody better at a less high performing institution is to some degree wishful.”