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CCAC president to head community college in Cleveland

| Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 11:57 a.m.

The departing president of Community College of Allegheny County gets high marks for helping turn the institution's sagging fortunes around, officials say.

Alex Johnson, 62, has accepted the job as president of Cuyahoga Community College — Tri-C — in Cleveland, where he was president of the Metropolitan Campus from 1993 to 2004.

CCAC's board of trustees have not set a timeframe for replacing him, spokesman David Hoovler said on Wednesday.

Charles Martoni, president of Allegheny County Council, praised Johnson's ability to bring CCAC out of a tailspin.

“He did a really nice job for us,” said Martoni, who also is president of CCAC's Boyce Campus in Monroeville.

“He came in at a tough time and was able to get a lot of things done because of the way he conducted himself when dealing with others, which I think was a big part of his success.”

Johnson took the job at CCAC in 2008 amid news about excessive spending and criticism over delays in the college releasing its budget to the public. Johnson replaced Stewart Sutin, who resigned abruptly with a year remaining on his contract.

When Johnson took over, the college had yet to begin its $30 million fundraising campaign for capital improvements and programming, Hoovler said. Within 2 ½ years, Johnson managed to raise $41 million.

During his tenure, Johnson, whose salary is $250,454, also was able to stabilize revenue by helping to persuade County Council to pass a law requiring an increase in CCAC's funding by at least 2 percent a year.

Johnson oversaw completion of the $28 million K. Leroy Irvis Science Center at CCAC's campus on the North Side and instituted “drop-in” tutoring programs to improve student achievement.

“I think Alex Johnson's legacy at CCAC is that he leaves the place with a renewed sense of purpose,” said Robert Vagt, president and CEO of The Heinz Endowments, which has provided the college with about $9.5 million since Johnson was hired.

“Whether it's boosting academics or engaging with the community, he has infused the college with a vibrancy that you can feel when you visit the campus, which is a very important accomplishment.”

Despite efforts to control spending, the college raised tuition three times in the past five years, including two increases during a single year, according to Hoovler, who cited cuts in government funding as a major reason.

This month, trustees voted to increase overall costs for the fall by about 10 percent for full-time students and 11 percent for part-time students.

Johnson said a big part of his decision to take the job in Cleveland is that his children live there. He starts July 1.

“My wife and I have a son and a daughter living there as well as one grandbaby and another on the way, which is very important to us,” Johnson said. “I felt that I could not let the opportunity pass to talk with Tri-C officials about the position and, ultimately, to accept the role.”

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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