Special to Iredell Free News

The year 1973 marks a pivotal moment in Mitchell Community College’s history, signifying its transition from a private two-year institution to a public community college. This meaningful change in the College’s history was brought about by the efforts of many individuals, but it occurred under the leadership of former college president Barton Herrscher.

Herrscher passed away on May 22,.

“Dr. Herrscher was instrumental in solidifying Mitchell’s future success,” said Dr. Tim Brewer, current president of Mitchell Community College. “His work transitioning the college from private to public was done so by embracing its history and heritage with an eye on student needs in the future.”

Contributing to his founding role as president, Herrscher served as a bold visionary to foster lasting positive change as he guided a 120-year-old private college through the transition of a new identity as a public community college.

Herrscher was unanimously approved by the Board of Trustees in 1970 as the next president of Mitchell but it was not until February of 1971 that Herrscher officially assumed the presidency at the age of 36.

According to William Moose’s “A History of Mitchell Community College” (2005), at an informal ceremony, former President John Montgomery literally gave Herrscher the keys to the building with Montgomery labeling himself as “the happiest man in Statesville” and newly appointed President Herrscher claiming himself to be “the second happiest man in Statesville.”

Herrscher, who held the role of president until 1973, assumed responsibility for the conundrum that the College faced at the time – Mitchell’s need for a smooth transition from a private educational landscape to a public community college frontier. Montgomery had led the College’s decision to convert to a community college, but it would take an educator with applicable experience like Herrscher to turn that decision into a successful reality.

Herrscher did, in fact, have that experience. He taught from 1958 to 1964 at Southern Methodist University, the University of California at Berkley, and in the Junior College District. In 1964, Herrscher took an interest in college administration and served four years as an associate dean of cultural and regional affairs. He completed his graduate studies with an Ed.D. at the University of California, Los Angles (UCLA) in 1967. While serving as an adjunct professor at the College of William & Mary, Duke University, North Carolina State University and Virginia Commonwealth University and through his work in 1968 with the Regional Educational Laboratory of the Carolinas and Virginia, Herrscher became familiar with Mitchell.

From his experience, Herrscher brought to Mitchell what he referred to as a Humanitarian approach to higher education — one that centered on putting the needs of the students first and the institution second to stimulate high quality educational progress. Known for his creativity and aid in the development of innovative programs, Herrscher championed a renewed direction with institutional responsibility in mind, offering community-focused, accessible education that accounted for the holistic student and their access to a variety of learning experiences.

During Herrscher’s presidency, the college saw a driven focus on student needs such as improved student life on campus, increased financial aid opportunities and curriculum changes that were more responsive to a student’s individualized learning habits.

Under Herrscher’s leadership, in 1971 Mitchell Community College is noted as operating in the foreground of educational reform in the country. President Herrscher was constantly engaging in the community, speaking at a variety of events ranging from local to regional, and drawing attention to the college’s novel approach of offering each student a variety of ways to learn at their own pace.

Herrscher’s individualized style of instruction at Mitchell was so innovative that it earned the college a mention on the front page of the January 20, 1972, edition of “The Wall Street Journal.”

In a recorded 1973 “Message from the President,” Herrscher addressed students in a statement that says: “the extent to which you profit from college is dependent upon the extent of your involvement in college life. As such, my charge to you is to ‘get involved.’ ”

Yet it is Herrscher’s leadership during his role as president of the college that administered the educational opportunity for students at Mitchell to get involved in an individualized approach to their continued education.

Herrscher’s leadership left a legacy for the educational opportunities that Mitchell offers its students today. From curriculum courses that lead to transfer degrees to certifications and programs that develop Iredell County’s workforce, Mitchell Community College offers customized paths of education for the individual student to meet their needs and interests.

Mitchell Community College is appreciative of President Barton Herrscher for his leadership, his vision, and his passion which laid a foundation for the College’s present and future success.

Editor’s Note: Information in this article has been acquired from William Moose’s “A History of Mitchell Community College” (2005) and from archival materials sourced from the Mitchell Community College Huskins Library.

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