Para Jones will tread on very familiar ground come Feb. 6. She will return to an employer for whom she has worked for 22 years – but this time as president.
Jones said she is delighted to become the fourth president of the tax-supported Stark State College.
''To say that I have goals would be presumptuous,'' said Jones, 56. ''I do know what's most important to us – access, affordability and, increasingly, accountability.''
Stark State hired Jones away from Spartanburg Community College, near Greenville, S.C., where she has been president for two years. But Ohio apparently was never far from her mind.
She was a finalist in 2010 for the presidency at Owens Community College near Toledo. That didn't happen, so she applied to Stark State when John O'Donnell quit to accept a similar post at MassBay Community College in Wellesley Hills, Mass.
Stark State trustee chairman Dr. Michael L. Thomas said the search committee whittled the applicants from 35 to four and then to Jones, Stark State provost Dorey Diab and Quintin Bullock, president of Schenectady County Community College in Schenectady, N.Y.
Thomas won't confirm written reports that trustees were divided over the selection of the president. ''All three had avid supporters,'' is all Thomas would say.
Jones emerged the victor because she had ''the necessary charisma,'' he said. ''Her intellect and philosophy are aligned with the community and the school.''
Jones also comes to Stark State's top job with more outside experience than many in higher education.
After graduating from the University of Mount Union, she edited books and manuals for flight simulators at Goodyear Aerospace, then went on to public relations and marketing posts at the city of Canton and Roadway. She spent a semester in journalism school before deciding that wasn't for her.
Her interest in higher education administration was piqued when she joined Stark State in 1987 as head of public relations.
She earned an M.B.A. from Ashland University in 1994 and a doctorate from the University of Nebraska in 2008, the latter while vice president for advancement, planning, college and community relations at Stark State.
Along the way, she raised twin sons who are now 26, wedging study into the early morning hours before she went to work.
She will rejoin an institution that's been successful in many ways.
A surge of students propelled college enrollment to more than 15,500 last fall an 82 percent increase since 2007 and the fastest rate of growth among Ohio's two-year colleges.
As enrollment has grown, so has the number of students graduating with certificates and associate degrees – from 582 in 2001 to 1,084 in 2010, an 86 percent increase, according to the Ohio Board of Regents.
Stark State has kept a lid on tuition, which at $4,215 a year is less than half that of the University of Akron ($9,500) or Kent State's main campus ($9,300).
Jones will oversee the largest college in Stark County 73 acres in Jackson Township plus seven satellite locations. The college employs 428 full-time faculty and staff and hundreds of part-timers on a $70 million operating budget.
At the same time, though, Jones will not make as much as her predecessor or colleagues at other two-year institutions.
Her three-year contract calls for a salary of $225,000 a year plus standard Stark State benefits, while O'Donnell, her predecessor, made $284,000 plus fringes such as allowances for housing and personal travel and a $50,000 performance bonus in 2010.
In contrast, Cuyahoga Community College's Jerry Sue Thornton makes $259,000 plus $44,000 for housing and $25,000 each for longevity and performance. And Roy Church, president of Lorain County Community College, made $256,500 plus a $76,000 longevity supplement in 2010, six weeks of vacation and up to four weeks of sabbatical leave yearly.
Thomas, the Stark State trustee chairman, said Jones is being paid ''appropriately to her level of experience. We're trying to be cost conscious with the taxpayers' money.''
Jones implied that money is not her goal.
''The trustees made me an offer and I thought it was fair,'' she said.
Now, she'll return to the Tudor home in Jackson Township that she shares with her husband, Greg, who is the general manager of an industrial and commercial roofing company.
He stayed in Ohio to try to sell their home when she moved to Spartanburg.
Jones may be able to pursue her hobbies reading and gardening after she settles in. But she said she will spend the first three months conducting listening sessions with students, community leaders, employees and others.
Then she said she will come up with a plan.
The ultimate goal will be to help students to find employment and ''earn a good, solid living. That's what we're about,'' she said.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3729.