Iowa College Aid begins search for new executive director

By: - September 15, 2023 5:22 pm

Iowa College Aid has started its search for a new executive director after Mark Wiederspan resigned in August. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa College Aid commissioners are asking to take on more of a role in the search for a new executive director after the former director resigned in August.

Mark Wiederspan, who came into the executive director position in 2020, resigned Aug. 16. Julie Ntem is currently serving as acting director and bureau chief. Iowa Department of Education Director McKenzie Snow spoke with commissioners at its board meeting Friday about the hiring processes for executive director and higher education administrator.

The position was posted online Sept. 8 and will remain up until Oct. 8. An application review committee made up of Iowa College Aid staff and leadership, but no commissioners, will score applicants based on a rubric “consistent with standard department processes,” Snow said. Candidates will then be selected for interviews, conducted by a committee on which board chair Emily Stork will serve.


Once each applicant has interviewed, a final candidate will be chosen. Snow said she’ll be able to provide an update on the also-vacant Division of Higher Education administrator once the executive director hiring process is complete.

Board Commissioner Herman Quirmbach, a state senator, brought up concerns during the meeting about commissioners having so little participation in the hiring of the executive director. He suggested that three to five commissioners join in looking at applications and interviewing candidates.

Having served on the board for 20 years, Quirmbach said he and other board members have background information and experience on the commission that would be valuable to the process of hiring leadership. If the committees are only made up of staff and department leadership, he said, it could put staff in an awkward position if they disagree with their supervisors.

“I have every faith in Emily (Stork) and Julie and commission staff, but I think that people from the outside — in other words, not employees of the department — would be more appropriate,” Quirmbach, D-Ames, said.

Iowa College Aid became part of the Department of Education in July as part of a larger state government realignment proposed by Gov. Kim Reynolds and approved this year by the Legislature.

Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, who was tuning into the meeting remotely, sent a message agreeing with Quirmbach’s statement that broader representation of commissioners would be desirable.

Snow, who presented remotely, thanked Quirmbach for his comments.

“I think that’s important advice as we work to balance the need to fill this position quickly and schedule those interviews quickly, and then also (have) the representation of multiple voices,” Snow said. “So thank you for the feedback.”

Commissioners also discussed details of a recommended reorganization of the commission. A panel created by the state government reorganization law is working to decide whether to keep, change or eliminate Iowa’s more than 250 boards and commissions.

Stork said she spoke with commissioner Barbara Sloniker, who wasn’t present at Friday’s meeting, about the recommendation, as she sits on the Boards and Commissions Review Committee.

Subcommittee members recommended that voting membership of the commission be reduced to between five and seven public members, made up of students, parents and individuals with financial or fiduciary backgrounds. Members representing the state Board of Regents, private colleges and universities and community colleges would also become non-voting members, Stork said, to eliminate the appearance of conflict of interest within the commission.

Members of the public can email comments on the recommendations to [email protected] until Sept. 17, Stork said. The committee report will head to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk Sept. 30.

“This is just a recommendation, it may not end up in the final report. It may not even end up amounting to anything,” Stork said.

Quirmbach said the board should be wary of losing members, as it could become more difficult to reach a quorum to be able to vote on items in meetings. Kicking important decisions to the next meeting two months out because not enough people are available is not a good situation to be in, as he said he’s occasionally seen while serving on the state’s Tobacco Commission.

“We serve a lot of different communities, a lot of different interests, and every one of those interests in every one of those communities is an important participant here,” Quirmbach said. “I don’t want to shrink the flow of input.”


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Brooklyn Draisey
Brooklyn Draisey

Brooklyn Draisey is a Report for America corps member covering higher education. She previously worked for the Quad-City Times and The Gazette covering topics ranging from business to culture.