James Fielder Jr., a Harford County resident, was appointed Secretary of the Maryland Higher Education Commission by Gov. Larry Hogan Wednesday, just 11 months after Fielder went to work for the governor as his appointments secretary in mid-January.
Fielder, 67, Bel Air area resident, had been administrator for the Town of Bel Air for about a year before joining Hogan's new cabinet.
As secretary of MHEC, Fielder will report to the 12-person commission. The agency and commission has oversight over any "post-secondary school in the state of Maryland," including four-year colleges and universities, community colleges and career schools, agency spokesperson Phyllis Reese said Wednesday.
Fielder will assume his new position Thursday, according to the governor's office.
He will succeed Jennie Hunter-Cevera, who had been serving in the higher education post on an acting basis for 11 months because her confirmation had been stalled in the State Senate before it adjourned for the year last spring.
Hunter-Cevera will become science advisor for Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles, according to the governor's office.
"He was the best candidate for the job," Shareese Churchill, a spokesperson for Hogan, said of Fielder. "There were three names provided by the Maryland Higher Education Commission [to the governor] after Mrs. Hunter-Cevera resigned, and he was the best candidate."
"I have every confidence that Secretary Fielder will serve Maryland extremely well in his new role at the Higher Education Commission," the governor said in a statement. "I look forward to working with him to ensure Maryland maintains its reputation for having world-class higher education opportunities. In addition, I thank Secretary Hunter-Cevera for her leadership, and know she will continue to do great work in her new role at the Department of Environment."
Fielder has "a wealth of experience in the field of higher education," having worked at Towson University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan-Flint, according to the governor's office. He has a doctorate in higher education administration from Michigan State.
Fielder has plenty of state government experience, serving under four different Maryland governors from both parties, holding positions as Secretary of the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation; Acting Secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development; and Assistant Secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development.
When he joined Hogan's cabinet last winter, Fielder said he had developed a close friendship with Hogan when the two served in former Gov. Robert Ehrlich's cabinet, Hogan as appointments secretary and Fielder as secretary of licensing and regulation.
Fielder said Hogan had expressed a desire that Fielder join his cabinet and said the two settled on appointments secretary a post in which Fielder said the felt he could "make a difference" in bringing quality people into various government agencies, boards and commissions.
"I am honored that Governor Hogan has expressed his confidence in me and has requested that I take on the exciting role as secretary of Maryland Higher Education Commission," Fielder said in a statement Wednesday.
Reese, the MHEC spokesperson, said the agency advises the governor and state legislators on higher education policies and initiatives, conducts research and oversees the review and approval of any new programs a college or university wants to introduce.
"We have to assure that there is no duplicity in [course] offerings," Reese said.
She noted the commission also administers more than $118 million each year in scholarships and financial aid on behalf of the state.
Erin Cox of The Baltimore Sun contributed to this report.