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New chief selected to lead Roxbury Community College

Hoping to turn an academic and economic corner, Roxbury Community College has tapped a career college administrator from Illinois to move the school beyond the scandals and investigations that have roiled the campus during the past year.

The Massachusetts Board of Higher Education announced Thursday that it has approved the college trustees’ unanimous selection of Valerie R. Roberson as the school’s 15th president, effective July 22.

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Singling out her ability to raise funds, her emphasis on putting students first, and her track record in establishing ­relationships between campus and community, school officials said Roberson has the skills to correct and improve critical lapses at RCC.

“This pick is extremely impor­tant, not only in light of what has been in the news about the school’s difficulties, but because we have a very ­vibrant student body and a very engaged community that wants to see this school flourish,’’ said Steven W. Tompkins, vice chairman of RCC’s board. “To do that, it needs solid demonstrated leadership. Dr. Roberson has done that at several stops in her professional career.”

Roberson, 52, is vice president for academic affairs at Joliet Junior College and has been a community college administrator for nearly 30 years. A ­native of Illinois, she was formerly president of Olive-
Harvey College, where she is credited with turning it from a low ranking to a much-
improved school, said Mark Culliton, chairman of the search committee that recommended Roberson to trustees among four finalists.

“She’s done it,’’ said Culliton, who serves as chief executive of the nonprofit College Bound Dorchester. “If you look at her track record in Chicago, in particular Olive-Harvey College, she went into an institution that was having some challenges and really turned it around.”

Speaking by phone after leaving Boston for Chicago on Thursday, Roberson said that she is thrilled at the prospect of serving as RCC’s president.

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“I’m certainly aware of the challenges, and I’m aware of the potential that is there,’’ she said. “I am confident that I will get the institution past those challenges.”

The task ahead is a difficult one at RCC, an institution now in its 40th year that has 2,711 students. The college has struggled to steady itself after being beset by scandals, which led to the resignation of president Terrence Gomes last summer.

Governor Deval Patrick ­replaced most of the college’s 11 board members in an effort to shake things up, and federal and state officials investigated mismanagement of campus ­finances and a failure to properly investigate allegations of sexual assaults.

In March, a report requested by trustees detailed systematic lapses during the past decade by current and former administrators. The college’s board promised reforms.

Roberson will replace Linda Edmunds Turner, who served as interim president after Gomes resigned.

Tompkins, who is the ­Suffolk sheriff, said that with the new board and efforts so far to improve RCC, the school now is in “a sweet spot” and has the potential to be much better than it has been.

“It has backing of the governor; it has the backing of the mayor to be successful,’’ he said. “What it needs is demonstrated, qualified leadership. And I believe that she is going to do that in the presidency.”

Other finalists for the presidency were George Santiago Jr., president of Briarcliffe College in New YOrk; Evon Walters, chief executive of the eastern campus and the culinary arts facility of ­Suffolk County Community College in New York; and Alex J. Kajstura, president of the Northwest Campus of Pima County Community College District in Arizona.

Meghan Irons can be reached at mirons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated an incorrect enrollment figure for Roxbury Community College.

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