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Stith opens 2021 North Carolina Community College System Conference

The North Carolina Community College System Conference began Monday with a keynote from new system president, Thomas Stith. 

The conference runs through March 12 and will include live sessions on topics of student access and achievement, equity, and workforce connections. Roundtables and networking sessions are also scheduled. 

In his remarks, Stith said his first priority is spreading awareness of the community college system as an affordable higher education opportunity.

“I want the North Carolina Community College System to be the first choice for an affordable education,” he said.

Stith echoed these points in an earlier podcast you should listen to here:

Education NC · Awake 58: An interview with President Thomas Stith of the NC Community College System

Stith also said he plans to build partnerships between the community college system and local employers.

“I’ve talked to some corporate leaders in different industries and they say, ‘I could hire 100 technicians today. I could hire 100 manufacturing individuals today,’” Stith said. “We need to figure out how to ensure that the community college system is providing that workforce.”

In terms of legislative goals, Stith cited faculty salary increases of 5% and budget stabilization. He also discussed capital funding.

“We need the community college system to be included in any capital funding proposal,” he said. “We need to ensure that our community colleges are front and center.”

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many community college classes have moved online. Stith said this has highlighted the need for broadband internet access in rural communities. 

“In particular when you talk about underserved communities, and also our communities in rural North Carolina, the importance of broadband and access to broadband cannot be overstated.”

Stith visited Vance-Granville Community College last month. See his takeaways here:

Stith said he views North Carolina’s community colleges as an important part of rebuilding the state’s economy in the wake of COVID-19, calling them “the great equalizer.”

Stith also echoed his call for the system to be a leader in diversity and inclusion.

“It is my goal to become a model for our national community college system and educational systems in general, to be a model for diversity and inclusion,” he said. “The strength of North Carolina’s people is our diversity.” 

“”We don’t want to be the best kept secret. We want to be the best.”

Thomas Stith, president of the North Carolina Community College System

Former system president and current president of the University of North Carolina System Peter Hans will give a keynote presentation on Monday Feb. 15 at 9 a.m. Stakeholders can register at the conference website. 

EdNC will be covering the conference with a recap every Friday in our community college newsletter — Awake58 — and live on Twitter through @MichaelJTaffe and @Awake58NC.

Michael Taffe

Michael Taffe is a reporter for EducationNC. His reporting focuses on the community college system.