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Potential plan to merge UNC and community college system made public

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Updated: EdNC received an email at 11:58 p.m. on Nov. 2 from the North Carolina Community College System. It says in part, “President Stith’s email to ‘Presidents’ and his response that we provided to you this evening in no way confirms a merger. We have not been consulted by the General Assembly on these speculative plans.”

An email obtained by EducationNC shows Thomas Stith, president of the North Carolina Community College System, confirming news broken by long-form periodical The Assembly that plans may be in the works to merge the University of North Carolina and North Carolina Community College systems.

In the email to community college presidents, Stith references The Assembly’s profile of UNC-System President Peter Hans (the former North Carolina Community College System president), and its suggestion of a merger.

“I felt it was important to make you aware that this potential restructuring concept has been made public,” Stith wrote.

The Assembly article by Kyle Villemain, published Nov. 2, said that Senate President Pro Tempore, Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, confirmed to The Assembly “a significant reorganization of the state’s higher-education landscape that would merge the university and community college systems under the leadership of one person—Hans.”

Later in the article, Villemain specifically asks Berger about the possibility of a merger.

The article quotes Berger as saying, “I think there’s a need,” and referencing a plan in the Senate proposed budget that would put the community college and UNC systems in the same building.

“If we get them all in one building,” the article quotes him as saying, “maybe we can get them into one organizational structure.”

That plan calls for $1.8 million in non-recurring funds in fiscal year 2021-22 and more than $11.3 million nonrecurring in 2022-23 for a plan to move the UNC System Office to the downtown government complex in Raleigh.

Villemain goes on to ask Berger if Hans should lead a consolidated system and Berger responds by saying “I think so.”

EducationNC reached out to Stith to ask him about the potential merger. He responded with the following statement:

“The Great 58 community colleges provide affordable and accessible training and higher education opportunities. We are the third largest community college system in the country and provide education for more than half a million students each year. Our strong partnerships with business and industry in our communities and around the globe are creating a demand for our community colleges to provide customized training for the unique and skilled workforce they need, and we are leading economic recovery efforts in North Carolina. We have strategic partnerships with UNC institutions and independent colleges and universities statewide. Students who attended N.C. community colleges from July 2009 to June 2019 accounted for 33% of all N.C. wage earners, totaling 1.7M people and $60B earned in FY 2020. Our system of 58 community colleges is strong, and we are well poised to meet the needs of our great state.”

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.