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Thomas Stith's resignation sparks another transition for the NCCCS System

A note from us

Welcome back to Awake58, your weekly round-up of all of the latest community college news from across North Carolina – and the country.

Where does the State Board of Community Colleges go from here after Stith’s resignation last month… William Aiken is out as interim president of Randolph Community College, and a new leader steps in… The Belk Center at N.C. State University released an adult learner handbook that is worth your time…

The big news out of the system office in July was the resignation of Thomas Stith as president of the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS). Stith’s departure has led to Bill Carver returning as interim president of the system – and it will spark a search for a system president. Stith marked the sixth system president since Scott Ralls departed the role in 2015.

Hours of closed session meetings at past board meetings had suggested that the board, Stith, and others were locked into lengthy conversations around the future of the system. This spring, the board put in place a set of performance goals for Stith and his team:

  • Enhance team building, internal communications, and leadership development to improve hiring, retention, turnover, and morale.
  • Strategize to enhance regular communications with presidents, Board members, and legislators to inform them on the activities of the system office.
  • Frame a plan in collaboration with community colleges to address enrollment declines that promotes best practices and initiatives.
  • Identify administrative and programmatic changes, including collaborations and reduction of red tape, to better support our colleges based on feedback from the presidents that was provided during listening sessions.
  • Establish a platform for identifying and developing initiatives to support the stabilization and advancement of rural colleges in light of the demographic and funding challenges that many of them face.

Our reporting from the April meeting noted, “the Board asked Stith to come back in July with a deeper dive on those goals.”

Many of these goals are related to the issues I raised when Stith initially assumed the role of the system president. The system made progress on the funding and faculty/staff pay front in the latest state budgets — but the recently adopted three-year legislative agenda for the system makes it clear that this will remain a top issue for the colleges.

Other issues remain a work in progress.

My piece noted the need for stability at the system office. Stith’s departure is notable, but many other senior staff members have departed over the last year and a half. Carver will need to stabilize the ship as interim president — and longevity was among the top traits mentioned when I asked various stakeholders in recent weeks what they are looking for in the next system leader.

Other challenges remain a tall task for the entire system. Enrollment declines continue to plague higher education nationally — particularly two-year colleges — and a declining birth rate is just beginning to have an impact that will persist. Enrollment declines are often powered by the same population declines that will raise big questions for rural community colleges moving forward. Promising practices around adult learners and dual-enrollment alike have shown potential, but questions remain on how these twin opportunities will continue to play out.

The Assembly had the original story on Stith’s departure. You may read that article here.

As the system begins a new period of transition, we will continue to deeply cover both the search, the work of each of our 58 community colleges, and the issues the entire system is working to tackle. We’d also love to hear your thoughts on the future of our community colleges. Feel free to reply directly to this email!

As the transition played out, I visited Beaufort County Community College, Craven Community College, Johnston Community College, Pamlico Community College, Wayne Community College, and Wilson Community College. My colleague Emily Thomas and I also spent time on the campus of Wilkes Community College just last week as part of the President’s Association summer meeting.

While you can expect more coverage from those visits in the weeks ahead, a few themes emerged including the importance of community collaborations in order to serve the whole community, the vital role community colleges play in economic development, and the diversity of our rural communities across the state.

Thank you for welcoming us back into your inboxes this week. We are happy to be back.

I’ll see you out on the road,

Nation Hahn

Head of Growth —

EdNC reads

Thomas Stith resigns as leader of the North Carolina Community College System

My colleague Alex Granados has the full story on Stith’s resignation and the State Board’s reaction:

In a statement sent out over email, Burr Sullivan, the chair of the State Board of Community Colleges, said he had accepted Stith’s resignation, which is effective on July 22.

“The Board thanks Mr. Stith for his service and wishes him well. The State Board expects to name an experienced interim president in the next few days and will begin a thoughtful and thorough search for a permanent president to lead the NC Community College System,” Sullivan said in his statement.

“It has been an honor to lead the NC Community College System alongside well-respected college presidents, professionals, dedicated educators, and inspirational students,” Stith said in a comment sent out via email. “While navigating the uncharted waters of the COVID-19 crisis with careful stewardship, authentic collaboration, and unshakeable faith, I am thrilled that our community college system enhanced its offerings, making students more competitive for the workforce, entrepreneurship, and transfer to 4-year institutions. That was my job to do and my commitment to our state.”

The State Board’s official release is here.

We will continue to cover the system office transition as it plays out. If you wish to share your thoughts on the process, I would welcome them. Please just reply directly to this email.

Around NC

The State Board and the system office had a busy July. Thomas Stith resigned. Bill Carver returned as interim president, and his first day was July 25. The board also celebrated the 2021 system-level award winners.

The system also received a $4 million grant from the from the U.S. Department of Labor: “This grant will enable ApprenticeshipNC to strengthen, modernize, expand, and diversify its Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP), and improve RAP completion rates for underrepresented populations, underserved and rural communities. ApprenticeshipNC will focus on expanding the number of programs and apprentices in priority industry sectors and diversifying the industries that utilize RAPs. This grant will support North Carolina’s economic recovery post-COVID-19 pandemic and ensure preparedness for the future. The funding will begin on July 1, 2022 and extend through June 30, 2026.”

The Belk Center at N.C. State University released an Adult Learner guidebook focused on the findings from the initial cohort members of the NC Reconnect initiative. According to the release: “We know that educational inequities in North Carolina, like in many other parts of the country, have particularly affected adult learner populations,” says Audrey Jaeger, Ph.D., W. Dallas Herring Professor with the N.C. State College of Education and executive director of the Belk Center. “To meet the demands of the workforce, it is critical that we help this population in completing a high-quality credential or postsecondary degree. Our hope is that this guidebook will provide some actionable insights that community colleges can implement on their own campuses to better serve the adult learners in their communities.” The guidebook can be found here.

Higher Ed Works put together a package of all of their community college storytelling. You may find all of the content here.

Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College announced “that the school is receiving $150,000 from Bank of America in continued support of the college’s Skills Training Employment Program (STEP).”

Cape Fear Community College announced a contract extension for President Jim Morton.

Craven Community College introduced their new commercial kitchen — and I had a chance to visit it a few weeks ago. The VOLT Center is worth your time if you find yourself in Craven County.

Guilford Technical Community College announced a new vice president of instruction.

Mayland Community College has launched a significant economic development project in their region, including a hotel. Mayland President John Boyd updated local elected officials on his vision for the project recently.

Longtime Randolph Community College President Bob Shackleford retired at the end of June. William Aiken briefly served as the interim president – and now Elbert Lassiter will serve in the role. Lassiter has served as the vice president of workforce development and continuing education.

Other higher education reads

WEBINAR | Community colleges as a driving force

From the Chronicle for Higher Education comes this invitation for a webinar on Aug. 8:

Community colleges are essential to the regions they serve, as they offer opportunities for underserved students to succeed. There are still many aspects of community college that have room for improvement, such as meeting students’ basic needs. In The Chronicle’s forthcoming virtual discussion, new ideas will be explored, as well as what higher education may learn from community colleges about best strategies.
Experts will explore some of the following issues during the online discussion:
  • Challenges and trends regarding two-year college enrollment

  • Innovations in student curriculum

  • Collaborations on transferring with four-year schools

You may RSVP by clicking here.

If more students become pregnant post-Roe, are we prepared to support them?

The Hechinger Report wonders if educational institutions are set to support more expectant mothers following the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade as a constitutional right. Hechinger outlined the data:

Partly as a result, educational outcomes for these students are bleak. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about half of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by age 22, compared with approximately 90 percent of their peers who do not give birth. Fewer than 2 percent of mothers under 18 complete college by age 30, according to a 2006 report published by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (now Power to Decide).

EdNC recently took a look at similar statewide data. As someone born to a teenage mother who dropped out of high school due to the demands of raising a child, this data is striking. As colleges prepare to better serve adult learners, Hechinger’s piece poses important questions.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.