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State Board of Community Colleges elects new leaders

A note from us

Hi, Emily here with this week’s edition of Awake58. If you missed our last newsletter, you may find it by clicking here.

The State Board of Community Colleges elected new leaders and approved first-year goals for the system president last week… Dr. Brian Merritt was named the system’s new chief academic officer… Blue Ridge Community College President Dr. Laura Leatherwood offers her perspective on Career and College Promise…

Last week, the State Board of Community Colleges kicked off their July meeting with a vote – unanimously electing Thomas Looney as their new chair and Dr. Grant Campbell as vice chair.

Looney said one of his priorities is for North Carolina’s community colleges to no longer be known as the state’s best kept secret. Part of that plan involves strengthening relationships between businesses and community colleges. Looney is a retired senior executive who worked for IBM and Lenovo and served as the Board chair for Wake Technical Community College. Vice Chair Campbell is a physician and veteran who lives in Cabarrus County.

The day also included the swearing in of four Board members: Ann Whitford, Chaz Beasley, Ray Russell, and Tony Pile, the Board’s new student representative and N4CSGA president.

In other big news – the Board voted to hire Dr. Brian Merritt, president of McDowell Technical Community College, as the system’s new chief academic officer. Before Merritt can be hired by the system, he will need to be released from his current contract at McDowell Tech. If that occurs, Merritt’s proposed start date is Sept. 1.

In the interim, the Board voted to split the duties of the chief academic officer with two current system employees – Dr. J.W. Kelly and Dr. Lisa Eads.

I’ll end this week’s newsletter with a student story. This one from new Board member and student government representative, Tony Pile.

Pile was a stand-up comedian for seven years before challenges with mental illness took him off stage and eventually put him on disability. But disability wasn’t the end for Pile.

“My journey to get here has been a very challenging one,” he said, adding: “Disability saved my life.”

It was a chance for Pile to work on his mental health and not have to worry about how he would support his family. But it wasn’t easy. Pile spent months house-bound after being diagnosed with a panic disorder and agoraphobia – a fear of leaving the house. Even going outside to play catch with his son was a struggle, Pile said.

Pile would eventually make his way back into the community. That’s about the same time he decided to make it his mission to serve the very community who had helped him through the years. 

Starting first with a continuing education class at Carteret Community College, Pile quickly realized that if he wanted to do more he needed to learn more. Because of HERF funding, Pile was able to sign up for classes without financial risk to his family. Pile said he has flourished far beyond what he ever dreamed was possible as a student at Carteret. 

Not only has he flourished as a student, he has become a leader on campus and discovered areas in his life that he is passionate about. Pile plans to take his dreams to the next level. He wants to attend medical school to become a psychiatrist and return to practice in Carteret County.

“I want to help others the same way I was helped. I could have never done any of this on my own,” he said. “I had to ask for help. And I receive all the support I could possibly need from my psychiatrist, my therapist, TRiO Student Services, disability services, all of my instructors, my fellow students, and my family and friends.”

And to wrap, here’s Pile’s words during the Board meeting last week:

“If it were not for the great 58, I would not be on the journey that I am today. And for that, I would like to thank each and every one of you for what you do every single day. What you do in this room, and what you do in this building is changing people’s lives daily.”

With gratitude –

Emily Thomas, Policy Analyst –


EdNC reads

State Board of Community Colleges elects new leaders

The State Board of Community Colleges held their monthly meeting last week. It was the first in-person Board meeting with Dr. Jeff Cox at the helm as the new president for the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS).

The meeting was marked by several key announcements and votes.

In addition to Board elections, and a new chief academic officer for the system, the Board also approved Jenny Varner to serve as the acting president of Davidson-Davie Community College after the passing of Dr. Darrin Hartness earlier this month.

Board finance committee chair Lisa Estep said even though the system is starting the new fiscal year without a state budget, there is a plan in place. Based on a statue passed in 2016, the system can continue operating using recurring state funds. Non-recurring funds, however, cannot continue.

The Board approved first-year goals for new system president Dr. Jeff Cox. Here’s a list of some of the goals outlined by the Board.

  • Develop an updated viable funding model.
  • Scale system capacity and responsiveness to address workforce development needs.
  • Develop a viable sustainability plan for rural colleges.
  • Build a senior management team.
  • Engage crucial constituencies.
  • Oversee the development and execution of a comprehensive, statewide, and national communications, marketing, and branding plan.

Board member Ray Russell made mention of the preamble to the goals, which states:

“The goals outlined below align with the Strategic Plan and address issues identified in external assessments that the Board conducted in the last year. They are ambitious in nature and will not all be accomplished within a year but are critical to our long-term success. We will measure the President by ascertaining how well he leads the System Office and Community Colleges in making progress toward these goals over the next year.”

Russell also said he believes the Board is creating a model for setting senior leadership goals.

You can read the full recap of the Board meeting here.

Perspective | Closing the Career and College Promise gap: The power of a cohort model

Blue Ridge Community College President Dr. Laura Leatherwood writes about how North Carolina’s Career and College Promise (CCP) provides exceptional opportunities for students to earn college credits – tuition-free – while still in high school. Leatherwood then shares how a new CCP cohort model at Blue Ridge hopes to solve the participation problem among high schoolers.

While a tremendous asset, not all high schoolers are taking advantage of the program.

The Department of Public instruction shares that CCP students are 9% more likely to enroll in college after high school and that the program is particularly beneficial for underrepresented or disadvantaged groups. But according to myFutureNC, only 32% of North Carolina’s high school students are making use of the program.

With so much potential — and even the added flexibility of online classes — why are only a fraction of high schoolers taking advantage of this incredible program, particularly those coming from economically distressed communities?

Leatherwood goes on to share some of the hurdles to CCP, including transportation, scheduling, and communication. She then explains one way Blue Ridge has attempted to combat barriers to CCP – through a cohort model.

A Blue Ridge Scholar commits to a two-year pre-scheduled program, and the cohort model provides a predictable structure for all stakeholders. Through planning with parents and each high school leadership team, the CCP courses are mapped out, and other high interest courses offered through the high school are scheduled around the program.

The college courses are held in an assigned space on each high school’s campus during their first period. This intentional scheduling creates a purposeful space and time for collegiate learning, and it also provides opportunities to coordinate instruction in Spanish as needed.

In addition to graduating with college credits under their belt, each student receives a Blue Ridge Scholars cord of distinction to proudly wear on their high school graduation day.

You can read Leatherwood’s full perspective here.

Around NC

NCCCS hired Dr. Phillip Price as their new vice president and chief financial officer. Price is the former executive vice president and chief financial officer at Central Carolina Community College.

The North Carolina Community College Archives Association will hold their second annual conference at Randolph Community College on Aug. 4.

Bladen Community College and Fayetteville Technical Community College are partnering together to increase truck-driving training opportunities in the region. Read more here. 

Blue Ridge Community College nursing students earned a 100% pass rate on the national licensure exam.

Richmond Community College will host an online information session about their new 911 program on Aug. 1 and 2.

Ninety-two students from Surry Community College, who participated in Surry-Yadkin Works pre-apprenticeship program, signed with local companies.

Robeson Community College hired Kenny Locklear as their assistant vice president of facilities, contractual services, and EMS.

Mike Mackey was named Guilford Technical Community College’s new director of student recruitment.

The Hunt Institute will host a webinar on Aug. 24 at 2 p.m. to discuss rural postsecondary pathways. You can sign up here. 

The BelleJAR Foundation awarded NC East Alliance with a $1.6 million grant to support the STEM East initiative.

The 36th annual NCWorks Partnership Conference will take place Oct. 11-13, 2023, at the Koury Convention Center/Sheraton Four Seasons in Greensboro, N.C. “Each year, this conference draws hundreds of workforce development professionals from across North Carolina, representing education, labor, state and federal government, community-based organizations, community colleges and the private sector. There will be inspiring speakers, timely topics and great networking opportunities. This year’s theme is ‘Intentional Inclusion: Opportunities for All.'”

Register for the conference online through “TRAIN” at If you don’t have a TRAIN account, click on “New Users Click Here” to create a profile, or contact the NCWorks Training Center at [email protected] or 984-236-4299 for assistance.

The White House Initiative on HBCUs named its 2023 HBCU scholars, including 102 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students from 29 different states and countries. The cohort includes 14 students from N.C. HBCUs. Take a look at the full list here.

Other higher education reads

Essential Elements of a Student-Centric Website to Meet Learners Where They Are

This podcast from Modern Campus discusses how colleges can make their websites more student-centric, starting with meeting learners where they are.

Find the full podcast here. 

Speaking of meeting students where they are, check out the adult learner guidebook and briefs from the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research for strategies that focus on North Carolina specifically.

Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas is a policy analyst for EducationNC.