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Community college system has a new president: Thomas Stith

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The State Board unanimously approved Thomas Stith as president of the NC Community College system… Margaret Annunziata was named the next president of Isothermal CC — see below for our Q&A… The State Board approved budget priorities for the legislative session including faculty pay increases… 

On Monday, December 14, Thomas Stith was named the 10th full-time president of the NC Community College system. Stith will be the sixth head of the system since Scott Ralls departed as president in 2015 — a time that included George Fouts, Jennifer Haygood, and Bill Carver as interim or acting presidents.

Stith was approved unanimously by the State Board of Community Colleges before a mid-morning news conference announcing his selection.

Stith currently serves as head of the North Carolina district office for the U.S. Small Business Administration, but he is arguably most well known among North Carolina government circles for his service as chief of staff under Governor Pat McCrory. Stith also served on the Durham City Council for eight years.

For more on Stith’s experience, check out my colleague Alex Granados’ piece on Stith’s selection:

Stith laid out his vision for the community college system during today’s press conference. He talked about coming from a family of entrepreneurs and educators, explaining that in 1956, his parents started a business college in Durham. He said that history informs the way he thinks about the system he will now lead.

“To me, an appropriate education is a key to opportunity,” he said. “My vision for the North Carolina Community College system is very clear. The system will lead the effort to rebuild North Carolina’s economy by providing affordable education and training to our diverse population across the state.”

Stith said he has already been in touch with Republican legislative leaders as well as Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. He said they all are supportive of the state’s community colleges.

“Our state leadership understands the importance of our community college system,” he said. “They understand how the community college system will be a part of our economic recovery and educational future.”

What do you think of Stith’s selection by the committee? Do you believe Stith’s background and experience offer the right fit for the system ahead of a critical legislative session? What would you like for him to know about your college or the system as a whole? Send me an email with your thoughts or text COLLEGE to 73224.

We are also planning to become more active on Instagram in 2021. Are you active on Instagram? If so, will you send us your handle by email so we can follow you? You can find us on Instagram by clicking here.

We will be taking a few weeks off during the holiday season, but we’ll be back in January with all of the community college coverage! I hope that you find some rest, relaxation, and comfort during the weeks ahead. I have learned that during trying times it is best to find some semblance of new traditions that honor those you may not be able to partake in this year. I wish you the best.

Thank you for reading this year — and moving forward.


Nation Hahn

Head of Growth,

EdNC reads

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What do statewide leaders have to say about NCCCS president-elect Thomas Stith?

When the community college system launched the search process for system president, numerous stakeholders across the state pointed to former system president Peter Hans’ relationships with the legislature as something they hoped the next system head would maintain.

And on day one of Stith’s announcement, leaders from across the state endorsed his selection. A sampling of those statements include:

House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, sent out a statement this morning about the naming of Stith.

“North Carolinians are fortunate to have Thomas Stith at the helm of the state’s most vital workforce development pipeline, as few leaders have his experience to ensure this system meets the needs of our students and the demands of a growing private sector,” Moore said in a press release. “We are excited to build on the education and economic accomplishments already realized for North Carolina through Thomas’ service in state government, and working together we will continue to fulfill that promise in his new role.”

A press release from the community college system also included a number of statements from both state political and community college leaders.

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in the release:

“Thomas Stith will be a strong leader for North Carolina’s community colleges. His unique business experience and love of all things North Carolina will bring a fresh perspective to the system. The pandemic has shone a bright light on the need for educational opportunities and workforce development — two things our community colleges excel at. I believe Thomas is the right leader to build upon those fundamentals and help mold the next generation of North Carolina’s workforce.”

And Cooper said in the press release:

“North Carolina’s Community College system has a reputation for training the world-class workforce that has attracted companies large and small to our state. My hope is that the new President will work with businesses, schools, universities, workers, the legislature and me to continue the system’s tradition of connecting North Carolinians to life-long learning as our state faces the economic challenge of pandemic recovery.”

Click here for more

State Board of Community Colleges approves budget priorities

President-elect Thomas Stith and his new colleagues have a set of marching orders on budget priorities thanks to a State Board of Community Colleges vote last week. Task number one for Stith will be to work alongside his new colleagues at the system office and other stakeholders, including the President’s Association, to try to earn support for the newly approved budget priorities.

The state faces an uncertain revenue picture as the impacts of COVID-19 on the economy continue to play out. According to recent reports, the state has significant cash on hand, including in the rainy day fund, but our conversations with policymakers in recent weeks indicate they anticipate a lot of requests.

Preparing for the upcoming legislative session was one reason for the sense of urgency offered up by the presidential search committee, according to multiple sources.

Those priorities include $62,000,000 in recurring dollars to bolster community college employee salaries. Our community college employee salaries rank 40th nationally according to the system office — and we also trail many of our peer states in the Southeast. Those who followed the budget process in 2019 will recall increasing employee salaries was included in the budget passed by the legislature and then vetoed by Gov. Cooper. 

The other significant priority is budget stabilization for the 58 colleges. This ask comes without an exact price tag as of yet — but college presidents and leaders across the state have stressed the importance of funding to offset COVID-19 related enrollment declines.

Given the importance of budget stabilization and raising employee salaries, Stith told us during a question and answer session that he will hit the ground running today, even as his official start date isn’t until January 11.

Around NC

Against the backdrop of declining enrollment nationally and statewide, North Carolina’s declines are starkest among Black males. Last week, APCO Worldwide hosted a conversation with four community college students who shared the African American male experience within North Carolina community colleges. Check out my colleague Emily’s story for more on the panel and the conversation!

Don Michael, a learning analyst for Central Piedmont Community College, shared five steps towards creating a “digitally literate college campus.” He suggests committing to campus-wide assessments, eliminating barriers, and more. Check out his piece when you have a moment.

Isothermal Community College announced Margaret Annunziata as their next president.

Annunziata, the vice president of academic affairs at Davidson County Community College, will be taking over for Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton when he retires in February.

At Davidson, Annunziata played a range of roles, including director of student success and institutional assessment, coordinator of continuing education programs, and director of the child development center.

We caught up with Annunziata for a few quick questions:

Nation Hahn: Tell us a little bit about your career trajectory. Did you always wish to be a president? What prepared you?
Margaret Annunziata: I began my career as the director of the campus child care center and as a faculty member in the early childhood education program. From the beginning, I took every opportunity to get involved in all aspects of the college, working in continuing education, with grants and student success initiatives, accreditation, assessment, and most recently in academic affairs. Being a president was not something I thought about or worked toward. Instead, I focused on trying to do everything that I could from whatever my position to support our mission and best serve our students and communities. Every opportunity that I have had has been a result of that focus and the good fortune to work with amazing leaders who have challenged me to learn and grow. The wealth of opportunities up to this point, coupled with the encouragement and support of my mentors, has been instrumental in preparing me for this next step in my career.

NH: What do you think your first 100 days will look like at Isothermal? You are stepping in at a challenging time for any institution.

MA: I expect that I will have no problem hitting my step and moving goals! I anticipate spending a lot of time building relationships with the faculty, staff, students, trustees, community leaders, and citizens of Polk and Rutherford counties. The college is preparing for the development of a new strategic plan, and it is critical that I hit the ground running to understand the perspectives of all of our stakeholders so that I can work with the team at Isothermal to integrate these perspectives into our vision for the future.

NH: What do you see as the role of community colleges moving forward? Given the challenges of the pandemic, revenue, etc., it is a question that is on the mind of many.

MA: Although the challenges change over time, I don’t believe that the role of community colleges is what needs to change. What must be different is how we fulfill our role. We will continue to provide education and training that prepares our citizens for entry and advancement in their chosen career fields, align educational pathways with the needs of the current and future workforce as a leading partner in economic development in our communities, connect students to continued education through relationships with university partners, and ensure that our programs address the needs of each of our students to promote equitable outcomes and economic mobility for those who trust us with their futures.  The reality of our existing challenges requires us to think differently about how we make education and training available to our students, engage more collaboratively with other institutions to maximize resources, partner with business and industry to address skills gaps, and engage actively with our school systems and community agencies to address disparities within our communities.

Other higher education reads

Negotiations continue on Covid stimulus bill

Debate and negotiations continue around economic stimulus in response to COVID. According to Community College Daily, colleges and universities could receive approximately $20 billion as part of a $908 billion package being negotiated by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

What community colleges need right now!

Yves Salomon-Fernández, the president of Greenfield Community College, presents her top 10 priorities for community colleges, including increasing college-going rates for rural students, boosting faculty pay, and more. Give it a look and let us know what you think.

Why is enrollment down, especially among students of color?

The data in this piece is stunning: “Enrollment at community colleges for this fall was down 9.5% overall, 18.9% among freshmen and nearly 30% among freshman who are either Black, Hispanic or Native American, according to recent data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.”

I recommend reading the piece for a sampling of answers from various colleges providing context for their own declines.

Kandi Deitemeyer: 'I'm in the life transformation business'

Kandi Deitemeyer, president of Central Piedmont CC, gave an interview to the Charlotte Ledger that we wanted to spotlight. Deitemeyer spoke to the Ledger about an upcoming campaign focusing on adult students: “They might not necessarily be looking for a two-year degree to go on to a four-year degree. Many will want to come and do what I call an entree career path, then be able to come back and begin to stack credentials on top of that. So whether that’s something in IT or something in healthcare, or coming in to do welding or construction trades, or culinary or hospitality.”

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.