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College of The Albemarle’s Dr. Jack Bagwell named 2024 President of the Year

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College of The Albemarle president Dr. Jack Bagwell was recently named the 2024 President of the Year for the North Carolina Community College System. Bagwell began his tenure as president of College of the Albemarle (COA) in December 2019 after spending more than 30 years in the South Carolina community college system.

“The President of the Year Award encourages, identifies, and rewards outstanding leadership and commitment to the community college mission among the presidents of the institutions of the North Carolina Community College System,” says a press release from the system office.

“I like to keep doing things and changing things, and there’s no better place to do that than the community colleges. We have to be nimble and swift, and have to make decisions fast and deliver on those decisions,” Bagwell said.

“The magic behind being president of the year is having good people doing great things every day at a wonderful college.”

Dr. Jack Bagwell, president, College of The Albemarle

The award is sponsored by the John M. Belk Endowment (JMBE).

“College of The Albemarle has a unique mission that spans multiple counties and reaches thousands of North Carolinians, and under Dr. Bagwell’s leadership, COA has taken its role as an innovation and opportunity hub to another level,” said JMBE president and board chair MC Belk Pilon. “I am so grateful to Jack for his leadership and student-centered approach and can’t think of a more deserving recipient.”

A first-time president in a pandemic

COA may be Bagwell’s first college presidency, but he is no stranger to higher education. He landed the job after more than 30 years working in higher education in South Carolina.

Bagwell spent 23 years at York Technical College. Starting off as an adjunct, he transitioned into a full-time instructor role before advancing to an instructional specialist position, where he provided support to fellow faculty members in technology and distance learning. He later became the dean of learning resources, the associate vice president of academic affairs, and the interim vice president for development.

Leaving York Technical College, Bagwell moved to Piedmont Technical College, where he served as vice president of academic affairs.

Bagwell’s leadership of COA began shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic landed on our shores. EdNC interviewed Bagwell a few months after the pandemic started to understand how his experience as a new president during the crisis.

Molly Osborne visited his campus during their drive-through graduation and spoke with Bagwell about the experience.

“There’s nobody you can ask because nobody’s been through it. So you can’t pick up the phone and call a seasoned president or a seasoned anything and say, ‘Hey, last pandemic, what did you guys do when you shut the country down?’ There is no framework.”

Dr. Jack Bagwell, president, College of The Albemarle

Bagwell struck an optimistic tone during their conversation when asked about the college’s future.

“I’m hopeful that we are going to learn as much as quickly as anyone and be able to leverage those new learned lessons to bring more learning to our region, more opportunities for learning to our region,” he shared.

His hopeful forecasts appear to have been validated, judging by this award.

“College of the Albemarle has a rich history and an integral role in our community, and Dr. Bagwell is ensuring that it remains at the heart of the Albemarle region,” said W. David Harris, chair of the COA Board of Trustees, in the press release announcing Bagwell’s selection. “His infectious leadership style has a profound impact, and he truly deserves recognition as one of the finest in his profession.”

Bagwell credits the whole college for his success.

“We were just surviving COVID-19 the first couple of years, but then along came Reach, Rural College Leaders, and NC Reconnect. We also went through SACSCOC process, and we had to tackle our policies and procedures,” he said in a recent interview. “All of this is about the same thing. It is about continuous improvement. It is about reaching adults. It is about trying to get students in the door.”

Bagwell said he emphasized the need for the college to approach new ideas from the perspective of being a “yes first” person during his earliest conversations with his leadership team.

“That didn’t mean people needed to be ‘yes people,’ but it was important that we see if can make ideas work before we say no, it can’t work,” he said.

COA has had to “reinvent themselves,” according to Bagwell. Their work with adult learners had to be evaluated through an equity lens.

“We’ve had to look at our work through a lens of equity, and not just racial equity, but age,” he said. “We’ve been working with adults for 63 years at COA, but we for a while got really used to serving younger students that were easier to reach.”

JMBE Senior Advisor Mike Krause credited Bagwell’s focus on being student-centered when asked about his leadership and COA’s successful participation in NC Reconnect:

“Partnering with Dr. Bagwell to launch NC Reconnect at College of The Alblemarle has provided the opportunity to see his hands on leadership style and personal approach to serving students firsthand,” shared Krause. “Dr. Bagwell is laser focused on the success of each student yet manages to also focus on the broader context of the campus, region, and state.”

Watch the video below to learn more about NC Reconnect and COA’s participation in the program.

When asked about COA’s future, Bagwell pointed out that when he became president, he didn’t know a pandemic was right around the corner, so it might be best to take his predictions with a grain of salt.

Ultimately, he said, COA will focus on, “Trying to continuously improve and stay hungry, as they say, and, you know, who knows what tomorrow holds. But I hope and I think based on what I’ve seen of my colleagues at COA for the last for almost four and a half years now, they’re gonna rally to whatever the future holds for this institution.”

Editor’s note: The John M. Belk Endowment supports the work of EducationNC.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.