RALEIGH (July 19, 2022) – Until the middle of the last decade, leaders of the UNC and NC Community College Systems generally stayed for five to seven years.
But with the announcement today that President Thomas Stith III will depart the Community College System Office in Raleigh Friday after little more than 18 months as president, the state’s community colleges will have had seven presidents or interim presidents since 2015.
Similarly, the UNC System has had five presidents or interim presidents over the same period.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Large institutions – a university system with 17 campuses, a community college system with 58 colleges – need stable leadership.
Stith, chief of staff to former Gov. Pat McCrory, was chosen by a bipartisan State Board of Community Colleges in December 2020. The reasons for his resignation as President still aren’t entirely known, but he has seen an exodus of key personnel from the NCCCS Office.
(The State Board voted Wednesday to name Bill Carver, the former president of Nash Community College who has served as interim president before, as Interim President.1)
THIS COMES AFTER North Carolina adopted an ambitious goal to have 2 million people ages 25-44 with post-secondary degrees or credentials by 2030 – before the coronavirus pandemic.
Community colleges are expected to play an enormous part in meeting that goal.
Further, the state has recently promised billions of dollars in incentives to new employers like Toyota, Apple, Google, VinFast and Boom Supersonic, and community colleges are expected to provide training for workers at those facilities.
If this state has any chance of meeting those goals, it needs stable leadership.
But so far, we haven’t seen it.
And at a time when faculty pay at NC community colleges – the nation’s third-largest system – ranks 41stin the nation, we saw community college faculty rewarded with a mere 3.5% raise this month at a time when inflation is raging at 9%. That amounts to a pay cut.2
Despite those challenges, our recent NC Community College Series showed that many of the state’s community colleges continue to function well, meeting the needs of local employers, local students and those who want to start at a community college, then transfer to a university.
That’s largely because they are decentralized and locally controlled – they have freedom to respond to local needs.
In the state budget signed last week by Gov. Roy Cooper, though, the General Assembly laid out plans to consolidate offices of the Department of Public Instruction, Community College System, UNC System and Department of Commerce in a new education “campus” across the street from the Legislative Building in Raleigh.3
At both the community colleges and universities, state Senate leader Phil Berger stirred worries last year when he openly discussed consolidating the state’s K-12, community college and university systems.
“If we get them all in one building,” Berger told The Assembly, “maybe we can get them into one organizational structure.”4
That might be a fanciful form of order for legislators. But for administrators, faculty, staff – and worst of all, students – what’s going on now is chaos.