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Board chairmen unified on future of higher education

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Peter Hans, President of the NC Community College Board, left, Harry Smith, UNC Board of Governors, center, and Scott Shook, Chairman of the NC Community College board, right, converse before The State Board of Community Colleges meeting, Friday.


By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, July 21, 2018

WINTERVILLE — Friday’s meeting of the N.C. Board of Community Colleges signaled changes in attitude on several fronts.

The meeting melted the once-frosty relationship between the community college board and the UNC Board of Governors, It also featured a community college experience that changed the life of a U.S. Marine combat veteran in ways he never expected.

Harry Smith, chairman of the UNC System Board of Governors, exchanged warm greetings with Scott Shook, chairman of the N.C. Board of Community Colleges, then addressed the full board at its scheduled meeting at the Craig Goess Center of Pitt Community College. 

To the best of both men’s knowledge, it is the first time two Pitt County residents have chaired the boards of the state’s two largest higher education systems simultaneously. 

Smith congratulated the board on “the absolutely best hire they could have made” in Peter Hans as the new N.C. community college system president. 

“As I continue to tell everyone... just watch, Peter’s advocacy will be extraordinary,” he said.

Smith and Shook were united in their determination to bring the two governing bodies closer and work closely to achieve their shared goal of elevating the state’s workforce readiness. Smith characterized the community college system as the state’s most undervalued asset.

“When I look at what we’re doing in the university system, my message is that we’re also your advocate, and you will hear the (UNC) Board of Governors be your advocate,” he said. “The fact is, the university system should have been working very closely with the community college system for the last 20 years. The partnership really has a lot of the merits necessary to solve the problems we’re facing. 

Both systems are paying closer attention to educational opportunities that focus on the vocations, Smith said.

“We’ve created an atmosphere in our high schools where we message, message, message that you’ve got to get your degree and even get a six-year degree,” he said. “I think we’ve got to change that message and build pride in our community colleges — including as a pathway to our four-year colleges — and you’ll graduate with a lot less debt.”

Fostering  cooperation between the two systems seems to have been neglected during the past two decades, Smith said.

“We want to be your partner, work more closely with you and figure out where we can advocate for you, support Scott and Peter and take some of the walls down in the best interest of the citizens of North Carolina,” Smith said. “Last time I checked, that’s kinda what we’re all here for, right?”

One message Smith vowed to continue repeating as the UNC board chairman concerns system sustainability. 

“Every day there is a challenge to higher education in this country, and it’s typically around sustainability” he said. “Median income in North Carolina is less than $50,000 and we hear about the challenges of higher education all the time, including $1.5 trillion (nationally) in student debt. We’ve been blessed in this state with superfunding from the legislature.”

Shook pointed to the State Legislature’s recent $16.5 million appropriation to fund short-term continuing education programs through the community college system for workforce development. The money will be used to help residents establish state or industry credentials at the same rate as curriculum programs.

“We’ve asked for that on a number of occasions, and this time they did it,” Shook said. “The General Assembly has told us they need us for workforce development, and we agree, but a lot of these (programs) are expensive and we needed funding at the same level. That’s what they’re going to do now.

“It’s a safe assumption that they understand the changing role of community colleges,” he said.

Smith said Hans will be instrumental in bringing the the community college system’s value-added message to the people of North Carolina.

“We’re going to be your partner in that messaging,” he said. “Together, we’re going to build a comprehensive online platform and move to the front of the (national) pack. Market space is growing, and we have to respond to that and build tremendous income streams for the community college system that will help you continue to invest and reinvest.”

In other business of the N.C. Community College System board, trustees voted unanimous approval of the following measures:

  • An upgrade in the system code that clarifies expectations of system presidents and board chairs in the presidential selection process at individual system colleges. Code changes also were enacted for determining presidential salaries and those of college employees according to General Assembly guidelines.
  • Completion of funding ($11.3 million) for 63 total Adult Education and Family Literacy Act providers sponsored by the community college system and for 18 education providers to the N.C. Corrections System and other institutionalized adults and ex-offenders ($462,976) for adult education and literacy activities.

Board members also heard from Zach Kleghorn of Charlotte, an industrial instructor and coordinator at Pitt Community College. Kleghorn’s U.S. Marines combat service led to PTSD, depression and homelessness and a 2013 failed suicide attempt before a fellow veteran in Greenville invited him here, where, “with nothing to lose,” he enrolled at Pitt Community College. Kleghorn went on to achieve his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial technology and management from ECU and now is working toward his doctorate.

“If you fall behind, run faster, never give up ... and if you get knocked down, get right back up,” Kleghorn said. “Life can throw you many curves, but I’ve realized life doesn’t get better by chance, but by change. Everyone here made that change possible for me.”

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.