Shannon Watkins of the Martin Center interviews the state community college system’s president, Thomas Stith.

What are your top priorities for your first year as NCCCS president?

A couple of things come to mind, first and foremost to make sure I’m clearly articulating my vision for the North Carolina Community College system—and it’s really centered around three key points: First, to ensure that the North Carolina Community College system is viewed as the first choice for affordable and accessible education. If you look at the depth and breadth of the educational opportunities within the community college system, while we have a strong educational ecosystem in the state, I really believe, whether it’s a newly minted high school student, or a displaced worker that is looking for retraining, or someone that’s trying to excel in their career, that the North Carolina Community College system provides that first choice option and is accessible and affordable.

Secondly, to continue, as we’ve done throughout our history to serve as that entity to lead in economic development and economic expansion, as we continue to open our economy, post-pandemic and as we work through the current state of the pandemic, I really believe that the community college system will be on the leading edge of not only our recovery but that economic growth.

And the third point would be to lead and set the standard, not only within the state but nationally, for diversity and inclusion. If you look at North Carolina and as a North Carolina native, I appreciate the diversity of our state from Manteo to Murphy, and that is our strength. And so we want to make sure that we’re utilizing that diversity across our state, the citizens of our state, and have that as a foundational principle as we move forward as a system.