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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Veteran board member favors N.C. community college system revamp

After spending most of the last decade as a board member for the N.C. Community College System, Jerry Vaughan is convinced that the 58-campus system needs turbocharging to be relevant in a fast-changing economy.

Vaughan is championing a budget proposal with state leaders that would boost spending for the community colleges by $273.5 million over the next two years. More than a third of the money would be used to supplement employee funding for “hands-on” practical labs that increase technical training opportunities across the state. About $40 million would go for setting goals and performance bonus programs at each campus tied to enrollment, retention and completions of degrees and certifications.

The plan reflects Vaughan’s conviction that North Carolina’s system, which is considered a national leader, needs to be much more effective in developing additional skilled workers across manufacturing, health care, construction, and other key industries.

Referring to the realigning global economy and to the significant investment in federally funded infrastructure, “Community colleges are the exclusive purveyors of hands-on talent,” he says. “We must seize this moment.”

Currently, the system does not set specific goals for the 58 campuses, reflecting a historic decentralization strategy that leaves most of the power with campus presidents and boards. Vaughan proposes a greater focus on collaboration coupled with goals-based bonuses to incent campuses to be more productive, effective, and efficient in educating students.

Vaughan is a Connecticut native who attended Howard University, the famed Historically Black institution in Washington, D.C. He came to North Carolina in 1993 to work for the Self-Help Credit Union, the Durham-based not-for-profit institution that specializes in lending to startups and minority-owned businesses.

Jerry Vaughan

Since 2012 he’s been a sales analysis manager for Miami-based Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, providing data analytics for a sales organization that services spirits retailers, restaurants, bars and other establishments in five southern states. The family-owned Southern Glazers operates in 44 states and Canada as the largest distributor of beverage alcohol.

Former Gov. Pat McCrory tapped Vaughan to serve a six-year term on the 21-member  state board of community colleges in 2013. After leaving the board for a year, he was reappointed by the N.C. Senate to a term that expires in mid-2025. Vaughan lives in Charlotte with his wife and 13-year-old son.

He says he wanted to work with the system because of his own experience at a community college in Manchester, Connecticut and his conviction that such schools are essential in workforce development and in advancing opportunities for socio-economic mobility.

Vaughan expresses frustration that some North Carolina leaders don’t see the community college system as its most valuable partner in workforce development. He says the system has had five presidents (and five interim presidents) in the last nine years, a turnover rate that has undermined the organization’s need for modernization amid major shifts in the economy now driven by digital transformation, the increasing prominence of artificial intelligence and other developing technologies.

The system expects to hire a new president in the next month or so, succeeding interim leader Bill Carver, who has held the post since August 2022.

This week, state lawmakers unveiled a bill that would require legislative oversight of the presidential selection. Officials are frustrated by the frequent executive turnover, says Sen. Tom McInnis, the Moore County Republican who is sponsoring the bill.

The state’s community college funding is mainly based on student enrollment and the number of employees, with some more campuses in less economically strong areas receiving more money per student.

Vaughan’s “transformation framework” suggests organizing the N.C. community colleges into three buckets:

  • Anchor institutions, which have large enrollments, robust leadership and growing local funding economies. These institutions, such as Wake Tech in Raleigh and CPCC in Charlotte are “aggressively independent,” he notes.
  • Momentum institutions, which have mid-sized enrollments, capable leadership and stable local tax bases and populations.
  • Access institutions, which have small enrollment and are in areas with declining enrollment, population and local funding.

He’s critical of the community college system’s request to expand state funding by $232 million over the next two years, calling it a “status quo” plan. This would be in addition to the $1.3 billion already spent annually on the colleges. It enables 58 colleges to have “58 different agendas loosely connected to the idea of economic development,” he says.

“That plan does not address the need for administrative collaboration,” he adds.  “That plan has no goals to drive accountability. That plan does not intentionally align the community college system with the agenda and goals of the state’s economic development.”

Vaughan has shared his plans with other members of the 22-member board. He also sharing  the ideas outside the system because he wants prompt action. He recalls a previous frustration in 2018, when he privately proposed that the system become more aggressive in seeking corporate funding through its foundation. Vaughan noted that Charlotte and Raleigh had received national attention for the inability of lower-income citizens to improve their financial status.

System leaders rejected the idea because they feared it would hurt local community college foundations, Vaughan says.

As a result, the flood of corporate funding for socio-economic mobility that followed the 2020 death of George Floyd totally bypassed the N.C. community colleges.

“We received nothing. We never even made the case for our role or our impact on mobility in the state,” he notes.

Citing his own industry, global spirits giant Diageo contributed $10 million to the United Negro College Fund following the Floyd tragedy. That fund services 60,000 students in 37 institutions nationally, while the N.C. system serves 175,000 students of color on its campuses.

This time, Vaughan says he’s raising his concerns publicly in hopes of spurring more debate and immediate action on transforming the system.

The community college system’s media office didn’t respond to requests for comment.

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Jerry Vaughan’s suggestions for N.C. Community College System funding

  • Support administrative and programmatic collaboration between colleges.
  • Provide a supplement for high-cost programs requiring clinical or practical labs.  These programs often require expensive equipment or facilities that must be maintained and equipped with the most current tools.
  • Invest in leadership talent in the system office. Current constraints on executive salaries contribute to an inability to attract and retain the best workforce development talent.
  • Invest in public relations and marketing to drive execution and attainment of system-wide goals.

 

 

 

David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at dmildenberg@businessnc.com.

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