Stith named to lead North Carolina community college system

Thomas Stith was chosen to lead the NC Community College system.

RALEIGH — Thomas Stith III, the head of the U.S. Small Business Administration in North Carolina, was hired Monday to lead the state’s community college system.

The State Board of Community Colleges voted unanimously in an online meeting to choose Stith as the next president of the 58-campus system.

Stith succeeds Peter Hans, who was at the post for two years before he was named president of the University of North Carolina system in August. An interim has been in place while the community college board conducted a search.

Stith, who was previously then-Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s chief of staff and a Durham City Council member, has most recently been a Trump administration appointee as the SBA’s district officer for the state since September 2019.

Stith’s challenges at the SBA have included getting financial assistance to businesses struggling to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

Stith, 57, graduated from North Carolina Central University and will be the system’s second black president. Vic Hackley was the first in the mid-1990s.

The 21-member board who elected Stith is largely a mix of appointees by McCrory, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican legislative leaders. GOP State Treasurer Dale Folwell and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, or their designees, also are on the board.

The response by the state system and individual campuses to COVID-19 is expected to be an early priority for Stith.

Nearly 700,000 students take community college campuses statewide. A majority of campus-based instruction occurred online during the fall, with some face-to-face classes for hands-on skills and clinical work such as nursing.