RALEIGH, N.C. - Thomas Stith III, a leader with two decades of experience in public service and business in North Carolina, was elected the next president of the NC Community College System on Monday by the State Board of Community Colleges.
Stith is currently district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration, where he has led the federal agency’s response to COVID-19 in North Carolina, resulting in more than $16 billion in support for small businesses in the state.
Breeden Blackwell, chair of the State Board, said Stith’s track record in business and government will serve the state’s 58 community colleges well.
“Thomas Stith is a proven leader with a broad network of relationships in business, education and government in North Carolina,” Blackwell said. “He has the skills and talents to lead our great community college system at a critical time. The colleges will play an essential role in North Carolina’s economic recovery from the pandemic.”
Stith said he is committed to serving students and supporting the colleges as they develop the workforce and extend affordable education to residents.
“My vision for the North Carolina Community College System is guided by the principle that education translates into opportunity,” he said. “The North Carolina Community College System will lead our state’s economic recovery by providing education and training for our diverse population. The system will become a national model for educational excellence.”
Stith will begin his new role on Jan. 11. He succeeds Interim President Dr. William Carver and former President Peter Hans, who became president of the University of North Carolina System in August.
Stith has extensive experience in economic development and government relations. He was chief executive of several businesses and consulting firms, including the Michael Thomas Group in Durham and LJP Lab, a toxicology lab and health care consulting company in Kernersville.
He served as chief of staff to former Gov. Pat McCrory from 2013 to 2017 and was a three-term city council member in Durham from 1999 to 2007. During his time in the Governor’s Office, he led special initiatives on historically black colleges and universities and Hurricane Matthew recovery.
His higher education experience includes five years as economic development program director at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the Kenan-Flagler Business School, from 2008 to 2013. There he focused on improving Eastern North Carolina economies, securing grant funds and managing renewable energy projects.
Stith holds a bachelor’s degree in management and a Master of Business Administration in marketing from North Carolina Central University, as well as a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University.
He has served on the boards of the Golden LEAF Foundation, the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, the North Carolina Institute of Political Leadership and the United Way of the Greater Triangle. He is a member of the North Carolina Leadership Forum and a deacon at Union Baptist Church in Durham.
He currently lives in Charlotte with his wife Yolanda. The couple has three daughters – Kara, Kiah and Kira.
The Presidential Search Committee began its work in July. Dozens of candidates were considered before the committee narrowed the pool to several finalists. The committee sought and received input from the N.C. Association of Community College Presidents and the N.C. Association of Community College Trustees.
“We were very fortunate to have a strong pool of candidates in this search,” said Bob Stephens, chair of the Presidential Search Committee. “That is a testament to the high regard with which people hold our community colleges. In the end, the choice was clear and unanimous.”
North Carolina’s 58 community colleges serve about 700,000 students a year in associate degree programs, university transfer programs, short-term workforce training, high school dual enrollment, career and technical education and adult basic education.
Statements from leaders in North Carolina
“Thomas Stith will be a strong leader for North Carolina’s community colleges. His unique business experience and love of all things North Carolina will bring a fresh perspective to the system. The pandemic has shone a bright light on the need for educational opportunities and workforce development — two things our community colleges excel at. I believe Thomas is the right leader to build upon those fundamentals and help mold the next generation of North Carolina’s workforce.”
- Phil Berger, Senate President Pro Tem
"North Carolina’s Community College system has a reputation for training the world-class workforce that has attracted companies large and small to our state. My hope is that the new President will work with businesses, schools, universities, workers, the legislature and me to continue the system’s tradition of connecting North Carolinians to life-long learning as our state faces the economic challenge of pandemic recovery."
- Roy Cooper, Governor of North Carolina
“On behalf of the North Carolina Association of Community College Presidents, I extend our sincere congratulations to Thomas Stith. We welcome Mr. Stith to the NC Community College System, the best in the country, and look forward to working with him to ensure all 58 colleges continue to thrive and meet their local community workforce needs. He is joining the system at a critical and important time and we look forward to his leadership.”
- Dr. Kandi Deitemeyer, President, Central Piedmont Community College and President, North Carolina Association of Community College Presidents
“On behalf of the Executive Board of the North Carolina Association of Community College Trustees, we extend our congratulations to NC Community College System President-elect Stith. His experience in state government, his leadership with the U.S. Small Business Administration, and his knowledge of the strengths and challenges that face our great state will make him the right leader of the System at the right time. The NCACCT, representing more than 800 local trustees statewide, looks forward to working with him in his new role.”
- Sam Dickens, Chairman, North Carolina Association of Community College Trustees
“I congratulate my friend Thomas Stith, the State Board, and the community colleges on the successful conclusion of the search. The University of North Carolina is a dedicated partner to the ‘Great 58’ and I personally believe we are better together working towards opportunity for all.”
- Peter Hans, President, University of North Carolina
“North Carolinians are fortunate to have Thomas Stith at the helm of the state’s most vital workforce development pipeline, as few leaders have his experience to ensure this system meets the needs of our students and the demands of a growing private sector. We are excited to build on the education and economic accomplishments already realized for North Carolina through Thomas’ service in state government, and working together we will continue to fulfill that promise in his new role.”
- Tim Moore, Speaker of the House
“Having worked with Thomas in the past, I can attest that he is a principled leader with a broad set of experiences that will help our amazing community college system continue to evolve and serve the needs of North Carolinians. The relationship between our community colleges and high schools is paramount to providing choice for students as well as meeting our state’s workforce needs and I’m excited to work with Thomas to strengthen those ties.”
- Catherine Truitt, State Superintendent-elect
“In addition to long-standing transfer agreements between our state's individual independent colleges and universities and community colleges, NCICU and the North Carolina Community College System have been partners in statewide articulation agreements since the 1990s, including more recent projects with President Hans and the State Board on Reverse Transfer and signing an agreement last month for teacher education with President Carver. We look forward to working with President-elect Stith on our joint CIC/Teagle Foundation Grant currently underway in psychology and sociology and on many more partnerships in the future.”
- Hope Williams, President, North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities