State News

New N.C. Community College System President Named

Posted December 6, 2007 9:50 a.m. EST
Updated December 6, 2007 6:44 p.m. EST

— Craven Community College President Scott Ralls was named Thursday as the new president of the North Carolina Community College System, replacing retiring President Martin Lancaster.

The State Board of Community Colleges held its final round of interviews for the new president Thursday morning, a process that garnered an unusual amount of attention after the system decided to admit illegal immigrants at all of its campuses.

The other finalists were Kennon Briggs, the system's vice president for business and finance, and City College of San Francisco Chancellor Philip Day.

Lancaster, a former congressman, announced last winter that he would retire from the post in May.

Ralls, 43, has headed Craven Community College, in New Bern, for the past five years. He previously served as vice president of economic and work force development for the community college system and as director of economic development.

He will assume his new post on April 1, at an annual salary of $275,000.

Ralls takes over a 58-campus system that serves more than 800,000 students and continues to face strong pressure to retrain workers laid off from traditional manufacturing fields such as textiles, furniture and tobacco.

“My mission is just to keep the role of community colleges relevant and moving forward, as it's always been," Ralls said.

The conclusion of the presidential search comes a week after it became public that the system had changed a 2004 policy that had given each campus discretion in enrolling applicants who didn't have proof they were in the country lawfully.

Lancaster, in defending a Nov. 7 memo directing all of the campuses to admit illegal immigrants, said the system has had an open-door admissions policy since the forerunner to community colleges opened its doors in 1958.

Refusing to admit illegal immigrants would punish children brought to this country by their parents and who are likely to remain in North Carolina, Lancaster said.

The change has elicited a strong response from conservative groups and others who want strict enforcement of federal immigration laws, specifically those that bar undocumented immigrants from working in the country.

The five leading major party candidates for governor are all opposed to the policy change, although Gov. Mike Easley, who is barred from seeking a third successive term, supported the system's decision. Two of the five, State Treasurer Richard Moore and Lt. Beverly Perdue, both Democrats, are on the community college board.

Ralls said he would administer the law regarding immigrants at community colleges, regardless of what it is.

"I see what access and educational opportunity provide to people in transforming their lives," he said. "Like many educators, my instinct is to see those benefits provided as broadly as possible."