Q&A with Hope Williams, President of the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities

Q&A with Hope Williams, President of the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities

May 12, 2022

The Golden LEAF Foundation provides scholarships for students from rural areas to attend the state’s colleges and universities. Students who qualify for the Golden LEAF Scholarship may use it to attend North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU) or universities in the University of North Carolina System.

NCICU is made up of the state’s 36 private, nonprofit liberal arts, research, and comprehensive colleges and universities accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) or the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS). NCICU’s board of directors is comprised of the presidents of each of the 36 institutions, and the president of NCICU serves on the Governor’s North Carolina Education Cabinet.

NCICU President is Dr. Hope Williams. As a strong education partner for North Carolina, we asked Williams to share more about NCICU.

A college or a university’s presence in an area makes a tremendous impact. NCICU consists of 36 colleges and universities located across the state of North Carolina. What are some examples of these colleges and universities’ impact, especially in rural, tobacco-dependent, or economically distressed areas?

We are so fortunate in North Carolina to have 36 independent colleges and universities located across the state – including many in rural communities – from Chowan University and the University of Mount Olive in the east to Brevard College and Mars Hill University in the west. Especially, in the rural areas of the state, these colleges and universities are often the largest private employer in their county and region. These campuses have economic impacts in the millions of dollars each year in addition to their education and cultural impacts. Overall, NCICU colleges and universities award 1 in 4 bachelor’s degrees and 1 in 3 graduate and professional degrees in North Carolina. In addition, many of the colleges in rural areas provide an outstanding higher education experience at smaller institutions for local students who prefer to remain close to home. They also enroll students from around the country and the world, which provides North Carolina students the opportunity to meet students from a variety of different cultures.

Golden LEAF provides scholarships for students from rural communities to attend the state’s colleges and universities. How important are scholarships and other sources of funding for your students to attend NCICUs?

Golden LEAF Scholarships and support from other individuals, companies, and foundations are critically important, often making the difference in whether North Carolina students can attend the college of their choice. The State appropriates significant financial support to allow in-state tuition to remain affordable at our 2- and 4-year public institutions. North Carolina students are fortunate that the State, in recognition of the significant impact and value of private higher education, also provides financial aid for residents who qualify for need-based aid. Independent college and university students – especially from our rural, economically distressed areas of the state – depend upon a combination of types of aid, including scholarships from Golden LEAF and other foundations, individuals, and companies; the North Carolina Need Based Scholarship; federal need-based aid such as Pell Grants for low-income students; loans; and institutional aid provided directly by the college. While the financial aid process can be complex, the fact that 50 percent of our North Carolina undergraduate student body receives Pell Grants shows that this combination of support can make college possible for students and families with financial need.

We are seeing many students who attend a North Carolina community college transitioning to a four-year college or university. What are some of the ways NCICUs are working with the North Carolina Community College System to smoothly transition students from two-year to four-year post-secondary educational opportunities?

NCICU has had a comprehensive articulation agreement with the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) since the mid-1990s. This transfer agreement provides for the transfer of the first two years of college so that students can transfer into the four-year college or university as a junior whether transferring as an adult student or from an early college program where they have received both a high school diploma and an associate degree. More recently, we have developed discipline-specific articulation agreements for students in nursing (RN to BSN), Music, Theater, Fine Arts, Teacher Education, Psychology, and Sociology. We are currently working on an Early Childhood – Birth to Kindergarten agreement. We were also fortunate to receive a Council of Independent Colleges/ Teagle Foundation grant which includes components on advising and financial aid policy. Work on this grant has been a catalyst for the establishment of a number of additional bilateral agreements between local institutions as well as transfer scholarships to the four-year NCICU campuses. In addition, we are working with UNC and NCCCS as one of four states in a national transfer project.

With a focus on building the educational attainment in North Carolina by 2030, what are some of the strategies NCICU has in place to help close the gap in educational attainment?

We are developing a “Reverse Transfer” program for students who transfer from a two-year college before completing an associate degree. The credits they earn at the four-year college or university can be transferred back to the two-year college to complete the associate degree. This will increase degree attainment even as students continue to work on their bachelor’s degree. In addition, research has shown that transfer students are more likely to complete their four-year degree when they have received their associate degree. 

Independent colleges and universities have courses that are designed to help first-year students develop the skills they need to be successful in completing college, including developing a sense of belonging which can be challenging for first-generation college students. Campuses also have teams to provide support when there are indications a student may be experiencing difficulty. NCICU is piloting a mentoring program on eight campuses for male students of color who are first generation college students, and we are implementing a Faculty-Student STEM Mentoring program to support students who wish to pursue a STEM major. We know that we have almost one million adults with “some college, no degree” and many of our campuses offer special, low-cost programming to meet the needs of these adult learners. Options include evening, weekend, online and hybrid classes, and short-term classes for members of the military and other adults who have work and family responsibilities that make it challenging for them to complete their degree. All of these programs will serve to increase education attainment in line with the 2030 goal of MyFutureNC.

Stay Connected

Stay connected with Golden LEAF by signing up for our e-newsletter. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.