While the University of North Carolina System has a new president, the N.C. Community College System is left seeking applicants for its top job.  

The UNC Board of Governors on Friday, June 19, unanimously elected NCCCS President Peter Hans to lead its 17-campus system. Hans, who took the community college job in 2018, is a great leader and the best pick for UNC, Scott Shook, former chair of the community college board, told Carolina Journal. Since 1997, Hans has served six years on the community college board and three terms on the UNC board, acting as BOG chairman for two years. He worked as an adviser to former UNC President Margaret Spellings beginning in 2016. 

“Congratulations to my dear friend and colleague Peter Hans, who has committed his career on state and national levels to advancing and enriching the lives of all North Carolinians,” Spellings said in a Friday news release from UNC. 

Spellings resigned in 2018, fewer than three years into her five-year contract. The former U.S. Secretary of Education left UNC after board politics and infighting overshadowed her job. Harry Smith, the bombastic former board chairman who caused conflict during Spellings’ administration, resigned last year. 

Hans signed a five-year contract with UNC. His base annual salary is $400,000 — $375,000 less than the base salary accepted by Spellings when she took the job in 2016. UNC interim President Bill Roper made a $775,000 base salary during his 18 months at UNC.

Hans’ start date is Aug. 1. Beginning July 2021, the president-elect is eligible for “incentive compensation of up to $600,000 in addition to his base salary on an annual basis, based on three measurable goals.” Those goals are: 

  1. Increase on-time graduation for first-time and transfer undergraduates 
  2. Reduce education and related expenses per degree completed
  3. Reduce the average student loan debt of bachelor’s degree recipients as a percentage of per-capita income. 

The board will set specific metrics “in consultation with the president,” says a term sheet from the university. Hans will get incentive money only if he’s still working for UNC at the time of the payout, terms say. 

Randy Ramsey, who graduated from Carteret Community College, is the current BOG chairman. Ramsey is a vocal supporter of community colleges, telling CJ in February that he supports more partnerships across systems. 

“I really believe we’ve got to find a way for our K-12, community colleges, and university system to work closer together,” Ramsey told CJ in that interview. “I think we miss a lot of opportunities because we don’t communicate as often as we should. 

“I’ve often said I wished that all three [systems] were based in the same building, and share the same coffee pot or the same water cooler so [staffers] run into each other and could [trade] ideas about how we could improve the system,” Ramsey said.  

Now, Hans, who led 58 community colleges through the COVID-19 shutdown, will navigate for UNC as it grapples with pandemic fallout. The president-elect holds a leadership role on the myFutureNC commission, a working group to raise education performance in North Carolina. 

“I have suggested in our conversations that the university can learn from the community colleges,” Hans said Friday. “How to stretch a dollar a little bit more effectively.”

Hans said he’ll advocate for NCCCS while leading UNC. Students should be able to transfer easily from a community college to a UNC school, he said. 

Higher education is clearly too expensive, Hans said. 

“The traditions of higher education are rich and meaningful, but we must resist the urge to rest on our laurels. … The university of the people must embrace change.”

Hans didn’t say what those changes might look like. 

“Stay tuned,” he said. 

Hans’ election was met with enthusiasm from Republican leaders of the N.C. General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who emailed a statement before his presidency was official. 

“Peter Hans has done tremendous work as president of the N.C. Community College System, and he’s the right choice for UNC System President. That we all agree on Peter is a testament to the respect he commands as an able, competent leader.”

Under Hans’ leadership, community college enrollment climbed 4.4% last year, with 53 of 58 campuses reporting higher enrollment. The legislature gave NCCCS money for short-term workforce training, technology updates, and career coaches in high schools. 

The community college board meets next week to discuss an interim president, Hans told CJ. The system is in excellent condition and will continue to do well, he said. 

“The university system is very fortunate to have Peter Hans as its next president,” said Bill McBrayer, vice chair of the State Board of Community Colleges. “He is a strategic, visionary and compassionate leader who has guided our community colleges with great success. We wish him the best in his new role, and we look forward to continued partnerships with the UNC System.”

Hans is a native of Southport and grew up in Hendersonville. He received his bachelor’s degree from UNC-Chapel Hill and his master’s degree from Harvard University.

He was a research fellow at the John Locke Foundation and assistant editor of CJ from 1993-94.