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Message from the Executive Director

Audrey J. "AJ" Jaeger

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

The past two years have ushered in unique opportunities and profound difficulties for community college education amid COVID-19 and other challenges. In response, the Belk Center has offered robust support to North Carolina’s community colleges, in new and innovative formats, at a time when resources and morale have been stretched thin. Throughout this period of upheaval, our deep relationships with executive leaders, scholars, legislators and philanthropists have been instrumental in shaping our approach to community college leadership and research. Over the past 12 months, we have:

Equipped leaders to tackle pressing issues. We sustained our support for executive leaders by offering opportunities to enhance teaching and learning; orientation programs and resources for new presidents; and a new initiative for rural college leaders to improve student outcomes and advance equity in their educational systems. Meanwhile, our ongoing support of doctoral student research, writing and professional development continues to set up emerging leaders for success.

Distilled knowledge into actionable insights. This year, the Belk Center promoted our long-standing PACE campus climate survey among presidents of North Carolina’s rural community colleges as an avenue for pursuing data-driven institutional effectiveness. Emerging research on transfer students, adult learners, career coaching and college access is also enabling leaders to tackle complex problems of practice. Policy audits and equity case studies are yielding insights into barriers and opportunities for improving the success of American Indian, Black and Latinx students.

Created opportunities for actionable partnerships. The 2021 Dallas Herring Lecture was the most diverse and accessible gathering of community college stakeholders we have sponsored to date, attracting attendees from 28 states across the country. Participants included college presidents, educational researchers, nonprofit leaders and philanthropists, all of whom were convened to collectively imagine solutions to what keynote speaker and community college president Gregory Haile called “converging crises facing our communities—economic disruption, a racial reckoning and the pandemic.”

Throughout the pages of our website, we are pleased to share the Belk Center’s work in each of these areas – and more – made possible by the dedication of our staff and the countless contributions of our strategic partners, including: colleagues at individual colleges, the North Carolina Association of Community College Presidents, the North Carolina Community College System Office, the University of North Carolina System Office, the North Carolina Association of Community College Trustees, the North Carolina Office of Strategic Partnerships, myFutureNC, EducationNC, the Hunt Institute, LatinxEd, the Center for Racial Equity in Education, Achieving the Dream, Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and the League for Innovation in the Community College, among others.

Over the past four years, the Belk Center has emerged as a trusted partner of community colleges throughout the state. We are proud of our contributions to community college excellence in North Carolina thus far. They are manifest in our executive leadership programs, doctoral student support services, research and evaluation efforts and professional networks.

As we move forward through the Belk Center’s fifth year and begin a new chapter, we are excited to continue our partnership with the John M. Belk Endowment with the announcement of a new $25 million investment to support the work of the Belk Center over the next 10 years. Our past successes will provide a strong foundation for continued collaboration and innovation in pursuit of our mission—and we invite you to join us on the journey!


Audrey J. “AJ” Jaeger, Ph.D.

Executive Director of the Belk Center
for Community College Leadership and Research
W. Dallas Herring Professor of Community College Education