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US education official named chancellor at NC Central University

She will leave federal post to take job

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  • Debra Saunders-White

    Age: 57

    Born: Hampton, Va.

    Family: Daughter, Elizabeth Paige, a senior at Temple University; son, Cecil, a second-year student at the University of Virginia

    Education: Bachelor’s degree in history and DuPont Scholar at the University of Virginia; master’s of business administration, College of William and Mary; doctorate in higher education administration, George Washington University.

    Career Highlights: Deputy assistant secretary, U.S. Department of Education, 2011-present; vice chancellor for information technology systems, UNC Wilmington, 2006-2011, and interim associate provost and chief diversity officer, UNC- W, 2007-08; vice president for technology and chief information officer, Hampton University, 2005-06.


  • Other UNC votes

    In other business Friday, the UNC Board of Governors:

    • Approved tuition and fee increases for the 2013-14 academic year. For North Carolina residents, annual tuition and fees will rise 6.4 percent to $5,444 at NCCU, 5.4 percent to $8,055 at N.C. State University and 8.3 percent to $8,123 at UNC-Chapel Hill. For out-of-state students, tuition and fees will climb 2.1 percent to $16,017 at NCCU, 3.4 percent to $21,510 at NCSU and 5.9 percent to $29,905 at UNC-CH. The figures do not include the cost of room, food and books.

    • Approved a five-year strategic plan that has been months in the making. The strategy has the goal of turning out more graduates, making UNC campuses more efficient and investing money on "game changing" research areas that could drive North Carolina’s future economic development. Now the university system will begin the work of putting the plan in effect on its 17 campuses. A key goal is to boost the percentage of adults in North Carolina with four-year degrees from 29 percent to 32 percent. That will be done through a combination of improving graduation rates, increasing community college transfers and recruiting as students veterans, active military and those with some college credit but no degree. The UNC board will ask the legislature for an additional $910 million now through 2018 to pay for the plan.



DURHAM Debra Saunders-White’s career has taken her from one of America’s giant computer corporations to two university administrations and ultimately to the U.S. Department of Education. All along, she has blended technology with the classroom.

Now, N.C. Central University is counting on Saunders-White to catapult the campus to the next level.

On Friday, Saunders-White, deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, was elected NCCU’s 11th chancellor by the UNC Board of Governors. She is the first woman to be permanently named chancellor at the 8,100-student historically black university in Durham.

In announcing her appointment, UNC President Tom Ross said Saunders-White will be “a forceful and effective leader” for NCCU. She will start the job June 1 at an annual salary of $285,000.

“The stars kind of collided for me when I saw this opportunity emerge,” she said. “I think it will be a really powerful message to have her be our first woman chancellor,” said junior Krysten Sessoms. “To give the women on our campus a bigger voice.”

Harold Epps, chairman of NCCU’s search committee, said Saunders-White has a diversity of skills that was hard to beat, as an information technology professional in business and in higher education, with experience in both minority- and majority-serving universities.

She spent 15 years at IBM as a systems engineer and manager leading education, finance and public sector marketing. She later taught mathematics at St. George’s School in Newport, R.I., where she created a course using technology to engage students who disliked math.

She then moved to higher education in 1999 at Hampton University in Virginia, where she was assistant provost for technology and later vice president for technology and chief information officer. She helped Hampton become one of the “most wired universities,” according to Forbes Magazine and The Princeton Review.

Ross said Saunders-White’s experience will be tapped as the UNC system moves more aggressively into online learning as part of its new five-year plan.

“She brings a level of expertise in technology and in e-learning and in developing courses using technology that is really quite rare, I think, in campus leadership,” he said. After five years at UNCW, she was chosen by the White House in 2011 to serve as deputy assistant secretary in the Department of Education. She had oversight of 60 programs aimed at strengthening minority institutions – a large grant-making function in the department.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Saunders-White had “worked tirelessly” to help open doors for more students to go to college.

Saunders-White gave credit to her parents. They educated her and her brothers, she said, “without incurring any debt, only from the sweat of their brow.”

She thanked her children, who were at her side Friday – Elizabeth Paige, a senior and track team member at Temple University, and Cecil III, a second-year student at the University of Virginia. She called them her motivation and inspiration.

Saunders-White will take the helm at NCCU at a time when the university has raised academic standards with an eye toward better graduation rates. She said she would continue the work launched by Nelms six years ago to show that NCCU is focused on the future, agile and responsive to regional demands. Those are big shoes to fill, she told the UNC Board of Governors:

“Luckily, I wear heels.”

Stancill: 919-829-4559
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