AJC Sepia HBCU of the Week: "Truth & Service" with NCCU Chancellor Debra Saunders-White

AJC Sepia HBCU of the Week is an occasional series that looks at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Debra Saunders-White was elected North Carolina Central University's 11th chancellor June 1, 2013.

In her appointment, she became the first woman to lead the 106-year-old university.

At NCCU, Chancellor Saunders-White has established a platform of “Eagle Excellence,” or “E-squared.”

Her priorities for ensuring student success and academic excellence include: retaining and graduating students in four years; raising critical scholarship funds; and providing innovative academic instruction that prepares and trains students to work in the global marketplace. At NCCU, Chancellor Saunders-White is creating “techno-scholars,” or technology trendsetters and leaders who understand how technology intersects with all disciplines—from STEM to the liberal arts, social sciences, business, education, law and nursing.

Some of NCCU’s achievements under Chancellor Saunders-White’s leadership include:

  • increasing the freshman-to-sophomore retention rate from 69.9 percent to 80 percent;
  • recording a near-record fundraising goal of $7.6 million in fiscal year 2013-14;
  • moving faculty and staff annual giving from 19 percent and 76 percent;
  • growing enrollment by 43 percent by attracting and welcoming more than 1,500 first-year and transfer students for the 2015-16 academic year;
  • creating the Triangle’s first dual-enrollment, residential transfer program, Eagle Connect, in conjunction with Durham Technical Community College;
  • opening a Fabrication Laboratory, or Fab Lab, in 2015 that is part of a network of such laboratories worldwide that involves the design, creation and assisted implementation of Innovation Centers at a select number of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs);
  • meeting budget challenges in 2013 and 2014 as a result of declining enrollment;
  • establishing a Three + Two Physics-Engineering Dual-Degree Program with N.C. State University;
  • increasing the Department of Nursing pass rate on the NCLEX exam from 70 percent to 90 percent; and
  • building an effective executive leadership team.

Currently, Chancellor Saunders-White serves as state representative for North Carolina and a member of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Policy Committee. She is chair of the Made in Durham partnership’s governance sub-committee and serves on the board of directors for United Way of the Greater Triangle.

Previously, Chancellor Saunders-White served as acting assistant secretary for the Office of Postsecondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education. Chancellor Saunders-White joined the Department of Education in May 2011 as the deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs. She was vice chancellor for information technology systems at University of North Carolina Wilmington and vice president for technology and chief information officer at Hampton University. Prior to entering higher education administration, Chancellor Saunders-White spent 15 years in the corporate sector at IBM. 

A Hampton, Va., native, Chancellor Saunders-White earned her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Virginia.  She earned a Master of Business Administration from the College of William & Mary and a doctorate in higher education administration from The George Washington University.

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