Stacey Franklin Jones started college at 16 and earned four degrees in mathematics, numerical science, technical management and computer science. She went on to careers in software engineering and higher education, and in the process oversaw, reviewed or conducted research on federal grants totaling more than $100 million.
Her 10-page resume shows the journey of an overachiever. But can she save Elizabeth City State University?
On Thursday, the UNC Board of Governors elected Jones, 53, as chancellor of the historically black university in northeastern North Carolina. She’ll start the job Oct. 1 at an annual salary of $230,000.
Her task will be to shore up a campus that has suffered significant enrollment declines, budget cuts and the brief threat of closure this year by some lawmakers. The university is considered an economic engine in the depressed northeastern corner of the state, but its enrollment plummeted nearly 44 percent between 2010 and 2014.
Wearing a suit in the university’s royal blue colors Thursday, Jones said the future of the campus is bright. She called it the state’s northeastern regional flagship.
“I see opportunity,” Jones said. “So, yes, there are challenges, but there are challenges with any institution and for different reasons. I see much more potential than I do challenges in Elizabeth City State University.”
ECSU, as the lowest-tuition campus in the UNC system, can become a “royal blueprint,” she said, a national model of how to produce the next generation of knowledge workers without charging them a fortune for their education.
“Together we are embarking on something just shy of phenomenal,” Jones said of the job ahead.
Raised in Boston, Jones has experience in higher education and the private sector.
Since 2011, she has been a Washington-based consultant on management, technology partnerships and corporate development. She had a short stint in 2010 as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Bowie State University, a public historically black campus in Maryland.
She was also a special assistant for the University System of Maryland, where she devised a methodology for assessing success in student retention. That could be a key to ECSU’s turnaround.
UNC President Tom Ross said Jones knows how to use data and set metrics for success. He said she will be an asset to the public university system.
“I think that’s the kind of leader we need,” Ross said.
Jones spent a decade from 2000 to 2010 at the private, historically black Benedict College in South Carolina, where she was chairman of the math and computer science department, and rose in the ranks to become dean, vice president of research and finally senior vice president.
Private sector career
Her academic career began at Johns Hopkins University, where she was a research scientist and adjunct professor in the computer science department. But she started her career in the private sector, as a defense and electronic systems software engineer for Northrop Grumman in Maryland.
She entered college at 16 and graduated magna cum laude from Howard University with a mathematics degree. She has two master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins, and a doctorate in computer science from George Washington University.
UNC leaders were taken with Jones’ credentials and experience.
Abdul Rasheed, chairman of the ECSU trustees, said Jones brings “a whole new standard to shoot for.”
“If she’ll just do for Elizabeth City State University that which she’s done for herself, in terms of educational excellence and success, then we feel very strongly that we’ll be a school to be reckoned with in the future,” Rasheed said. “We’re so excited to have her join us.”
The smallest campus in the UNC system, ECSU was targeted earlier this year in a state Senate budget amendment, which called for a study of its closure. That amendment was eventually dropped.
Despite that, there remains good support for ECSU among lawmakers, said John Fennebresque, chairman of the UNC Board of Governors. He added that there is unanimous support for ECSU on the UNC board.
State Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham Democrat who attended Thursday’s announcement at SAS, said ECSU is not in danger of legislative closure. He said Jones’ background will be helpful as the university focuses on the state’s only aviation program, which trains pilots and air traffic controllers.
“I think it bodes well,” he said. “Her qualifications, her credentials all are in line with the new thrust at Elizabeth City State.”
The search for a new leader had been stalled last year while the interim chancellor, Charles Becton, implemented program cuts, consolidations, staff layoffs and a more focused academic portfolio. He also enacted new policies and cleaned house after a scandal in the campus police department, in which more than 100 crimes had been improperly investigated or reported.
He called the reductions a “right sizing” of the institution for the smaller student body and the state’s economic realities.
Enrollment last year declined at four of the state’s five public historically black universities. Higher minimum admissions standards for the UNC system were fully phased in last fall, shrinking the pool of qualified prospective students. There were also restrictions in some federal rules that made borrowing more difficult.
The number of students declined again this fall at ECSU, though the university did exceed what was a more modest enrollment target.
Integrity, grace, strength
Ross thanked Becton for his handling of crises at ECSU for more than a year.
“It’s been a difficult time in many ways for the campus,” he said. “The chancellor has led with integrity and with grace and with strength.”
Becton, in his annual report issued this week, outlined a host of changes at the campus, which actually graduated its largest class in history this year.
“ECSU is alive and well,” Becton wrote. “We will continue to thrive. The things that are so good about this University – the things we proudly celebrate – are the things we can build upon.”