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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

CFCC trustee self-evaluation sees slight decline in board-president relations

Overall BOT self-evaluation ratings
Overall BOT self-evaluation ratings

This year’s Cape Fear Board of Trustees self-evaluation shows high marks for the trustees’ leadership. Their lowest rating, while still high, was for board-president relations.

Cape Fear Community College President Jim Morton is now the fourth highest-paid president in the state community college system, according to recent reporting from WECT. The Board of Trustees who oversee Morton gave him a contract extension until 2027 at their May meeting — and a 10% raise at their July meeting, bringing his salary to $322,584. They also previously gave him a 10% raise in 2021.

The board's decision to again increase Morton's salary significantly comes after several years worth of reporting that documented some of the controversies at CFCC under the current president and some in his upper administration.

For example, close to about a year ago, WHQR released a three-part investigative series on the college’s handling of an unreleased faculty survey — and concerns over a lack of transparency measures and the removal of language in the employee handbook on how faculty and staff could file a specific grievance against the president.

But these concerns did not seem to impact the board's faith in Morton, or their decisions to increase Morton's salary by roughly 24% over a span of less than two years (from around $260,000 to over $322,000).

Self-evaluation results

To further understand how the board views the leadership of Morton, WHQR recently obtained a copy of their self-evaluation. New members Ray Funderburk III and Lanny Wilson did not participate since it was before their swearing-in.

There were only three guideposts for the board to evaluate 28 statements: ‘agree’ = 2, ‘needs improvement’ = 1, and ‘undecided’ = N/A. The self-evaluations were anonymized — so it’s not public which trustee gave particular responses.

The document shows the board was relatively pleased with their own performance.

Compared to last year, the trustees still rated board-president relations the lowest at 1.8. Their ratings on board organization, policy, standards for college operations, and institutional performance remained the same at 1.9. Community relations improved at 2.0, the highest possible rating.

For the statement, “Board members make decisions after thorough discussion and exploration of many perspectives,” three trustees said that needed improvement, and one was undecided. This rating also went down compared to last year. One trustee commented that in terms of rating how well the “board committees assist the board in its work”, one trustee wrote, “Limited perspectives shown.”

On whether “the board is appropriately involved in defining the vision, mission, and goals,” two trustees said that needs improvement and one was undecided.

One trustee wrote, “The Board does what it is told. There is limited time and virtually no board interaction.” The trustee did not elaborate on who is telling the board what to do.

When it came to evaluating their relationship with the president, four trustees said the following category needed improvement, “The Board sets clear expectations for the President.” This also signaled a drop in the rating compared to last year.

For the statement, “The Board effectively evaluates the President,” three trustees said this needed improvement and this rating also dropped from 1.917 last year to 1.75 this year.

In terms of “fair employee due process and grievance procedures,” one trustee wrote, “Concerned as I received emails from those who felt they would be penalized if true opinions were voiced.”

At the end of the self-evaluation, two trustees wrote positive comments about their stewardship of the college. For example, one wrote, “The Board is a great group of individuals. Jim is respected by the Board and it is very reassuring to know that Jim is operating CFCC daily.” But another trustee wrote that “the Board needs a retreat and self reflective introspection on why we are here and how we are accomplishing tasks.”

WHQR reached out to Chair Bill Cherry to comment on the board’s self-evaluation and to again try to learn more about the reasoning behind Morton’s raise. No response was provided.

A glance at enrollment/FTE/retention numbers

Former trustee Robby Collins and current trustee Zander Guy have touted Morton’s positive influence over the college’s enrollment and FTE (full-time equivalency) numbers.

“Things are going good at the Cape Fear Community College, that you may or may not be aware of. The enrollment over the last four years [has grown], and this is in big part due to President Morton because he’s been there about five years,” said Collins at his New Hanover County Board of Education trustee interview. Like Collins, at the July 2022 BOT meeting, Guy also attributed the rise in enrollment numbers to Morton.

CFCC has been the 5th largest community college in the state in terms of enrollment since the 2019-2020 school year. They jumped from 7th place the year prior.

Cape Fear CC is the 5th largest in terms of enrollment.
NCCCS Dashboard
Cape Fear CC is the 5th largest in terms of enrollment.

But when comparing the latest enrollment figures posted by the state system, CFCC improved at the same 5% rate as the statewide community college average from fall 2020 to fall 2021.

Note: The map below combines Pender and New Hanover counties, CFCC has campuses in both.

CFCC most recent enrollment figures (% change) on NCCCS Dashboard
NCCCS Dashboard
CFCC most recent enrollment figures (% change) on NCCCS Dashboard

As for FTE for both curriculum and continuing education credits, CFCC has improved over the last couple of years, outperforming the other “top seven” schools in terms of enrollment numbers.

FTE credits bring in the largest funding source to CFCC.
NCCCS Dashboard
FTE credits bring in the largest funding source to CFCC.

Per the latest data (October 2020) on employee retention figures, CFCC has maintained about 79% of its workforce. Top enrollment colleges like Fayetteville, Wake, and Rowan-Carrabus outperformed CFCC in terms of keeping employees at its schools.

NCCCS Dashboard

Further faculty salary figures as of the 2020-2021 fiscal year are more or less in line with the average community college faculty salary. Fayetteville, Rowan-Carrabus, Central, and Guilford all offer higher faculty salaries than CFCC.

NCCCS Dashboard

NCCCS Dashboards – Performance Metrics for NC Community Colleges

Below: The 2021-2022 Academic Year Board of Trustees Self-Evaluation

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR