Karrie Dixon is leaving her position as chancellor at Elizabeth City State University to take the same job at North Carolina Central University.

On June 6, UNC System President Peter Hans named Dixon as the 13th chancellor at NC Central. The appointment was unanimously approved by the UNC Board of Governors.

She celebrated her appointment on the NCCU campus in Durham, along with dozens of faculty, staff, students, community members, alumni, and political leaders, including Congresswoman Valerie Foushee.

“The energy I felt in the room this morning as the Eagles welcomed me to becoming the 13th Chancellor at NCCU brought some amazing feelings and energy within myself,” Dixon told WUNC. “Being the second permanent female chancellor (at NCCU) is something that I’m very proud of, and I wear close to my heart.”

Dixon is a Winston-Salem native and earned her bachelor and doctorate degrees at N.C. State University, as well as a master’s degree from UNC-Greensboro.

She has over 23 years of experience in higher education, including time as a professor, chancellor and several years in administrative positions at the UNC System office.

Dixon will leave her position as chancellor at ECSU, a job she’s held for more than five years.

According to the UNC System, ECSU has increased enrollment by almost 70% and raised $24 million in private gifts during Dixon’s tenure there.

“Karrie Dixon has been a widely admired leader in our university system for more than two decades,” Hans said. “She’s known for building great teams and taking on big challenges with honesty and optimism. I’m excited for NC Central and grateful to Chancellor Dixon for her commitment to this state.”

NC Central was founded in 1910 as a religious training school for Black people, and later became the first state-funded liberal arts college for Black students.

Today, it is one of five public historically Black colleges and universities in the state, and the only public HBCU in the Triangle. The nearly 8,000-student campus offers more than 100 degree programs and includes a school of business and a law school.

NC Central football practice
A brick smokestack looms over NC Central’s O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium in Durham.

Dixon replaces Johnson Akinleye, who will serve through the end of June. Akinleye announced in January he would retire after serving eight years as chancellor.

During his time at NC Central, Akinleye has prioritized renovating campus buildings and improving campus security. The university also became the first HBCU in the UNC System to be named a Millennial Campus designation — a special provision that allows private developers to build on public campuses – during Akinleye’s chancellorship.

Dixon said she plans to leverage what Akinleye has put in place and “take it to the next level,” as she works with the UNC Board of Governors and General Assembly.

“I look forward to working with all of them as they support NCCU,” Dixon said. “And really push the university forward as we talk about and as we assess where we are now, and how we’re going to forge our future. It’s an exciting time.”

While there were periods of enrollment growth at NC Central during Akinleye’s tenure, challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic and national shifts in opinions about the value of a degree have impacted enrollment at many schools in the UNC System.

And recently, FAFSA complications have disproportionately impacted HBCUs across the country. Administrators at both NC Central and ECSU told the UNC Board of Governors they worry that declines in FAFSA applications being submitted to their universities could decrease enrollment in the fall.

Dixon said there’s already several strategies being implemented at NCCU to buffer the complications students have been facing, and as chancellor she will prioritize making sure they have everything students need for enrollment.

“I’m really excited to hone in on that a bit more to see where we are at this present time and to keep pushing,” Dixon told WUNC. “Because it is something that we do not want students to be discouraged or parents to be discouraged. We want them to come to NCCU, and we want to make it as easy as possible to help them navigate the FAFSA during this challenging time.”

Karrie Dixon addresses NC Central community on June 6, 2024.
Karrie Dixon addresses NC Central community on June 6, 2024.

Dixon is the second chancellor Hans has named in the past week. On May 29, the UNC Board of Governors elected Bonita Brown as the 14th chancellor of Winston-Salem State University. She is WSSU’s first female chancellor.

The chancellor searches at Winston-Salem State and NC Central both lasted about five months. Three other chancellor searches are currently in progress at public universities in the state, at NC A&T, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Appalachian State.

Harold Martin, the UNC System’s current longest-serving chancellor, is retiring from NA&T after 15 years. The search for his replacement has been ongoing for about eight months.

The official search for a chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill started in March, and Hans has set a goal of naming the school’s next leader by the end of this year. Republican legislators Phil Berger and Tim Moore have publicly said they want interim Chancellor Lee Roberts promoted to the permanent role, following Roberts’ response to a pro-Palestinian encampment.

After serving 10 years as Appalachian State University’s chancellor, Sheri Everts announced in April that she was stepping down due to “significant health challenges.” The university has yet to officially start the chancellor search process.

And with Dixon becoming NCCU’s new chancellor, the UNC System will also soon launch a fourth chancellor search at Elizabeth City State University.

Dixon will start her new job after Akinleye leaves at the end of this month.

“Student success is my priority,” Dixon said to members of the NC Central community during her appointment Thursday morning. “The work that we do matters so much that preparing the future of our state and nation. I am so excited to bring my experiences to bear to ensure that you have what you need to continue teaching and nurturing our students. They are our future.”

Brianna Atkinson is WUNC's higher education reporter and 2023 Fletcher Fellow, working in partnership with Open Campus.