“I like building and hope I can help,” Farmer said in an email. “I believe strongly that our country needs its public institutions, including its public universities, to be the best they can be, and to be both great and good. I hope I can help with that, too, in time.”
In his time at UNC, Farmer has implemented numerous initiatives and programs to expand affordability while upholding academic excellence at UNC, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in a campus-wide email.
One program Farmer helped launch was the Blue Sky Scholars program, which supports students from middle-income families. Farmer said his dedication to these programs was due to his own experience as a student growing up in the countryside with working-class parents. He said the only reason he got to go to college was because of his sister and cousins.
“I had friends in school who were smarter and harder-working than I was,” he said in an email. “I got to go to college and they didn’t. It just seemed wrong that some people got a chance at a different future while others didn’t. It still seems wrong to me. I’m grateful that I’ve had the chance to work with great colleagues to try to do something about it.”
Rafel Al Ghrary, a sophomore majoring in global studies and statistics and analytics, is in the Carolina Covenant Program. The program offers lower-income UNC students a debt-free path to education.
Farmer helped to raise $179 million for scholarship and student aid that helped sustain this program, which has helped 8,200 students gain access to work-study jobs, scholarships and grants.
Al Ghrary said she credits the Carolina Covenant scholarship as a major part of her reason to attend the University in the first place. She said it provided an opportunity to expand her educational opportunities.
“They’ve covered everything including rent for my apartment and tuition and food costs and transportation costs,” Al Ghrary said.
Though she received scholarships and financial aid packages from other universities, she said none were as comprehensive as the Covenant scholarship.
“If I hadn’t received the Covenant scholarship, I wouldn't be at Carolina and I’m not sure if I would be at any institution of higher education to be completely honest,” Al Ghrary said.
Farmer also founded the Carolina College Advising Corps at UNC — an extension of the College Guide Program created at UVA — intended to help low-income, underrepresented students affordably attend college.
Farmer said he worked to get a $1 million proposal approved for the program. UNC eventually became its national headquarters before the College Advising Corps became a separate non-profit corporation.
Farmer worked alongside Program Director of Carolina College Corps Yolanda Keith to build the program.
Keith said she sees Farmer as a mentor. As director of the corps, she said she hopes to continue his legacy of building a college experience where all students have access to the same resources and have the same potential for growth.
“He doesn’t just think about the admissions office,” she said. “He thinks about students. He knows that there are brilliant students in our state, students who show excellence in our state, and he envisioned the ability for all students to take advantage of all things in an equitable way.”
As a colleague, Keith said she appreciates his encouragement and passion for his work.
“He’s just been such a wonderful person to gain insight into education and leadership and being a great, true, and honest advocate for things that you believe in,” she said. “It’s been an extremely amazing experience.”
While Farmer is an advocate for expanding educational opportunities, he said he also strives to create an environment of respect and appreciation for different perspectives.
In order to facilitate this environment, Farmer said he and his colleagues in undergraduate admissions have worked to create a more diverse and inclusive environment at UNC. Farmer said the team worked to recruit outstanding colleagues, create welcoming practices and encourage diversity in the program.
“We’ve always tried to see the best in our students, and to celebrate their stories, including the stories of the cultures that have shaped them,” he said in an email.