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John M. Belk Endowment continues support of N.C. State’s Belk Center with $25 million investment

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Days after celebrating their 10th anniversary, the John M. Belk Endowment (JMBE) awarded N.C. State’s Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research an investment of $25 million over the next 10 years. 

The announcement was made hours before the Belk Center’s annual Dallas Herring Lecture – an event that draws top community college leaders from around the country. 

“We were created because we know education is the single most important means to greater equity, personal fulfillment, economic success, and community vitality,” said MC Belk Pilon, president and board chair of JMBE. “That is why it has been our honor to support and partner with Dr. Jaeger and the Belk Center team since the Center’s formation with the shared goal of improving and accelerating the success of North Carolina’s community colleges and their students.”

Special luncheon to announce the John M. Belk Endowment’s $25 million investment in the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research. Emily Thomas/EducationNC

Since launching in 2018, the Belk Center has supported North Carolina’s 58 community colleges and the system office by developing exceptional community college leaders and teams and equipping them with the information and resources needed to excel in their roles, said Pilon.

In 2021, the Belk Center launched Teaching and Learning Hubs in partnership with Achieving the Dream (ATD) and the N.C. Student Success Center. The four hubs – East, West, Central, and Piedmont – were created to help educators build equity into learning across the 58 community colleges. Participants in the hubs test and use evidence-based strategies proven to increase equitable student success outcomes.

Throughout the past year, 280 faculty members have taught over 2,400 courses impacting more than 20,000 students across 30 different colleges, said Dr. Audrey J. Jaeger, executive director of the Belk Center.

The Belk Center has also been integral to the work of N.C. Reconnect – an initiative to reengage and recruit adult learners. The initiative started with five North Carolina community colleges and now includes 15 colleges as part of the program. Since the launch of N.C. Reconnect, the Belk Center has interviewed community college leaders, compiled data, and presented findings to stakeholders across the state. Earlier this year, the Belk Center released the Adult Learner Guidebook to aid other institutions as they seek to engage and enroll adult learners.

“Our shared goal is to advance student access and success and to increase degree and credential attainment over the next decade. We believe the support the Belk Center provides our community colleges is essential if we are to meet North Carolina’s ambitious postsecondary attainment goal of 2 million adults with a high-quality degree or credential by 2030,” said Pilon.

Dr. Jeff Cox speaks to those attending the announcement of the John M. Belk Endowment’s long-term investment in the Belk Center. Emily Thomas/EducationNC

Dr. Jeff Cox, president of Wilkes Community College and president of the North Carolina Association of Community College Presidents (NCACCP) thanked Pilon for her investment in both the Belk Center’s work and the work of the 58 community colleges.

“She (Pilon) saw the vision of what we can do in our role on impact and economic mobility in this state. And I think she had it right – we have a central role to play in impacting economic mobility and the people in our state who need us the most. We are the path to a brighter future,” Cox said.

Jaeger said the long-term investment will allow the Belk Center to continue the important work it set out to accomplish and tackle the most pressing issues facing community colleges today.

“This grant from the John M. Belk Endowment is a testament to their relentless commitment to our state’s community college system. These funds will further enable us to continue the important work of creating and elevating key knowledge and information that advances student success while also convening national and statewide partners to catalyze change. With the support of the JMBE, as well as our other partners across the state, we commit to assembling diverse stakeholders to tackle the most pressing issues facing our community colleges with the ultimate aim of reaching our state’s attainment goal.”

— Dr. Audrey J. Jaeger, executive director of the Belk Center

Editor’s note: The John M Belk Endowment supports the work of EducationNC

Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas is the Director of Postsecondary Attainment for EducationNC.