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10 N.C. community colleges to receive $15 million for biosciences

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During the second-to-last State Board of Community Colleges meeting of 2022, Board members allocated more than $16 million to support the bioscience industry, planned for implementing the first year of the new strategic plan, and discussed the search for a system president.

“We are entering a very exciting time on this Board in governance and the strategic plan,” said Ann Whitford, chairperson of the Board’s strategic planning committee. “I’m really pleased and proud of the path that our Board is on.”

The Board approved the allocation of nearly $16.5 million to 10 community colleges and the system office to support the bioscience industry sector as part of the Build Back Better Regional Challenge Grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration. Fifteen million will go to the 10 colleges, and $1.4 million will be retained by the system office to administer the grant.

Since 2020, 73 life sciences companies have announced plans to either locate or expand their operations in North Carolina, the Board said, citing data from the N.C. Biotechnology Center. This has equated to nearly 11,200 new jobs and more than $8.39 billion in investment.

The system will work with BioNetwork, the life science training initiative of the N.C. community college system (NCCCS), to “enhance and update biotechnology and life sciences industry training facilities, recruit industry trainers, recruit students from excluded populations, and to update and enhance curriculum,” the system said in an email.

Among other things, the grant focuses on equitable outcomes, building capacity in training labs, and increasing trained faculty. Previously, Johnston Community College, one of the 10 grant recipients, told EdNC it planned to use some of the funds to move toward a full simulated biotechnology learning process.

Screenshot from State Board of Community College’s November agenda packet

“Our two for-action items were actually very exciting,” said Lisa Estep, chairperson of the finance committee, referencing the Build Back Better funds and a second grant, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship Building America (ABA) Grant Program. The Board approved $4 million from the ABA grant to expand registered apprenticeships across North Carolina. ApprenticeshipNC is the state apprenticeship agency for North Carolina and served 13,377 participants last year.

The purpose of the ABA grant program is to address the need for current and future skilled labor in the state. The committee noted this grant’s relation to the strategic plan’s economic and workforce development theme. Funds are available July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2026 and should be obligated by June 30, 2025.

“As we look at the strategic plan, I think this is an area we should go very deep, because at some point this money is going to run out,” Board member Tom Looney said. “This is seed money. We’ve got to show these companies that they’re going to get a major return on it.”

Regarding the new four-year strategic plan, which the Board passed in October, Whitford briefly presented a 2023 “Implementation Plan” of the goals. That document outlines 12 “tactics” to help meet the strategic plan’s five outlined goals with multiple tactics under each goal.

Presidential search

Earlier this month, the Board voted on a vendor to search for a new president of the NCCCS, Search Committee Co-Chairperson Shirley Carraway said. The committee will meet with that vendor once the firm is approved by the state Department of Administration. At that point, the name of the firm will be made public, the system said.

The presidential search committee meets next on Nov. 30. Moving forward, the committee will build an official presidential profile for the search using input from a statewide survey and the hired search firm. The Board received over 1,300 responses to its survey, the system said, and aims to hire a new president in the spring. You can read more about the timeline of the presidential search here.

“Selecting a firm will have a critical impact on the search calendar and ultimately, on the speed at which we can acquire a new president,” Carraway said in September. “This is the beginning of this process.”

State Board governance and legislative agenda

The Board approved a 107-page State Board handbook after approving updated committee charters in October.

The work to streamline governance structures is part of the Board’s three-year development and engagement plan. The Board approved recommendations for the plan in April based on the results of its first self-assessment survey.

Staff said the plan is to give the handbook to members in January in a three-ring binder so that pages can easily be replaced as updates are made. On Friday, Board members requested the handbook contain additional information about the legislature and state budget process.

“I appreciate all the hard work that’s gone into this,” Board Chairperson Burr Sullivan said. “It’s going to make the assimilation of new Board members much, much easier than it’s been in the past.”

Board Vice-Chairperson Bill McBrayer encouraged members to reach out to legislators ahead of the upcoming long session. Last month, the Board reviewed the second year of its FY 2022-2025 legislative agenda – which seeks an increase in state funding by $232 million over the next two years. McBrayer said the Board would continue talking about that agenda in the months to come.

The requested increase is related to faculty salaries and student investment. The agenda approved in Jan. 2022 requested an additional 1% employee salary increase and a 4% increase for student investment in the 2022-23 short session. The community college system received the 1% employee salary increase in the budget passed by the legislature in early July but did not receive the 4% increase for student investment.

“This discussion will continue as we get closer to the long session,” Sullivan told the Board in October. “But we all need to be committed to staying the course on those two components to earn $232 million so we can expand our reach in the next two years.”

Other meeting business

  • The Board approved a new program at Richmond Community College for 911 communication and operation, noting that the program is an example of how community colleges work with local and state partners to ensure the state has a strong workforce pipeline. This program is new to the system.
  • The Board also approved the addition of a Surgical Technology program at South Piedmont Community College to begin spring 2023. Out of the 10 colleges who sent an impact assessment report to South Piedmont, only Central Piedmont Community College said it was not in favor of the program being added.
  • The Board approved Dr. Patrena B. Elliott as the new president at Halifax Community College and a new interim president at Sandhills Community College. The Board also approved five candidates for the presidency at Johnston Community College; a finalist is expected to be named next month.
  • The Board approved the creation of four new system positions, funded by Build Back Better: a grant director, curriculum developer, E-learning developer, and virtual reality developer.
  • The FY 2021-22 report for the N.C. Community College Child Care Grant Program was presented to the Board.
  • Board members emphasized the need for mental health interventions for students. “This is not something that’s going to go away on its own,” Sullivan said.

The full Board meets next on Friday, Dec. 16. The meeting will likely be virtual, and committees are not planning to meet.

Hannah McClellan

Hannah McClellan is an EducationNC reporter covering community colleges, postsecondary access and faith.