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Personnel changes, legislative priorities shape N.C. Community College State Board meeting

The North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges met on Feb. 18 and 19. Here’s what you need to know:

Personnel changes

Mary Shuping, who has served as director of government relations since 2012, announced she would be transitioning away from the N.C. Community College System.

“It is with a conflicted heart that I point out that our current director of government relations, Mary Shuping, has been afforded an opportunity that will, in technical terms, take her away from the community college system,” said System President Thomas Stith. “Her heart will always be with us.”

Additionally, Jonathan Harris, former general counsel to the system office, was announced as the system’s new chief of staff. Bryan Jenkins was promoted to executive director of accountability and state board affairs.

Alexander Fagg, an advisor to Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, will become the new director of government relations.

President’s report

Stith discussed legislative priorities for this session in his report to the Board. He said he plans to make himself and community college presidents a visible presence in the legislature, in part to push for $60,937,000 in non-recurring funds for budget stabilization.

“We are very cautiously optimistic about our legislative initiative,” Stith said. “As you know, the revenue picture is much brighter than anticipated. But that does not mean the hard work piece is over — we’re going to have to be very engaged.”

Stith also addressed enrollment declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic. North Carolina’s community colleges provide basic skills education to their local prison populations, and restrictions on those programs have been some of the largest drivers for the decrease in enrollment. 

Stith commented on reports of community college professors teaching courses through the fence at some prisons in order to comply with COVID-19 restrictions.

“While that’s commendable, for me that’s not acceptable,” he said. “We have to have direct engagement, whether that’s virtually directly engaged or physically engaged.”

Stith said he believes that, as the system makes plans to come out of its pattern of enrollment decline, the diversity of its student body should be taken into account.

Career and College Promise and Cooperative Innovative High School report updates

The Career and College Promise (CCP) and Cooperative Innovative High School (CIHS) programs allow qualifying high school students to earn college credit toward a two- or four-year degree tuition-free. 

According to the report, 31% of all high school graduates enrolled in at least one dual enrollment course in the 2019-2020 school year — a 4% increase from the previous year.

Board member Sam Powell gave an update on the success of the program. 

“I would like to comment that the North Carolina system is recognized as a model for dual enrollment programs and is a leader in the nation in the number of established cooperative innovative high schools,” he said.

Powell also lauded the CIHS program. The report said that “CIHS students at community colleges received better grades, on average, than the general population of students with 85 percent averaging a passing grade of a C or better.” This figure is 12% higher than the general population. 

Extension of outstanding fee exception for COVID-19

Last year, the Board approved a temporary rule allowing colleges to continue to enroll students that had an outstanding balance due to COVID-19.

The finance committee recommended and the Board approved the rule — set to expire on April 12 —  to be extended for an additional 180 days.

“Essentially what this rule does is it allows colleges to continue to enroll students, and distribute credentials to students, if they had an outstanding balance due to COVID-19,” said Elizabeth Grovenstein, vice president and CFO of the North Carolina Community College System. “Of course, that is just giving colleges that flexibility and that option.”

Residency Determination Service (RDS) change

The Board approved a provision to allow all high students enrolled for at least one year in North Carolina to receive in-state tuition status at community colleges. Shuping said this was largely done for edge case students who may be trying to establish residency separate from their parent or guardian.

“They’re going to be allowed to receive in-state tuition as long as they were U.S. citizens, and they were enrolled in a North Carolina public school or North Carolina home school for the entire year prior to their graduation, graduated from that North Carolina School and, due to a lack of evidence, they were unable to establish residency for tuition purposes through the RDS system,” Shuping said. “So this would take care of those students who were falling in this very narrow category.”

The language will now go before the legislature for a statutory change.

Programs Committee vote on medical sonography at CPCC

The Programs Committee met on Feb. 18 to discuss the application for a medical sonography program at Central Piedmont Community College.

Medical sonography is the use of non-invasive imaging such as ultrasound. A neighboring program at South Piedmont Community College (SPCC) estimates the median salary of medical sonographers at $68,055.

The Board of Trustees at Central Piedmont Community College first voted to start a medical sonography program in July 2017. But the completion of a medical sonography degree requires clinical placements. And SPCC objected to the application over concerns that it would dilute their available pool of clinical sites. 

The State Board voted on Friday to deny an application from Central Piedmont Community College to start a medical sonography program.

In the event of a dispute over approval of applications from individual community colleges to begin new academic programs, the program committee holds hearings and makes a recommendation for the full Board to vote on the matter. 

Sam Powell, chair of the programs committee, said he hopes the two colleges can come to an agreement themselves.

“We would hope that the colleges work together to resolve the issue and come up with a compromise to help expand the program and work together on that,” he said. “But this is an issue that probably needs to be addressed at that level. As far as the State Board level goes, yes, this would be the end of that process.”

The Board will meet next for its annual planning meeting on March 18 and 19.

Michael Taffe

Michael Taffe is a reporter for EducationNC. His reporting focuses on the community college system.