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A note to our readers: Nation's final Awake58

A note from us

Winnie-the-Pooh author A.A. Milne once wrote, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

In journalism, they teach you not to bury the lede, so it is with mixed emotions that I share this will be my last Awake58 as the lead author. After 10-plus years of building EdNC, 9 years of serving as a full-time employee, and five-plus years of writing Awake58, I am off to blaze new trails and discover new adventures.

When I first read Milne’s quote, I realized it summed up perfectly how I felt.

In 2012, at 26 years old, I worked as the director of digital media for a design thinking agency called New Kind. Tom Rabon, one of the partners and a mentor (he still is!), walked by my desk one day and mentioned that two old friends had an idea to launch an “online newspaper” focused on education. He invited me to lunch to hear them out. I was skeptical, but intrigued by new media models, so off we went to 18 Seaboard. (Rest in peace, old friend. Your salmon salads fed me many times.)

Over lunch, Gerry Hancock and Ferrel Guillory laid out their idea’s basic concepts. They believed that public education was too vital, made up too large a percentage of our state budget, and impacted far too many people for so few reporters to cover education issues in-depth. They also felt our rural K-12 districts were doing amazing, innovative work that went unnoticed due to the decline in local media across the state and country.

By the end of lunch, I was hooked. The value proposition of such an outlet was clear to me, as were the stakes of the issues they hoped to cover.

I wasn’t sure that this good idea would find the money to launch, but it did.

I hoped it would find an audience, and we did. We grew from an audience of zero to more than 1 million audience members each year today.

I am deeply proud of our work at EdNC. In my farewell column, I document many other memories and success stories. I hope you’ll take the time to give it a read.

And I am especially proud to have traveled to all 58 community colleges — most of them more than once. In fact, I made it to the 58th of 58 last week when I had the chance to visit Roanoke-Chowan Community College. You can read about my visit in an article that is now live on EdNC.org.

MC Belk Pilon and the Belk Endowment’s investment in our work allowed us to move into the community college space, and her investment helped me find my calling. Most of the issues I care deeply about — social mobility, access, opportunity, giving people a second chance, economic development, and building rural resilience — are issues you all tackle every single day at your institutions.

Our community colleges are remarkable assets, and I look forward to continuing to find ways to share the stories of the Great 58. If you wish to connect as I move forward, you can find me on LinkedIn under my name, or on Threads or X (formerly called Twitter).

I look forward to continuing to support the great work of EdNC and to remaining a loyal reader of Awake58, which will be in good hands with EdNC’s Emily Thomas. I hope you’ll join me in that endeavor. The issues EdNC provides reporting and research around will shape the future of the state we all love, and I know EdNC will keep covering those issues fairly and with fidelity.

Among the important issues we covered last week, check out Hannah and Liz’s write-up on the Senate budget proposal (which includes a link to the House proposal), and Mebane’s interview with state Superintendent Catherine Truitt.

I don’t look at this as a goodbye. As always, I will see you out on the road. EdNC will be operating on a summer schedule in July, so you will see Awake58 back in your inbox in August.

Kind regards,

Nation Hahn
Chief of Growth — EdNC.org

P.S. — If you missed last week’s Awake58, you can find it on our website.


EdNC reads

Roanoke-Chowan Community College hopes to show everyone ‘what a small rural institution can be’

Roanoke-Chowan Community College President Dr. Murray Williams and her leadership team welcomed me to campus last week. As I mentioned above, this vist marked my 58th community college visited.

Over the course of our time together, Williams walked me through the story of how the college has charted a new course in recent years. They have worked hard to rebuild their leadership team, recruit and retain faculty and staff, and bolster enrollment. They have also worked hard to build stronger ties with the local K-12 district — including launching the “Power of 15” initiative.

Williams has bold aspirations for the college:

“I used to tell (former) system president Thomas Stith that we were the No. 1 community college in the state,” Williams said. “I told him that we may not look like it yet, but we are going to get there. And today I can safely say that we’ve come a long way from where we were.”

The enthusiasm from Williams and her team was clear throughout my visit.

“This isn’t a job for me. This is a calling,” Williams said. “I love this institution, these people, the students, and this community. We are sitting on a golden opportunity to show both North Carolina and this nation what a small rural institution can be.”

Williams shared a great deal of data underscoring the progress the college has made. Head over to EdNC.org for more details.

House budget: Additional raises, master’s pay, and more funds for Opportunity Scholarships

Hannah has details on the NC House’s proposed budget and the implications for community colleges in her latest article:

The House proposal’s bill text directs the State Board of Community Colleges to “revise its funding formula for community colleges and allocate funds under that revised formula, beginning with the 2024-2025 fiscal year.”

This short session, the N.C. Community College System’s (NCCCS) primary legislative request is money for Propel NC, the system’s new funding model proposal. The request includes a nearly $100 million price tag for FY 2024-25.

Neither the House money report nor bill text include the phrase, “Propel NC,” but both address the request.

The money report includes $18.5 million in recurring funds for “funding model workforce parity.”

The budget says this item provides “additional funds for short-term workforce courses to create funding parity between Workforce Continuing Education (WCE) and Curriculum programs. Funds provided for this purpose shall be used to increase the budget FTE formula values for applicable WCE programs in the revised funding model.”

The bill text says FTE funding for courses will be “weighted based on the workforce sector of each course, as determined by the State Board.”

The budget does not include funds to increase base funding, which is also part of the Propel NC request.

However, it does include $6 million in nonrecurring funds “to establish an enrollment increase reserve for community colleges with eligible enrollment increases that exceed budgeted enrollment levels. NCCCS will submit an annual request to replenish the reserve via the enrollment growth adjustment as needed.”

On years when the system as a whole generates excess receipts, the proposal would also allow excess tuition receipts to return to the college which generated them.

You will find additional details on the House budget and the impact on funding across the educational continuum in Hannah’s article.

We also have an update on other pieces of legislation you may wish to track during this session, including the Senate budget proposal.

Senate budget proposal and other bills to know about at the General Assembly

A farewell to our readers

I am grateful to my colleagues at EdNC for giving me the space to reflect on our shared work in recent weeks. Here is an excerpt from my farewell column reflecting on what I learned from all of you across the Great 58:

I was first introduced to community colleges as a kid because many of my family members referenced Caldwell Community College as their hope for a fresh start whenever they hit a tough spot in life or in their careers. My professional introduction to community colleges came in 2012 when I helped organize a statewide tour for the Research Triangle Park Foundation. We visited more than a dozen community colleges that were clearly on the frontlines of innovation and economic development in their regions. I was blown away and inspired.

It was EdNC’s great fortune (and mine) that after two-plus years of publishing news and research in K-12 education, we received a call from MC Belk Pilon and the John M. Belk Endowment asking if we might consider doing the same for our 58 community colleges.

I could write hundreds of thousands of words about our community colleges (and I tried — check out my archives!). But the main thing I hope people who have read my work will understand is that we have a remarkable asset in our 58 community colleges. Not only do they live up to Dallas Herring’s vision of taking people from where they are to where they want to go every single day, but they are our proverbial first responders to economic crises, the institutions providing basic skills and GEDs (many of my family members took them up on this offering), the institutions providing college-going opportunities to teenagers through early colleges and other dual-enrollment programs, the bridge to four-year institutions for many, and the place to provide “better skills for better jobs” for our adult learners.

I hope our state will continue to understand how important they are in the years ahead.

I feel deeply fortunate to have criss-crossed our state to learn all of these lessons alongside my coworkers and all of you.

This weekend, I read a book by North Carolinian Jim Dodson. In “Range Bucket List,” he wrote, “Someone once said that life is the complicated stuff that happens between hello and goodbye—so make it all count.”

My EdNC journey began with saying hello to Gerry and Ferrel, but it also began with saying “yes, ma’am” to Mebane Rash once upon a time. She became our CEO and our fearless leader, but she also became my mentor and my friend. She believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself, and she inspired me to dig deep even when I didn’t want to.

You can find the remainder of my farewell on our website. Thank you for reading.


Around NC

North Carolina A&T announces new Chancellor | According to a release from the university, Dr. James Martin II will take the helm of the college in August: “James Martin II, an accomplished civil engineer who has led engineering and STEM initiatives at three large public research universities, was elected chancellor of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University on June 21 by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.”

Program spotlight: Apprenticeships that unite science, technology, and talent | The NCCCS communications team has launched a series of program spotlights on the new system website. GSK’s work with Wake Technical Community College is most recent spotlight: “GSK’s apprenticeship program is a 3-4-year long program that provides apprentices with the opportunity to jumpstart their careers while pursuing a college education. The company’s North Carolina site is housed in Zebulon, and GSK partners with Wake Technical Community College for the educational components of the program. During their apprenticeships, GSK apprentices receive paid on-the-job training while studying toward their associate degrees, or trade qualifications, fully funded, at Wake Tech. The program’s structure means apprentices spend approximately 80% of their time training and 20% of their time completing the required educational components.”

Blue Ridge CC news | Blue Ridge Community College and Appalachian State University recently announced the “Aspire Appalachian” direct admission program. Aspire Appalachian is designed to simplify the transfer process and offer robust advising support to students throughout their time at Blue Ridge, according to a release from the college.

A local media outlet, The Mountaineer, also took a look at Propel NC through the prism of Blue Ridge CC:

The current community college funding model emphasizes degree programs. Propel NC would be a more job-focused model, said Laura Leatherwood, president of Blue Ridge Community College. She used welding as an example. On a per-course basis, community colleges receive more funds for a student participating in welding and pursuing an associate’s degree than for a student taking the very same courses and only seeking a certification.

“If you look at our economy today, our economy places value on the credential, and the credential could be a TIG or a MIG welding certification, not necessarily an associate’s degree in welding,” Leatherwood said. “So, if you look at the economy in the state of North Carolina, that TIG or MIG means just as much if not more than the associate’s degree in welding, right?”

The new proposal “really eliminates the line between funding for degree programs and funding for work-force development programs,” White said.

The full article provides more anecdotes and data.

Central Piedmont CC receives large donation of land | Central Piedmont Community College announced a donation of almost 23 acres of land from Rick Hendricks and Hendricks Automotive. Central Piedmont will build a facility designed to train first responders across a variety of disciplines, according to the college.

Piedmont CC President wins Trailblazer Award | The North Carolina Chapter of the American Council on Education (ACE) Women’s Network announced that Dr. Pamela Senegal, President of Piedmont Community College, was awarded the organization’s Trailblazer Award for 2024, according to the college. Congratulations, Dr. Senegal!


Other higher education reads

‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ on FAFSA

Will we see a smoother process for next year’s FAFSA? Inside Higher Ed provides updates and highlights several concerns.

A smooth Oct. 1 launch may be especially challenging given recent turbulence within the department. FSA chief Richard Cordray is stepping down at the end of the month, creating a vacuum at the top of the office responsible for the federal aid form. It’s also an election year, which brings the possibility of big personnel shake-ups if the White House changes party hands again.

“Between [Cordray’s] departure and the instability and uncertainty that comes with an election year … all of this leads me to believe there will be a delay,” said Rob Reddy, vice president for enrollment management at St. Louis University. “If I don’t prepare for that eventuality, I’d be derelict in my job.”

But there are reasons for optimism as well. Last Friday the department announced the appointment of its first-ever FAFSA czar, College Board president Jeremy Singer, to steward next year’s rollout. Singer oversaw the development and launch of the new digital SAT and has been involved in operations for the College Board’s FAFSA alternative, the College Scholarship Service Profile, since 2013.

Last week, department officials announced they would not open up the FAFSA for public comment or substantively change this year’s form, making the Oct. 1 deadline more realistic by eliminating the usual 90-day comment period. But many financial aid professionals are upset that one of the few transparent venues available to critique the form has been closed off.

“I’d say this increases the likelihood they’ll meet the Oct. 1 launch date, but it comes at the cost of not making changes for next year,” Desjean said. “Given the magnitude of the changes from this year, I think people would have appreciated the time to comment.”

Rachelle Feldman, vice provost for enrollment at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said there are a few obtusely phrased questions on this year’s form that prompted a flood of corrections, which she’d like to see reworded for next year. Those include a question asking students if they want to apply for unsubsidized loans, which contains multiple double negatives and was highlighted by NCAN in its list of recommended FAFSA improvements published last Thursday.

The entire article is worth your time.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.