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Adaptability and grace helped one college through COVID-19

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Welcome to the latest edition of Awake58. We appreciate you allowing us into your inbox. If you received this email without a subscription, please click here to subscribe to this newsletter.

We embedded at A-B Tech for 15 months and we will be sharing those stories this week… A new cybersecurity effort received a $2 million grant… FAFSA Day is coming up on Oct. 23… Strada Education is launching a $10 million grant challenge called Beyond Completion…

Happy Tuesday!

Over the past 15 months, I have spent a significant amount of time with A-B Tech president John Gossett, the executive leadership team, faculty, staff, and students. I’ve visited campus a half-dozen times, spending more than 20 days in Asheville in all. Gossett and his team also provided a unique level of access to conversations, meetings, and the entire A-B Tech community.

After all of the time spent in Asheville, my piece is now live. The article shares some of what the A-B Tech team learned during the last 15 months serving students and their community throughout the pandemic.

A big part of what A-B Tech learned was the need for grace — and the need to combat social isolation:

Gossett wrote a guest essay for us recently where he discussed their embrace of the concept of “grace” from a leadership level on down:

“As we were inundated with news of fear and anger in our society, our leadership team embraced grace for our campus. We worked hard to demonstrate grace with each other, and more importantly, with ourselves. The concept seemed to resonate with our employees and students as we looked for ways to give each other the benefit of the doubt and assume positive intent.”

The concept of grace played out in a number of ways — including Stewart deciding that A-B Tech needed someone to be tasked with monitoring and bolstering morale.

“So in the early days of the pandemic, in the first actual week or so that we were off campus, it became very evident to us that a lot of our faculty and staff were going to struggle with being isolated,” Stewart said. “You know, faculty are usually pretty social beings. They like to talk to their colleagues in the hall, they like to see their students, and all of a sudden to be cut off from all of that was difficult for a lot of our faculty and for our staff.”

For my full piece, click here.

We also published a series profiling local stories last week that I hope you will make time to read. One of the stories takes a look at some of Fayetteville Tech’s and Central Carolina’s unique programs — including FTCC’s focus on individuals transitioning out of the armed services into civilian life.

The State Board of Community Colleges met last week, and we will have a write up publishing soon — stay tuned to

Thank you for reading this week. We appreciate your continued support.

I’ll see you out on the road,

Nation Hahn

Head of Growth —

EdNC reads

Lessons in leadership from 15 months of one college facing down a pandemic

In late spring of 2020, our team at EdNC decided to embed in communities across the state to better understand how the pandemic was impacting their education systems and other anchor institutions. I opted to focus on A-B Tech.

My piece that just published focuses on the lessons they learned throughout the past 15 months.

As with all of the 58 community colleges, adapting and iterating constantly was part of the process. Beth Stewart, A-B Tech’s vice president of instructional services, took me back to the early days of the pandemic during one of our conversations: “I have to tell you, (going virtual) was the scariest, most stressful decision I’ve ever had to make as an administrator.”

The upside? The college itself is now in a better position for the future, according to both Stewart and A-B Tech president John Gossett:

Stewart and Gossett both noted that while brick and mortar will remain important in higher education, the shift to online learning and virtual environments will provide greater opportunities long-term to students of all types.

“This gives our students better opportunities to be able to take classes … and that’s going to be better for our parents who are students … who maybe can’t take classes during the day,” Stewart said. “They’re gonna be able to take those same classes at night or on the weekends, because they don’t have to have the physical access to the equipment … and that is going to do a lot more for access.”

Gossett echoed the need for A-B Tech, and other colleges, to continue to adapt.

“Our industry is created for the 18- to 21-year-old, with no mortgage, no bills, and no obligations… who can set aside two years, four years, and put everything else on the back burner,” Gossett shared. “That is not reality anymore.”

I hope that you will take the time to read the piece! My thanks to the entire A-B Tech community for opening up their doors so often throughout the past 15 months.

Click here for the full story

Central Carolina and Fayetteville Tech showcase how they are their community’s college

We spent a lot of time on the road in August visiting numerous community colleges across the state.

One trip took us to Central Carolina Community College and Fayetteville Tech Community College.

Our day at FTCC focused, in part, on their work transitioning members of the armed services into civilian life. One such veteran is Anthony Ricciutti:

Anthony Ricciutti is a former non-commissioned officer (NCO) in the military and now works full time as a faculty member teaching welding. His time in the military and experience supervising fellow soldiers prepared him for life in the classroom. He says that the transition from military life to civilian life comes with challenges. While in service, they often teach and mentor fellow soldiers and miss the community after they leave.

“They don’t have that fulfillment. They don’t have that satisfaction,” he said.

He was drawn to welding because of the slow process and alone time. After he left the military, Ricciutti took a handful of welding classes, but it was the 16-week work-based learning program that FTCC offers that elevated him to the next level. He was invited to apply for a faculty position within the department as he wrapped up the program. The opportunity eased his transition back to civilian life. Ricciutti said that after the “go, go, go” pace of military service, he now enjoys the slower pace of welding.

“It calms me down. It’s therapeutic,” Riccuitti said. “The program got me ready for a full-time job.”

We then traveled to Central Carolina CC to visit their laser and photonics (the scientific study of light) technology program and spend time with instructor Gary Beasley.

Our Local Stories section has the full collection of articles.

Click here for the full story

Here’s how an HBCU and a community college are working together to transform their region

We first traveled to Elizabeth City State University and College of the Albemarle back in March. ECSU has seen a remarkable uptick in enrollment over the last several years — even in the face of COVID-19.

We joined Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina executives on one of their recent Extra Miles Tour stops. As part of the Extra Miles tour, Blue Cross NC is traveling to visit education and health care systems along with other anchor institutions across the state to better understand the barriers communities are facing and meet the people working to address them.

A big part of the day was exploring the ECSU Aviation program:

ECSU has the only four-year aviation science degree program in the state with more than 150 students working towards the degree. Of those 150 students, 111 are concentrating on flight. Graduates of the program go on to fly aircrafts commercially or within the private sector, but a portion follow a career in Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones.

When Dixon first started her role, the university had two airplanes for training. They now own 12 with plans to add more. Earlier this spring, ECSU and United Airlines announced a partnership to train and hire 5,000 pilots through the United Aviate Academy. The program will focus primarily on elevating women and people of color to the flight deck.

Blue Cross NC spent the next day visiting the Elizabeth City and Currituck campuses for College of the Albemarle. College of the Albemarle shared their work on recruiting and admissions:

COA is also working to support individuals who experience disadvantages, including students of color, when applying to their health care programs. Most medical programs base admissions on a complex point system that is difficult to navigate. Robin Harris, dean of health sciences and wellness programs at COA, said the college is working to target individuals who have a lower grade-point average and boost their chance of academic success through guidance and tutoring. That guidance includes helping students understand how to navigate the point system.

COA also offers specialized tutoring for the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS), an admissions test for nursing programs, and they eliminated the exam as an entry requirement for some programs. Harris said that while their pass rates decreased a little as a result of removing that entry requirement, students were able to retake exams and begin working within their community, which is the most important outcome for her.

“As we look at the diversity of our program — the socioeconomic diversity, the geographic diversity — we want to encourage those high school students who are more likely to stay here,” said Dr. Bagwell.

For the full story on the two institutions, click below.

Click here for the full story

Around NC

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an essential part of the college-going journey for students — and the College Foundation of North Carolina, myFutureNC, and other partners are working together to promote the FAFSA through FAFSA Day on Oct. 23rd. For more information, click here. For more on myFutureNC’s efforts around the FAFSA, click here.

I would encourage you to check out — and share! — our piece on the FAFSA for more information.

Join our partners at The Hunt Institute on Oct. 21st for an important discussion on digital literacy skills. Register for the webinar here: According to the Hunt Institute: “It’s one thing to have access to technology, but it’s another to learn and know how to use that technology. Digital skills can give individuals a boost in the job application process  — many companies are hiring for positions that require advanced technological literacy. The Hunt Institute’s next COVID Constituency webinar examines the digital skills gap.”

The Belk Center at NC State has been rolling out a really interesting set of profiles on community college leaders called Trailblazers. The project is intended to lift up the contributions of Asian, Black, Indigenous, and Latin leaders across the community college system.

The first profile to debut focused on Pitt Community College president Lawrence Rouse. Rouse told the Belk Center: “As an African American, I know that there have been times where I felt that my story was not heard or that I may not have been listened to on my journey to becoming a community college president. So, I always make sure that, as the head of an institution and as a person, that I and my leadership team treat everyone equitably and also with dignity. We cannot just push people aside. We make sure that everybody feels good about who they are, where they’re from, and where they’re headed.”

The second profile focused on Piedmont Community College president Pamela Senegal. Senegal shared more on her journey with the Belk Center: “I didn’t understand what it meant to have a career in community colleges, but the more I learned about it, the more I fell in love with what we do, the way we impact communities and it’s been a really good fit for who I am as a human being – who I am just from so many different levels.”

We will be publishing a podcast about the Trailblazers profiles with the Belk Center’s Audrey Jaeger and republishing the profiles on starting next week, so stay tuned!

The North Carolina Partnership for Cybersecurity Excellence (NC-PaCE) was recently awarded a $2 million grant from the National Security Agency. According to a press release, NC-PaCE “will bring eight of North Carolina’s universities and community colleges together with public agencies and private-sector businesses to address a growing workforce gap and establish cybersecurity as an economic development tool for the state through education, research, services and outreach. In helping to protect the state’s financial and intellectual property assets from cyber threats, the coalition will help drive the state’s economy by giving North Carolina businesses the skilled workers, knowledge and support that they need to grow.”

In other grant news, “A-B Tech Community College has been awarded $1.5 million by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to equip its advanced manufacturing program to support ‘Industry 4.0’ learning to prepare workers with the necessary skills for living-wage jobs.”

Johnston Community College will begin offering a degree in supply chain management. According to the college, they will integrate part of their existing truck driving training program with the supply chain work.

McDowell Tech is hiring a Title III Activities Director and Lead Success Coach. Thank you to President Merritt for sharing this information with us. Please feel free to share job postings with us when you believe it might be applicable for our audience.

The local media wrote up Piedmont Community College’s efforts to offer more eight-week courses for students.

Randolph Community College and UNC-Pembroke are working together to strengthen their transfer pathways for teacher preparation.

Richmond Community College will join the second cohort of the College Innovation Network — an effort focused on bolstering the adaptation of EdTech.

Finish First, a program developed at Wake Tech, has now helped more than 30,000 students achieve degrees or credentials as it has been adopted statewide: “Data from the NCCCS show that for the 50 institutions that adopted the Finish First NC data tool from the 2016-17 academic year to the 2020-21 year, the number of credentials awarded increased by 11.7%. The impact was greater for early adopter colleges that have used the tool for longer. Institutions in the initial group of colleges that piloted the technology saw an overall increase of 16.3% in the number of credentials awarded for the same four-year period. With access to Finish First NC, community colleges in the state are positioned to leverage their use of the tool to push North Carolina closer to the myFutureNC educational attainment goal of 2 million high-quality credentials by 2030.”

Other higher education reads

Strada Education Network Launches $10 Million Beyond Completion Challenge in Partnership with the Taskforce on Higher Education and Opportunity

Make note of this opportunity:

Strada Education Network announced today a $10 million grant challenge aimed at helping higher education institutions launch, test, and scale innovations that improve career and life opportunities after graduation for more students of color as well as first-generation students and those who struggle to afford education.

Strada is partnering with the Taskforce on Higher Education and Opportunity to launch the Beyond Completion Challenge to reimagine higher education to better serve students’ needs. Each institution participating in the challenge will develop an initiative on their campus or in collaboration with other organizations, including industry partners, that fosters a more effective higher education experience. The challenge — which includes $3 million in innovation grants this year and $7 million in scaling grants in 2022 — is intended to support initiatives that will focus on equitable outcomes through and beyond college completion.

Most college students don’t graduate in four years, so college and the government count six years as “success”

The Hechinger Report has a great long read out now looking at the way the goal posts have shifted over time as it relates to completion:

While 90 percent of entering students in a nationwide UCLA survey say they’ll graduate within four years — the most basic promise made by a university or college to consumers — only 45 percent of them will.

The piece ends with a quote from Peter Smith, former Congressman and current professor of innovative practices in higher education at the University of Maryland Global Campus, who told Hechinger:

“What we should admit is that a four-year completion rate, where it works, is working for a limited number of students,” Smith said. “The mainstream model is shifting to truly lifelong in-and-out, come-and-go education. And for some people that is four years or two years.”

But for most people, he said, it’s not. And that means it’s time to find new ways of measuring success.

“The counting system we have — six years, eight years — is really telling us about how the traditional system is unable to meet these changing aspirations.”

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.