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Cyberattacks and a pandemic. What does the path forward look like for N.C. community colleges?

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The impact of the pandemic on postsecondary education in North Carolina – a special report from EdNC…Cyberattacks and how North Carolina community colleges are preparing…A special interview with Thomas Stith, president of the North Carolina Community College System…

Good morning, folks. Emily Thomas here, taking over Awake58 this week while Nation is traveling around western North Carolina. 

In last week’s Awake58, Nation discussed EdNC’s special report on lessons learned in a pandemic year. You can find the full special report by clicking here.

This week, we’re looking at the impacts of COVID-19 on postsecondary education. As part of EdNC’s special report, team members spoke with education leaders across the state about the effect the pandemic had on their institutions. We explore a range of topics, including community college enrollment, the state’s myFutureNC attainment goal, information technology (IT) infrastructure, FAFSA completion, early colleges, and short-term workforce training.

If you’ve had trouble finding fuel over the past week, chances are you’ve read the words cybersecurity and cyberattack quite a few times. But Colonial Pipeline isn’t alone in their security breach. Since 2019, four North Carolina community colleges have experienced ransomware attacks. I talked to college and system leaders to find out how the community college system is preparing. You can read the article here.

My colleague, Analisa Sorrells, connected with three state education leaders to learn what it was like to lead during an unprecedented school year. One of those interviews was with N.C. Community College System president, Thomas Stith:

Too often, I’m in conversations and people say, “The community college system is the best-kept secret in North Carolina.” And they say that as a compliment. And I graciously nod — but to me, it’s not a compliment. It shows that we still have work to do. Because we don’t want to be a good-kept secret, we want to be a well-known benefit to the state.

You can read Stith’s full interview here.

EdNC is hosting a virtual town hall on Thursday, May 20, from noon to 1:15 p.m. ET on pathways to and through college. Educators and experts will discuss how educational institutions can help students meet the new challenges brought on by the pandemic. You’ll be able to pose questions in real time. Register here.

Like all of you, we’ve got a busy week ahead. I’ll be listening to the State Board of Community College’s monthly meeting. You can see their agenda here. Nation spoke at Isothermal Community College’s commencement ceremony Monday evening. Look for an article soon with his speech.

If you want to find out what we’re talking about on a daily basis, follow us on Twitter: EdNC, Awake58, Molly, Nation, Alli, Emily.

Thanks for reading,


EdNC reads

How will the pandemic shape postsecondary education in North Carolina?

As part of EdNC’s special report, we spoke with education leaders across the state to find out how the pandemic impacted their institutions.

For North Carolina community colleges, the effects were great. Many thought four-year colleges would see huge enrollment declines while community colleges would see an influx of students.

Instead, community colleges both across the country and in North Carolina saw fewer students show up this year as students dealt with job losses, child and family care responsibilities, broadband challenges, and more.

We explore the impact of the pandemic on community college enrollment, the state’s myFutureNC attainment goal, information technology (IT) infrastructure, FAFSA completion, early colleges, and short-term workforce training.

Read the full article here.

How are N.C. community colleges preparing for the next cyberattack?

“Cyberthreat, in my mind, is not going away in the near future,” said Jim Parker, senior vice president and CIO of technology solutions and distance learning at the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS).

The threat to North Carolina community colleges is real. How real? Since 2019, four N.C. community colleges have experienced cyberattacks. Community college leaders across the state share how they are preparing for future cyberthreats. The system office is also requesting funding from the legislature for nine regional cybersecurity officers.

Find out more

‘We will not be a best-kept secret any longer.’ — A conversation with Thomas Stith of the N.C. Community College System

Analisa Sorrells met with system president Thomas Stith to discuss what it was like leading a community college system through a pandemic.

Stith talks about lessons learned, the resiliency of the community college system, and how they’ll lead in the recovery.

Full interview with Thomas Stith

Reflections on the pandemic from one community college president

Mark Poarch, president of Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute (CCC&TI), wrote a perspective about his experiences leading during a pandemic.

Poarch highlights how CCC&TI partnered with the community to minimize the impact of COVID-19. He also talks about Google providing Chromebooks and distance learning modifications.

A president's perspective

An EdNC Virtual Convening: Pathways To and Through College

EdNC is hosting a virtual town hall on Thursday, May 20, from noon to 1:15 p.m. ET.

Educators and experts will discuss how educational institutions can help students meet the new challenges brought on by the pandemic.You’ll be able to pose questions in real time.

Panelists include:

  • Rachel Desmarais, president, Vance-Granville Community College
  • Anthony Jackson, superintendent, Vance County Schools
  • Tim Renick, executive director of Georgia State University’s new National Institute for Student Success
  • Lina Bankert, partner, Bellwether Education Partners; director of the Reimagining the Road to Graduation project
Register for the virtual town hall

Around NC

EdNC’s Liz Bell writes about early childhood environments across North Carolina and how they managed during the last year. Child care centers and home-based facilities kept their doors open – filling gaps in care for older remote learners. Liz also writes about the need to financially support a workforce that showed up and supported the state during the pandemic. Read the article here.

Analisa Sorrells also interviewed Rebecca Planchard, senior early childhood policy advisor with North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Planchard played a key role during the pandemic – coordinating the department’s K-12 COVID-19 response and guidance. The article discusses some of Planchard’s toughest and brightest moments of leadership from the past year. Check out the interview here.

The State Board of Community Colleges will meet virtually May 20-21, with the full board convening on Friday, May 21 at 9:00 a.m. The meetings are open to the public, but some portions may be conducted in closed session, pursuant to state law. Meetings will be livestreamed on the NC Community College System Office YouTube channel.

myFutureNC shares their 2021 recommended legislative actions:

To close the educational attainment gap in North Carolina by 2030, our state must ensure that students are prepared for education after high school; have access to an affordable opportunity; complete the degree or credential they pursue; and the education achieved aligns with a high-demand and/or high-growth job that pays a living wage.

In 2021, we must urgently begin to close North Carolina’s skills gap through a dedicated focus on all of these. In support of this, myFutureNC is lifting up a set of cross-sector policy recommendations that will:

  • Increase commitment to career & college readiness programs;
  • Increase student awareness of their ability to access career & college pathways and federal financial aid;
  • Improve need-based supports for students to increase postsecondary completion; and
  • Expand access to non-degree credentialing programs that improve alignment between postsecondary opportunities and workforce needs.

Cape Fear Community College is using TikTok to highlight its campus and programs. The account is filled with videos of faculty, staff, and students talking about specific programs or naming the advantages of an affordable community college degree. Check out the rest of the article from Inside Higher Ed and click to view CFCC’s official TikTok page.

Higher Ed Works also interviewed Thomas Stith about North Carolina community colleges leading the state through the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Click here to see the full interview.

North Carolina First in FAFSA is a myFutureNC collaborative that focuses on increasing the number of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA. This school challenge leaderboard shows the schools and school districts that are leading the way.

Listen: A podcast series about North Carolina’s 10 Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The next episode of IEI’s four-part series on North Carolina’s HBCUs features Dr. Johnson Akinleye and Dr. Deepak Kumar of North Carolina Central University.

Durham Tech just launched a new Men of Color Scholars Institute program to empower students, foster leadership, and nurture professional and personal development. Read more here. 

Other higher education reads

A webinar by Strada Education Network about pandemic disrupted learners and returning to school.

Strada Education Network is hosting a webinar on Wednesday, May 19 at 2 p.m. EDT.

The webinar will showcase the latest findings on pandemic-disrupted learners. You’ll learn how they’re doing, whether they’ve reconnected with education and training, and what education options appeal most to them.

Register for the webinar event here.

Race & Education | Latinx Identity on College Campuses: Not a Monolith

Join The Hunt Institute on May 18 at 2:00 p.m. EDT for a webinar on Latinx identity on college campuses. You’ll hear from Latinx practitioners, funders, and higher education professionals. These experts will explore the nuances of Latinx identity through a higher education lens. Click here to register.

Equitable Value: Higher Education’s Next Movement

The Postsecondary Value Commission released its final report and action agenda on May 12. The report is the result of two years of work and provides answers to the question, “What is college worth?”

The findings discuss opportunities to include equitable value and highlight the lack of upward economic mobility for students at some colleges and universities.

“And while many colleges and universities see upward economic mobility for their students and graduates, too many do not. At hundreds of institutions, students do not see a minimum economic return – earnings at or above those of high school graduates in the same region, plus net price paid for a degree – ten years after college.”

– Patrick Methvin, Gates Foundation.

Harvard Wasn't the Only One With Record Numbers of Applicants

Some Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) had a breakthrough year.

North Carolina A&T State University is on that list.

In 2017, the college had 18,645 total applications. This year, the college has received 28,488. If trends continue, North Carolina A&T could see its sixth straight year of record enrollment.

Read more about North Carolina A&T State University and other HBCUs.

Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas is a policy analyst for EducationNC.