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Hi, Nation here with this week’s edition of Awake58. If you missed last week’s, you can read it by clicking here.

The search committee for the next N.C Community College System president interviewed candidates last week… 50+ community colleges gathered in Greensboro for an event about adult learners, co-hosted by EdNC and the John M. Belk Endowment… Dr. Jim Johnson warned college leaders of “gale force demographic wind gusts” that are coming… Dr. Kenyatta Lovett discussed the need to reimagine how we engage with adult students… Dr. Matt Bergman lifted up persistence strategies… The Belk Center released four new briefs on adult learners today…

Last week was a significant one for the community college system in North Carolina.

The search committee for the next system president interviewed numerous semi-finalist candidates over the course of two days. The next big step will come when the committee narrows the field to their finalists — something we expect to happen in the coming weeks. It remains to be seen as to whether the search committee will meet their latest goal of naming a system president by May, but the process of narrowing the field is well underway.

We were also able to convene 52 community colleges in Greensboro to focus on adult learners, in partnership with the John M. Belk Endowment. The conversations and connections were powerful. We were fortunate to hear from a number of national experts on how to succeed with adult learners — and how to do so during a time of demographic transition, which UNC-Chapel Hill’s Dr. Jim Johnson discussed with college leaders. Here are a few key takeaways from his presentation: We are a state that has experienced a lot of growth, but like much of the country, we have seen a declining birth rate across virtually all demographic groups. Our growth is also particularly uneven between rural, suburban, and urban communities. And, yes, all of our community colleges are going to have to grapple with these demographic shifts moving forward.

I might boil it down further: Your communities are changing even if your colleges are not.

Another message that really resonated came from Dr. Kenyatta Lovett, the head of Higher Education for Educate Texas:

Lovett said community colleges must move from aligning to braiding resources. In Texas, for example, Lovett and his colleagues quickly saw that pathways to successful outcomes did not often account for student challenges. They realized students were not often being handed off from one milestone to another, and that more work was needed to better serve specific adult student populations.

Lovett raised the provocative question: How successful are your colleges at handing off students at key moments in their education journeys?

We also heard from several college presidents from across North Carolina — and from two adult learners as well. Those students gave colleges the following advice:

Hardin and Sheets identified challenges they’ve faced as adult learners: trying to relate with younger students, and scheduling challenges around work and family needs, including classes and services like tutoring that don’t always offer evening options. Community colleges should offer more flexibility around schedules, different learning styles, and technology resources, they said.

It was a powerful two days. We must express our thanks to MC Belk Pilon, Mike Krause, and the entire John M. Belk Endowment team for the opportunity to gather last week. I look forward to seeing what is to come.

This week, Emily is at a gathering for Avanza. Hannah McClellan will be at the North Carolina General Assembly. If you are there for community college advocacy day on Wednesday, please tell her congratulations as she had big life news this weekend!

I’ll see you out on the road,

Nation Hahn

Head of Growth —

EdNC reads

N.C. Community College leaders gather for first statewide convening on adult learners

The significance of adult learners for the future of North Carolina’s community colleges was on full display last week.

Several community college presidents made the case throughout the two days:

From Dr. Janet Spriggs, Forsyth Technical Community College president:

“The most important reason why adult learners matter is because they are oftentimes the people who need us the most. Community colleges have been in this work forever. We’ve always been the builders of bridges from poverty, and the best hope for non-traditional students. We are the best hope for meeting the challenges of an education system and an economic system that are out of sync with job seekers.”

And from Dr. Lisa Chapman, Central Carolina Community College president:

“Dallas Herring not only said, ‘take people from where they are for as far as they can go,’ but he said because the state of North Carolina needs them. If we want to keep being the state that people come to for business, we better take care of business. Nobody does that better than the Great 58, and nobody can engage with adult learners as well as we do. And they’re the ones that are going to help us meet that need.”

And we are also fortunate to hear from two adult students as well. One interesting takeaway came from a Wilkes Community College student, who showed us that even marketing we may think of as old fashioned might remind folks of their options:

A postcard also reconnected Sheets to Wilkes Community College. Sheets actually first attended Wilkes after high school, when he earned an associate in science degree to work as a maintenance technician.

“I grew up hearing that you go through school, go to college, have your degree, and then you’re good to go. That started to happen for me,” Sheets said. “I knew at the time I wanted to earn a bachelor’s, but didn’t know how.”

He received a postcard from Wilkes about a month before he got laid off, following budget cuts at his company. Though he had thrown the postcard away, he remembered it after losing his job, wondering what his next step was.

“I sort of took that as a signal,” Sheets said. “Maybe I needed to go back and work toward more credentials to help with moving forward.”

Hannah’s article summing up the two days can be found here.

What are the ‘gale-force demographic wind gusts’ facing North Carolina?

Business is booming in N.C., but we are still in a critical moment as a state, according to UNC-Chapel Hill’s Dr. Jim Johnson: “If we’re going to maintain our superiority as the most attractive place to live and do business in this country, we’re going to have to be serious about talent development, recruitment, and retention.”

He shared some of the specific demographic challenges we’re facing, in his presentation to college leaders at the adult learning convening:

Though North Carolina has seen faster growth compared to many other states, Johnson cautioned higher education leaders from writing off the national data.

“Don’t get lulled to sleep by the boom,” he said. “Because nationally we’re experiencing this slower rate of growth in everything that we do.”

Higher education institutions, including community colleges, must proactively work to engage students in light of declining population growth, he said.

Johnson cited several contributing factors to declining population and enrollment trends, listed below.

  • National restrictive policies on immigration

  • National decline of white population

  • Declining fertility

  • Graying of the U.S. and N.C.

  • The plight of men and declining male enrollment

  • Drug overdose deaths soaring during the pandemic

  • Declining female labor force participation and involuntary retirements

For more details on his presentation, click here.

Reimagining access and engagement at N.C. community colleges

Dr. Kenyatta Lovett from Educate Texas zeroed in on recommendations that came from his work in Tennessee and Texas. I’d read Hannah’s write-up for all of his takeaways from his convening keynote, but I wanted to draw attention to the following measures of success for student pathways:

So what does it take for a student to reach a successful outcome in their pathway? Lovett outlined a few key findings:

  • Advising is not a binary outcome. Community college is one part of a larger ecosystem – how are colleges shaping and sequencing advising for a long-term conversation with students? How are colleges meeting students with a variety of goals and needs?

  • Credentials = currency. In other words, credentials are not a stopping point, but a stepping stone. In particular, credentials are helpful for students who have the experience, but not the formal qualifications.

  • Employers engage in two distinct ways. Employers either act as true partners in the supply chain, or as a participant in the process. Community colleges need to work to identify and develop the true partners, Lovett said.

  • It’s not college or career, but college and career. These conversations take place with each other, Lovett said, and make more sense the more they’re connected to career.

  • The first door matters. Community colleges are not usually the “first door,” or first point-of-contact, for students learning about postsecondary options. First doors might be a nonprofit, food bank, or community organization. Because of that, how colleges engage with such organizations matters.

You can read more about the keynote here.

Why adult learners persist, and how colleges can engage them

Why are adult learners such a hot topic? Dr. Matt Bergman from the University of Louisville laid out one key driver for the focus to convening attendees: “Thirty-nine million working-age Americans have some college credits but no degree, Bergman said. At the same time, 65% of new jobs in the U.S. require a postsecondary credential, according to a 2020 study on job growth and education by Georgetown University.”

Bergman said that persistence for adult learners will be the ultimate measure of success for postsecondary institutions — and part of Bergman’s case was the idea of focusing on the student’s motivations:

“It’s not all doom and gloom,” he said. “Why don’t we take an appreciative inquiry mindset and look at where these people have been, what they have done, and celebrate the success that they’ve had so far and build on that?”

In addition to returning to school for personal fulfillment or to increase their earning power and workforce advancement, Bergman identified several other motivations:

  • To develop skills to stay competitive

  • To improve employment opportunities

  • To prepare for a career change

  • To inspire children by setting the example

Read the full piece here.

Research | N.C. community colleges collaborate to support adult learners

Since 2021, the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research has gathered data, stories, and lessons learned from colleges participating in N.C. Reconnect – the initiative to reengage and enroll adult learners in North Carolina community colleges. The Belk Center, in partnership with the John M. Belk Endowment (JMBE), the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) and myFutureNC, released a comprehensive Adult Learner Guidebook last year that synthesized key takeaways from the program’s first cohort of five colleges participating in N.C. Reconnect.

This year, the Belk Center launched a series of research briefs which expand on the Adult Learner Guidebook and includes learnings from cohorts one and two.

You can view the briefs here. 

Around NC

Blue Ridge Community College sent out their latest “Campus News” update last week. President Laura Leatherwood said Blue Ridge will graduate their largest class ever this spring, adding: “Furthermore, we’re adding numerous timely new programs in the coming year that are critical to the success of our region and state. These include artificial intelligence, civil and environmental engineering, medical office administration, entrepreneurship, licensed practical nurse (LPN), respiratory therapy, and an elementary education residency. We’ve also expanded the number of seats of our popular nursing program to serve even more students each year.”

Robeson Community College reported that their “Emergency Medical Science degree program has seen an uptick in growth, despite a shortage of EMT’s and paramedics in the US. The program was given an honorable mention by RCC for being the program with the second largest percentage increase in enrollment for 2022.”

Isothermal Community College will partner with UNC-Wilmington on a social work degree.

College of the Albemarle (COA) leased a 15-acre demonstration farm. The farm will “expose many aspects of farming to students, such as vegetable production, landscaping, forestry, small fruit production, cut flowers, and marketing of the farm’s production.”

Culinary students at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College won top awards in Kansas City and now are headed to a national competition in July.

North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and Roanoke-Chowan Community College signed an articulation agreement last month to expand degree completion and career development opportunities for students in business administration and criminal justice programs.

Other higher education reads

New energy behind short-term Pell

Check out this recent newsletter from The Hechinger Report, on expansion of the Pell Grant and new workforce training efforts:

With fewer adults enrolling in traditional colleges, there’s a renewed push in Washington to expand federal funding for low-income students to pay for very short, career-oriented education programs. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say this could help people get jobs and help employers that are desperate for skilled workers.

The federal funding for low-income students, known as the Pell Grant, already covers training programs as short as 15 weeks. If newly re-introduced bills in the House and Senate pass, students could use Pell dollars for programs as short as eight weeks, as long as they resulted in an industry-recognized certificate or credential. Versions of this policy have been proposed several times before.

Read more here.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.