Skip to content

EdNC. Essential education news. Important stories. Your voice.

A look at an initiative targeting "opportunity youth," and the benefits of career coaches

A note from us

Welcome to Awake58 — EdNC’s newsletter focused on community colleges and the postsecondary landscape in North Carolina. We appreciate you allowing us into your inbox weekly.  If you received this email without a subscription, please click here to subscribe to this newsletter. If you missed last week’s edition of Awake58, find it here.

UNC-Chapel Hill announces additional details and targeted communities for their “Our State, Our Work” initiative… Durham Technical Community College’s use of HEERF funds profiled by Ed Strategy Group… Robeson Community College President Melissa Singler is the latest Trailblazer profile…  Blue Ridge Community College President Laura Leatherwood penned a perspective discussing their use of career coaches… 

As part of the COVID-19 pandemic response, the federal government allocated an unprecedented amount of federal funding into the entire educational continuum. Community colleges across our state received millions of dollars over the course of three rounds of federal funding. EdNC covered the funding — and use cases on both the college and the statewide level — over the course of the last two years.

Our colleagues at the Ed Strategy Group are holding a webinar today from 3:30 focusing on the topic:

Over two years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted norms in higher education and altered learning environments. The pandemic continues to affect postsecondary education, including impacting enrollment, retention, and completion rates… ESG has developed a new framework — “Enroll. Complete. Compete.” — which aims to help learners move beyond backfilling damaged budgets and calls upon the field to invest in long-term solutions with one-time funds. It is clear that we have an opportunity to help more leaders enroll in higher education, complete a credential of value, and compete in our global economy using the federal stimulus.

Dr. Michelle Asha Cooper, deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs at the U.S. Department of Education, and Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart from Amarillo College are among the speakers. You may RSVP here.

Ed Strategy Group is also publishing a series of companion profiles on colleges across the country. Durham Technical Community College is among the colleges profiled. One interesting takeaway? They decided to “democratize” the process by accepting “improvement bets” from faculty and staff.

Back in March, UNC-Chapel Hill announced the “Our State, Our Work” initiative to connect “opportunity youth” to living-wage opportunities. More recently, the 13 collaboratives who will tackle this work locally were just announced. For more on this development, check out Hannah McClellan’s article.

Several of our team members will be out and about this week across the state. Stay tuned to Twitter to learn more about our travel — and check out next week’s Awake58 for more details!

I’ll see you out on the road,

Nation Hahn

Head of Growth —

EdNC reads

UNC joins N.C. efforts to connect ‘opportunity youth’ with living wage jobs

“Our State, Our Work” is the latest statewide initiative to take aim at helping connect “opportunity youth” to career pathways. Opportunity youth is the label used for 16- to 24-year-olds who are not working or in school.

The initiative is now taking shape as 13 collaboratives were recently announced. Hannah McClellan has the details:

On June 1, the initiative, which is part of Carolina Across 100, announced the selection of 13 groups across 37 counties. The groups – made up of business, civic, education, nonprofit, faith-based, and government entities – will receive a variety of supports from UNC.

Potential supports include guided listening sessions with youth, technical assistance for employers, program management support, and information on funding opportunities and grant writing. Other supports include:

  • evidence-based programming aimed at meeting educational and non-academic needs of opportunity youth
  • career counseling
  • high-demand micro-credential training
  • marketing expertise for existing programs
  • storytelling techniques to share the experiences and triumphs of opportunity youth

For more information on the initiative, click here.

Perspective | Trailblazer Profiles: Melissa Singler

Last fall, I traveled to Robeson Community College for the first time alongside our colleagues at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. Melissa Singler, Robeson Community College‘s president, provided us with an overview of their workforce development programs and context for their county moving forward.

Singler’s connection to her region was evident in the personal stories she shared — and now the Belk Center at N.C. State University has showcased her story in their latest Trailblazer profile. Singler’s story is worth reading as she shares her story of proceeding from dropping out of high school to enrolling in a community college to achieving a four-year degree and beginning a career in banking. Through her process, she developed an affinity for community colleges that culminated with her being named the first Native American president of Robeson Community College. Singler describes her approach as president in the piece:

Since her presidency began, Singler has made it her mission to walk the campus and personally check in with students, making sure they are on the right path and that they see the value of what they are doing at RCC. And when she finds a student who is struggling — she intervenes.

“I know when I’m speaking to a student — or even watching a student’s trajectory — when they’ve reached a point of giving up. I try to intervene and invite them into my office for a conversation to encourage them,” says Singler. “I’m not just here to sit in my office and push paper… I’m here to make a difference. One of the tenets of being Native American is to leave the world better off than what you found it, and part of leaving the world better off is making sure that the people who come here meet their goals, and I can’t do that necessarily from sitting in my office.”

For the full story of Singler’s career and her work at Robeson, click here.

Perspective | Career coaches help plan path forward

Blue Ridge Community College President Laura Leatherwood wrote a perspective for EdNC on career coaches and their importance to postsecondary institutions. “Quite simply,” Leatherwood declared, “career coaches are the most significant workforce development strategy that has been supported in a long time in terms of developing a workforce pipeline for our communities.”

Blue Ridge now has career coaches that serve each high school in their service area. Leatherwood points to these career coaches as one solution for enrollment and attainment challenges for our communities:

Not enough students are enrolling in higher education programs, and not enough students are graduating with a credential that translates into better employment opportunities and higher earnings. This is concerning because the vast majority of livable-wage jobs today and moving forward are expected to require at least some postsecondary education or training certificates.

While there are multiple reasons for this, one of them has to do with students and families not knowing about their options. Enter career coaches. Career coaches work alongside guidance counselors to provide career coaching to every high school student. They are there to support student and parent goals and, together, to consider and navigate options.

As a community college, our job is to also prepare students for their next step, no matter their desire to attend a four-year university, a two-year college transfer, technical career training, or entering directly into the workforce or military. We encourage students to explore all of their options.

Career coaches can help students find their passion and also help to evaluate and identify the best way to get there (e.g., best college, major, classes, and internships). They can also help to develop a strategic plan to guide them through their last years in high school and help with interviewing and resumé writing skills. Most importantly, they can often reduce anxiety and confusion about college choices and future careers.

For Leatherwood’s full piece, click here.

Around NC

Our travel with Blue Cross NC continues. We recently visited Granville, Person, and Vance counties. Our thanks to Piedmont Community College and Vance-Granville Community College for hosting us.

Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, Blue Ridge Community College, Haywood Community College, and other educational entities across the western part of the state will support the $650 million-plus development of Pratt & Whitney coming to the area. As part of Pratt & Whitney’s corporate engagement, they are making charitable investments into STEM education.

Brunswick Community College was awarded $200,000 to support the expansion of advanced manufacturing training by the GoldenLEAF Foundation.

Catawba Valley Community College is one of several colleges across the state who are now participating in eSports. The Red Hawks recently won a brand video sponsored by the National Junior College Athletic Association Esports. Congratulations!

Lenoir Community College President Rusty Hunt and John M. Belk Endowment President MC Belk Pilon recently co-authored an op-ed for the Neuse News outlining the upcoming “Better Skills, Better Jobs” campaign aimed at adult learners.

McDowell Technical Community College recently announced several new administrative appointments to the college’s leadership team. According to the McDowell News: These appointments were part of a strategic realignment to place greater emphasis on promoting workforce development, which is central to the college’s mission, values and goals and its vision to “Learn and Grow.”

Rockingham Community College’s Board of Trustees will be appointed differently thanks to legislative action. Read more about it here.

Other higher education reads

State Higher Ed Funding Rose in 2021

Even as enrollments declined for postsecondary institutions nationally, investments from federal and state government allowed state higher education funding to actually increase during the 2021 fiscal year, according to a piece from Inside Higher Ed. Inside Higher Ed’s article is based around the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association report and accompanying release that also sounds warning bells for higher education leaders:

“Generous federal stimulus funding protected state revenues and directly supported higher education, reducing states’ need to cut funding during the pandemic and short economic recession,” a SHEEO news release states. “However, sharp declines in student enrollment and net tuition and fee revenue signal continued upheaval for public higher education revenues.”

For the full piece, click here.


Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.