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Celebrating our community college graduates

A note from us

Hello and welcome to the latest edition of Awake58 — Hannah here. If you missed last week’s Awake58 about the N.C. Community College System’s (NCCCS) legislative request, you can find it on our website.

Community colleges across North Carolina celebrated graduates last weekend… Republican lawmakers filed a bill last week that would fund the system’s Propel NC funding model proposal… The State Board of Community Colleges will meet this week… Highlights from a recent ApprenticeshipNC conference… A look at Fayetteville Technical Community College’s new swift water rescue training facility… New recommendations for strengthening North Carolina’s nursing workforce… Plus, EdNC released a discussion guide for our book on the impact of public education…

Congratulations to all of our community college and early college graduates! We have enjoyed seeing all the recap articles, social posts, and photos from graduation ceremonies across the state.

On Friday, John M. Belk Endowment President and Board Chair MC Belk Pilon delivered the commencement at Edgecombe Community College. Here is an excerpt from her remarks that I hope motivates you at the start of this week.

“In the journey ahead, I urge you to remain lifelong learners. The landscape of our world is constantly changing, and continuous learning is the key to adapting and thriving. Whether through formal education, professional experiences, or personal explorations, every experience is an opportunity to grow and learn.

Your success will also be defined by the impact you have on others and the world around you. Strive to be agents of positive change in your communities and beyond. Use your talents, your education, and your voice to advocate for justice, equity, community, and sustainability. The challenges we face as a society are complex, but your education has equipped you to be part of the solutions.

To the families and loved ones who have supported our graduates, your role in their achievements cannot be overstated. Your encouragement, sacrifices, and belief in their potential have been crucial to their success. Today, we celebrate not only the accomplishments of our graduates but also your unwavering support and love.

And to the faculty and staff of Edgecombe Community College, your dedication to your students’ success is truly inspiring. Thank you for your commitment to education, for inspiring our graduates to reach for the stars, and for guiding them with wisdom and kindness.”

The State Board of Community Colleges meets this week — say hi if you’re there!

Committee meetings and the transformative discussion will start at 11 a.m. on Thursday, and the full Board meeting will start at 9 a.m. on Friday. The Board is set to discuss regional collaboration, strategic planning, and the presidential reelection process, among other things. You can view the agenda packet on the system’s website.

See you on the road,

Hannah Vinueza McClellan
EdNC’s Senior Reporter

EdNC reads

Postsecondary bills to follow in North Carolina

Since this year’s short session started on April 24, lawmakers have filed dozens of bills that would impact education in North Carolina, including community colleges.

North Carolina has a projected one-time $987 million surplus in state revenues through Fiscal Year (FY) 2025, according to a revised forecast released on Friday. This forecast is $430 million lower than the state’s April forecast — which could impact NCCCS’ legislative requests.

There is a Republican supermajority this session, meaning Republicans will drive fiscal and policy decisions. The proposed new funding for Opportunity Scholarship vouchers and $400 million for Medicaid (cited several times by House Speaker Tim Moore) would make up roughly 90% of the state’s surplus.

On Wednesday, Republicans filed House Bill 1069, which would provide for various elements of the Propel NC proposal beginning with the 2024-25 school year. The bill would appropriate the system’s $93 million recurring ask in full.

The bill would also require the State Board of Community Colleges to release a report on the implementation of the formula no later than April 1, 2026.

The bill was referred to the House’s education committee on community colleges.

So far, the General Assembly’s only discussions regarding community colleges have involved clarifying terms for how local college board trustees are selected.

Several other bills impacting community colleges and postsecondary access have also been filed, regarding college completion, workforce development, and more. You can read the full analysis on EdNC’s website.

Perspective | MC Belk Pilon delivers commencement speech at Edgecombe Community College

Here are a few more remarks from John M. Belk Endowment President and Board Chair MC Belk Pilon’s commencement address at Edgecombe Community College.

My journey in education advocacy, through the lens of the John M. Belk Endowment, has shown me the undeniable power of education to transform lives. We’ve dedicated ourselves to enhancing educational outcomes and ensuring every student has access to a quality education. This mission aligns closely with the spirit of Edgecombe Community College (ECC), which serves as a beacon of learning, opportunity, and hope in our community.

The work at the John M. Belk Endowment, including our NC Reconnect partnership with ECC and other institutions providing support resources to help adult learners return to school and enhance their skills for the benefit of themselves, their families, their communities, and all of North Carolina, clearly and deeply resonates with the ethos of Edgecombe Community College as I and my team have witnessed in working with Dr. McLeod and the entire ECC team. Our work and these partnerships are not just about enhancing educational opportunities; they’re about building bridges to brighter futures, about removing barriers to success, and about giving every individual the chance to realize their dreams and contribute meaningfully and positively to the world we share.

Read her full remarks on EdNC’s website.

EdNC CEO Mebane Rash also gave the commencement address for Haywood Early College on Friday. Here’s an excerpt from her remarks:

This community leadership has real impacts on people, for instance in supporting and sustaining wellness during crisis as well as on the future of this place. Collectively they brought in more than $70 million to invest in the Haywood County of the future after the closing of the paper mill was announced.

And these leaders in this school, at this community college, and in Haywood County see you, the next generation of leaders — and they know you will go on to lead and change this community, our state, our country, and our world.

They see you as the thinkers, designers, and communicators of our future on the global stage.

They know change moves at the speed of trust, and they trust that you will continue to choose to lead both now and in the years to come, here and abroad, wherever your travels take you.

This Is Possible: A short documentary about bringing the world into the classroom

Conference highlights apprenticeships in North Carolina

ApprenticeshipNC, a program through the North Carolina Community College System, hosted its annual conference in mid-April to host employers, apprentices, and other stakeholders to learn more about best practices and strategies for apprenticeship programs.

Different from a traditional educational experience, apprenticeships allow participants to learn trades and develop skills through paid on-the-job training.

Chris Harrington, director of ApprenticeshipNC, said apprenticeship programs provide apprentices a key quality desired by most employers: experience.

“What do employers want? Basic employment skills, industry specific skills, company specific skills, and a growth mindset. What do all those have in common? They’re hard to acquire in a classroom,” Harrington said.

The conference allowed attendees to network while learning more about strategies for retention, mentorship, marketing, and more. The event also highlighted promoting diversity among apprenticeships and strengthening historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and employer partnerships through apprenticeships.

“You can’t really talk about diversity or degree attainment in the state or apprenticeships and workforce development without talking about HBCUs,” said conference panelist Dr. James Ford, executive director of the Center for Racial Equity in Education (CREED).

Read Laura Browne’s full recap on EdNC’s website.

This community college is training hundreds at their state-of-the-art swift water rescue center

EdNC’s Alli Lindenberg wrote a great feature on Fayetteville Technical Community College’s new swift water rescue training facility. Here’s an excerpt from her article:

“Rope, rope, rope!” echoes off the walls of Fayetteville Technical Community College’s new swift water rescue training facility. Students repeat the phrase as they practice throwing out a line to a submerged car in the facility’s 140,000 gallon tank. The state-of-the-art center, which began offering classes in January, is the only one on the east coast. Since the opening, 248 students have taken classes at the center.

“We’ve got to be better prepared for disaster because of hurricanes and various things that are happening with the weather patterns and things of that nature,” said Dr. Mark Sorrells, president of Fayetteville Technical Community College.

The catalyst for creating the training facility came from an increasing need for people with water rescue training. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit eastern North Carolina hard, and the rescue infrastructure was overwhelmed. Two of the lead instructors at the current center were firefighters at the time, and one described the stressful situation.

“When Matthew hit, we realized how far behind we were. We had 500 calls in the queue, which is what the calls go into to wait for dispatch. We had every boat crew working, and we had every resource working… I was wearing my personal drysuit, because we didn’t have enough drysuits to put on rescues. The fire chief saw what we were doing, and he said, ‘We got to beef our program up,’” said Michael Bartch, one of the full-time water rescue instructors at the center.

Read the full article at

Around NC

New recommendations for strengthening N.C.’s nursing workforce | The N.C. Institute of Medicine (NCIOM) recently developed eight evidence-based recommendations with 25 strategies for the report, “Securing a Strong Nursing Workforce for North Carolina.” You can read EdNC’s recap of the recommendations on our website.

Discussion guide for EdNC’s book ICYMI, EdNC published a book titled, “North Carolina’s Choice: Why our public schools matter.” Since then, we have also published a discussion guide for the book, which you can find at

Extra Miles Tour report | EdNC had the opportunity to connect with Blue Cross NC as they set out on their Extra Miles Tour, driving toward an ambitious goal of visiting all 100 counties in North Carolina. The report from the tour is now live. We were able to share with them the unique challenges our community faces and highlight those working on the front lines to improve the health and wellbeing of our people. While each county in our state might work in different ways, together we are all moving toward the same goal of a stronger North Carolina.

Community college leaders on Business NC’s Power List | Business North Carolina recently announced its Power List 2024. The 500-person list included four community college presidents and two members of the State Board of Community Colleges. “This recognition shines a spotlight on the transformative power of leadership within both community colleges and the State Board in driving success for students and employers,” said State Board Chair Tom Looney. “It underscores the vital role of collaboration between educational institutions and the business sector, illustrating how these partnerships can produce truly remarkable results.”

Guilford Tech in the NYT | Guilford Technical Community College was recently featured in a New York Times article about the manufacturing efforts in the Triad. The college’s advanced manufacturing training was highlighted, along with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden’s recent visit there. Guilford Tech President Dr. Anthony Clarke is quoted talking about the increased interest in the school’s programs: “Any time employers stand up and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got really good-paying jobs,’ students pay attention to that, and they flock to that,” Clarke said.

Community college voter IDs | In November, college IDs can be used as required voter identification if they have been approved by the State Board of Elections. According to a report by the Fayetteville Observer, over 50 colleges and universities have approved use of their IDs at the polls, including some community colleges.

New manufacturing partnership | Cape Fear Community College recently announced its partnership with the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI). According to the college, the partnership will enhance Cape Fear’s machining training programs and directly support America’s Cutting Edge (ACE) initiative, which is “committed to revitalizing manufacturing throughout the United States.”

Rural-serving community colleges | Isothermal Community College was recently featured in a Daily Yonder article as one of seven rural-serving community colleges across the country selected for Achieving the Dream’s second cohort of its Accelerating Equitable Outcomes initiative. The initiative is funded in part by using a donation the nonprofit received from MacKenzie Scott, a private philanthropist, in 2021.

Featuring student photography In 2020, at age 15, Falon Renee Cornett was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer known as Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. McDowell Technical Community College recently highlighted Cornett’s journey documenting the process, including written journal entries and photography. From the article: “By the time she graduated from the McDowell Virtual Academy in 2022, she had taken such solace in her journaling efforts and photographs that there was no question in her mind that she wanted to study photography. This Friday, Falon will walk across the stage at Nebo Crossing Church in Marion, NC to receive her Associate’s Degree in Photographic Technology from McDowell Technical Community College with high honors and a perfect 4.0 grade point average.”

College signing event | McDowell Technical Community College also held its first-ever college signing event at McDowell High School (MHS) on Wednesday, May 8, for high school students who have declared their intent to attend McDowell Tech this fall. From the college: “Valerie Dobson, Vice-President of Academics and Student Services and Chief Academic Officer at McDowell Tech shared, ‘We want to acknowledge the importance and value of attending a community college and to recognize students who make McDowell Tech their college of choice.'”

Other higher education reads

A New Push to Get Community College Students to the Polls

Ahead of the 2024 primary, Inside Higher Ed published an article looking at efforts across the nation to increase voting turnout among community college students.

Major companies and voter registration groups have formed a new coalition to increase voting among community college students, whose voting rates historically have lagged behind their four-year college and university peers.

The nonpartisan initiative, called the Community College Commitment, hopes to turn out 500,000 new community college student voters by 2028, starting with this presidential election cycle, largely by funding and facilitating voter registration events on community college campuses. It is spearheaded by Levi Strauss & Co. along with Lyft and SHOWTIME/MTV Entertainment Studios and Paramount Global, in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the Students Learn Students Vote Coalition (SLSV) and other organizations dedicated to getting students out to the polls.

“This is really just the start,” said Clarissa Unger, co-founder and executive director of the SLSV Coalition. “And we’re not just thinking about community colleges [during] this major presidential election, but we’ll be continuing to focus and support them throughout the years to come.”

The initiative centers on doling out grants, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000, for community colleges to host voting drives and other projects that could encourage students to vote. The coalition is also hosting a concert competition, in which community colleges can win a fully funded concert on campus on Vote Early Day in October if they engage in a series of voter registration efforts, such as celebrating civic holidays like National Voter Registration Day and joining the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, in which campuses craft plans to increase voting rates.

Get-out-the-vote efforts are “not new to community colleges,” said Martha Parham, senior vice president of public relations for the AACC. Her association regularly helps such institutions put out voting information and hold registration drives. But what’s new is the launch of an initiative with a “national focus on community colleges” that recognizes those students as a sizable chunk of youth voters, she said, noting that almost 40 percent of postsecondary students in the U.S. attend community colleges.

“We can talk for hours about the benefits of community college, how it helps not just students but communities, workforce pipelines [and] local businesses,” Parham said. But she’s pleased to see both national and international companies, like Levi’s, acknowledging that “this is a significant portion of the American population and they need to have the materials and the information on why voting is so critical in the country.”

Read the full article on Inside Higher Ed’s website.

Hannah Vinueza McClellan

Hannah McClellan is EducationNC’s senior reporter and covers education news and policy, and faith.