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Colleges prepare for fall as the delta variant looms

A note from us

Welcome to the latest edition of Awake58. We hope you will stay a while. If you received this email without a subscription, please click here to subscribe to this newsletter.

Emily Thomas and I visited several colleges last week and Emily reported on how they are preparing to grapple with the delta variant and recruit adult learners… The N.C. House budget officially passed… Some movement on SB 421, which enables recent high school graduates to qualify for in-state tuition if they meet certain requirements…

Hey, y’all. It’s good to be back. My thanks to my colleagues Emily and Molly for filling in as newsletter authors while I was away on sabbatical. It was my great fortune to be able to travel from the mountains to the coast as I visited small towns and large cities, spent time with family and friends, and even traveled to a few community colleges during my time away.

Last week, Emily and I visited Caldwell Community College’s employee kickoff to start our week. The kickoff included an update on the state of the college from the perspective of CCC&TI president Mark Poarch, updates from his staff, and a keynote presentation from Mike Krause, former executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), on the importance of adult learners.

Krause emphasized how colleges need to rethink their model to better serve adult learners. From Emily:

“Community success is built on student success,” Krause said.

But the success of adult learners relies heavily on how community colleges adapt to their unique needs.

When Krause works with colleges to help them reengage adult learners, he asks the colleges three main questions:

  1. Do your semesters start every 16 weeks on a very static timeline?
  2. Do you rely on students to raise their hand and ask for help rather than do intrusive assessment to determine if they need help?
  3. Do the offices close at 5 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. on a weekday and never reopen until Monday morning?

Krause said many colleges are built on a model that does not match their students. And for community colleges to effectively reengage adults, they must adapt their structures to match the students they serve.

For Emily’s full write-up, click here.

As I sat at the Starbucks in Lenoir meeting with my colleagues, the House released salary details in their budget — including the 7% salary increase for faculty and 4% increase for staff. EdNC reporter Anna Pogarcic has an analysis of the House budget that provides additional information and context.

On Tuesday, I had the privilege of hosting an information needs session with President Brian Merritt and his team at McDowell Tech as part of their employee kickoff. We discussed the issues that matter to their team as the new academic year begins — and I deeply appreciate the insights offered around the remaining challenges of the Residency Determination System, staff and faculty pay and the impact on retention, and the potential uses of federal funds. I welcome your feedback and thoughts on the issues that matter to you. Feel free to just reply directly to this email with your perspective.

Our week ended at A-B Tech and Blue Ridge Community College on Wednesday and Thursday as part of our team’s work to travel to all 100 counties this year. It is our hope that our travels will allow us to share your stories, deepen the state’s understanding of your lived reality, and improve our own work. I hope to visit your community soon, but one way for you to participate in the conversation is by taking our survey. Please fill it out by clicking here — and then spread the word to your friends and family if you would. We want to hear from everyone.

This week, I am traveling to Surry Community College and Forsyth County. If you are going to be there, send me a note.

Thank you for reading — and I’ll see you out on the road,

Nation Hahn

Head of Growth —

EdNC reads

N.C. House budget passes with funds for teacher raises, broadband, and more

We reported on the initial rollout of the N.C. House budget last week. On Thursday, the budget passed its third and final reading. The budget will now officially proceed to conference committee in order to develop a compromise budget that will then be sent to the governor. House Speaker Tim Moore has pledged to include Gov. Roy Cooper’s office in the negotiations.

The challenge before the Senate, the House, and the governor is to land on a budget proposal that either Gov. Cooper will sign or a proposal that will secure enough Democratic votes to override a gubernatorial veto.

The relevant details for you all remain the same as last week:

Community college faculty would get an average raise of 7% over two years and staff would get an average raise of 4% over two years.

For community colleges, this budget would also allocate $8.6 million recurring to establish a fund to recruit and retain faculty in high-demand fields.

The House budget also includes funding for budget stabilization, broadband access, and capital projects, including a unique facility located in the Catawba Valley Community College service area but serving a number of other institutions in the region. Look for more coverage soon.

Click here for our coverage of the budget

As delta variant surges, community colleges prepare for fall

How this fall will shake out for our state’s community colleges is a question on everyone’s mind who we met with last week. A month ago it seemed as if we were set for a fall that looked much closer to the fall of 2019 — albeit with additional health requirements and the shadow of COVID-19 lingering among the unvaccinated in particular. As we traveled to four community colleges over three days last week, it seemed that everything was shifting.

Emily provides a great analysis of the state of play for the four colleges we visited last week in her piece, but she also looks at the strategies they are implementing to prepare for their future — including targeting adult learners. Check out this excerpt and then read the full piece:

As the 2021 fall semester begins, community college leaders prepare for more uncertainty in the months ahead.

“This pandemic has caused my whole outlook on education to change because what I’ve known for the last 30 years is not holding true,” said (John) Gossett. “For 30 years, [students have] come to us, in my experience. Well, they didn’t this year … We’ve got to adapt.”

At McDowell Tech’s convocation, president Brian Merritt said the college will need to adopt a new way of doing things.

“We’re a great institution,” Merritt said. “We’re doing things well. But if we want to stay competitive and we want to make sure that we’re doing the best we can do to serve students, we have to reimagine and reinvent how we do business.”

EdNC will continue to follow and report on community colleges’ engagement with adult learners. Stay tuned for more coverage.

For Emily's full piece, click here.

Senate Bill 421 gets favorable vote in House Committee

A bill that would expand eligibility for in-state tuition at North Carolina community colleges is closer to becoming law, according to my colleague Anna Pogarcic:

Already passed unanimously in the Senate, Senate Bill 421 passed through the House Committee on Education – Community Colleges last week. If signed into law, the bill would allow recent high school graduates to qualify for in-state tuition if:

  • They were eligible to attend a public school in NC
  • Graduated from a public school unit
  • Can’t establish residency due to lack of evidence through the Residency  Determination Service

This is meant to benefit students who may be estranged from a guardian and were not able to establish residency for the one year required prior to enrolling, according to lawmakers. The bill has been referred to the House Rules committee, which will decide if it will go to a floor vote.

Around NC

The State Board of NC Community Colleges will meet on Thursday and Friday of this week at Wake Tech’s RTP campus. More information can be found here. The agenda and board book can be found here.

A-B Tech announced incentives for vaccinated students that you will want to check out as your own college considers potential strategies to bolster your vaccination rate. We also know a number of colleges are offering vaccination clinics. Please forward any information you all have on the efforts of colleges to combat the spread of COVID-19.

A-B Tech president John Gossett also sat down with a local journalist who attended A-B Tech for a wide-ranging conversation.

Craven Community College’s focus on workforce development and their array of offerings were profiled in the New Bern Sun Journal.

Check this out: “The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program today announced that Dr. Tracie Clark, vice president of strategy and organization excellence, at Central Piedmont Community College, is one of 40 leaders selected for the 2021-22 class of the Aspen Rising Presidents Fellowship, a highly selective leadership program preparing the next generation of community college presidents to transform institutions to achieve higher and more equitable levels of student success.”

Cleveland Community College is hosting an “enrollment frenzy,” as written up by the Shelby Star, who described the approach: “The enrollment frenzy aims to take the guess work and worry off students who are leery of how to get started. Advisors will be on hand to help students register for courses. Students will be able to check out different clubs offered by the college and can enter a contest for a chance to win a $500 scholarship.”

As I traveled the state last week, a number of the community colleges I visited were altering their policies on masks as classes are set to begin. A-B Tech, Beaufort County Community College, Cape Fear Community College, Carteret Community College, Johnston Community College, and Rockingham Community College are among the colleges who have updated their mask guidance as delta looms large.

Edgecombe Community College was selected for “Project Vision, a grant-focused initiative supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF).” The goal of the project is to support smaller colleges in their pursuit of NSF funding.

Gaston College has a series of announcements planned this week as part of a rebranding effort and their 50th anniversary.

Randolph Community College’s use of federal funds to wipe away outstanding balances for hundreds of students was featured on local television.

Auditors zeroed in on a number of clerical errors at Roanoke-Chowan Community College.

South Piedmont Community College reported a 4% increase in enrollment as the fall semester starts.

Wake Tech Community College announced a new partnership with ECU last week: “Some community college graduates can now pursue a bachelor’s degree from East Carolina University at Wake Tech. ECU will offer the Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology, with a concentration in either Mechanical Design or Architectural Design, at Wake Tech’s Southern Wake Campus beginning in the spring semester 2022.”

Wayne Community College is pledging wide-ranging transparency and public input in their presidential search. We will cover this process in the months ahead.

Other higher education reads

COVID drives decline in enrollments for rural community college students

Our colleagues at the Carolina Public Press have a look at enrollment declines among some of the rural community colleges in western North Carolina. I would encourage you to read the entire piece, but this section stood out to me:

“According to Alleghany High School Assistant Principal Melissa Vestal, the mixture of synchronous and asynchronous instruction last year made it possible for some students to take on jobs and complete their classwork outside the traditional school schedule.”

“After entering the workforce, a number of students became dependent on the money they were making and chose to continue work rather than to continue their education, citing that ‘they would go to school once they had some money saved,’” Vestal said.

Click here for the full story.

Washington Watch: What’s next for the American Jobs and Families Plans?

We expect additional action in Washington, D.C. on President Joe Biden’s proposals — including free community college. has a piece out now looking at the next steps for the legislation.

Diversity in Higher Education: Statistics, Gaps, and Resources

Bradley University has published this special look at diversity in higher education. One key statistic: “Other data demonstrating gaps in diversity in higher education include enrollment of 2019 high school graduates. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 66.2% of all students who graduated from high school between January and October 2019 were enrolled in a college or university, a drop of nearly 3% from the previous year. The data shows that college enrollment was highest among Asian and white students and lower among Black and Latinx students.”

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.