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How community colleges are working to meet workforce needs

A note from us

Welcome to Awake58 – your weekly round-up of the latest community college news from across North Carolina and the country. Our last edition featured the announcement of the new president for Fayetteville Tech, the announcement of the presidential search committee for the next head of the system, and more. You may read it by clicking here.

The NCCCS presidential search committee kicked off their process last week… Durham County commissioners voted to provide free daycare to Durham Technical Community College students… Sandhills Community College is kicking off the search for their next college president… We published Impact58 profiles on both Durham Tech, Mitchell Community College, and Pitt Community College…

I hope that you will join us at Sam Jones BBQ beginning at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 10 for a welcome reception for attendees of the 2022 N.C. Community College System Conference. We will have a lot of food and beverages on hand for you — including some of my favorite BBQ and side dishes in the entire state. We’ll also have live music from local acts.

We are excited to see you all at the first in-person system conference since 2018. This event is a small token of our appreciation for all of you opening up your campuses to us for the Impact58 blitz — and for all of our other visits over the years. You may RSVP here.

The search for the next system president is officially underway, and my colleague Hannah McClellan has the update:

The 13-member presidential search committee held its first meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 21 to work on finalizing a Request for Approval (RFP) to hire a search firm. The full Board voted to give the search committee delegated authority to approve the completed RFP at their annual retreat.

At the search committee meeting on Wednesday, members discussed the RFP and decided to meet on Monday, Sept. 26, with plans to approve the document. The committee also plans to hold bimonthly meetings on Wednesday mornings, starting Oct. 5 and going through Dec. 14.

After the RFP is approved and the committee finds a firm, the Board will consider the selected firm by its November meeting. The firm must then be approved by the state Department of Administration.

We will continue to cover the process throughout.

Hannah also reminds us that the State Board of Community Colleges declared last year that its goal “is for (the system) to be the first choice in affordability and accessibility for North Carolina students, a model for diversity, and an economic driver for the state.” The State Board recently released and reviewed the system’s draft strategic plan at their recent board retreat. Hannah’s story has the full details, including a roadmap for how they intend to achieve that goal.

Our Impact58 blitz has taken us to community colleges across the state as we explore their economic impact, dual enrollment, faculty and staff pay, and other issues. We just published a piece examining Durham Technical Community College’s approach to bolstering their region’s health care workforce. My colleague Cheyenne McNeill also profiled Pitt Community College’s Adult Learner Center last week. Mitchell Community College reflected on continually having to adapt during its 170-year history. All these stories showcase strategies that were localized to best meet the needs of the communities the colleges serve.

Our team will continue to travel the state this week with visits planned to the following colleges: Beaufort County, Cape Fear, Edgecombe, Gaston College, James Sprunt, Robeson, Stanly, and Vance-Granville. Look for our stories from the road on Twitter at @Awake58NC. And, as always, you can find all of our community college content on

I’ll see you out on the road,

Nation Hahn

Head of Growth —

EdNC reads

N.C. Community College System nears finalized strategic plan amid search for a new president

The community college system is nearing the completion of their strategic plan — and also formally kicking off the search for a new system president. Hannah recently attended their board retreat to report on a system in a moment of transition.

The 2022-26 strategic plan outlines five goals for the system:

  • Goal 1: Recruit and retain top talent to enable the North Carolina Community College System to educate and prepare the State’s workforce.

  • Goal 2: Increase access and enrollment at North Carolina community colleges to meet the state’s educational attainment goal and expand post-secondary opportunities.

  • Goal 3: Provide resources inside and outside the classroom for all students to successfully enroll, persist, and complete a career program of study.

  • Goal 4: Provide education, training, and credentials to develop the most competitive workforce in the nation.

  • Goal 5: Increase state funding, streamline the allocation formula, and implement practices to improve system effectiveness.

The full draft plan is also embedded in the story, which you can find below. Other news from the meeting included the early departure of state board member William Holder, additional details related to the system’s partnership with Wolfspeed around customized training, and the board’s self-assessment.

Read more from the State Board

Pitt Community College: Leading with students in mind

Pitt Community College opened the state’s first adult learner center in 2021 to better serve the county’s adult learner population. According to my colleague Cheyenne, the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research provided Pitt with a report outlining that nearly 40,000 residents who had some level of educational experience with no degree to show for it — and this data inspired the launch of the center:

PCC staff provides support specifically tailored for adult learners. This includes outreach, counseling, financial aid assistance, and a hotline — opening a line of communication between the center’s staff and adult learners at PCC.

Brian Jones, the assistant vice president of enrollment services, said the adult learning center has acted as a “front door entry” for adult learners — giving them a starting place on campus. Because adult learners are a unique population, Jones says providing unique services is essential.

“Adult learners have their own needs that a traditional learner may not have. They obviously have their life experiences that they bring with them to the table,” Jones said.

Jones and his team created an “intake form” that they use when adult learners apply to PCC. This form includes questions about things like child care and transportation so that PCC can be aware of student needs and barriers before they ever take a single class. By doing this, PCC is able to connect students with resources early on and avoid a mid-semester “scramble.”

The center also has extended hours in the evening and over the weekend to better serve adult learners’ schedules. For more information on the rest of the work Pitt has undertaken to serve students, read Cheyenne’s full article.

Durham Tech builds health partnerships to meet student, workforce, community needs

North Carolina could be on track to be among the top five states in the country for nursing shortages by 2026 if the current trends continue, according to a new article from my colleague Hannah. By 2033, the state could have a shortage of nearly 17,500 nurses, according to N.C. Nursecast data.

Hannah’s piece spotlights the strategies being implemented by Durham Technical Community College to change this trajectory:

The first summer of the pandemic, Durham Technical Community College received the then-largest grant in the college’s history: $1 million from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.

The mission? To launch a community mobile health lab.

Since June 2020, the mobile health lab has provided needed community services and educational experiences. The van allows students and supervising practitioners to travel where vision and dental care is most needed in Durham and Orange counties — providing free glasses, screenings, and health education to elementary-aged children while also giving Durham Tech students crucial hands-on practice.

“That’s the outside of the box thinking that is going to be required if we’re going to solve the health care problems of today,” said Melissa Oakley Ockert, Durham Tech’s dean of health and wellness. “We’ve got to think differently.”

Durham Tech also works with a range of other entities, including Duke Health, UNC Health, Duke Outpatient Clinic, Durham Public Schools, and the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy.

This quote from Pamela Edwards, Duke University Health System’s assistant vice president of nursing education, practice, and research, stood out to me on the scale of the challenges:

“Prior to COVID, the pipeline was seriously disrupted. Now it is really disrupted, and it’s so hard to catch up.”

For Hannah’s full write-up of Durham Tech’s work to address health care challenges, click here.

At Mitchell Community College, a 170-year history is driving economic impact

Mitchell Community College began as a women’s college in the 1850s. In the 1970s, it became a community college. “What we’ve done since 1973 is transition from that history and heritage into a strong economic development engine,” Mitchell Community College President Tim Brewer told my colleague Anna Pogarcic during her Impact58 visit.

Her visit included a heavy emphasis on customized training:

One of Mitchell’s biggest partners is NGK Ceramics USA Inc., which supplies automobile and heavy-duty diesel manufacturers with ceramic engine parts. The company opened United States operations in 1988 and has a location in Mooresville.

The company has since expanded in Iredell County 19 times and is now the county’s second largest manufacturing employer with over 700 employees.

Mitchell Community College has provided customized training to over 919 NGK employees and covered a variety of areas, from soft skills like leadership to technical training. The college worked with 15 different companies just last year.

Lazenby said she is encouraged by local companies wanting to continue training the employees they currently have.

“The year before last, we trained about 700 employees. Last year was well over 1,000, almost 1,050,” she said. “I’ve got several meetings this week with companies that want training for their current employees because they’ve realized the value of that current employee, and how they want to continue to upskill them.”

For Anna’s full article, click here.

Around NC

The 35th annual NCWorks Partnership Conference is Oct. 12-14 at the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro. The annual event is in person for the first time since 2019. Each year, this conference draws hundreds of workforce development professionals from across North Carolina, representing labor, state and federal government, education, community-based organizations, community colleges, and the private sector. Register here.

Brunswick Community College has received a gift from a local couple to endow scholarships for minority students.

Cape Fear Community College is working to address the nursing shortage in their region. The college explains they have no shortage of prospective students, but they would like to expand their nursing programs if possible.

Durham Tech received $167,000 in funds from their county commissioners to provide free daycare for children of students.

Nash Community College celebrated their 50th anniversary recently.

Pamlico Community College’s efforts to educate the incarcerated and assist justice-involved individuals with their re-entry were spotlighted by the local media. EdNC’s Katie Dukes spotlighted these efforts last month.

Pitt Community College hosted GoldenLEAF President Scott Hamilton as he continues his travel across North Carolina.

Roanoke-Chowan Community College’s transformed a space into a food pantry over the summer.

Robeson County is gaining a materials manufacturer, a $10 million investment in the community that will include a partnership with Robeson Community College.

Sandhills Community College’s presidential search process has kicked off.

Wake Technical Community College will launch an Apex campus — among other workforce-focused initiatives — if a bond is approved by local voters in November.

Other higher education reads

A closer look at transfers during the pandemic

COVID-19 has created impacts across the educational continuum — and new data from the the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center outlines the impact on college transfers:

Upward transfer rates dropped -9.7% (about 86,000 students) over two years, with the bulk (-7.5%) coming in the second year of the pandemic, the report shows. Students at associate-degree-granting colleges who didn’t earn their two-year degree before transferring declined -9.3% (49,900 students) over the two years; among students who earned their degree prior to transferring, the decline — which occurred mostly in the second year — was -10.3% (36,100 students).

For the rest of the research on transfers, click here.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.