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Community colleges are North Carolina's 'dreamcatchers'

A note from us

Hi, Hannah here with this week’s edition of Awake58. If you missed our last newsletter featuring highlights from the new budget for community colleges, you can find it on our website.

Two North Carolina postsecondary leaders share how our state’s community colleges serve as “dreamcatchers”… An Isothermal student joins his father in the energy industry… And the Belk Center shares research on the importance of the transfer pathways at our community colleges…

In case you missed it, the state finally has a new budget, which is expected to become effective today. There’s a lot in it for community colleges. Here are a few highlights:

  • A 7% raise over two years for most community college personnel.
  • An unprecedented amount of allocations to individual colleges for workforce and health care programs.
  • The creation of a short-term workforce development grant program. Students pursuing short-term, noncredit workforce credentials can receive a grant up to $750.
  • $12.5 million in recurring funds each year of the biennium for the Longleaf Commitment Community College Grant Program, for the high school class of 2023.
  • $100 million nonrecurring in each year of the biennium for new construction and repairs of facilities at nearly two-thirds of the state’s community colleges.
  • $1.2 million in annual recurring funding for grants that help community college students afford child care.
  • A number of governance changes for the State Board of Community College and local boards of trustees.

What did you notice in the budget? Email me at [email protected] or reply directly to this email.

We have three wonderful perspectives for you read this week. First up, ncIMPACT’s Anita Brown-Graham and myFutureNC’s Cecilia Holden share about how North Carolina’s community colleges serve as dreamcatchers. Next, freelance writer Ken Garfield writes an inspiring story about how an Isothermal student followed in his dad’s footsteps in the energy industry. Finally, the Belk Center’s Audrey J. Jaeger explores the benefits of the community college transfer articulation agreement.

This week, Nation, Mebane, and Molly will be with higher education leaders in Greensboro. I will continue reporting on the budget provisions in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned!

I’ll see you out on the road,


EdNC reads

Perspective | The Dreamcatchers: North Carolina’s community colleges

Anita Brown-Graham, director of ncIMPACT Initiative at the UNC School of Government, and Cecilia Holden, president and CEO of myFutureNC share a perspective on community colleges as “dreamcatchers.”

According to the Native American Ojibwe tribe, the dreamcatcher lets in the good dreams as they find their way through to the center of the circle. We see our state’s community colleges as dreamcatchers. At no time is that clearer than on graduation day.

Both Brown-Graham and Holden had the opportunity to speak to a 2023 graduating class. Below is an excerpt from their remarks.

Anita Brown-Graham:

Class of 2023, congratulations on your achievements, and may your future be filled with endless opportunities and remarkable successes. As you step into the unknown, may you face your challenges ahead with courage, resilience, and the determination to never stop growing.

Please remember, you are not alone. You have each other and the many people gathered here today to celebrate you. As I take my seat, let me ask you to stand and applaud your faculty, family, and friends. These are the people who believed you could get to this day, and you have proven them to have been very wise.

And from Cecilia Holden:

Today in North Carolina, depending on what part of the state you live in, someone with a high school diploma can expect to earn around $27,000 per year — 15 years after high school graduation.

Workers with an associate degree, however, can expect to earn on average more than twice as much.

The difference in your earning potential after graduating today can have a significant impact on the health and financial security for you and your family. So, not only have you changed your future, but you’ve also improved the future for generations to come.

You can read the full reflections on our website.

Perspective | Inspired by his dad, an Isothermal student got a job in the energy industry

Kale Meade of Fallston, N.C., is proud to help Duke Energy keep the power humming in his rural community 40 miles northwest of Charlotte. His other source of pride, well, that’s a bonus.

His son, Josh started work as a Duke Energy learner relay technician on Halloween 2022. He remembers the day because he was so excited at landing the job. Seeing his dad enjoy his work and the relationships he built with teammates inspired Josh.

It was the training he received at Isothermal Community College in Spindale, N.C., that made this legacy story come true.

“This was a good opportunity for my son to develop valuable skills,” Kale Meade said.

Josh Meade has never known life without Duke Energy. His dad started working at the company more than 30 years ago.

“This,” Josh Meade said, “was the perfect scenario for me.”

That perfect scenario came about because Duke Energy supports training programs at community colleges in its service territory in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and the Midwest. That’s part of an overall strategy to fund workforce development programs.

Read the full inspiring story online.

Perspective | A case for community college transfer: A strategy to remain first in the nation in talent and opportunity

Audrey J. Jaeger, executive director of the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research, makes a case that investing in community college transfer “advances economic mobility for students and their families, ensures North Carolina remains first in the nation for business and opportunity, and reaches the state’s 2030 attainment goal.”

Our education system cannot keep up with the demand for talent. Over the next decade, North Carolina will add more than 88,000 high-wage jobs in high-paying occupations that typically require a bachelor’s degree across the state — including in our rural communities. As it stands now, many industries are struggling to fill vacancies in the aftermath of COVID.

And time alone is not going to fix it.

Postsecondary institutions statewide must increase the pipeline of talent that enters to and through their doors, particularly in the eastern, western, and Piedmont regions. How? Community colleges and four-year institutions band together to ensure more individuals seamlessly move from community colleges to baccalaureate-granting institutions, especially those who might forgo higher education altogether.

Jaeger also explores the state’s decade-long commitment to transfer and goals to advance transfer moving forward.

Around NC

Wake Technical Community College is working to fill the need in HVAC industry as majority of technicians age or retire, CBS17 reports. Wake Tech and Wake County Schools are working together to train facility maintenance techs at the district’s Vernon Malone College and Career Academy, the article says. Many of those students work in HVAC.

McDowell Technical Community College will continue building capacity and growing workforce development opportunities in trail construction and sustainability with a recent grant from MADE X MTNS, a partnership working to expand the outdoor industry and economy across North Carolina’s Appalachian Region and catalyze rural development.

Cape Fear Community College recently announced a partnership with the United States Coast Guard to provide career opportunities for marine technology graduates.

“This partnership will open the doors for Marine Technology Program graduates with a Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) to participate in the USCG’s Direct Enlistment Program,” the announcement says. “This prestigious program offers graduates an accelerated path to serve in the United States Coast Guard and contributes to the nation’s maritime security.

North Carolina’s employment program for early career autistic professionals, LiNC-IT, has achieved an important milestone, Gov. Roy Cooper announced in a press release on Monday. Since the governor launched the program in 2018, LiNC-IT has supported 100 individuals with autism. The program has 44 employer partners that have hired LiNC-IT talent with a variety of degrees, including engineering, computer science, English, data science, accounting, and library science.

Central Carolina Community College’s Career Center and Human Resource Development program will host a job fair on Wednesday, Oct. 18, from 2-6 p.m. at the CCCC Chatham Main Campus in Pittsboro. Employers that will be represented include Bojangles, Basic Machinery Company, Discovery ABA Therapy, GKN, Hubie’s Express Car Wash, Mountaire Farms, N.C. Department of Public Safety, Wolfspeed, YMCA, and more.

Ashley Mackey-Whitworth, a doctoral student in the N.C. State College of Education’s community college leadership program, has been named the recipient of the 2023 Edgar J. and Ethel B. Boone Adult & Community College Education Award. The award is designed to support doctoral students in the N.C. State College of Education who are seeking a degree in community college leadership. Congratulations, Ashley!

ICYMI, the latest version of The Belk Center’s Adult Learner Guidebook is out now. According to the Belk Center, the guidebook, “dives into the current landscape of adult education and showcases initiatives taken by community colleges in North Carolina. With insights from various campuses, this guidebook is a valuable tool for educators, policymakers, and anyone passionate about lifelong learning.”

Other higher education reads

Why enrollment is rebounding at California's community colleges

After years of pandemic declines, enrollment at California’s community colleges may finally be starting to rebound in a significant way, a new EdSource article reports. The article explores the many complicated factors that impact enrollment.

Several colleges across the state, from San Diego to San Jose, are reporting that their enrollments are up by double digit percentages this fall. Statewide data for the fall isn’t yet available, but enrollment in the spring was up 8% across the system of 116 colleges, according to a memo prepared by the state chancellor’s office.

College officials cited the expansion of dual enrollment and more interest in career-focused programs as being among the main drivers of the enrollment growth.

“In conversations with CEOs for fall 2023, I’m hearing good news, positive trends. And in fact, many of the districts are telling me that they’re seeing double-digit enrollment growth,” Sonya Christian, the statewide chancellor for the system, told the system’s board of governors Tuesday.

Given that, the memo prepared by the chancellor’s office says the system now has “a meaningful positive enrollment outlook for the first time in over five years.”

Still, enrollment across the system as of the spring was down 16% compared to pre-pandemic levels. And although the colleges are seeing big increases in dual enrollment and more enrollments from some older students, other students have not returned. Among students between the ages of 20 and 24, enrollment was down 27% as of the spring compared with pre-Covid levels. It was also down 22% among students between the ages of 25 and 34.

How do these California trends compare to what you’re seeing? We’d love to hear from you.

Hannah Vinueza McClellan

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