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Community colleges lead the way as Hispanic-serving institutions in North Carolina

A note from us

Welcome to the latest edition of Awake58 — Hannah here. If you missed our last newsletter discussing new community college presidents, you can read it on our website.

A new report on Hispanic-serving institutions was recently released… Avanza hosted its convening for the second cohort of community colleges working to serve Latino students… The 2024 Rural Summit highlighted role of community colleges in economic development… An update on FAFSA glitches… The State Board of Community Colleges recently discussed short-term, high-demand workforce programs… North Carolina hosted annual event for middle schoolers to learn more about careers… A feature on Fayetteville Technical Community College President Mark Sorrells’ work to strengthen state’s cybersecurity ecosystem… NCCCS recently announced winners for its 2024 awards…

We have a packed Awake58 edition for you this week.

First up, a look at new national data on Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs). The report, released by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) and Excelencia in Education!, includes data on HSIs and emerging HSIs. Community colleges make up the majority of both measures, per the report.

We also include recaps from several recent meetings: the State Board of Community College’s March meeting, Avanza’s convening of its second cohort of community colleges, and the 2024 Rural Summit. This year’s rural summit focused on the essential building blocks of rural community economic development and included a look at educational attainment.

myFutureNC’s Cecilia Holden spoke at the “Future of Work and Rural Talent Development” panel, pointing out that the state is behind on its projected goal of 2 million North Carolinians ages 25-44 holding an industry-valued credential or postsecondary degree by 2030. Holden emphasized the importance of a skilled workforce.

“There’s one word that describes economic development. What is that? Education,” Holden said. “Education and economic development are one and the same.”

Thanks as always for reading Awake58. Nation and Emily will be at this week’s adult learner event.

We’ll see you out on the road,

Hannah Vinueza McClellan

EdNC’s Senior Reporter

EdNC reads

In North Carolina, community colleges lead the way as Hispanic-serving institutions

In coordination with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), Excelencia in Education!, which works to accelerate Latino student success in higher education, released its annual analysis of Hispanic-serving institutions (HSI).

The analysis finds all of the HSIs and emerging HSIs (eHSI) in North Carolina are community colleges: there are three HSIs in North Carolina — Montgomery Community CollegeSampson Community College, and James Sprunt Community College — and 19 emerging HSIs.

Nationally, just 40% of HSIs are community colleges. Seventeen states have more HSIs than North Carolina, including 172 in California and 111 in Texas. Here is the interactive dashboard, which can be explored by HSI or geography (note the tabs in the top left corner).

In North Carolina, Avanza is a community of practice for HSIs and eHSIs.

You can read EdNC’s recap from Avanza’s second cohort of community colleges here. This cohort includes 10 community colleges who are “advocates for Latino students and/or play critical roles in recruiting, supporting, and graduating Latino students.”

Rural Summit 2024: ‘Education and economic development are one and the same’

Hundreds of rural advocates and leaders from 79 counties gathered March 20-21 in Raleigh for the NC Rural Center’s annual conference. This year’s conference focused on the essential building blocks of rural community economic development: physical assets, business growth, social and civic vibrancy, talent development, and authentic leadership.

The second day of the conference focused on educational attainment.

Dr. Jeff Cox, president of the North Carolina Community College system, offered some statistics to ground the conversation. One in five children in North Carolina live below the federal poverty threshold, and children born into poverty are likely to stay there. “Poverty is stubborn,” Cox said.

Right now in North Carolina 60% of jobs require an education beyond high school, and only 41% of adults living in rural counties have a postsecondary credential.

Those two things aside, Cox said, our state’s economy is booming. “We’ve tens of thousands of new jobs coming with projects totaling $12.9 billion of capital investment in 2023,” he said. And yet, with new jobs expected, three out of four employers say they struggle to fill their workforce. Cox knows the answer to these big challenges facing North Carolina.

“Folks, I think our community colleges are the very solution for both things. People in poverty are looking for a way out. Businesses and industries need a talent pipeline that will help them secure their future. Our community colleges are at the heart of that solution.”

Read the full recap from this year’s rural summit, including highlights from a panel of community college presidents, on EdNC’s website.

Some FAFSA technical issues fixed while others remain

The U.S. Department of Education announced on March 22 that a miscalculation in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Processing System resulted in incorrect Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs) for dependent students with assets being sent to colleges and universities. Read the full statement here.

A technical glitch preventing parents without a social security number (SSN) from starting or contributing to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has been fixed. The U.S. Department of Education released an update about resolved issues with the federal aid system on March 12.

These fixes come months after the U.S. Department of Education released an updated “Better FAFSA” on Dec. 31, 2023, three months later than it typically would be released. The delay in the rollout of the new FAFSA and several technical glitches have resulted in far fewer students completing the form than in previous years.

According to the release, parents without a SSN may now log in to to either start a FAFSA form or complete their section of the FAFSA form after being invited to participate by a student. The department recommends that students start the form and invite parents to contribute to avoid further glitches.

Read the full update on our website.

North Carolina community colleges focus on short-term, high-demand workforce programs

The State Board of Community Colleges held an abbreviated meeting on March 15 due to the North Carolina Association of Community College Trustees law-legislative seminar.

Among other things, the Board discussed two new Cooperative Innovative High Schools (CIHS), new college presidents, grant funding, and Propel NC. The March 15 meeting also focused on short-term, high-demand workforce programs in the state.

Nearly 5,000 students received a total of approximately $3 million in aid through the short-term workforce development grant program during the 2022-23 fiscal year, according to a legislative report approved by the State Board of Community Colleges March 15th.

Approximately 1,136 students have received $510,712.83 in aid during the 2023-24 fiscal year.

The General Assembly created the grant program in 2021 to promote student enrollment in high demand industries. Under the program, students pursuing short-term, noncredit state- and industry-recognized workforce credentials can receive up to $750. Federal financial aid is not available in these programs.

Read the full recap at

Middle schoolers gain career exposure during Students@Work℠ Month

Gov. Roy Cooper declared March Students@Work℠ Month in North Carolina, in recognition of the career readiness initiative expected to teach 25,000 students in the state about jobs and industries in their communities.

Students@Work, a partnership between the North Carolina Business Committee for Education (NCBCE) and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI), involves on-site and virtual visits to local businesses. This is the 14th year for the project.

“This innovative program gives North Carolina students a front row seat to explore careers and learn what it takes to prepare for their future jobs,” Cooper said in a press release. “Employers including state government are excited to take part in Students@Work℠ to help inspire our next generation of workers and leaders.”

Throughout the month, 233 businesses spotlighted their prospective careers to North Carolina middle schoolers. Read more about the program, and the importance of career exploration for middle schoolers, on our website.

‘Difference maker’ Mark Sorrells works to strengthen state’s cyber ecosystem

EdNC CEO Mebane Rash recently published an article highlighting Fayetteville Technical Community College President Mark Sorrells’ work to strengthen the state’s cybersecurity ecosystem.

(Sorrells) is also the co-executive director of the Carolina Cyber Network. And, in Nov. 2023, the NC Tech Association named Sorrells its Tech Difference Maker of the Year.

“Our job is to put a talent development pipeline out there to help secure the interests of our public and private companies across the state,” Sorrells said when accepting the award.

On Wednesday, March 20, 2024, this difference maker welcomed National Cyber Director Harry Coker Jr. to North Carolina. The Office of the National Cyber Director is located in the White House and advises the president on cybersecurity policy and strategy.

Read the full article at

Around NC

NCCCS’ faculty and staff awards | The State Board of Community Colleges recently announced winners of the annual faculty and staff awards across the N.C. Community College System (NCCCS).

The 2024 winners are:

  • President of the Year: Dr. Jack Bagwell, College of the Albemarle
  • Excellence in Teaching: Jere Miles, Wilkes Community College
  • Staff Person of the Year: Christy Lefevers, Catawba Valley Community College
  • System Office Staff Person of the Year: Jonnell Carpenter
  • I.E. Ready Award: President Kenneth Boham 

The NCCCS also recently recognized recipients of its 2024 Academic Excellence AwardsDallas Herring Achievement Award and Gov. Robert W. Scott Student Leadership Award, and the inaugural Workforce Development Pinnacle Awards. Congratulations to all of this year’s winners!

Research on child care at community colleges | Forsyth Technical Community College is part of a new coalition called the Child Care for Student Parents Cohort, led by think tank New America. This year, New America will visit the five campuses in the cohort to research how they are elevating child care access.

Funding for special education programs | The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs awarded $1.1 million to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University’s College of Education (CEd). The funding will help N.C. A&T’s Department of Educator Preparation expand and provide additional opportunities for its Special Education Program.

Health and human sciences | N.C. A&T’s John R. and Kathy R. Hairston College of Health and Human Sciences will also host its inaugural Health and Human Sciences Week from Monday, April 1, through Saturday, April 6. The week will feature events highlighting the contributions of the health and human sciences disciplines at N.C. A&T in strategic workforce development, research and community engagement.

High-demand health care funds | Johnston Community College was awarded half a million dollars to support the creation of a respiratory therapy program, as part of the state’s allocation for high-demand health care fields. JCC received the largest amount awarded to a North Carolina community college this year, according to the Johnston County Report.

Truck driving for high school students | JCC is also the first community college in the state to offer truck driver training through the Career and College Promise (CCP) dual-enrollment program for high school students, according to a release from the college. Students who wish to apply to the truck driver training pathway must be high school seniors who will turn 18 years old by April 30th of their graduating year.

Student success story | Last year, Ann Doss Helms profiled Alan Hidalgo-Lobo, a freshly-minted graduate of Central Piedmont Community College who did not graduate high school due to a family tragedy. He earned an associate degree in Dec. 2022, graduating with honors, after securing support from the Longleaf grant. On May 11, he’ll graduate early from UNC Charlotte with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He’s been accepted to join the inaugural class of High Point University’s new Kahn School of Law.

Project Kitty Hawk update | In 2021, the N.C. General Assembly appropriated $97 million for the launch of Project Kitty Hawk, a nonprofit ed-tech startup partnering with the UNC System to design workforce-aligned online programs and attract and support adult learners. This week, the Assembly reports that the startup is facing downsized enrollment — 14,800 students instead of 30,800 by the end of 2028. By June 30, the projection is 210 students, down from 1,300.

DEI in North Carolina | According to the News & Observer, during a recent UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees meeting, board member Jim Blaine — the former chief of staff to Republican Senate leader Phil Berger — predicted that North Carolina could become one of the next states to eliminate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts at its public universities.

Other higher education reads

Adapting to the Future of Rural Work: Focus Areas for Innovation and Change

The Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research recently published its report on rural-serving community colleges.

The report, “Adapting to the Future of Rural Work: Focus Areas for Innovation and Change,” includes recommendations from “innovative presidents” across the country.

This report provides a synthesis of advice from community college presidents across 15 states, including North Carolina. The advice focuses on recommended areas of innovation that rural-serving institutions should consider in order to align with the changing nature of work and the workforce. While the nature and nuance of innovations at each institution may vary, there were seven key areas that emerged as priorities, each supported by recent research in the field:

  • Better engagement of underserved student populations.
  • Shorter, stackable credential pathways.
  • More convenient, flexible scheduling.
  • Whole student understanding and support.
  • Economic mobility via employment and entrepreneurship.
  • Adoption and promotion of current technologies.
  • Continuous monitoring and experimentation of new models.

Read the full report here.

Hannah Vinueza McClellan

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