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We interview Jeff Cox: 'The future's bright'

A note from us

Hi, Nation here with this week’s edition of Awake58. If you missed our last newsletter featuring our audience survey and other topics, you can find it on our website.

The NC Chamber hosted its annual education and workforce conference last week… the State Board of Community Colleges will meet this Thursday and Friday… the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association met in Denver last week, where Blue Ridge Community College President Laura Leatherwood, John M. Belk Endowment Senior Advisor Mike Krause, and NCCCS Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Patrick Crane presented… 

I want to express our gratitude for everyone who participated in our user survey last week. If you did not take the survey, we would still welcome your feedback. We also want to say thank you to folks who wrote us directly regarding accessibility, your story ideas, and more. We couldn’t do this work without you — and we are always hoping to better serve you.

The State Board of Community Colleges will meet on Thursday and Friday. You can find the agenda on the system website. We will be covering the meeting – look for a report next week.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with N.C. Community College System President Dr. Jeff Cox to discuss his career, his first months on the job, the ongoing legislative session, and his sense of the tasks ahead for the community college system.

Success for those goals will be determined, in part, by the system’s legislative success. This year, the system requested $232 million in additional funding over the biennium to support employee raises and student investment.

“We need to continue to push hard for having all of our faculty and staff salaries to be more competitive. They all need and deserve more money,” Cox said. “But I do think there are also some economic realities, where we’re going to have some differentiated pay for these harder-to-fill areas.”

Cox will advocate for updating the system’s funding formula to enable community colleges to be more innovative and proactive in their programs.

Legislators, state leaders, and community college stakeholders alike want the NCCCS to “be the most innovative kind of forward-thinking community college system in the country,” Cox said.

“If we’re going to do that, and be ready to be agile and work at the speed of business and meet business and industry where they are and be able to launch programs quickly and effectively and efficiently, that takes resources,” he said. “We need to think about that in the funding formula, to think about to what extent we need additional funds to start up new programs.”

The whole interview is worth your time. The article is live on our website.

As you consider the future of higher education, I would encourage you to read Mebane’s recap of the chamber event. Her article includes an update on Project Kitty Hawk, which has been on a lot of minds lately as the UNC System rolls out the new initiative.

As colleges start the fall semester, we will be out and about in the weeks ahead. My colleagues are in Camden and Chowan counties today meeting with the College of the Albemarle. Follow along on as we continue to track the end of the legislative session and the start of the school year.

Thank you for reading this week — and always.

I’ll see you out on the road,

Nation Hahn
Chief of Growth —

EdNC reads

Get to know Dr. Jeff Cox, NCCCS President and lifelong educator

Hannah and I recently spent an hour and a half with NCCCS President Dr. Jeff Cox to hear about his career, goals, and first two months in the role. Here is an excerpt from our article:

His vision is shaped, in part, by a career that has taken him from serving as an English teacher and football and golf coach to superintendent of Alleghany County Schools, president of Wilkes Community College, and now president of the community college system.

“You can sit back and fuss and fuss about the problems, or you can step up and see if you can be part of the solution,” Cox said.

On June 1, he officially took the helm of the NCCCS.

As North Carolina works to meet its educational attainment goal and workforce needs, Cox is focused on extending the workforce pipeline to the K-12 system, he told the Golden LEAF Foundation in a recent interview. He’s also focused on helping make the postsecondary education offered my community colleges even more accessible to more students.

The full article is live on our website. You will learn a lot about Cox’s life and background — and what he hopes to accomplish as system president.

On April 21, Cox was officially named the 11th president of the NCCCS – also the eighth in eight years.

Though it was a difficult decision to apply, it also felt like the right time.

In addition to wanting less turnover for the system, the youngest of his three sons was graduating.

“So there wasn’t really anything holding me back from being able to consider this opportunity,” he said. “I really felt like with all the change and turnover we’d had at the system, we really needed a local president to step up and step into the role this time.”

NC Chamber brings business community together to talk education, workforce, and the future

The NC Chamber gathered business and education stakeholders last week for its annual conference. Learn more about Project Kitty Hawk below:

Employers need workers to have both education and skills, said Wil Zemp, the CEO of Project Kitty Hawk.

It’s a challenge the military started solving a decade ago, he said.

Meredith Archie is the president of the NC Chamber Foundation, and removing barriers to workforce entry — for adult learners, veterans, and those who are justice involved — is a significant focus area in her work.

That mission aligns with the work of Project Kitty Hawk.

According to its website, “In 2021, the state budget passed by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor appropriated $97 million for the launch of Project Kitty Hawk, a nonprofit ed-tech startup that will partner with UNC System universities to serve adult learners.”

From validating market demand for jobs, to “high-touch support from real people to shepherd prospective students through the entire admissions and enrollment process,” to providing a coach to ensure student success, the work of Project Kitty Hawk is designed to support students in their acquisition of both education and skills.

CEOs tell Zemp they need both.

Together the N.C. Chamber Foundation and Project Kitty Hawk are looking for innovative ways to support adult degree seekers as they “break through the unique barriers that they face while trying to earn their degree.

Zemp said Project Kitty Hawk is laser focused on the state’s attainment goal: 2 million North Carolinians will have a high-quality credential or a postsecondary degree by 2030.

Within five years, he hopes Project Kitty Hawk will have 32,000 adult learners back in the education system.

“It really is about the people and about the lives and making this a greater place for all North Carolinians,” said Archie.

You can read the full conference recap on our website.

Around NC

The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association’s annual convening took palce last week in Denver, Colorado. Blue Ridge Community College President Laura Leatherwood, John M. Belk Endowment Senior Advisor Mike Krause, and NCCCS Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Patrick Crane led a panel conversation on the adult learners work underway in North Carolina.

Here are a few key takeaways from that panel:

  1. Adult learners are a major driver for individual states being able to reach their attainment goals, particularly given the demographic challenges facing higher education.
  2. Higher education must modify and adapt to meet the needs of adult learners, including college marketing efforts.
  3. Blue Ridge Community College’s work with adult learners has been oriented around the use of data to identify gaps and challenges, in order to make adjustments as needed. Leatherwood highlighted the need to change their recruiting strategies to meet students where they are — and then greeting adult learners with success coaches, financial aid packages that work for them, and flexibility once they’re on campus.

The State Board of Community Colleges meets this Thursday and Friday at 200 W Jones Street in Raleigh. Committee meetings will start Thursday at 9:45 a.m., and the Board meeting will start Friday at 9 a.m. View the agenda here. The meetings will be livestreamed on the N.C. Community College System Office YouTube channel.

Sen. President Pro Tempore Phil Berger recently gave a PBS Charlotte interview with Carolina Business Review. “We think overall the system is among the finest in the nation,” Berger said. “Our concentration there has to do with making sure that at the state level, we have a community college governance structure that prioritizes the kinds of things that we’re seeing at the state level in terms of our economic development and in terms of the needs for job growth and development.”

OPPORTUNITY | Capitol B Creative Studios recently announced CBC Invests, an investment of dollar-for-dollar matching marketing funds aimed at lifting up North Carolina communities. Through this $1 million commitment, Capitol B will partner with grant recipients who use their funds on multimedia marketing strategies, effectively doubling their marketing and communication funds. The strategic, collaborative partnership and co-investment will increase capacity to include strategies such as storytelling and content creation, video production, display ads, and advanced analytics for audience persona development. You can read more at this WRAL Story, or apply at this link.

Cape Fear Community College was recently selected as a pilot test site for a new education program focused on careers in correctional management, Port City Daily reports.

The News & Observer recently published a report on how Automaker VinFast is teaming up with Central Carolina Community College to provide customized training. The company says it hopes to hire 7,500 people to make electric vehicles at its factory in Chatham County.

Last week, the Mountaineer published an inspiring story from Haywood County:

“The close ties that mill workers formed during their shifts at Pactiv Evergreen remained strong among nine displaced workers who began their truck driver training mere days after the mill closure.

“This class right here, it’s the best class I’ve ever had,” said Keith Warren, the program’s road instructor. “They are fun, they got that mechanical background, and are good, old country people.”

Robeson Community College is among numerous community colleges to recently hold a convocation for faculty and staff.

Southwestern Community College received a $500,000 grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation for its dental assisting program:

It’s part of the $1,158,333 in funding that the Golden LEAF Board of Directors has awarded this month through the Open Grants Program, which supports job creation and economic investment, workforce preparedness and agriculture in Catawba, Durham, Jackson, Macon, Nash and Swain Counties.

“Golden LEAF is pleased to support workforce training projects that address skills gaps identified by local employers,” said Scott T. Hamilton, Golden LEAF President, Chief Executive Officer. “The new equipment and supplies will increase Southwestern Community College’s ability to provide students in the Dental Assistant program with the knowledge and credentials they need to fill available jobs.”

Other higher education reads

A New FAFSA Form Is Coming, Along With Changes in College Aid

The New York Times takes a look at the new FAFSA form:

A long-awaited, supposedly user-friendly version of the college financial aid form known as the FAFSA will be unveiled for the 2024-25 school year.

The new form aims to simplify the process of applying for college aid because it’s been found that those who complete a FAFSA, short for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, are more likely to attend college. Along with updating the form, the federal government is expanding eligibility for federal aid in the biggest overhaul in decades.

But some families with more than one child in college at the same time may qualify for less assistance. That’s because the overhaul also tweaked the form’s underlying aid formula, effectively eliminating a “sibling discount.”

“There’s winners and losers,” said Phillip Levine, a professor of economics at Wellesley College and a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution who co-wrote a report on the coming changes.

We documented the recent FAFSA Summit in Raleigh. Emily’s write-up captured the event and the work being done in North Carolina to meet the moment.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.