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How are colleges working to keep students enrolled?

A note from us

Welcome back to Awake58, your weekly round-up of all of the latest community college news from across North Carolina – and the country. Last week’s edition took a look at another season of transition for the community college system office. You may read that edition by clicking here.

Emily Thomas and Hannah McClellan take a look at community college’s retention efforts across the state… A new grant will help ApprenticeshipNC keep going… A legislative provision would allow for early childhood educators to pass a test rather than complete a community college course… Lloyd V. Hackley is the latest Trailblazer profile…

As we’ve traveled across the state to discuss the issues and opportunities for our state’s community colleges, enrollment remains a dominant topic of conversation — as is true for virtually all postsecondary institutions across the country. When you dig deeper on why enrollment is down for many institutions, or at a minimum why enrollment has flat-lined, then you begin to see that retention is a pressing concern for community colleges in particular.

And the data in the latest piece from Emily Thomas and Hannah McClellan illustrates that this is not a problem unique to North Carolina: “Over 40% of fall 2020 community college first-year students did not return to college their second year, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC).”

The entire piece is worth your time, but Wake Technical Community College President Scott Ralls illustrates why this matters toward the conclusion of the piece:

At Wake Technical Community College — the largest campus in the system with 55,000-plus students — President Dr. Scott Ralls said you can’t separate enrollment and funding from retention.

“If you’re interested, as we have been in the community colleges for years, in student success, student success comes through completion. And retention is about completion,” Ralls said. “So the enrollment battle — much more of it is about how you retain students than it is about just recruiting new students. You can’t get to your completion goals without retention, and you can’t get to your enrollment goals without retention either.”

You may read the full piece here.

In other news, Liz Bell, one of our early childhood reporters, reported on a legislative change that will allow early childhood educators to qualify with a test rather than completing a community college course. Liz found: “The early childhood faculty at the community college system is tasked with creating the test. Those who pass it will get the North Carolina Early Childhood Credential required to work in child care centers, but not college credit.”

As a reminder, you can access all of our community college content through by clicking here.

Thomas Stith’s severance agreement with the system office became public knowledge in a WRAL article released a few days ago. You may find the agreement here. Thank you all for weighing in with your thoughts on the next search for a system office president. We’ll have a piece out on the search soon — and we would welcome additional thoughts and comments in the meantime!

I’ll see you out on the road,

Nation Hahn

Head of Growth —

EdNC reads

How N.C. community colleges are working to keep students in college

National Student Clearinghouse Data shows that over 40% of fall 2020 community college first-year students did not return for year two. When you combine the impacts of the pandemic with the normal challenges around retention, you can see why retention is on college leaders’ minds. Emily and Hannah dug in to see what colleges are doing across the state as part of their latest piece.

It is important to the note the retention issue isn’t just a college issue – but one that can impact students for a lifetime:

Postsecondary attainment is a pathway to economic opportunity. The lifetime earnings of someone with a college education are greater than someone with only a high school education. Earning a credential helps move families economically but it is also linked to better physical and mental health, relationships, and civic engagement. In light of that, North Carolina community colleges are increasingly adding supports to help their students stay in college.

“Something we talk about often is are we trying to get more numbers, or are we trying to keep and graduate the numbers that we have?” said Heather Calihan, Coastal Carolina Community College’s director for admissions and counseling services. “What most of us are doing is not pushing students toward our goals but toward what’s going to help them.”

Colleges have adapted an array of strategies. Targeted interventions for veterans, minority students, adult learners, and parents are all raised in the piece.

Colleges have also implemented additional strategies and services beyond targeted interventions:

Pitt Community College created an intake form to assess students and connect them to support services. The form is a series of questions about college terminology, academic goals, course delivery preference, and employment status. It also asks students to identify areas in which they may need assistance or additional support. Such areas include academics, finances, career planning, food assistance, child care, technology access, and transportation.

Titan Link at Guilford Tech Community College offers many resources: a food bank, financial literacy, transportation, housing assistance, and more.

Similarly, Forsyth Tech Cares supports students and employees struggling with food insecurity by providing a food pantry and farmer’s market. The farmer’s market is open to the public and offers free fresh produce twice a month from April to October.

Yet even with growing numbers of interventions, it may not matter if students are not aware they exist: “Among students facing basic needs insecurity, for example, Hope Center data shows 52% didn’t apply for supports because they didn’t know how.”

For the full piece, click here. I know we are all interested in your take on retention. What strategies have you seen work best for your local college? What idea do you think colleges should try moving forward? Please reply directly to this email with your thoughts!

$4 million federal grant to help ApprenticeshipNC keep growing

Hannah provides an in-depth look at the $4 million federal grant for the ApprenticeshipNC program:

Five years ago, the system gained control of the state’s apprenticeship program. The NCCCS turned the program into a national leader in workforce training, doubling apprenticeships in four years. The grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training administration “will enable ApprenticeshipNC to strengthen, modernize, expand, and diversify its Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP), and improve RAP completion rates for underrepresented populations, underserved and rural communities.”

“This grant will support North Carolina’s economic recovery post-COVID-19 pandemic and ensure preparedness for the future,” the system said.

The news about the grant is significant, but I would also recommend spending time with Hannah’s piece to understand both the context for the program and prospective plans to diversify the apprenticeship population, retain apprentices over time, and more. Click here to give the piece a read.

Can passing a test, instead of a course, boost the number of early childhood teachers without sacrificing quality?

Early childhood education centers are facing the same staffing shortages that have impacted a wide array of industries since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. For many centers, COVID-19 relief funding allowed them to boost pay temporarily to try to recruit and retain staff. As this funding dissipates, folks in the industry have wondered what can be done to increase the pool of candidates moving forward.

The General Assembly is trying something out on the credentialing side:

The legislation adds an option for individuals to pass a test instead of completing the one community college course required to work in child care centers. Supporters of the change say it’s one tool to increase the pool of potential employees during shortages.

Many early childhood programs have struggled to find and retain staff in the last year, leading to closed classrooms and frustrated parents. Advocates warn the situation will be much worse when federal relief dollars run out next spring. Many programs have used that money to temporarily increase employees’ compensation.

The plan has both advocates and detractors — and Liz caught up with folks with an array of perspectives.

As the legislation is implemented, the community college system will help shape the process:

The early childhood faculty at the community college system is tasked with creating the test. Those who pass it will get the North Carolina Early Childhood Credential required to work in child care centers, but not college credit.

The faculty is planning to create one test under the new legislation and another, called a “challenge exam,” that would focus more on theory and educational material and would give the person college credit. Students will also have a portfolio option to receive credit.

For Liz’s full piece, click here.

Perspective | Trailblazer Profiles: Dr. Lloyd V. Hackley

The latest Trailblazer Profile from the Belk Center is out.

In 1995, Dr. Lloyd V. Hackley became the first African-American to lead the North Carolina Community College System. Hackley served for two years before becoming interim chancellor at North Carolina A&T State University.

In his 81 years, Dr. Lloyd V. Hackley has seen and done more in a lifetime than most can imagine. He is a decorated and respected U.S. Air Force veteran, a decades-long leader in the nation’s charge for education access and equity, the groundbreaking first African-American leader of the North Carolina Community College System, and an inspirational speaker who has addressed crowds in 32 states and overseas. Dr. Hackley has had a storied career – trailblazing and setting the stage for the next generation of learners and educators in North Carolina and around the country.

Read the full profile here.

The purpose of the NCCCS Trailblazer Profiles is to highlight and celebrate the work of Asian, Black, Indigenous, and Latin leaders in the North Carolina Community College System, specifically focusing on current and former community college presidents.You can find more about the profiles and project on the Belk Center’s NCCCS History Project Trailblazer Profiles site. 

Around NC

Check out the latest Belk Center for Community College Research and Leadership brief on career coaches by clicking here.

As a reminder, the Belk Center also released a guidebook on adult learners that you can access here.

WEBINAR from the Hunt Institute | “Community colleges are uniquely positioned to support students in lifelong learning. Students have the ability to pursue a variety of programs, credentials, and degrees, from continuing education to re-skilling to an associate degree. In fact, roughly 35 percent of students enrolled in higher education attend a public two-year college. During this webinar, resource experts will discuss the pivotal role community colleges play in the higher education landscape.” RSVP for the Aug. 31 webinar by clicking here.

Fayetteville Technical Community College is moving on to the next step in their presidential search with the announcement of two finalists who will appear before faculty, staff, and community members soon: Mark Sorrells and Pamela Senegal. Sorrells is serving as the Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Services at Fayetteville Tech. Senegal serves as the president of Piedmont Community College.

Central Piedmont Community College announced two new members of their Board of Trustees.

Former Johnston Community College President David Johnson received a $175,000 severance payment from the college following his resignation, according to the Johnston County Report.

Nash Community College announced a new endowment funded by two longtime college employees.

Robeson Community College was featured on WWAY TV show “Carolina Beat.”

A Rowan-Cabarrus Community College faculty member is volunteering his time to assist with the rebuilding efforts in Ukraine.

Vance-Granville will tap into state funding to support their apprenticeship efforts.

Other higher education reads

An evolving role for colleges: Training people recovering from substance abuse disorders to be part of treatment teams

As colleges examine what programs to offer for adult learners, peer supports for substance abuse treatments has emerged as a significant opportunity — and need — for the country:

Still, only 6.5 percent of those 12 years and older with substance use disorders had received any type of care in the last year, according to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health. More than a million peer support specialists are needed, SAMHSA estimates — more than 40 times the 23,507 now at work.

This gap between supply and demand — and the increasing number of training programs provided through higher education and elsewhere — means that some of the country’s most marginalized and ignored people now have a chance to acquire skills and find fulfilling employment.

For the full piece, click here.

Major Returns for Adult Learners Going Back to College

A new study showcases tangible economic gains for adult learners:

A new report by Lightcast, a company that provides labor market data, found that going back to college is an especially good investment for adults learners. An analysis of more than 125 million online career profiles found that this group was 22 percent more likely to achieve upward mobility and earned annual salaries 140 percent greater than peers who didn’t return to college. Adult learners earned an average of $7,500 more per year after returning to college.

The report also found that adult learners who earned associate degrees in more technical fields such as engineering and health had greater economic mobility gains than those who pursued bachelor’s degrees in less technical fields such as business or psychology.

For more, click here.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.