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"We can’t invest in programs heavily that lead to lower-paying jobs.”

A note from us

Welcome to Awake58!  If you received this email as a forward, please click here to subscribe to this newsletter.

Thomas Stith officially steps in as president of the NC Community College System… the State Board of Community Colleges meets this week… Our podcast with Rachel Desmarais just launched… We continue to look at remedial education across our community colleges… Find out how one high school secured a 97% FAFSA completion rate…

It is good to be back at the helm of Awake58 this week — and thankful to Molly Osborne for writing last week’s edition.

First things first, Thomas Stith has now officially kicked off his work as the president of the NC Community College System. Stith will serve as the 10th full-time president of the community college system — and the fifth (including interim presidents) since Scott Ralls departure in 2015.

Stith’s first public appearance will come at the State Board of Community Colleges meeting this week. For the full agenda, click here. If you would like to watch Stith’s president’s report, or any other aspect of the meeting, the details are available here.

Next week, I will travel to Vance-Granville Community College to meet with VGCC president Rachel Desmarais and her team. The trip will mark my 41st North Carolina community college visit. We will discuss how the college is working to bolster social mobility for their service area, the decisions they are making on the programming front, and more.

As a precursor to the visit, Desmarais and I connected to record the latest Awake58 podcast. During our conversation, Desmarais told me, “In order to create a better economic environment here, we have to train people for better jobs, and we have to have a workforce that is capable of taking those higher-paying jobs. We have a workforce that’s willing; we just need to educate them. And we also have to be careful in making sure that we, as a college, don’t over-invest in lower-paying jobs … and we can’t invest in programs heavily that lead to lower-paying jobs.”

For more, click here to find the podcast. If you listen to podcasts on an iPhone, you can find the podcast here.

Look for our coverage of the State Board meeting, Thomas Stith’s first week, and more throughout the week on

Thank you for allowing me back in to your inbox this week. It is great to be back!

Best wishes for 2021,

Nation Hahn

Head of Growth —


EdNC reads

One high school had a 97% FAFSA completion rate this year. Here’s how they did it.

Matt Bristow-Smith, principal of Edgecombe Early College High School, shares with our colleague Alli Lindenberg how his school used a tool called Finish the FAFSA to achieve a 97% completion rate for the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

As Alli explains in her piece: “Finish the FAFSA is a data sharing agreement between school districts and the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA). The agreement makes it possible for basic high school enrollment data from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to be matched with FAFSA completion data. This matching allows high schools to see where seniors are in their FAFSA process and whether they have completed the application or not.”

Bristow-Smith shared with Alli that he has two driving questions that he thinks the tool helps answer:

  1. How do we make sure that every student in North Carolina who wants to attend postsecondary education has financial aid to do that?
  2. How do we make sure that every student in North Carolina who needs a school advocate to get there has that school advocate?

For more on the strategy and work, click below.

Click here for more

While challenges remain, corequisite remediation shows early signs of success

Our series on developmental education, including RISE (Reinforced Instruction for Student Excellence), rolled out throughout the last week.

This piece in the series zeroes in on the latest reform — corequisite remediation. The goal of corequisite remediation is to allow students to take college-level courses alongside remedial classes.

Molly lays out some of the realities of RISE through her reporting and data from the system:

“Students who would have never gotten to entry-level math or English pre-RISE are now making it. Expediting the process helped create the access, but also [gave students] the motivation to continue,” said Jonathan Loss, associate dean of general education at CVCC. Randy Ledford, vice president of instruction at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, and Mark Poarch, the president, agree. “The data is clear — RISE is increasing access to gateway courses,” Ledford declared.

The system’s preliminary analysis confirms what Garrett Hinshaw, Loss, Ledford, and Poarch are seeing at their colleges. The analysis compares student outcomes at colleges that piloted RISE in spring or fall 2019 to the same outcomes at colleges that did not implement RISE by fall 2019. For each group, the system office looked at student outcomes from the fall 2018 semester (before RISE) to the fall 2019 semester (with RISE at pilot colleges).

The analysis finds that students with a GPA between 2.2 and 2.79, which means they qualified for a corequisite class under RISE, completed both college-level math and English in their first semester and first year at higher rates in fall 2019 than in fall 2018 at RISE pilot schools. Non-pilot schools saw a decline in first semester college-level math completions and no change in first semester college-level English completions and first year college-level math and English completions in that same group of students.

I loved this piece and learned a lot from the reporting.

For the rest of the series, click here. Molly’s piece on the history of developmental education that was featured in last week’s newsletter can be found here. Molly and Emily Thomas also took a deep dive on RISE that is worth a read.

Click here for more

A holistic approach to developmental education: The Transition Center at Davidson-Davie Community College

Our new colleague Emily Thomas profiles the developmental education efforts at Davidson-Davie Community College. The story is a fascinating one. For background, here is some of the story:

When former president Mary Rittling arrived at the school in 2003, she started talking to people about developmental education. She soon learned that it wasn’t working at DDCC. “How we were placing students was a real mess,” said Rittling.

Davidson-Davie Community College became one of nine schools in Completion by Design, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that focused on efforts to significantly boost student progression and success. “It really caused us to disaggregate the data and figure out what was going on with the student population,” Rittling said.

Soon after, DDCC embarked on a redesign of developmental education that wasn’t just about placement and curriculum, it was a philosophical shift — a changing of mindsets. Rittling hated the word developmental. “The word itself is negative. It doesn’t give any asset, inspiration, or desire,” she said.

In 2015, Davidson-Davie Community College developed the College Transition Center. “[DDCC] made a commitment that these students would get additional support … They would be successful, and we would support them,” she said.

The Transition Center isn’t just focused on a student’s ability to pass a course. It is much more holistic. “You realize there are other components that were the psycho-social components that [students] needed as well,” Rittling said. “If you didn’t address all of that, students probably wouldn’t be successful.”

For the full story, click below. And in case you missed the news, here is Davidson-Davie’s announcement of their name change.

Click here for more

The future of developmental education in North Carolina

“Something out of the ordinary is needed to help these kids catch up.”

This quote, from Emma Dorn in a recent McKinsey study looking at learning loss due to COVID-19, grabbed my attention in Molly’s look at the future of developmental education in our state. The impacts of COVID-19 on our education system will not be fully felt for some time, but we know that community colleges will be on the front lines of tackling the issue for many students.

Molly’s piece explores the debate and nuances around RISE — including the delay in implementation system-wide. She caught up with leaders to explore suggested tweaks, analysis of the data, and more.

Click below for the full story — and let us know what you think about RISE and developmental education by either replying to this email or texting COLLEGE to 73224.

Click here for more

Around NC

A message from our colleagues at the Belk Center: The Belk Center, Student Success Center, and Achieving the Dream (ATD) are collaborating to create structures that will support scalable and sustainable professional learning activities for full-time and adjunct North Carolina community college faculty in service of student success across the state. The voices and experiences of faculty are essential to this collaboration. All North Carolina community college faculty are invited to complete the Building Teaching and Learning Capacity in North Carolina Survey.

Through December 2020, approximately 2,000 faculty, which is less than 10% of the full-time and adjunct faculty in the system, completed the survey. We need your voice. Please help us by completing the survey by January 22nd. The survey findings will inform professional development decisions to support building capacity for teaching and learning and student success in North Carolina.

We look forward to supporting colleges in their efforts to improve student success, and thank you for joining the 2,000 faculty who have already completed the survey. You make take the survey here: Building Teaching and Learning Capacity in North Carolina Survey

Other higher education reads

What Learners Taught Us in 2020 — and What Those Takeaways Mean for 2021

My one recommended piece this week is a summary of the year-long research conducted by Strada Center for Education Consumer Insights through a survey called Public Viewpoints. They summarize a year’s worth of research with key takeaways and recommendations for education leaders, including this sobering finding:

Learners lack confidence — both in the value of higher education and their ability to succeed in it. Even among currently enrolled students and disrupted workers most interested in enrolling in education or training, fewer than 1 in 5 strongly agree education will be worth the cost.

For more, check out their post.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.