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How five districts are working to improve FAFSA completion

A note from us

We spotlight five districts working to bolster FAFSA completion… Richmond Community College President Dr. Dale McInnis will retire in October… EdNC’s Mebane Rash hosted a conversation between the CEO of the Chamber and NCCCS President Dr. Jeff Cox to discuss Propel NC… A look at two features on the impact of early colleges… Craven Community College is breaking ground on a $25 million public safety facility… The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation recently announced a new funding opportunity… NC Reconnect was spotlighted in Paul Fain’s The Job…

Hello! Welcome back to Awake58. Nation here.

We’ve covered the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) rollout at length this year. Emily Thomas has a new article out with a look at some of the tactics and strategies different districts are using to improve their FAFSA completion rates.

Instrumental to any district or school strategy to increase FAFSA completions is having up-to-date FAFSA completion data, which districts can track in two ways.

The first is through the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority’s FAFSA tracker, which tracks district and school-level FAFSA submissions and completions. Completion means the FAFSA application was “submitted and fully completed and is now being considered for financial aid.” Submitted means that the “application was sent in but may not have all required portions completed or may have errors.” The data in the tracker is updated weekly from October to June and bi-weekly thereafter.

Districts and authorized users can access student-level data by using the College Foundation of North Carolina’s Finish the FAFSA tool, which is an agreement with Federal Student Aid to allow users to see which students have submitted, completed, or not started the FAFSA. According to NCAN, most states have signed an agreement to receive this student-level data.

You can find the other tactics and tips on our website. As a reminder, the Next NC Scholarship is also connected to FAFSA completion. Districts and colleges are leaning in on this important new opportunity as part of their work.

In significant news last week, Richmond Community College President Dr. Dale McInnis announced his retirement from the college, effective this coming October. McInnis was one of the architects of the Propel NC funding model that is before the legislature this year. He has been an important source of information for us at EdNC since we began working in community colleges more than five years ago. We wish him good tidings on his next adventure.

EdNC also recently published a new survey regarding which issues matter most to you this election season. We’d love for you to share your thoughts. You can find and take the survey at

Finally, if you missed the last Awake58, you can find it on our website. We covered the last State Board of Community Colleges meeting, including the proposed presidential reelection process.

I’ll see you out on the road,

Nation Hahn

Chief of Growth —

EdNC reads

How N.C. school districts are working to increase FAFSA completions

Emily’s look at how districts are working overtime to increase FAFSA completions amid glitches and delays is a must read this week. She highlights a number of approaches.

Districts said they are using a multi-layered approach to communicate to students and families the importance of FAFSA completion. The initial, high-level communication is all about awareness.

FAFSA is directly tied to federal financial aid, but it also unlocks state aid and scholarships. It’s a fact of which some families, particularly those who think they may not qualify for federal Pell Grants, may not be aware.

Districts are using swag, yard signs, t-shirts worn by high school staff, QR codes, and social media to get the word out about the FAFSA, using phrases such as:

“Do you need money for college? Complete your FAFSA!”

“Cash for College!”

Several districts transitioned to calling their events ‘Scholarship Nights’ instead of ‘FAFSA Nights’ to better message how the FAFSA impacts multiple funding sources for college.

Districts are emailing students and families checklists for completing the FAFSA and linking to online resources. Some districts are offering virtual appointments with both English and Spanish-speaking counselors to help families start an application or correct errors from a previously submitted application.

For more, including the use of data and incentives, check out the full article on our website.

Curious about Propel NC? Learn more in this interview with Jeff Cox and Gary Salamido

Mebane Rash, EdNC’s CEO and editor-in-chief, hosted a conversation regarding Propel NC with two statewide leaders whose names you might recognize. Here is what she said about the interview:

This new funding model focuses on workforce sectors with incentives for high-demand, high-wage jobs.

Recently, I sat down with NC Chamber CEO Gary Salamido and N.C. Community College System President Dr. Jeff Cox to talk about why they are excited about Propel NC and what it means for North Carolina’s businesses and economy.

You can find the video embedded on our website.

The House Standing Committee on Community Colleges recently gave a unanimously favorable report recently to the $99 million bill to change how the state funds community colleges, according to Liz Bell’s reporting. The bill goes in front of the House appropriations committee next.

House committee approves community college request to change funding model

SEA-Tech is helping close the local employment gap through experiential education

Alli Lindenberg recently profiled Southeast Area Technical High School (SEA-Tech). SEA-Tech is a Cooperative Innovative High School.

In the 2022-23 school year, 50% of SEA-Tech students used the technical education they received from high school and went straight to work.

SEA-Tech offers four different Career Academies options to students: constructions trades, health and fitness, culinary and hospitality management, and information technology. Within those four academies, students can choose different subjects to gain hands-on career and technical experience.

The Career Academies offer two-to-three year programs with specialized courses through the high school or at Cape Fear Community College. Several of the academies offer industry recognized credentialing opportunities at the time of course completion. The CTE programs require an internship in the respective area of study for completion. The internships vary in length, and some are paid, while others are not. Regardless, students get hands-on experience while enrolled.

Check out Alli’s full article on our website.

The simple question ‘why not?’ helped this first-generation student follow her college dreams

Alli also recently profiled Pam Gonzalez, who is a counselor at Greene Early College High School — where she was previously a student.

Attending early college changed the trajectory of first-generation college graduate Pam Gonzalez’s educational career. From not knowing if a postsecondary education was possible to graduating from her top choice of university, Gonzalez achieved her dreams through the support of her friends, teachers, and community. Now, she’s helping other students achieve their goals right back where it all started for her at Greene Early College High School.

Established in 2006, Greene Early College High School formed from a collaboration between Lenoir Community College and Greene County Schools. Like other early colleges, the high school gives students the opportunity to earn college credits and a degree at an accelerated pace. Students can earn their high school diploma, certificates, or an associate degree in arts or sciences all while in high school. Gonzalez is now the college liaison for the school.

This advice from Gonzalez is something we would all do well to remember:

“I learned so much and that there was more than just Greene County. As a social worker, you’re usually trained or taught to look at the bigger picture. So that’s really when I started looking at the bigger picture in regards to learning myself. ‘Okay, where do I come from?’ And then, ‘Where do my classmates come from?’” said Gonzalez.

You can read the rest of her story in Alli’s article.

Around NC

Child care cliff looms | Our excellent early childhood team has steadily covered the looming “cliff” for federal funding for child care centers in North Carolina and across the nation. Liz Bell brings the reality of the cliff, and its consequences, to life by sharing the story of Shalicia Jackson. Give this article a read today.

Richmond CC president announces retirement | Dr. Dale McInnis will retire from Richmond Community College this October after 22 years of service, including serving as president for 14 years. McInnis shared the following statement:

“The opportunity to lead this college has been a great blessing to me and my family. Building this wonderful team and helping the people of Richmond and Scotland counties has been a labor of love and satisfaction for me,” said McInnis during a called meeting of the Board of Trustees on Tuesday. “I believe I am leaving the College in a good place at the right time. Our culture, enrollment and financial status are strong, our future prospects are bright, and we have the best set of employees I have ever worked with.”

McInnis’ last day will be Oct. 31. He has served in a variety of roles across the community college system across his 32 years.

Craven CC to break ground on $25 million facility | Craven Community College will break ground on a new $25 million public safety facility in Craven County this fall. The facility will have multiple phases, but the plan eventually calls for everything from a burn pad for fire training to an indoor shooting range. The college has signed a 40-year lease for the 30 acres of land.

Wilkes CC Promise program continues to grow | The Wilkes Journal-Patriot provided an update on the Wilkes CC Education Promise scholarship in an article they published last week:

Tosha Mathis, counselor at East Wilkes High School, said the number of East Wilkes students taking advantage of the WCC Education Promise scholarship continues to increase.

Mathis said a growing number of East Wilkes seniors are getting general education courses they need for a four-year degree by attending WCC for two through the Education Promise scholarship. She said they then transfer to a four-year college or university to complete their degree requirements.

She said the popularity of WCC Education Promise scholarships is reflected in 90 (76%) of East Wilkes High’s 119 graduates this year planning to attend a two-year college (primarily WCC), while only 12 (10%) plan to enroll in a four-year college or university this fall.

Blue Cross Foundation announces funding opportunity | The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation recently announced a new funding opportunity focused on youth mental health. Here are the details:

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation is issuing grants ranging from $75,000 to $500,000 per year for up to three years to expand access to mental and behavioral health services and resources for youth through models that are effective in the short term (1-3 years), and which leverage a trained workforce that goes beyond specialty trained behavioral health care clinical and professional roles. Funding may support, among other things, strengthening organizational capacity or infrastructure, connecting care across settings, increasing access to training opportunities, and/or increasing access to culturally and linguistically relevant resources and materials for youth mental and behavioral health.

For more information, check out their website.

Guilford Tech announces a new dean to lead their STEM program | Anne Simpson has been named the dean of the college’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs, according to a release from the college. She had served as the interim dean since the summer of 2023.

19 Wake Tech grads selected as Goodnight Scholars | Wake Tech announced 19 of their graduates will be recipients of the Goodnight Scholarship. This marks the largest class of Wake Tech graduates to join the scholars program in its history, according to a release from the college. The Goodnight Scholarship is valued at $23,000 annually for a maximum of three years (totaling $69,000). It is awarded each year to up to 50 transfer students from community colleges in North Carolina.

Other higher education reads

Changing the Enrollment Calculus

NC Reconnect is among the programs spotlighted by Paul Fain in the most recent issue of The Job. Here is an excerpt:

Landing a Good Job: Community colleges are incubators of the American Dream, says Krause. Where else can a person enroll in a manufacturing technology program and emerge weeks later with fundamentally different employment reality?

“It’s hard to ask an adult learner who has already enrolled in college but didn’t obtain the life change they had hoped for to go right back to the same campus,” Krause says. “But we are seeing they will absolutely return if they sense a new opportunity to provide intergenerational success for their kids and families via a short-term credential.”

Fully 30% of the students who re-enrolled through the NC Reconnect program are pursuing certificates. And many are seeking skills rather than a degree.

One way employers can do more to advance the program’s work is by sharing their mid- and long-term hiring needs with college leaders, Krause says, so students are equipped with the information they need to choose a credential program.

Earn-and-learn opportunities also are a big draw. Krause points to one NC Reconnect institution, Wayne Community College, which is running an ad campaign for their apprenticeship program that makes clear that learners will be paid while they are enrolled and en route to a job with a partner employer.

The Kicker: “This may totally change the decision calculus for a working parent to return to campus,” says Krause.

The full write-up is worth your time, including the spotlights on other programs. Fain’s newsletter has quickly become one of my must reads.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.