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Lessons in adult learners and the FAFSA is here

A note from us

Welcome to the latest edition of Awake58. We hope you will stay a while. If you received this email without a subscription, please click here to subscribe to this newsletter.

The FAFSA application period is open, and we spotlight one school that grew FAFSA completion substantially last year… We sat down with the former head of higher education in Tennessee to discuss strategies around adult learners… The annual Dallas Herring Lecture is coming up in mid-November… The Lumina Foundation has made a $2 million gift to five North Carolina HBCUs…

The 2022-2023 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application period officially opened on October 1. The FAFSA is important for college-going students as it is a prerequisite for federal financial aid eligibility — and many colleges and universities in our state also use the FAFSA to determine students’ eligibility for student aid on a first-come, first-served basis. My colleague Anna Pogargic’s piece explains what you need to know about the FAFSA and documents where we stand nationally. She points out the myFutureNC-set goal of 80% of high school seniors filling out the FAFSA by 2030.

In pursuit of this goal, myFutureNC gave out innovation grants to support five high schools across the state who “used approaches that were innovative, student and family centered, data driven, equitable, and had a significant collective impact.” My colleague Alli Lindenberg visited one of the five grant winenrs, Statesville High School. Read her piece to learn how they tackled FAFSA completion.

As you know, we published a series on adult learners last week.

I had the chance to catch up with Mike Krause, former executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, to discuss what strategies colleges might consider as they look to better serve adult learners moving forward for the latest edition of the Awake58 podcast. Krause has a series of recommendations rooted in Tennessee’s experience that he shares throughout the podcast, but this point stood out to me:

“What I try to bring to my own thoughts about adult learners is an understanding that when an adult has made the decision to crossover and go to college, if we can just get them through the first week, their retention rates are through the roof. Adult learners succeed, once they’ve made the decision to cross the Rubicon, at much higher rates than traditional students, in my experience, but there’s a really risky week to month to first semester in there that we’ve got to be sensitive to.”

Naturally, we also caught up on food recommendations and our favorite episodes from The West Wing. Give it a listen today.

We appreciate the feedback from everyone regarding the series. even republished Emily Thomas’ piece on NC Reconnect, the pilot project involving five North Carolina community colleges, for their national audience! As we move forward, we would love to hear from you on your own college’s work around adult students. Feel free to reply directly to this email or tweet us @Awake58NC.

As always, thank you for reading the latest edition of this newsletter. We appreciate you.

I’ll see you out on the road,

Nation Hahn

Head of Growth —

EdNC reads

This high school faced adversity with creativity and increased their FAFSA completion by 11%. Here’s how they did it.

North Carolina’s FAFSA completion rate dipped slightly during the 2019-2020 academic year. My colleague Alli traveled to Statesville to see how one high school bucked the trend and increased completion by 11%.

Statesville High School was the winner of one of the myFutureNC Innovation Grants for their work boosting FAFSA completions:

MyFutureNC looked for schools that used approaches that were innovative, student and family centered, data driven, equitable, and had a significant collective impact. The five winning schools, including Statesville High School, excelled in these areas and were able to boost their FAFSA completion rates for their senior class. In doing so, they also supported their communities in overcoming pandemic-related challenges.

“We wanted to go above and beyond just, ‘What was your completion rate?’ What were the ways in which you went about that? Did you try something new that’s never been done before? Was it data driven? How did you use qualitative or quantitative data to help?” said Cris Charbonneau, director of advocacy and engagement at myFutureNC.

Statesville High worked diligently on outreach to account for students who entered the workforce during virtual learning, hosted eight FAFSA events throughout the year, zeroed in on social media and other communication channels, and are now instituting a success block. What did this all add up to? Read Alli’s piece to learn more.

If you want to know more about the FAFSA – and why it matters so much — I highly recommend Anna Pogarcic’s piece on the application period opening for 2022-2023.

Listen | Mike Krause, former executive director of Tennessee Higher Education Commission, on what it takes to better serve adult learners

Our latest Awake58 podcast is with Mike Krause. Krause is presently a higher education consultant working across the country — including consulting with the John M Belk Endowment and several North Carolina communities on the adult learner work that is featured in this series. Krause previously served as the head of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, as well as in a variety of other roles in Tennessee state government.

Krause also served in the military, and he was an adult student himself.

We had a chance to sit down to discuss how all of his experiences as a veteran, as a student, and as a leader in higher education helped shape the strategies they used in Tennessee — and the strategies he recommends to colleges who wish to better recruit, retain, and serve adult learners.

Krause shared what he might tell a college leader who was considering emphasizing adults during our conversation:

In academia, I think, so much of the view has been on generating research and being the academic voice in society, which it should still do, and I hope no one hears me saying otherwise. But we do need to adapt to being a workforce engine. Otherwise, the workforce will just create their own colleges. And then we have an existential threat to a lot of institutions’ business and their ability to remain open. So adapting to adult learners, in my mind, really, the imperative becomes ensuring we have the right workforce, which zoom out, and that’s always about prosperity.

We can zoom out really far. We can say that a state’s ability to recruit a strong workforce leads to their ability to have a revenue base that funds public higher education, and those things are all intertwined. But at the core of it, I would tell a college president if maybe they were skeptical, I doubt there are a few any more that are, but if they were, I would say, “There’s no way you’re going to be able to build the workforce pipeline that’s being asked of you with just traditional students. It’s not mathematically possible.” Let’s pivot to adult learners. Let’s build a pipeline that gets them through, trained, and in a good job that pays a living wage. And let’s also be okay if that pathway doesn’t include a degree. What if it includes a micro credential end route?

For the full interview, click the button below to listen!

LISTEN | How can we best serve adult learners?

What can North Carolina learn from Tennessee Reconnect?

My colleague Molly Osborne interviewed Dr. Kenyatta Lovett, former executive director of Complete Tennessee and a nationally recognized expert on postsecondary education and workforce development, to understand his perspective on lessons from serving adult learners in Tennessee.

You’ve seen us point to Tennessee as an example a lot in recent years. Molly’s piece opens by explaining why: “Under former Gov. Bill Haslam, Tennessee set a goal to increase the share of Tennesseans who hold a postsecondary credential from 32% in 2013 to 55% by 2025. As of 2019, Tennessee’s attainment rate had increased almost 15 percentage points to 46.8%, according to Lumina Foundation.”

Lovett shared a number of important lessons for North Carolina in his piece, but I wanted to particularly point out this takeaway from his work:

One of the issues that has been extremely difficult is the recruitment streams and recruitment strategies are built for high school to higher ed connections, and so you don’t necessarily have a student-centered approach to recruitment and advising that looks at adults. So what we found with the Tennessee Reconnect communities was this beautiful opportunity where adults, in a non-intimidating way, could go and talk to an adviser and have multiple conversations before making a choice of going back to college. As one of my friends who is a registrar would say, when an adult goes back to college, the entire family goes back to college.

This was one that was institution agnostic. You go to some place in the community, maybe it’s at the library, you have several conversations, you figure out what’s the right pathway for you based on what you want to do, what your hours are, what institutions are available. [You need] good recruitment and advising onboarding streams that are comprehensive and very well structured.

Texas A&M is doing a study right now on how many interactions are necessary for an adult to enroll, and they’re at a total of 62 interactions before they can make that enrollment certain. That’s a pretty high number.

For the full conversation with Lovett, click here.

Around NC

The Dallas Herring Lecture from the Belk Center at NC State is coming up on November 14 and you may RSVP here. Broward College president Gregory Haile will deliver the lecture. Haile will discuss Broward’s work to bolster mobility, according to the Belk Center: “Community colleges were designed to magnify access to higher education, particularly for the most challenged among us. We were designed to remove geographic and economic barriers, and provide educational service to the entire community. While we have many successes to claim, we have not satisfied the objectives of our design. Via the power of proximity, breaking the confines of current access models, we have an opportunity to realize the basis for our existence. Gregory Haile reimagines higher education access through a collaborative, replicable, and disruptive model in his 2021 W. Dallas Herring Lecture.”

STRADA Education is hosting a workshop on October 20 on reengaging recent high school graduates who changed or delayed college-going plans. You may RSVP here.

We covered the roll out of REACH from the NC Community College system office last week. This perspective by writer Cheyenne Davis strikes an emotional chord around the connection between REACH and Davis’ family history: “For both of my grandparents, a community college located in their rural town afforded them opportunity — an opportunity life circumstances had stripped away.”

The Lumina Foundation announced $2 million worth of gifts to five North Carolina HBCUs last week: Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, Johnson C. Smith University, Shaw University, and Winston-Salem State University.

Enrollment numbers are beginning to appear in stories across the state. Carteret Community College has announced an enrollment gain of 20.2% — and, among other tactics, they credit federal funds and their “Full Funding for All” push. The Greensboro News & Record looked at enrollment declines among some Triad community colleges with only Forsyth Tech showing a modest increase in fall enrollment. Vance-Granville Community College reported an uptick in total credit hours being taken this fall.

WHQR covered Cape Fear Community College’s recent Board of Trustees meeting as they debated the need for a faculty climate survey.

Gaston College has leased a local baseball park for their Rhinos baseball team, and the college has big plans for the park.

The Rocky Mount Telegram published an article about the Nash Board of Education’s recent appointment to the Nash Community College’s Board of Trustees.

Richmond Community College has rolled out a new campaign focused on adult learners:

“Richmond Community College has spearheaded a campaign in order to reach the 20 percent of the population in Richmond and Scotland County over the age of 25 who does not have a high school education. Called ‘Finish for Your Future,’ the campaign’s goal is to increase the high school completion rate in the College’s service area.

“’Improving the high school completion rate will have a major impact on the community by both increasing economic development through 21st century workplace training and improving the well-being of the community,’ said Dr. Dale McInnis, president of Richmond Community College.”

Robeson Community College is bringing back Made in Robeson County Day on October 15. The day is designed to highlight the manufacturing industry in Robeson County — while also showcasing what Robeson Community College has to offer in terms of manufacturing training.

According to the local media, “Pitt Community College is teaming with the John M. Belk Endowment, Greenville ENC Alliance and Pitt County Economic Development to hold the ‘Better Skills, Better Jobs’ job fair next month.”

Other higher education reads

Student outcomes at community colleges: What factors explain variation in loan repayment and earnings?

Brookings is out with a new report looking at student outcome variations across community colleges. They looked at “program-level data on earnings and student-loan repayment outcomes at more than 1,200 community colleges across the country.”

The full report is worth your time, but I wanted to pull out this specific portion: “Net earnings – measured by the difference between the earnings of a typical student in a program, net of out-of-pocket costs, and typical earnings of a high school graduate – vary substantially by field of study. For instance, associate degrees in construction, engineering technology, and allied health have substantially higher net earnings than degrees in consumer science, education, and communications technology. While all community colleges offer a variety of credentials, the share of seats offered in high and low net earnings programs varies across institutions.”

One State’s HBCUs Are Seeing More Interest From Adult Students. Here’s How They’re Responding.

This piece from the Chronicle of Education (subscription required) explores the rise in interest for our state’s HBCUs among adult students — including a walk through of how the HBCUs are responding and iterating their strategy.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.