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North Carolina remembers Michael Elam

A note from us

Welcome to Awake58 — EdNC’s newsletter focused on community colleges and the postsecondary landscape in North Carolina. We appreciate you allowing us into your inbox this week. If you received this email without a subscription, please click here to subscribe to this newsletter.

Our condolences are with Halifax Community College and Dr. Michael Elam’s family… The State Board of Community Colleges announced their 2022 award winners… Our overview of a comprehensive State Board of Community Colleges meeting is out now… 

The North Carolina Community College community was rocked with the news of Halifax Community College president Michael Elam’s death last Tuesday. Our condolences go out to all who knew and loved Elam — particularly those at Halifax Community College and Elam’s family. My colleague Emily Thomas published a remembrance of Elam that I encourage you to read.

Caldwell Community College president Mark Poarch said on behalf of the North Carolina Association of Community College Presidents, “The [North Carolina Association of Community College Presidents] is heartbroken at the loss of one of our beloved community college family members. Dr. Michael Elam was a great leader, colleague, and friend, and we will miss him dearly. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Dr. Elam’s family, Halifax Community College, and the entire North Carolina Community College System.”

The 2022 State Board of Community College award winners were unveiled during the Presidents Association meeting last week. Our congratulations goes out to Blue Ridge Community College president Laura Leatherwood for being named the 2022 President of the Year; Melissa Smith, program coordinator of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) at Forsyth Technical Community College, for winning the Excellence in Teaching Award; Greg Singleton, director of workforce readiness at Craven Community College, for being named Staff of the Year; and Catawba Valley Community College and Catawba Valley Furniture Academy for being recognized as Distinguished Partners in Excellence. We know State Board member Bill McBrayer was particularly pleased with the Furniture Academy announcement.

I had a chance to catch up with Leatherwood to discuss the recognition. Please check out our interview below!

As we reported previously, the State Board of Community Colleges approved a three-year legislative agenda that includes an 8% salary increase over the next three years in the legislative requests. Anna Pogarcic has the full story — including an overview of personnel moves and system president Thomas Stith’s one-year performance review.

Finally, we have released our 2021-2022 annual report. This is always an exciting moment in time for EdNC to take a step back and consider all of our work for the prior year — and it is a great moment to recall all of the time we spent on the road visiting with all of you and sharing your stories.

Thank you for reading Awake58 again this week. We appreciate your ongoing support.

I’ll see you out on the road,

Nation Hahn

Head of Growth —

EdNC reads

A lesson on love, service, and time: Remembering Dr. Michael Elam, president of Halifax Community College

My colleague Emily Thomas put together a powerful remembrance of Elam’s passing that I hope you will read:

“Love is why we are here.”

Dr. Michael Elam, president of Halifax Community College since 2017, died Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. Those words hung on his office wall.

Elam wholeheartedly believed that for North Carolina communities to improve, more love needed to be exhibited.

“There is so much happening in today’s society that seems to indicate that love is absent. Prejudice, hatred and killing are the obvious culprits. But there are more subtle indicators as well, such as the inequitable distribution of resources, uncaring treatment toward others, and all forms of discrimination. It does not have to be that way. Our community could be so much better if more love was exhibited.”

Elam was born in Vance County but raised in Philadelphia, Pa. He spent the early part of his career working in university systems across the country. While at the University of Houston, Elam had an epiphany about his role in higher education.

“I saw the light. I determined from within that the community college mission was closer [than four-year colleges] to what I would call my missionary spirit,” Elam said in a recent interview with the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research.

Emily goes on to document several milestones from Elam’s tenure at Halifax, share perspectives from community college leaders across the state, and share an emotional column Elam wrote for the local paper. You may read the article by clicking below.

Click here for the article

N.C. Community College System asking for 8% salary increases over next three years

As we reported in Awake58 last week, the State Board of Community Colleges had an action-packed meeting recently. Anna Pogarcic has the full story here.

A few highlights from her story and the meeting:

  • The State Board approved a three-year legislative agenda that includes a significant push around faculty and staff salaries: “The agenda compares North Carolina to its four neighbors to put the state’s performance and needs into perspective… For example, the average faculty salary of South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and Tennessee is $56,693. To bring North Carolina’s community colleges to that level, according to the agenda, the system needs additional recurring raises of 8% over the next three years.”
  • The State Board allocated state budget funds, including more than $2 million in support of work around adult learners.
  • The State Board conducted a one-year performance review of President Thomas Stith that unfolded during a 3.5 hour closed session.

Anna’s piece concludes with an issue worth monitoring:

The Board also discussed a specific provision from the current budget that some members worry could threaten their future funding.

Under the recently passed budget, the state Department of Public Instruction is required to study how it could transition to using a new funding formula.

DPI uses a funding system that measures enrollment through average daily membership (ADM), which is essentially average attendance by each month of the school year. ADM is used to determine how much funding each district gets.

The new budget directs DPI to study a potential shift to measuring attendance using full-time student equivalents (FTE), like community colleges, which could affect how dual-enrollment students like those in Career and College Promise are counted.

“Obviously, any adjustment to that formula could impact our colleges,” Fagg told the Board.

He briefed the Board that system staff have been in contact with DPI and various K-12 leadership across the state and are working “in good faith.”

For the full piece, click here.

Who are the State Board of Community Colleges 2022 award winners?

The State Board of Community Colleges 2022 award winners were announced last week. Click here for the full list. I had a chance to catch up with 2022 President of the Year Laura Leatherwood of Blue Ridge Community College last week. Our full conversation is below:

Nation Hahn: How did you feel when you were named President of the Year? What was your immediate feeling?
Laura Leatherwood: I was honored. In my professional career, it is perhaps the most humbling recognition that I’ve ever received. I don’t take it lightly. I’m part of a very large ecosystem of 57 other presidents that are all mentors of mine — and all of them are community leaders. In many ways, I kind of feel like this recognition is really about the collective whole — everybody who contributes to serving our students, colleges, and our state.

At Blue Ridge, this work is not done by one person, it takes a supportive Board of Trustees, a great campus team, and lots of support from our community. When all of us are headed in the same direction, working together and for all the right reasons, that is when it all comes together. I feel so blessed to be surrounded by a great group of people that makes it all work.

Nation Hahn: The past year — really the past two years — have been challenging for colleges across the state, but you all have experienced growth even during this moment in time. Would you mind sharing an update on what is unfolding at Blue Ridge Community College?
Laura Leatherwood: It is going surprisingly well. And actually, the work we’ve been doing with engaging adult students — and providing adult students with supports — with the Belk Endowment and the rest of the N.C. Reconnect pilot has certainly exceeded our expectations. It’s an amazing aspect of our work to transform our institution — and even share best practices across the state where potentially other colleges could replicate some of this work. So I feel like if our institution can figure this out, and we can share what’s going well with the rest of our colleges, then we can really make an impact toward our myFutureNC attainment goal.

Nation Hahn: What are you most excited about this coming year for the college and for yourself?
Laura Leatherwood: I’m excited for the hope that we see in our students, the hope for our companies that desperately need a workforce, and our own institutional hope as we redefine ourself for our communities. We look forward to continuing to push forward the conversation and work around what it means to go to college, and we know as our work goes forward that all of our community colleges will shine and be recognized, supported, and invested in by the state of North Carolina.

Nation Hahn: The three-year legislative agenda was just approved by the State Board. What are you excited about relative to this agenda?
Laura Leatherwood: I think what it does is provide a vision, a path forward, and a guiding path for us to help the state of North Carolina realize where we’re going — and what we really need in order to make things happen for our vital work around workforce development and recovery for the state going forward. I know that’s important.

Nation Hahn: What advice would you provide for those on the Awake58 email list who aspire to be community college presidents one day?
Laura Leatherwood: It’s the greatest work you’ll ever do. Every single day I get up, pinch myself, and recognize that I truly can’t believe that I get to do this great work every single day. I’m blessed and privileged. I would encourage anybody that’s interested. This is a great field to be in.

EducationNC’s Annual Report, 2021-22

I’ve had the good fortune of working on the idea of EdNC for nearly 10 years and as a full-time staff member since the summer of 2015. This month marks 7 years of publishing, and we are marking our birth month with the release of our annual report. Please spend time with the full report, but I wanted to make note of this section:

Early on in the pandemic, EdNC decided to show up in your classrooms and communities even before a vaccine was available. In that first year, from March 2020 to March 2021, we safely visited 45 school districts and 29 community colleges in person.

As we traveled to tell your story, our audience increased by 142% in 2020 and kept growing in 2021, a year when interest in news declined and news engagement “fell off a cliff” for other outlets. …

Each year, we survey you — our audience — to assess and track our impact. This year, more than 1,500 of you responded — double that of last year! Seventy-eight percent agreed or strongly agreed that our coverage is neutral. Of the 29 respondents that left us comments on bias, some think we lean left and some think we lean right. We take that as a win.

Here is what you do with our articles:

  • 67% of respondents discuss something they read on EdNC with colleagues.
  • 39% share our articles.
  • 33% apply knowledge gained from EdNC in their work.
  • 21% changed their mind about an issue because of our work.
  • 13% discuss what they read on EdNC with policymakers.

About 400 of you said you were willing to help us better understand the communities where you live and your untold stories.

As always, thank you for reading and supporting EdNC — and Awake58!

NOMINATE | Moments of Hope across our community colleges

We are bringing our Moment of Hope series to community colleges! The Moment of Hope series started in 2020 as a way to highlight positive stories directly from our schools. Participants engage in a 15 minute interview with us, and then we transform that interview into a social media feature like this one.

Do you know a community college faculty, staff member, or student that we should talk to? Please submit your nominations below!

Nominate here

Around NC

Last week, myFutureNC launched its 2022 FAFSA Challenge in partnership with the College Foundation of North Carolina:

The 2022 FAFSA Challenge encourages schools, students and families to emphasize and prioritize the financial aid application as the first step toward a free or affordable college education. By completing the FAFSA, students become eligible for federal PELL grants, state need-based grants, scholarships, low-cost loans and work-study programs.

“Data tells us that students who complete the FAFSA are much more likely to attend college and graduate,” said Cris Charbonneau, myFutureNC’s director of advocacy and engagement. “By emphasizing the FAFSA and recognizing schools’ efforts, we are not only providing students a pathway to free or affordable college, but we are also positioning our state for future economic success.”

myFutureNC also announced the 2021 FAFSA challenge award winners.

As we noted in our reporting, the State Board of Community Colleges approved the 2022-2025 legislative priorities at their recent board meeting. The system’s official press release is here

Beaufort County Community College was recently awarded a $1.24 million dollar grant “for the creation of a centralized advising center at Beaufort County Community College.” The local press also featured the story.

Blue Ridge Community College’s work with truck-driving students was featured in an article on the new national initiative that allows 18-year-olds to drive across state lines in an effort to address truck-driving shortages.

Forsyth Tech shared the news around one of their team members winning the Excellence in Teaching Award from the State Board.

Gaston College (and Catawba Valley Community College) announced their participation in North Carolina State University’s Community College Collaboration Agreement (C3): “The C3 agreement will guarantee students from Gaston College admission to NC State if they meet certain requirements. Students can begin applying to the program in Fall 2022. ”

Richmond Community College’s nursing students’ work with Scotland Health during the pandemic was featured in the local press recently.

The UNC Board of Governors heard an updated overview on the system’s strategic plan — including an update on the Project Kitty Hawk online learning initiative.

Other higher education reads

Ed Strategy Group resources

My colleague Molly Osborne and I sat down with Ed Strategy Group last week to discuss the use of federal stimulus funds across the postsecondary landscape. I wanted to share two resources from ESG you might find helpful:

Federal Stimulus Innovation in Higher Education: Examples from the Field

Here is one example they found during their reporting that I found interesting: Amarillo College, through their Advocacy and Resource Center, continue to double down on the institutions’ No Excuses Poverty initiative, which helped establish an on-campus social services office that not only provides a food pantry and emergency grants, but also case management, academic support, curriculum development, legal aid, and college-wide hiring and evaluation practices. Focusing deeply on adult learners, Amarillo College’s leadership has made addressing students’ basic needs a top priority using HEERF funds; and, institutional leaders have reimagined current services and programs on campus to address the needs of their particular students. For example, leadership at Amarillo asked students to complete a self-assessment report to better understand every student’s unique circumstances. In some cases, students were paired with a social worker for additional support beyond emergency aid. Further, to handle the influx of need caused by the pandemic, Amarillo hired additional personnel to support students during this time. From their intentional work, Amarillo College is shifting the narrative and has placed emphasis on using the federal stimulus dollars to benefit learners in more ways than one.”

Click through to learn more about their research.

Communications Toolkit: Postsecondary Pathways and The Shifting American Economy

As ESG describes the toolkit: “ESG is excited to release a new toolkit to help districts, schools, and other leaders who support a student’s educational journey effectively communicate with families about today’s economy and the different paths to success. These ready-to-use resources include key messages, graphics, printable materials, customizable pieces, and more from which communicators can build and execute their own contextualized communications plan.”


For-profit colleges are not allies of HBCUs

The rise of for-profit colleges over recent decades has raised plenty of questions across the postsecondary landscape. A new opinion piece published in The Chronicle of Higher Education urges readers, “Don’t fall for their arguments against reinstating the gainful-employment rule.”

A free account is required, but it is a piece worth reading.

Demand among Black, Latino students fuels college entrepreneurship programs

Hechinger Report has a piece out now looking at a rise in entrepreneurship — and the commensurate increase of entrepreneurship programs among colleges and universities:

Entrepreneurship in general is up since the start of the pandemic. Nationally, in 2020, an average of 380 out of every 100,000 adults became new entrepreneurs in a given month, according to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. That’s up from 310 per 100,000 in 2019 and by far the highest level of new entrepreneurship in the 25 years the foundation has tracked this data.

The rate of entrepreneurship is highest among Latino and Black Americans, the report found — 520 per 100,000 among Latino and 380 among Black Americans, compared to 360 for whites and 350 for Asian Americans. For Black Americans, that was close to double the rate in 1996, the first year the Kauffman Foundation tracked ethnicity data, and up sharply from 2019. Latino numbers have also grown dramatically.

For the full-piece, click here. Are you seeing similar trends for your college? We would love to hear more! Just reply directly to this email with your story.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.