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One year after everything shut down, colleges will receive a huge influx of cash

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The American Rescue Act will bring a significant amount of investment to community colleges in NC… We caught up with Dan Gerlach to explore the future of broadband expansion and the state’s revenue picture… We spotlight the Catawba Valley Furniture Academy…

We are now hitting the one year mark since all 58 community colleges had to pivot to online instruction in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you were like me, you probably assumed we would be back to normal before long. One year ago this week, I was supposed to leave for a trip to explore the work of Catawba Valley Community College, Caldwell Community College, and Western Piedmont Community College through the prism of healthcare and the future of the region. I still remember calling CCC&TI president Mark Poarch and CVCC president Garrett Hinshaw to ask to reschedule our visit for mid-May.

Little did we know what was to come. Companies and communities would band together to try to expand access to both broadband and devices. Faculty and staff would need to innovate and iterate to provide instruction. Students and faculty would face dramatic challenges that have persisted. And the federal government would invest significant money in community colleges.

One year later — with vaccinations on the rise, warmer weather arriving, and the prospect of some level of normalcy by mid-summer — I remain hopeful that better days are ahead in the very near future. I’ve visited A-B Tech, College of the Albemarle, and Martin Community College in recent weeks, and at each visit I felt increased optimism.

Last week, President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan into law, and my colleague Molly Osborne reports this latest round of relief will bring the largest financial investment so far during the pandemic to community colleges. Molly points out that institutions must spend half of the money on emergency student financial aid grants and prioritize students with “exceptional need.” The institutional funding portion may be used to make up for lost revenue.

We expect the use of federal funds to be one of the dominant stories for community colleges in coming months — but we know other stories will be significant as well. Broadband access and affordability has been one of the main stories of the past year — and this week we explore the potential for a major play on broadband in North Carolina through our latest Awake58 podcast with former GoldenLEAF leader Dan Gerlach. We will also have additional reporting soon that will explore innovative solutions and continued challenges of broadband access.

We also know faculty and staff pay will remain a top priority of the community college system office in the months ahead.

Last week, the North Carolina Community College Faculty Association submitted a perspective on faculty and staff pay. They open the piece with the following statement: “North Carolina’s community colleges are flirting with a crisis. Our faculty are among the worst-paid in the country. According to John Quinterno in this article for EdNC, “North Carolina has never posted a median salary for full-time community college instructors equal to” the median of our 16 state region. Nationally, since 2006, North Carolina faculty salaries have ranked among the bottom 10 states every year but one (39th in 2008-09).”

What are your thoughts on faculty and staff pay? We would love to hear from you. Just reply directly to this email!

Other issues that have come up during our travel in recent weeks include enrollment trends ahead of the summer and fall. We know student attendance and enrollment has declined in the K-12 space — and everyone is curious about the impact on colleges this fall. Colleges have told us they are adapting to virtual open houses as well as some in-person events in the months ahead as they shift their recruiting strategies for fall. And what will happen with adult learners this fall? Will increasing vaccination rates give adult learners increased inspiration to upskill or even make a career change?

What other issues should we be exploring? Let us know by replying directly to this email or by texting COLLEGE to 73224.

Thank you for reading! Return to daily as we have several articles that should interest you publishing this week.

See you out on the road,

Nation Hahn

Head of Growth —

EdNC reads

Community colleges to receive largest funding boost since pandemic started in latest COVID relief bill

If your social media feeds are anything like mine, then you saw a lot of posts around stimulus checks hitting bank accounts over the past few days. If you are a CFO at a community college, however, you might have been more interested in the $40 billion dollars allocated to higher education institutions.

Here’s what you need to know according to Molly:

  • The latest COVID-19 relief bill contains $40 billion in funding for colleges and universities, including community colleges.
  • Institutions must spend half the money on emergency student financial aid grants and prioritize students with “exceptional need.”
  • Funding can be used to make up for lost revenue.
  • Funding will remain available through Sept. 30, 2023.
  • Funding per institution will be allocated based off of enrollment.

How does this funding amount compare to the prior two rounds?

“Last spring, colleges received $14 billion in funding from the CARES Act, and this December, they received another $22.7 billion from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA). See how much North Carolina community colleges received from the CARES Act here and how much they received from the CRRSAA here.”

For more details, be sure to check out her full piece.

Click here for more

Listen | What is the future of broadband expansion for North Carolina? What will the state do with billions in cash on hand?

The latest Awake58 podcast features an interview with former GoldenLEAF leader Dan Gerlach. Dan has a lengthy history within the North Carolina policy landscape, an encyclopedic knowledge of high schools and good food across our state, and deep expertise analyzing our state budget.

Gerlach shared what he expects from Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration in the weeks ahead on broadband when he told us, “I expect a very aggressive proposal … along the lines of we need this infrastructure to undergird… the bigger things we do as a state, which [are] education and healthcare. So I expect an aggressive move out of the governor.”

We also discussed the state’s overall budget picture, other key items expected to come up during the legislative session, and, of course, Notre Dame football and restaurant recommendations. Give it a listen by clicking below!

Click here to listen

Building the next generation of North Carolina’s furniture makers

I was born in Morganton, grew up in Lenoir, and spent a lot of time in Hickory throughout my youth. Those three cities (plus Taylorsville) make up the Unifour — and the Unifour was the home of the furniture and textile industry in North Carolina for many years.

As a result, Catawba Valley Community College has had a furniture manufacturing course offering for decades — but their investment ramped up with the launch of the Catawba Valley Furniture Academy in 2014 to serve a changing technology and industrial landscape.

We tell the story of the Academy with a new feature video. You may view it by clicking here.

If any of you have have met NC Community Colleges state board vice-chair Bill McBrayer, you have probably heard him talk about the Catawba Valley Furniture Academy. We look forward to having McBrayer and Catawba Valley CC president Garrett Hinshaw join us for a future podcast to discuss the development of the academy and what is next.

Watch the video

‘We just had to give them hope.’ Elizabeth City State University leaders guide the college through turbulent years — and a pandemic

We visited Elizabeth City State University recently, which marked the first official HBCU visit for My colleague Emily Thomas documented our trip. Her piece highlighted the university’s experience during the pandemic:

The COVID-19 pandemic was another reminder of the differing socioeconomic factors students and families face. Students on ECSU’s campus told Dixon, “Please don’t send us home.”

“Our students would rather be here on campus than be at home because they recognize when they are on campus that they are able to access resources that they don’t have at home,” said Dr. Gary Brown, vice chancellor for student affairs.

ECSU has remained committed to providing access to a high-quality, affordable education. To do that, ECSU instituted a culture of expectation. Dixon told students, “If you hold yourself and your peers accountable for doing the right thing, then you’ll be able to stay on campus because our goal is to minimize the spread.”

“I think building that culture of expectation really spoke to them because some students’ living conditions are better here than they are at home,” said Dixon.

Despite a global pandemic, ECSU saw a 13% enrollment increase in Fall 2020.

As her piece makes clear, COVID-19 is not the only challenge the University has faced over the last decade.

Click here for more

Around NC

From the system office:

The State Board of Community Colleges will meet virtually March 18-19.

Committees will meet on Thursday, March 18 as follows: Programs at 10:00 a.m.; Personnel at 11:00 a.m.; Strategic Planning at 1:00 p.m.; Finance at 2:00 p.m.; State Board Policy and Governance at 2:30 p.m.; Accountability and Audit at 2:45 p.m., and Legislative Affairs at 3:00 p.m.

The full board will convene at 9 a.m. on Friday, March 19.

The meetings are open to the public, but some portions may be conducted in closed session, pursuant to state law.

The meeting will be livestreamed on the NC Community College System Office YouTube channel.

You may find the agenda here. The board package is available here.

WFAE has a story looking at alarming statistics among both college applications and FAFSA participation: “Not only are application rates for first-generation and low-income students down, but so are applications for FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. In North Carolina, the overall FAFSA completion rate is down 8.7%, according to the National College Attainment Network. For Title I and high-minority schools, the rate is down by 12%.”

We’ve covered the ongoing issues around the cyberattack at Central Piedmont Community College. WFAE now has an update out with some added national context: “A new study from cybersecurity consultant BlueVoyant found ransomware attacks against colleges and universities doubled last year. And the average cost of an attack is now about $450,000. Barun said colleges and school systems are among the most vulnerable, because they have large, complicated networks and lots of users.”

Your feel good story of the week comes from Guilford Tech. GTCC reached out to a local foster youth after hearing his story, invited him on campus for a tour, and he now aspires to be a GTCC student.

Isothermal Community College’s new president Margaret Annunziata is profiled by WNCW in their most recent Friday feature. Give it a listen by clicking here.

How many of you know the origin story of MerleFest in Wilkesboro? MerleFest is a big driver of revenue for Wilkes Community College — and it is a big source of support for their students. Last year MerleFest was cancelled due to the pandemic, and Wilkes CC president Jeff Cox promised to bring back MerleFest “stronger than ever.” The first piece of MerleFest’s return is a virtual mega raffle that just launched — and MerleFest itself aims to return this fall.

Other higher education reads

Fast Facts and a Challenge

The American Association of Community Colleges issues an annual list of facts around community colleges nationally. This piece from Inside Higher Ed notes 41% of all undergraduates attend community college, but they also highlight a more surprising fact for some: “Eight percent of community college students already have a bachelor’s degree. That’s a striking number, and one that almost never comes up. Too many discussions assume a variation on the Great Chain of Being, in which there’s a strictly linear upward progression from high school to community college to four-year college. That happens, of course — and would happen a lot more if the four-year schools would get their act together on transfer credits — but reverse or lateral transfers are much more common than usually assumed.”

Google’s plan to disrupt higher education

Google rolled out a plan for a new, large scale professional certification program last week. The Hustle provides us with some highlights:

  • 3 programs, including project management, data analytics, UX design

  • 100k+ needs-based scholarships on offer

  • 130+ corporate partners ready to hire graduates

The programs take up to 6 months to complete and cost ~$240. What do you think of this news? Do you expect to see more certifications and credentials offered by employers? How do you expect these kinds of initiatives to disrupt traditional higher education models?

Washington Watch: Biden signs $1.9T stimulus legislation is out with a piece looking at the latest COVID-19 relief act. As mentioned above, Molly documented some of what your college might expect from the legislation.’s piece is an important read. Some of the questions and issues they suggest institutions wrestle with include:

“Students with exceptional need are to be prioritized, but ED has not yet indicated how that may be done. Students are not required to undergo a formal Title IV needs assessment, though federal student aid recipients will surely receive substantial funding, as Congress intends. But the pandemic has also presented non-Title IV recipients with many challenging financial and related circumstances. Colleges will likely want to take this into account.

“In its guidance to AACC, ED has also stated that non-credit, non-degree and dual-enrollment students can receive CRRSAA funds, in contrast to the federal aid programs. Therefore, colleges will have the flexibility to allocate funds to students in very different circumstances. Many community colleges have long looked for federal support for these students, and now they will have an opportunity – albeit a time-limited one – to do so.”

For the remainder of their suggestions, click here.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.