Skip to content

EdNC. Essential education news. Important stories. Your voice.

‘It’s not enough to get students in the door’ — Reimagining the role of community colleges

A note from us

Welcome to the latest edition of Awake58! If you received this email without a subscription, please click here to subscribe to this newsletter.

My colleague Molly’s deep dive exploring community colleges and their role in social mobility has gone live… Wake Tech president Scott Ralls testified before the US Senate last week… HBCUs in NC can now accept more out-of-state students… Halifax Community College will host the U.S. Secretary of Education as the 2021 graduation commencement speaker… 

I want to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who wrote to me last week. I was able to celebrate my birthday, spend time remembering my late wife on the anniversary of her passing, and reflect through a series of day trips across North Carolina. The wonderful people and lovely places across this state have provided me strength and inspiration in the eight years since my wife passed away — and that was also true this week. Please know how much I appreciate all of you.

My friend and colleague Molly Osborne has spent the past several months reporting and researching issues related to career and technical education. I highly recommend reading her piece. This passage stood out to me:

Refusing to offer training for low-wage occupations is not always the answer, however. Training early childhood educators is one example of something community colleges are not going to stop doing despite the low wages of early childhood educators.

Instead, Desmarais and Cox emphasized the importance of talking to early education students about wages and future pathways for career advancement, such as getting a four-year degree and moving into the K-12 space.

“We need early childhood workers, so we don’t want to disband that program,” Cox said. “But we do want to be honest with students… If you want to get up to where you’re making a living wage, then you need to be thinking about something beyond this two-year associate degree. If you get a four-year degree, you can teach in the public schools and you can make a living wage in that job. If you don’t, in that particular program, you’re going to struggle economically.”

The topic of social mobility and careers that allow people to live rich, fulfilling lives has come up again and again in our travels across campuses. It is a conversation that has begun to shift the ways that colleges are doing business as Molly captured so well in her piece. Give it a read by clicking here.

The legislature has been relatively quiet of late, but we expect them to shift into high gear as the budget discussions proceed. EdNC’s legislative reporter Alex Granados documented a handful of education developments in his weekly legislative roundup.

Thank you for reading! It’s good to be back.

See you out on the road,

Nation Hahn

Head of Growth —

EdNC reads

‘It’s not enough to get students in the door’ — Reimagining the role of community colleges

Hi everyone! Molly here, EdNC’s news and policy director. For the last six months, I’ve been part of the Higher Education Media Fellowship, administered by the Institute for Citizens & Scholars and funded by the ECMC foundation. The fellowship supports new reporting into issues related to postsecondary career and technical education.

As part of this fellowship, I’ve attended virtual conferences on postsecondary education and CTE, gotten to know an incredible group of journalists, and worked on a reporting project that culminated in this story on how two colleges have made economic mobility central to their mission.

I chose this topic because it was something I kept hearing about visiting your colleges over the past few years. Presidents, administrators, and faculty told me about the importance of making sure their students could get a good job after leaving them and how difficult that could be for colleges in regions with little economic opportunity. 

This story, the story of two colleges trying to set their students up for success, shows the opportunities and challenges when colleges don’t just focus on enrollment or completion but focus on putting students on the path to economic opportunity. 

I hope you’ll read the story and share your thoughts with me. How is your college thinking about these challenges? How do rural schools connect students to opportunity without creating “an export education business,” as Zach Barricklow, vice president of strategy at Wilkes Community College, calls it. 

You can reply to this email or email me at [email protected]. Thanks for reading.  

Click here for the story

Perspective | The importance of time and place: Reflections on community college instruction amid COVID-19

Beaufort Community College president David Loope wrote a perspective for EdNC on the present and future of community colleges as we begin to see a path out of the pandemic. It is well worth your time. This passage explains Loope’s view on why enrollment has declined:

An April 4, 2021, article in The Chronicle of Higher Education indicates that community college enrollments have declined nationally close to 10%, compared to a 4.5% decline in other higher education sectors. What accounts for this large disparity?

Certainly, the loss of employment stemming from the pandemic accounts for some of this decline among community colleges. When you cannot afford to pay for rent, food, transportation, childcare, and health care, higher education takes a back seat. Also, a lack of access to, experience with, and competency with distance learning technologies led to some students withdrawing from their studies.

However, I would like to add one additional reason, which the 2020 IPEDS Data Feedback Report for my college made very obvious: Many of our students, at least at Beaufort, prefer an in-person learning experience. This report made plain in stark statistical terms that our students, when compared to students at our peer colleges, take fewer online courses. In fact, 46% took no online courses at all in fall 2019, compared to 28% for our peer institutions. And, these numbers come from a college that truly excels at distance education, employing more Blackboard Exemplary Course Award winners than any college or university in North Carolina.

The fact of the matter is that no matter how successful we become in offering distance learning, we cannot replace the support and camaraderie that our students feel in traditional, face-to-face courses. Nor do our students feel the same sense of accountability for their words and actions online as they do in-person. We have to face reality: Online instruction is only as good as technology enables it to be, and our current technology cannot successfully replicate the experience of interacting in-person with a faculty member and other students.

Do you agree with Loope’s perspective? What do you think of his reasoning? Have you seen similar trends at your local college? We’d love to hear from you. You may either text COLLEGE to 73224 or reply directly to this email to share your thoughts. always welcomes guest submissions. Our perspective guidelines are here.

Click here to read the whole piece

Around NC

Wake Tech president Scott Ralls testified at the United States Senate last week. During his testimony, Ralls declared, “Training often leads to the necessary skills required to land a job, but too often does not connect to the degree pathways necessary for career promotion – like a ladder with only the bottom rungs. On the flip side, many higher education degree pathways are like a ladder with only the top rungs, unreachable to many people who need to work so they can continue higher education to prepare for a career.”

You may watch the video of the testimony here. My colleague Emily Thomas live-tweeted the testimony and you can find her tweets here.

With the big news of Apple’s new campus arriving in the Research Triangle Park, we expect to hear more about re-skilling and up-skilling our workforce as the campus becomes a reality.

Halifax Community College will host a virtual graduation on May 15, 2021, at noon for all students receiving associate degrees, diplomas, and certificates. According to a release from the college, “The 12th US Secretary of Education, Dr. Miguel Angel Cardona, will present the commencement address. Dr. Cardona was confirmed by the U.S. Senate with a vote of 64–33 on March 1, 2021. Prior to his confirmation, he served as Connecticut Commissioner of Education from 2019 to 2021.”

HBCUs in North Carolina may now accept more out-of-state students.

The Hunt Institute is hosting a webinar focused on HBCUs today, Tuesday, at 3 p.m. You may register here. The Hunt Institute describes the gathering as follows: “Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) play a vital role not only in the lives of their students, but also in the workforce and economy. However, despite their proven impact and value, HBCUs continue to receive disproportionately low funding, resources, and support when compared to Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). Join us as Dr. Michael Lomax, President and CEO of UNCF, joins in conversation with Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC) and Virginia State Senator Jennifer McClellan around why HBCUs struggle to gain the same levels of funding, recognition, and respect as PWIs, how they are working from their positions as policymakers to change that, and how ongoing advocacy can make a difference.”

LatinxEd has launched a six-month paid fellowship. Please spread the word to those who might be good candidates for the fellowship. They describe the fellowship as follows: “At LatinxEd, we believe that those closest to the problem are closest to the solution. However, many of the unique barriers to opportunity facing Latinx families in North Carolina go largely undiscussed at decision-making tables when planning local and state investments and policy-making. There are persistent gaps in the process that prevent these strategic planning processes from being truly representative of the changing face of this state – specifically, a lack of representation of Latinx educators, non-profit, and community leaders. These leaders have first-hand knowledge of the educational challenges and opportunities facing this growing community… To solve this challenge, LatinxEd seeks to build a trusted network of Latinx education leaders with a shared vision and desire to work together to create a more inclusive and equitable education system in North Carolina.”

Other higher education reads

Proposals to change Pell may get new life

Hechinger Report has a piece out now looking at three different proposals to transform the Pell Grant program: “The proposals would expand eligibility to short-term certificate programs, allow DACA students to apply and increase grants by $400.”

In terms of the short-term workforce expansion, Hechinger shares, “A new bill proposed by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., known as the JOBS Act, would greatly expand which programs are eligible for these federal funds. It would allow students to use Pell dollars on programs that are at least 150 clock hours over eight weeks — a change he says would serve as a ‘launching pad into the workforce.'”

First in Future Live: Focus on HBCUs

Our friends at the Institute for Emerging Issues are mid-way through a four-part special featuring conversations with HBCU leaders across North Carolina. This episode features Shaw University President Paulette R. Dillard and Bennett College President Suzanne Elise Walsh.

Earning credit for non-credit courses takes a look at the evolving debate around noncredit-to-credit pathways with a piece out now — and they point readers towards an upcoming webinar on the topic during the American Association of Community Colleges digital conference. Why does this topic matter? Their story puts it into perspective:

Michael Baston, president of Rockland Community College in Suffern, New York, and a co-presenter with Williams, says the high unemployment rate and low wages currently for people without degrees reinforces a need to address the issue, along with the fact that two-thirds of jobs require postsecondary degrees and 36 million Americans have enrolled in higher education but are not currently attending.

“If a portion of the ‘some college, no degree’ population were to get credit for their non-credit work through credentialing, imagine the positive impact it would have on lowering unemployment rates and increasing the weekly earnings for many,” he says.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.