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What has the Longleaf Commitment accomplished so far?

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. If you missed last week’s edition of Awake58, find it here.

The Longleaf Commitment has granted $8.68 million to more than 13,000 students so far… Our outdoor recreation industry generated $9.9 billion in GDP in our state in 2020 — a recent convening explored the role of colleges and the industry moving forward… Blue Ridge Community College president Laura Leatherwood shared her perspective on community college month and the role of BRCC in serving their local community…

Hello! As you may have heard in this newsletter and elsewhere, April is national community college month. We are collecting community college stories from across the state throughout the month. Please share your thoughts by clicking here — and feel free to share this link with others!

Blue Ridge Community College president Laura Leatherwood shared her story — and the story of Blue Ridge CC — in a perspective we published last week. Leatherwood wrote:

“Our state’s 58 community colleges play a significant role in many communities and the region… Every day, we work to help students to reach their unique goals and overcome challenges to academic and professional success. We also partner with area employers to assess and meet critical workforce needs… Our college’s story is one snapshot of many in our state’s overall educational attainment goal of ensuring that two million North Carolinians have a postsecondary degree or credential by 2030.”

For her full piece, click here. We welcome all community college stories as the month progresses. You can fill out our survey, reply directly to this email, or send us a tweet @Awake58NC.

The rollout of the Longleaf Commitment generated substantive conversation across the state. Colleges used the free tuition hook in their marketing, several colleges have used additional funding streams to extend the offer, and Gov. Cooper has traveled the state promoting the effort in recent weeks. But what has the Longleaf Commitment added up to so far?

EdNC’s Hannah McClellan has the story. The entire piece is worth your time – but the primary takeaway is that more than 13,000 students have received over $8.6 million in grants. Give her story a read by clicking here.

We also have an article out now looking at our $9 billion outdoor recreation economy, including a look at the role colleges can play in serving the industry.

And the latest Trailblazer profile is out, spotlighting Dr. Murray Jean Williams of Roanoke-Chowan Community College. You may read her story here.

Later this week, the State Board of Community Colleges will meet, and our team will be there to cover the latest news. You may find the agenda here and the full Board package here.

Thank you for reading Awake58 this week! We’ll see you out on the road.


Nation Hahn

Head of Growth —

EdNC reads

Longleaf grants $8.68 million to 13,600 N.C. community college students so far

The Longleaf Commitment rolled out almost a year ago, and now we know more about the impact. So far, more than 13,600 students have received $8.68 million dollars in support across the state. Hannah McClellan provides additional context to the story through the prism of Forsyth Tech’s experience, including their decision to extend the offer to all 2021 (and now 2022) North Carolina high school graduates:

When Forsyth Technical Community College offered free tuition to North Carolina high school graduates last year, the college saw enrollment among its recent grads increase nearly 20% from before the pandemic.

“This was astonishing,” said Devin Purgason, the director of college relations, marketing, and communication at Forsyth Tech. “And we realized that we had to continue this important work.”

Forsyth Tech used a combination of funding, including the Longleaf Commitment Grant and federal COVID-19 relief funding, to offer free tuition to any 2021 North Carolina high school graduate through its College Commitment grant program.

“We were really, really happy to be able to offer free college to all students that are 2021 graduates no matter their background,” Purgason said. “And we know a lot of these students probably would not have come to college if they did not have this opportunity with the free tuition.”

For the full story, including how the Longleaf Commitment helped Forsyth Tech student Renuka Khatri, click here.

Trailblazer Profiles: Dr. Murray Jean Williams

Dr. Murray Jean Williams serves as the president of Roanoke-Chowan Community College. Williams grew up in rural Mississippi, began her professional career at Luther Rice College & Seminary, and worked as the director of curriculum and planning at Atlanta Technical College before serving in a variety of other roles. Eventually in May of 2021, she made her way to Roanoke-Chowan Community College. Her story is captured in the latest Trailblazer Profile from the Belk Center at NC State. You may give it a read by clicking here.

Jean Williams captures her leadership philosophy here:

“Foremost, is the idea that students must come first. So here at the college I try to make sure that everything we do focuses on them. I really believe that if we put students first, everything else will follow. The second thing is to always remain humble. Pride doesn’t get you anywhere. And lastly, find your voice, because if no one knows you’re in the room, they’ll never hear what you have to say… and as African Americans, it’s hard to get our story out there. If we’re not telling our own story, no one’s going to do it for us. …

In a racially just system, the faculty, staff and administrators would look like the students that we serve. And right now, it doesn’t. When they come through our doors and can’t see themselves in the room, they may not believe that they can reach these goals, be a president or vice president, or work at a system office. I think we’ve got to get to a place where we are hiring people who look like the people that we’re here to serve.”

Williams also provided advice for those considering their own career aspirations:

“I would say to any African American, Native American, Asian American, minority and especially females, if you believe that you want to be in a particular position – whether it’s president of a community college or president of the United States – go for it. Even if you don’t see yourself in the room currently, set the aspiration that you will be the first one to be in that room. Hold on to your dreams and do everything that you can to achieve those goals.”

You may read the full profile here.

Stewards of opportunity: Higher education and the outdoor economy

Recently, Cherokee hosted the fourth annual Outdoor Economy Conference. According to EdNC’s Caroline Parker, “This four-day gathering brought together stakeholders in the outdoor business sector, federal and state agencies, environmental leaders, entrepreneurs, and the higher education community to have conversations on the state of our outdoor economy, and to discuss what opportunities await in the years ahead.”

The big takeaway? The outdoor economy contributes billions to our economy — and several community colleges are participating, as Caroline highlighted: “We learned about McDowell Technical Community College‘s Trail Construction and Sustainability Program and the Outdoor Leadership degree program at Southwestern Community College.”

You may find the full piece by clicking here!

Perspective | Celebrating Community College Month

Blue Ridge Community College president Laura Leatherwood shared her perspective during community college month.

Among her highlights is their work around Career and College Promise:

“Blue Ridge also serves our local high school students through our Career and College Promise program. Through this initiative, high school students can choose from more than 40 certificates and diplomas in career and technical education areas. They can also earn half or more of the credits needed for an associate in arts, associate in engineering or associate in science degree. These classes give high school students a head start on their dream careers or college degrees — and they’re completely free.”

And the importance of partnerships:

“As we look ahead to the rest of 2022, our goal is to grow our community partnerships and outreach to broaden our impact on the communities we serve. We currently have 406 partnerships in 41 municipalities, including Hendersonville, Fletcher, Asheville, Flat Rock, Brevard, Mills River, and Arden. These partnerships serve a variety of industries, including education, business and information technology, public safety, automotive, healthcare, nonprofit and community organizations, and manufacturing.

Our vision is to meet community members where they are and provide educational opportunities to a diverse range of students, companies, and industries. It is our privilege to serve western North Carolina, and we look forward to a bright future ahead.”

You may read her full perspective by clicking here. We welcome first-person perspectives from our audience. For more details on how to write a perspective for us, click here.

Around NC

We have updated our community college profile pages on Check them out by clicking here. We welcome all of your feedback and thoughts as we proceed.

As mentioned above, the State Board of Community Colleges meeting is this week. Full details may be found here. The system office also shared out findings of the recent economic impact study — and they directed folks to the corresponding website called the “Big ROI for North Carolina.”

Our congratulations go out to the winners of the Governor Robert W. Scott Student Leadership Award and the Dr. Dallas Herring Achievement Award. Katie Council of Beaufort County Community College won the Scott Student Leadership Award. Paralee Cox of Blue Ridge Community College won the Dr. Dallas Herring Achievement Award. Their stories can be found here.

We are visiting our 100 counties with Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina on the Extra Miles Tour. Travel along with us! Here are overviews of the visits to CumberlandEdgecombeHarnett, and Nash.

A few opportunities we spotlighted last week in EdDaily:

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation is announcing a funding opportunity to support regional and state-level intermediaries to work with local stakeholders across North Carolina to support community-identified priorities for American Rescue Plan Act funding.

Two-year grants of $300,000 (up to $150,000 per organization per year) will support up to five regional and state-level organizations (“intermediaries”) to work with local stakeholders to support community-identified ARPA priorities at the county and municipal level to promote health equity and system-level change. Of this funding, up to $100,000 a year is available to support technical assistance provided by the grantee/intermediary, and $50,000 a year is available to support mini-grants to their community-based organization partners. Here is more information.

The NC First in FAFSA 2022 Innovation Award goes to the public high school in each category that implemented an innovative strategy to dramatically increase the school’s FAFSA completion rate this academic year.

To win a $500 award for most innovative FAFSA completion strategy, each school must complete the submission form (Google) by April 30, 2022 5pm ET. Winners will be announced in Summer 2022. Submit your strategy today!

Another opportunity for students can be found here: “E Pluribus Unum (EPU), founded in 2018 by former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, released the application for a new cohort within their established Unum Fellowship program – 18-24-year old college students from southern institutions. The organization’s leadership initiative equips Fellows with resources, training, and technical expertise to develop and execute a project that specifically addresses racial and/or economic disparities on their school campuses or within their broader community. Applications are due by June 15 and can be found at:”

The NC Tribune covered the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Capital Improvements meeting that took up issues related to the $400 million allocated to the community college system to cover capital expenses over the next four years. A brief blurb from the Tribune on why this matters: “Each college will get their share in an annual payment rather than a one-time lump sum. That means existing financial rules could require colleges to seek backing from their county governments to put enough money in the bank to start a large construction project.” For their full coverage, you must subscribe, but the article from the Tribune can be found here.

Craven Community College has reported a rise in interest in their CDL classes in recent months.

Various local media outlets have reported on the economic impact numbers for local colleges, including Beaufort County Community College, Johnston Community College, and Randolph Community College.

Halifax Community College’s trustees discussed their search for a new president and the potential for public input.

Richmond Community College is working to shift their admissions process as part of a strategy focused on bolstering enrollment. The entire article is worth your time. Here is an excerpt:

“We had 1,013 applicants for the fall semester, but only about 54 percent were actually enrolled,” McInnis said. “We started having a conversation about how we could do a better job of advising, registering and counseling our students.”

The Career & Transfer Advising Center will be the first point of contact for students as they begin the process of registering for classes. This staff will advise them on what classes to take according to their educational and career plans and continue to assist them as they complete their program of study. …

McInnis also said the College will be focusing on absenteeism, which is a major cause for students withdrawing from classes.

“Every time somebody is absent, our faculty and staff are not going to just take it for granted or just accept it. They are going to reach out to those students and indicate our care and concern for them,” McInnis said.

Robeson Community College officially opened its new Emergency Medical Building recently. Here are details on the ribbon cutting.

Wake Tech opened the new $42 million Hendrick Center for Automotive Excellence last week. Check out WRAL for more details on this state-of-the-art facility.

Other higher education reads

Supporting Native Students: A new higher education issue brief from the Hunt Institute

A new issue brief is out from the Hunt Institute focusing on supporting Native students. The Hunt Institute noted the following data in a press release announcing the brief: “Native American students are a demographic group that has consistently been underrepresented in institutions of higher education (IHEs) in the United States. Despite tremendous growth in the enrollment of these students in recent years, they are still underrepresented compared to other subgroups. While other minority students encompass about 29% of all U.S. postsecondary students, Native American students account for about 1%. Postsecondary education can help Native Americans overcome many employment barriers.”

Rural Community College Program Aims to Close Equity Gaps

The Public News Service spotlighted the new Rural College Leaders Program from the Belk Center. They caught up with Audrey Jaeger to discuss the program and why it matters:

Community colleges primarily serve students of color, low-income, adult, first-generation and single-parent students. Jaeger pointed out dips in enrollment mean individuals are less likely to return to school to obtain a degree or certification, which could lead to a better job.

“So, disproportionately they serve more of those students,” Jaeger remarked. “And when enroll numbers decline, disproportionately more of those students are not enrolled in college.”

According to the state board, the number of students enrolled in community college jumped slightly between 2020 and 2021, but overall is still down by 13% from before the pandemic.

For the full article, click here.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.