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Takeaways on serving 'working learners' better

A note from us

Welcome to the latest edition of Awake58 — Nation here. If you missed last week’s Awake58 on community colleges leading the way as Hispanic-serving institutions in North Carolina, check out our website.

The second annual John M. Belk Endowment convening focused on adult learners unfolded last week… We recently published my latest travel diary from a recent visit to three community colleges… Emily spotlighted Bladen Community College’s work to improve the pipeline of first responders for their region in a feature piece that is worth your time…

In recent weeks, I’ve traveled to several community colleges, participated in numerous convenings of postsecondary leaders from across the state and the country, and joined students at the Student Government Association’s annual conference. It has been a remarkable six weeks!

I took time this weekend to consider some of my main takeaways.

Among them is the fact that community colleges have always served as anchor institutions for the communities they serve. They’ve met students where they are on their educational journey as open-door institutions for decades. Recently, I’ve been struck by how many colleges are in the process of rapidly evolving to meet community needs in ways that may not be on the radar of statewide leaders. For example, Bladen Community College recently became an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) agency to bolster the first responder pipeline. I was equally amazed to hear more about the evolving business of agriculture and how Blue Ridge Community College is building a new greenhouse filled with technology to meet industry needs.

At last week’s adult learner convening, Education Strategy Group’s Dr. Kenyatta Lovett shared many tidbits from across the country around the work of serving adult students. One key takeaway from his talk was that South Carolina has shifted their framework from “adult learners” to “working learners,” in order to better account for all students who are balancing employment and education. A number of attendees from the event approached me to note that they loved this mindset shift.

It is imperative that more students and prospective students learn about the Next NC scholarship, which awards full tuition and fees to students attending any of the state’s 58 community colleges. Bladen Community College President Dr. Amanda Lee and I jointly presented last week at the Student Government Association gathering. When Lee asked how many students had heard about Next NC, we were surprised at how few hands went up. We’ll have articles out soon spotlighting various colleges and their work to increase both FAFSA completion and the overall knowledge of the Next NC scholarship.

What are you thinking about as we approach the end of spring semesters and commencement season, along with the coming legislative session? We’d love to know. Just reply directly to this email with your thoughts.

I’ll see you out on the road,

Nation Hahn

Head of Growth — EdNC

P.S. — Another funny takeaway is that a surprising number of folks in recent weeks have asked where my name comes from and if it is my real name. First, yes, it is my real name. Second, it is from a John Mellencamp song. You can find that gem on Spotify.

EdNC reads

Second statewide adult learner convening centers on student voices and sustaining momentum

The John M. Belk Endowment hosted their second annual convening focused on adult learners last week. The event had many goals — but part of the focus was to help practitioners learn more about promising practices and tactics that could help their colleges thrive moving forward. Emily shares some of the highlights in this article:

Because adult learners face unique challenges, community college leaders are tasked with thinking differently about how to alleviate some of those challenges.

For Durham Technical Community College president JB Buxton, it meant a shift in thinking.

“How do we rethink the culture of our internal operations for an adult learner who does not have much time?” he asked.

Those shifts have led Durham Tech to offer eight-week terms for the majority of their courses, change enrollment operating hours to better accommodate students, and implement a customer relationship management (CRM) system to track students through the enrollment process and beyond.

Emily shares many more findings from the event in her article.

A week spent with three community colleges: A rural response, automation comes to greenhouses, and advanced manufacturing grows in Asheville

I had the chance to spend a week in the western part of the state in early March. I spent two different days at Haywood Community College helping film a video that EdNC will unveil this spring.

Blue Ridge Community College also hosted me to discuss their new greenhouse and the growth of their horticulture program. Finally, I spent a morning with Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College’s (A-B Tech) Kevin Kimrey to explore the growth of the college’s advanced manufacturing program.

Here are some of the highlights from Blue Ridge Community College:

Rachel Meriwether, the horticulture department head, showed me around the college’s existing greenhouse. As we walked through it, she stressed that the department’s success was tied directly to the growth of agribusinesses in the region. “We draw certain industries due to our clean water and excellent weather,” Meriwether said.

The new greenhouse will introduce students to the level of automation and technology students can expect to see in modern greenhouses. The key, per Meriwether, is for students to know the type of industry they are stepping into in modern agribusiness.

And here is a highlight from the A-B Tech visit, and the growth of their advanced manufacturing program:

Kimrey said their program is focused on supporting the needs of both industry and their students. The main hope for students is a focus on building a career that allows them the opportunity for growth, he said.

“We truly see all ages and walks of life,” Kimrey said. “Mainly, we see people who, for whatever reason, have reached a point where they need to retool.”

The Advanced Manufacturing Center will continue to focus on adapting their programming to new technology. Kimrey reminisced about a conference he attended in the mid-teens where a speaker declared that automation was going to change both North Carolina and the world. “Pratt and Whitney, for example, is set up as an industry 4.0 shop where every piece of equipment is networked to ‘talk’ to each other and to other factories across the country,” Kimrey shared.

For the full details on my travels, head to our website.

Bladen Community College helping solve first responder shortages

What does Bladen Community College’s leadership mean when they say the word “community” must mean as much as the word college in their title? One example is their novel work to meet community needs when it comes to first responders:

In November 2023, Bladen became the first community college in North Carolina to reach Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Agency status at the Advanced Emergency Medical Training (EMT) level, credentialed by the North Carolina Office of Emergency Medical Services.

It’s a unique approach for the college — being part of the solution to their community’s stretched EMS coverage.

Bladen Community College’s EMS Agency is composed of faculty, staff, and students who are all trained to provide emergency medical services. Their primary responsibility as an agency is to respond to the needs and well-being of the college community. The agency is dispatched through the county’s 911 operating system for all calls and texts that require medical services on campus.

You will want to read the rest of this article on EdNC. Kudos to Emily for capturing this dynamic story about a promising practice.

Around NC

Strada releases State Opportunity Index | From Strada: “The State Opportunity Index was developed to help states build a stronger connection between education after high school and equitable pathways to opportunity so students realize the full value of their education and employers have the workforce they need to fill high-demand jobs. Designed to guide state progress in five priority areas, the index helps states assess how well they are leveraging post-high school education — including degrees, certificates, and other credentials — to strengthen workforce competitiveness and pathways to opportunity.”

You can find North Carolina’s report here.

More on connecting with adult learners | Central Piedmont Community College is rolling out a new initiative to bring more adults who may have not completed a degree or job training program back to the classroom through a new campaign, Better Skills. Better Jobs. Better Future. Over the next few months, Central Piedmont will share job training programs and college information with adults across Mecklenburg County to prepare them for the growing number of job openings. Interested adults are encouraged to visit Central Piedmont’s Better Skills Better Jobs website to learn more and to sign up to connect directly with the college.

Blue Ridge Community College will launch new programs |Blue Ridge CC will launch eight new programs next fall, including an associate degree pathway focused on artificial intelligence. The college has also implemented a new platform for students enrolling in workforce continuing education programs. According to a release from the college: “The new platform groups courses according to topic, displaying times, dates, costs and available seats. Students simply register for the courses they would like to attend and pay by credit card. Students may also apply for a scholarship, provided the course is eligible for a scholarship. Another development is that the new platform will allow public safety training students to enroll in their courses using state tuition waivers.”

Cape Fear Community College’s social media team wins a national award | CFCC’s social media team won Silver Paragon Award at the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations (NCMPR) annual conference, according to a release from the college. CFCC President Jim Morton said that the award “highlights our marketing team’s creativity and the important role social media plays in sharing our college’s story. This platform allows us to engage directly with our students and the community, demonstrating the impact and opportunities our college offers.”

Offering culinary training to unemployed, justice-involved students | Five students recently graduated from a ten-week culinary course at Cape Fear CC, offered in partnership with the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. The partnership aimed to train unemployed, under-employed, justice-involved, and/or food-insecure individuals to provide them an opportunity to learn the skills and techniques needed to work in a commercial kitchen. Each student received a scholarship to cover the total cost of all registration and fees for the course, a uniform, and a knife kit. In addition, participants received a monthly stipend and a food box containing fresh produce and shelf-stable non-perishables.

Fayetteville Technical Community College once again awarded for being a “Military Friendly School” |  FTCC earned the No. 4 spot on the national list of large, military-friendly community colleges, according to a release from the college. Scot McCosh, FTCC’s Senior Director of Military & Veterans Programs, said the Top 10 Military Friendly tag is “a badge of excellence recognizing the College’s commitment” to serving military-connected students, their families and the community.

McDowell Tech opens One-Stop Center | McDowell Technical Community College recently opened a new “One Stop” building on their campus. This centralized hub makes essential resources more accessible for McDowell Tech’s students by housing student services, financial aid, student success, and student outreach and engagement in one building. McDowell Tech hopes to offer a streamlined experience for students in the new space, according to this article from the McDowell News.

Richmond Community College sees growth in dual enrollment | Richmond CC has seen growth among their dual-enrolled students, according to the college: “In fall 2019, there were 399 dually enrolled high school students from Richmond County. This fall there were 394. As for the spring figures, there were 314 dually enrolled high school students in spring 2020; currently, there are 341 dually enrolled students… In Scotland County, there was a record number of high school students enrolled in the dual enrollment program for both the fall 2023 semester (226) and spring 2024 semester (185).”

UNC system announces new system for military experience | The UNC system announced a new system to illustrate for veterans how they will earn credit for their service, according to a news release. “Military service members can now see how on-the-job experience translates to earned college credit within the University of North Carolina System… The UNC Military Equivalency System contains thousands of equivalencies between military occupations and training and academic courses at the 16 universities in the UNC System,” the release says. “Before applying for admission, prospective students can use the resource to determine how experience from their Joint Services Transcript (JST) equates to specific courses at the state’s public universities. This is particularly good news in North Carolina, where the UNC System serves a growing number of military-affiliated students – more than 21,000 last fall, or about 9% of the student population.”

Other higher education reads

The Job: Preparing Amid Uncertainty

Paul Fain’s “The Job” newsletter is one of my must reads each week. I remain grateful that Durham Technical Community College President JB Buxton introduced me to the newsletter. This week Fain focuses on AI:

Educators may feel like they’re flying blind as they prepare for the impacts of artificial intelligence. Despite all the noise about the technology, useful intel is hard to find on its promise for students, and potential pitfalls.

Determining how jobs will change is particularly difficult. Colleges and other education providers are relying mostly on fast-changing speculation as they seek to embed AI skills in education and training programs. And wealthy universities no doubt have access to better information than do community colleges or other institutions that serve low-income students.

“We don’t know where it’s going, but we have to be involved in the conversation,” says Linda Garcia, executive director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin.

… Employers themselves probably have the best sense of what’s actually happening. But while sources say every major company has gamed out what an AI-enabled future may look like, they’re not publicly sharing those analyses.

That may be starting to change, however. Nine of the world’s top tech companies today are formally rolling out a consortium that will map and describe how AI is reshaping jobs within their ranks, and more broadly changing occupations their training covers. The new consortium also will seek to identify related upskilling opportunities.

You can find the remainder of Fain’s newsletter on his website.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.