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‘I want the North Carolina Community College System to be the first choice for an affordable education’

A note from us

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System president Thomas Stith visited Vance-Granville Community College… We also sat down with Stith as part of the Awake58 podcast where he said he wanted the system to lead the nation in diversity, equity, and inclusion… The system office announced 2021 award winners including the I.E. Ready Award… Hechinger Report asks if students who have left community colleges across the country will return…

New system president Thomas Stith toured Vance-Granville Community College last week along with representatives of Golden LEAF, the John M Belk Endowment, and Profound Gentleman. Vance-Granville CC was the first college Stith visited during his tenure. My colleague Molly Osborne and I were there documenting the day.

Rachel Desmarais, president of Vance-Granville, led attendees through recent programmatic decisions from the college; explained their work around diversity, equity, and inclusion; and discussed the importance of partnerships in shaping the collective future of both the college and the region.

Desmarais shared her perspective on the importance of labor market outcomes in our recent Awake58 podcast: “We have a workforce that’s willing; we just need to educate them. And we also have to be careful in making sure that we, as a college, don’t over-invest in lower paying jobs … and we can’t invest in programs heavily that lead to lower-paying jobs.”

During our visit last week, she shared more on the gaps analysis that led to their decision-making — including their investment in truck driver training.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion was a dominant topic of discussion as well. Desmarais walked us through Vance-Granville’s work in the space, while Stith touched on his vision for the community college system as a whole.

Stith said his goal for the North Carolina community college system is to be a leader in the space during our recent podcast. Stith told me, “We’re seeing some concerns now in our enrollment figures, but I want to be a national model for diversity and inclusion within our system and providing opportunities across the board.”

We also touched on the importance of partnerships, budget stabilization and enrollment, and more. If you haven’t read my piece outlining the big issues ahead for the system, give it a read today.

Thank you for reading Awake58 this week — please know how much we appreciate your ongoing readership of both this newsletter and all of our work at If you have thoughts on the future of the system, suggestions for ideas or programs to cover, or questions you want to see us answer, please text COLLEGE to 73224 or reply directly to this email. You may also tweet us @Awake58NC.

See you out on the road,

Nation Hahn

Head of Growth,


EdNC reads

Awake58 podcast with Thomas Stith: ‘I want the North Carolina Community College System to be the first choice for an affordable education’

Thomas Stith sat down with us for our latest Awake58 podcast last week. I had a chance to learn more about his family’s educational background — including the fact that his father founded a trade school decades ago. He discussed his career in public service, his own business background in early childhood, and some of what he learned during the system’s hiring process.

Stith also outlined part of his vision for the system — including a commitment for the system to be the ‘first choice’ for families seeking affordable education across the state and his desire for the system to be a national leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

He said the third primary pillar for his vision is an emphasis on partnership, telling us that he wants the system to “enhance our engagement with the private sector and the business sector, being a strong partner with not only economic development and attracting jobs, but to be a strong partner as businesses expand in the state. Because if you look at our students, you know, at the end of the day, they’re there to receive a solid education.”

For more coverage of Stith’s early tenure, check out my colleague Michael Taffe’s update from the recent State Board of Community Colleges meeting.

Click here to listen

Learning by listening: Thomas Stith visits first community college as system president

As mentioned above, Thomas Stith, philanthropists, and other education stakeholders visited Vance-Granville CC last week.

Our conversation focused around many topics, but one of the more illuminating portions was the college’s focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion:

In addition to looking at labor market outcomes, Desmarais and her team are also looking at the data with an equity lens. “If I have a program where I have all white males and no one else and it’s a high-wage earning job, and I have another program … with all women of color with low-paying positions, that’s an equity issue,” Desmarais said.

Sparked by the protests this summer, VGCC created a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Council. The Council is charged with reviewing the college’s policies, processes, and procedures to ensure they are equitable and promote students’ feelings of inclusion and belonging.

“This is a heavy, heavy lift,” Desmarais said. “For this community, for this board, because we’re so polite and we don’t want to talk about things.”

For the full story on the visit, click below!

Click here to read more

Around NC

The State Board of Community Colleges announced their 2021 award winners last week.

Wayne Community College trustee Veda McNair received the I.E. Ready Award, which the State Board describes as its highest honor. The press release says the award “was created in 1983 to recognize those who make significant contributions to the establishment, development or enhancement of the community college system. It is named for Isaac Epps Ready, the first state director of the North Carolina Community College System.”

Other honorees announced included president of the year (Jason Hurst, president of Cleveland Community College), the excellence in teaching award (Karen Bochnovic, Chair of Academic Success, Carteret Community College), staff of the year (Farrah Rodriguez, Haywood Community College), and distinguished partners in excellence award (Central Piedmont Community College, Year Up, and Bank of America). For more details on the award winners, please click here.

The State Board also announced new appointees to the ApprenticeshipNC Advisory Council.

We also want to flag this upcoming event in March:

The inaugural First-Generation Symposium will be held virtually on March 11, 2021, 9:00 am EST- 4:00pm EST via the Cisco WebEx platform. The symposium is a collaborative effort between the Center for First-Generation Student Success, NASPA, and the North Carolina Community College System. Pitt Community College in Winterville, NC will host the 2021 event.

The goal of the national symposium is to develop networks to encourage knowledge sharing and collaboration, provide opportunities to discuss effective strategies and complexities in advancing outcomes and experiences of first-generation students, and to showcase innovative interventions and best practices which support academic achievement and degree completion. The overarching theme of “advancing outcomes and experiences” of first-generation students at two-year institutions will be highlighted throughout the national symposium.

First-Generation Symposium website-

Proposal Submission:

As a reminder, we are looking for enrollment reports from the colleges detailing fall enrollment shortly.

Other higher education reads

‘It’s just too much’: Why students are abandoning community colleges in droves

First-time college enrollment is down 21% nationally. Hechinger Report asks the question of the moment: Will students return?

These numbers are sobering:

Fall enrollment at community colleges was down 10 percent from a year earlier, according to National Student Clearinghouse data from mid-December. That was a much steeper decline than the roughly 1 percent drop-off in undergraduates at public and private nonprofit four-year institutions, despite predictions that more students might opt for colleges closer to home before transferring to four-year schools. The decline in first-time enrollment at community colleges was a staggering 21 percent. Black, Hispanic and Native American first-year students showed even steeper drops in a November report, between 28 and 29 percent.

Click here to read the story. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

The pandemic is speeding up the mass disappearance of men from college

Along the same vein on the enrollment front, Hechinger also published this piece with another staggering number: “The decline in enrollment has been seven times as steep among men as among women.”

For a more detailed look, spend time with the article.

A simpler FAFSA could increase applicants

CC Daily has the story on the FAFSA overhaul to come: “Financial aid officers have been asking for years for a simplified federal financial aid form, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). After much work by financial aid advocates and, in particular, by outgoing Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), an overhaul was included in the Covid relief and government funding bill signed into law in December.”

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.