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The community college system landscape continues to shift

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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. You can find the most recent edition of Awake58 here. If you received this email without a subscription, please click here to subscribe to this newsletter.

The State Board of Community Colleges met last week… UNC-Chapel Hill announced a new initiative focused on opportunity youth… Anna Pogarcic spotlighted a community college system that remains in transition… Superintendents and community college presidents gathered in Greensboro recently… Hannah McClellan published a profile of the community college Staff of the Year award winner that is worth your time…

The State Board of Community Colleges met last week to discuss an array of topics. In the days before the meeting kicked off, my colleague Anna Pogarcic released her piece evaluating the transitions among the Board and the broader community college landscape. One key takeaway? The system has gone through a lot of change:

Within the last few months, nearly half of the Board members turned over. On paper, this isn’t possible. But with two members resigning, the number of new members swelled in fall 2021.

Having this many new members at one time is a challenge for the Board, Sullivan explained. They need time to adjust to being on the Board, their responsibilities, and the community college landscape in North Carolina.

But Sullivan also sees this as an opportunity – these members all bring unique talents at a pivotal time for the system. They’re members of the state legislature, business owners, and experienced educators.

This isn’t the only new thing for the system. Many colleges across the state welcomed new presidents in the last year, and North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) President Thomas Stith is looking toward his second year after visiting all 58 colleges last year.

For her full piece, click here.

Our recap of the State Board meeting will come out soon, but we wanted to make note of the system’s press release regarding the findings of the recent statewide economic impact study.

In this week’s edition, my newest colleague Hannah McClellan profiles 2022 N.C. Community College Staff of the Year award winner Greg Singleton, we report on the UNC system’s latest initiative targeting “opportunity youth” and workforce, we lift up Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina’s recent travels across the state, and we document a recent spate of announcements regarding free college.

Thank you for reading!

I’ll see you out on the road,

Nation Hahn

Head of Growth —

EdNC reads

A community college system in transition

Anna Pogarcic shares more on her latest piece:

Within the last few months, nearly half of the members of the State Board of Community Colleges have turned over. Having this many new members at one time is a challenge, as these members need time to adjust to being on the Board, their responsibilities, and the community college landscape in North Carolina.

At the same time, many colleges across the state welcomed new presidents in the last year, and North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) President Thomas Stith is looking toward his second year after visiting all 58 colleges last year.

It’s a time of opportunity with a lot to get done, but these leaders also recognize that it won’t be easy.

All of these changes come at a critical time for the community college system in North Carolina.

The system and individual colleges have an influx of funds to spend, thanks to federal COVID-19 relief dollars and the recently passed budget. The pandemic caused a sharp drop in enrollment from which the system has not fully recovered. And the possibility of a merger of the UNC System with the community college system bubbled up after the recent budget included funding for a study to move the UNC System Office to the downtown government complex in Raleigh and almost $11.4 million non-recurring for the planning and design of the new UNC System Office.

Find out more about system leaders’ priorities for this year, new evaluations for the Board and system, and reflections from Stith about his first year in this piece.

For the full story, click here

N.C. community college Staff of the Year recipient believes in second chances

Greg Singleton is Craven Community College’s Director of Workforce Readiness — and he is now the staff member of the year for the entire community college system. Hannah McClellan’s piece sharing Singleton’s story is worth your time this week:

When Greg Singleton first moved to Craven County in 2014, he applied for five jobs.

He didn’t hear back from any of them.

Singleton knew the likely reason for the silence: he’d been incarcerated from 1992 to 1996 — as a first-time, nonviolent offender — a fact he disclosed on his job applications. Though he was qualified for the jobs and met all the terms of his probation, Singleton knew that didn’t matter to most employers when it came to applicants with a criminal record.

“That set that fire inside of me to pick up this mantle of reentry work and combining the community college tools with it,” Singleton said. “That’s kind of my path coming into this.”

His profile inspired me this week — and his message around the importance of having a second chance in life is something we should all remember:

“A second chance is what separated me from the rest of the freakin’ rock stars that we have in this community college system,” he said. “I mean to say I’m their guy out of 58 community colleges? Come on. A guy that did five years in the federal penitentiary? This is God’s work — this is not my work, this is his purpose for me.”

For the full piece, click here

Blue Cross NC continues to tour the state

We have been traveling with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina as they undertake their 100-county Extra Miles Tour. We’ve been taking them to a number of community college campuses across the state — and this week we have three pieces sharing their observations.

Perspective | Building a coalition to improve access to health care — for all North Carolinians

Blue Cross NC President and CEO Dr. Tunde Sotunde shared the following:

North Carolina’s universities and community colleges play a critical role in stimulating economic and workforce development, serving as innovation hubs to advance key industries such as nursing and other allied health professional careers.”

Mitch Perry, Blue Cross NC’s Chief Financial Officer, shared his own observations on LinkedIn:

“Our community college system is critical to our state. Our 58 community colleges fuel North Carolina’s economic engine, providing a first-class education and access to unique and important technical skills for students – particularly in health care. A study released by the Health Resources and Services Administration days before our Extra Miles Tour visits showed that 97 of North Carolina’s 100 counties face critical shortages of nursing professionals. This was a problem even before the COVID-19 pandemic.”

For Perry’s full piece, click here.

John Lumpkin, President of the Blue Cross North Carolina Foundation, also published his thoughts from visiting several community colleges recently:

“Wherever Blue Cross NC’s Extra Miles Tour ventures, we see unique examples of how community colleges are integral to North Carolina’s economic life. Last week we headed for Moore, Lee and Chatham counties, where we learned how new companies have located in the region, drawn by the talent coming out of training programs at Central Carolina Community College in Lee County strategically designed to fuel the workforce that keeps local industries humming. Community colleges are also pipelines for our health care work force. FirstHealth of the Carolinas hospital system filled nearly 100 nursing vacancies with graduates from local programs. To paraphrase Blue Cross NC President and CEO Tunde Sotunde, NC Community Colleges are mission critical to the long-term economic vitality and the health of our communities.”

Sotunde, Perry, and Lumpkin will remain on the road in the months ahead. If you have thoughts on what they ought to see when they come to your county, reply directly to this email!

UNC-Chapel Hill announces "Our State, Our Work"

From EdNC’s Hannah McClellan:

Last week, UNC-Chapel Hill announced a two-year statewide initiative to connect young adults to living wage employment opportunities in North Carolina. The program, “Our State, Our Work,” is part of UNC’s Carolina Across 100 work with communities in each of the state’s 100 counties.

The program will support 20 communities in the state through a variety of supports, including guided listening sessions with youth, technical assistance for employers, program management support, and information on funding opportunities and grant writing. The application for the program opened March 16 and will close April 25. Communities will be selected by June 1.

The program focuses on Opportunity Youth, individuals between 16-24 who aren’t in school or working full or part time. According to UNC’s presentation, an estimated 11% of youth are disconnected in the state. That number is expected to increase due to the pandemic.

UNC’s program is similar to myFutureNC’s Opportunity Youth Network, a statewide collaborative launched in fall 2021 across 53 counties. (You can read EdNC’s prior coverage of that initiative here.) The UNC program employs strategies used by the NC Community College System to connect young adults to community jobs.

UNC leaders stressed last week that the new program was meant to be a collaboration with and addition to work done by community colleges, rather than competition. Durham Technical Community College President J.B. Buxton was present at the announcement and expressed his support of the initiative as well.

Perspective | Trailblazer Profiles: Dr. Thomas A. Walker, Jr.

The Belk Center’s Trailblazer profiles continue to roll out. Our most recent republished piece is focused on former Wayne Community College president Thomas Walker. Walker now works for the UNC system as senior advisor for economic development and military affairs.

Walker shares more about his journey in the piece:

“Being a trailblazer is about finding your purpose. Picking up your cross every day and taking a few more steps. I always ask myself: Was I a better person today than I was yesterday? Did I make something a little better today than I did yesterday? And then that just ripples out,” said Walker. “I loved being president at Wayne Community College, it was the best job I’ve ever had, but I also knew I could grow more and take on something even a little more cumbersome. And I just think that’s what life is, at least for me, continuing to define your purpose.”

Walker is embracing the challenges of his new role and knows that in the years ahead, success will be measured not just by what he says, but how he puts those words into action. “In the education world, I’ve found that it’s not always good to be the one doing the talking. I like to be in the background, moving the levers,” said Walker.

For the full profile, click here.

Around NC

Last week’s State Board of Community Colleges meeting included an overview of new economic impact data. The system issued a press release regarding the findings:

The N.C. State Board of Community Colleges (NCSBCC) today received a new report, presented by John M. Belk Endowment Chair MC Belk Pilon, N.C. Senator Deanna Ballard and Anna Brown from Emsi/Burning Glass, showing that the N.C. Community College System contributes about $19.3 billion to the state’s economy each year. Expressed in terms of jobs, the colleges’ impact supported 319,763 jobs. The study indicates that the state’s unified system of 58 community colleges generate nearly double the revenue from what they take in from taxpayers. For every one dollar the state invests, taxpayers get $1.90 back in added tax revenues and public sector savings. In addition, N.C. community college students enjoyed an average rate of return on their college investment of 22.3%.

The Belk Center at NC State released the March edition of their Belk Bulletin last week. The latest update includes a look at their new rural college leaders program, follow-up resources from the Dallas Herring Lecture, and more. Click here for the full bulletin.

Superintendents and community college presidents met in Greensboro recently. For a brief recap of what happened, check out the story from Elizabeth Yelverton:

Over 150 attendees from across the state came together for the Convening of Superintendents and Community College Presidents on Friday, March 4, to share best practices and future concerns for the students of North Carolina. The convening, which took place in Greensboro, focused on changing labor market needs and innovative practices for engaging students and communities in workforce development.

For takeaways and highlights, click here.

A-B Tech has launched a pilot program focused on recruiting Hispanic trainees to help fill job vacancies in their region. According to a report from the local media: “Thousands of jobs are vacant in manufacturing, which is why Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (A-B Tech) has started a pilot program recruiting Hispanic trainees interested in good paying jobs and willing to take machining classes as well as English as a second language.”

A-B Tech has also launched a five-week truck driving program.

Blue Ridge Community College has begun the application period for their free college program. According to their press release:

“As of March 15, students can apply to attend Blue Ridge Community College for free during the 2022-23 academic year. Thanks to an anonymous $2 million donation through Blue Ridge’s Educational Foundation on March 2, the Brighter Futures free college scholarship program was continued into the summer 2022, fall 2022, and spring 2023 semesters. The unnamed gift supported Blue Ridge’s efforts to give students a clear and affordable path to a good job while lifting all financial burdens of a high quality college education. Interested students should apply via the Brighter Future scholarship page.”

Forsyth Tech’s Stokes County campus was spotlighted by Higher Ed Works in their most recent newsletter:

“Stokes folks also wanted to focus on the trades. The Stokes campus offers licensed practical nursing, welding and plumbing. A new trade center opened at the Walnut Cove center in 2020 to provide hands-on career and technical or vocational training that residents said they want… ‘It helps prepare people to own their own businesses or to work in these industries right here at home,’ Spriggs says, ‘and be able to live in beautiful Stokes County.’”

Guilford Tech has unveiled a new $3.2 million initiative called the Access Amazing scholarship:

“The Access Amazing Scholarship is considered a ‘last dollar’ scholarship which pays the remaining balance of student tuition, college fees, and course fees once all other federal and state grants and other scholarships are applied. Some students will be eligible for up to $4,500 in annual tuition and fees. With this scholarship, no eligible student will pay more than $500 toward tuition, college, and course fees per semester.”

McDowell Tech also announced they will remain tuition-free until 2023.

Other higher education reads

Rethinking campus mental health

As we’ve traveled the state, the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of students, faculty, and staff has been a significant topic of conversation. Hechinger Report’s Higher Education newsletter takes a look at efforts to rethink supporting campus mental health – including a renewed focus on the needs of LGBTQ+ and Black students.

Here is an excerpt:

She said that when someone is part of a minority group and feels isolated or misunderstood, it can contribute to anxiety and depression and produce other social and academic harms. And when students don’t see themselves reflected in counseling staff, they can be discouraged from seeking treatment or end treatment early if they don’t feel their therapist understands them.

She said campus counseling centers should aim to hire more Black staff and people from other underrepresented groups. But like Miller, she believes they can improve services by training the staff they already have on the best ways to counsel people of different identity groups.

“I think there’s a need to adjust to the population,” Smith said. “Especially as enrollment increases, and diversity increases on campus, you need to be able to support the needs of all students.”

For the full piece, click here.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.