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Martin CC and McDowell Tech name new presidents

A note from us

Welcome to the latest edition of Awake58. If you missed last week’s newsletter discussing our travel, you can find it on

The State Board of Community Colleges met last week… Martin Community College and McDowell Tech both officially named new presidents… LatinxEd’s Alice Dolbow penned a perspective on the new FAFSA… Chantal Brown documents AI in learning differences for EdNC…

Welcome to another edition of Awake58.

The State Board met last week. The Board discussed short-term, high-demand workforce programs in the system — approving a legislative report on the short-term workforce development grant program, and allocations for high-cost workforce start-up and expansion funding.

The Board also approved two new college presidents.

The McDowell Technical Community College Board of Trustees announced today that Dr. James “J.W.” Kelley of Wendell, NC has been selected to become the college’s next president, succeeding Dr. Brian S. Merritt who resigned last summer to accept a position as Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer at the NC Community College System Office in Raleigh.

Martin Community College (MCC) Board of Trustees has selected Dr. Tabitha Miller as the next college president.

The Board also received a brief update on the system’s efforts to bolster support for the funding model overhaul — including news that more than 157 business leaders and businesses have signed on to support Propel NC. Hannah’s full article is on

We’ll be taking next week off of Awake58 for EdNC’s spring break. I’ll see you out on the road,


EdNC reads

North Carolina community colleges focus on short-term, high-cost workforce programs

Nearly 5,000 students received a total of approximately $3 million in aid through the short-term workforce development grant program during the 2022-23 fiscal year, according to a legislative report approved by the State Board of Community Colleges March 15th.

Approximately 1,136 students have received $510,712.83 in aid during the 2023-24 fiscal year.

The General Assembly created the grant program in 2021 to promote student enrollment in high demand industries. Under the program, students pursuing short-term, noncredit state- and industry-recognized workforce credentials can receive up to $750. Federal financial aid is not available in these programs.

“The Short-Term Workforce Development Grant Program positively impacted community colleges in North Carolina,” the report says. “Students who might not otherwise have afforded educational and training programs were offered financial assistance for the first time. Beyond access, more students were given a valuable opportunity to gain new skills, improve their earning potential, and gain access to better career opportunities.”

Read more on the report, and funding to support the start-up and expansion of high-cost workforce programs, on our website.

Perspective | A better FAFSA for whom? Inequitable access for mixed-status families

Alice Dolbow serves as a senior advisor for LatinxEd. In her role with LatinxEd, she focuses on expanding postsecondary access. She recently wrote a perspective on the new FAFSA that encapsulates some of the primary challenges.

This year, we were even looking forward to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA); this year’s revamped form, known as the Better FAFSA, would streamline this historically complicated process.

However, my optimism waned on a chilly January morning when Eric and his parents arrived at North Carolina Central University to complete his FAFSA on our state’s annual FAFSA Day. Eric is a U.S. citizen who receives federal financial aid as a first-year college student. His parents both work and file taxes with their Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN). This should be straightforward.

After successfully completing Eric’s portion of the form, we immediately encountered a roadblock on his parents’ section due to a technical issue that affects parents without Social Security numbers (SSNs). With my colleague translating, I told Eric’s family this frustrating news.

“You didn’t do anything wrong, but until this glitch is fixed, he can’t submit his FAFSA.”

At that point, Federal Student Aid had not provided any estimates for when the issue would be resolved. This was the fourth family I helped that day, and not one was able to submit their FAFSA.

You will find the remainder of Alice’s piece on our website. All of our FAFSA coverage can also be found at

Around NC

2024 election | The race for Superintendent of Public Instruction will be closely watched in the months ahead. Last week, Mebane published a recap of the first public polling available for the race between Republican Michele Morrow and Democrat Mo Green.

Haywood Community College gets $5 million in federal funding | A package of appropriations bills signed by President Joe Biden over the weekend includes $19 million earmarked for Western North Carolina. The biggest piece, totaling $5 million, is heading to Haywood Community College. The funds will go toward renovating and upgrading the workforce and industry center located in the Regional High Tech Center in Waynesville.

AI in learning | AI is a topic of conversation at many convenings these days – including at the recent gathering of presidents and superintendents in Greensboro. Several education leaders referenced conversations on their campuses around AI in the classroom. My colleague Chantal has an article out now about AI being used to support students with learning differences. It is worth a read.

myFutureNC on GoldenLEAF’s Critical Conversations | myFutureNC’s Cecilia Holden joined GoldenLEAF president and CEO Scott Hamilton on the latest edition of his “Critical Conversations.” Here is an excerpt: “myFutureNC has several best practices they are focused on to help build the goal. For example, the adult learner population is one of the focuses. The John M. Belk Endowment, the N.C. State Belk Center, and the Community College System are laser focused on those that stopped their education and getting them back in to complete what they started. The UNC System has Project Kitty Hawk. Project Kitty Hawk is a business model focused service that UNC System universities can partner with to get a range of services to develop online programs and to attract, support and retain adult learners. The North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities have several initiatives across its institutions focused on adult learners.”

White House National Cyber Director to visit Fayetteville Tech | On Wednesday, March 20, the White House National Cyber Director Harry Coker Jr. will join leaders at Fayetteville Technical Community College, according to a media advisory from the college. From the advisory: “Today, there are hundreds of thousands of open cybersecurity jobs across the nation, 18,000 of which are in North Carolina alone. Director Coker is visiting FTCC to encourage veterans, military-connected spouses and students who don’t necessarily have a four-year college degree to pursue good-paying jobs in cybersecurity.”

Additional FAFSA days | Cape Fear Community College (CFCC) will host a series of FAFSA nights to assist current and prospective students in completing the FAFSA form. These sessions be held from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m. in CFCC’s Union Station in room 212 (502 N. Front Street) on the following dates:

  • Wednesday, March 27
  • Wednesday, April 17
  • Wednesday, May 22

Dr. Tabitha Miller named president at Martin Community College | Martin Community College turned to one of their own to serve as next president of the college. Dr. Tabitha Miller has served as vice president and chief academic officer for the college since 2019. According to the college’s press release: “Dr. Miller served on the MCC President’s Executive Cabinet and has made significant contributions to the college’s growth, success, and commitment to serve students. Her exceptional leadership and knowledge were instrumental in MCC being named the #1 community college in North Carolina for College Transfer Success with a 95.7% success rate on the 2023 Performance Measures for Student Success Report.”

Dr. James “J.W.” Kelley named president at McDowell Tech | McDowell Tech ended their presidential search with the selection of Dr. James “J.W.” Kelley. Kelley currently serves as the associate vice president of student success at the system office. The college highlighted some of Kelley’s thoughts on their website: “The role of the McDowell Tech in providing affordable and cost-effective opportunities in higher education has never been greater,” he said. “I look forward to collaborating with our public and private school partners to identify and address areas where we can more efficiently meet the academic and vocational needs of our students and promote their success.”

Other higher education reads

Storm clouds gather over Pell Grant funding outlook

POLITICO takes a look at funding shortfalls around Pell grants:

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated that the Pell program is facing a $35 billion to $95 billion ten-year shortfall and that reserves in the program “will be exhausted by 2026 or sooner.”

— Both Democratic and Republican aides tell Morning Education that they’re worried about a dwindling surplus in the program and expect they’ll have to act as soon as this coming fiscal year to avoid a shortfall in the coming year. One challenge for appropriators is finding money in the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill that is already constrained by the 2023 debt ceiling deal caps.

— Flashback: The last time the Pell Grant program faced a significant shortfall, lawmakers took a hatchet to federal student aid programs — nixing year-round Pell Grants, ending subsidized loans for graduate students, and ending a path to Pell funding for students without a high school diploma. Some of those benefits were restored in subsequent years though some cuts — including subsidies for graduate students — were made permanent.

Politico has additional context in their weekly education newsletter.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.