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We made it to all 100 counties again!

A note from us

Hi, Nation here with this week’s edition of Awake58. If you missed our last newsletter with a spotlight on community college transfers, you can find it on our website.

The Belk Center’s Audrey Jaeger makes the case for possible shifts to college transfer… EdNC’s team finished our 100 County Tour alongside Blue Cross NC’s Extra Miles Tour… Davidson-Davie Community College announced the finalists for their next president… The system office launched a new website… Many N.C. community colleges are eligible for the Aspen prize… Fayetteville Tech President Mark Sorrells was named Tech Difference Maker of the Year by the N.C. Tech Association…

Last week, Alli and I spent an afternoon at Wake Technical Community College with Wake Tech President Dr. Scott Ralls and other campus leaders. President Ralls introduced us to the work they are doing to build a “one college” approach, with a focus on organizing the college’s work around what they are calling “ladder economics.” Their emphasis on building out programmatic pathways better designed to accelerate social mobility for all of their students is innovative — and we’ll have more to share about this work later.

It was also a big afternoon for EdNC’s Extra Miles team because our visit to Wake Tech marked the end of a two-year journey to travel to all 100 counties in an effort to listen, learn, and connect. We traveled alongside Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina as part of their Extra Miles Tour.

I learned many lessons about North Carolina over the course of 10,000-plus miles driven, 200+ listening sessions, and meeting hundreds of community members.

Here are a few of my takeaways:

Our community colleges are a vital asset. We spent time on the campuses of dozens of our 58 community colleges and engaged almost the entire 58 in community conversations. We were able to see bright spots such as Davidson-Davie Community College’s work with Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist to create the first registered nurse apprenticeship program. Their “learn and earn” approach to bolstering their local health care workforce has now spread across other health care disciplines. We could fill a book with our lessons learned at our community colleges. The largest takeaways are that community colleges truly are their community’s college — and in this role community colleges serve as a catalyst for economic and workforce development, educational attainment, and more.

Solutions to our most pressing problems can be found everywhere. We heard a lot of discussion of the challenges facing our communities. Some of these challenges were exacerbated by COVID-19 — but local groups are addressing the challenges of opioid addiction, a rising suicide rate, and disconnected youth. We met the folks at Wilkes Recovery Revolution, who built a peer-based recovery model in a county that lacked such support previously. And just last week we met with leaders in Orange County who are building out community-wide strategies to address a rising rate of suicide and suicidal ideation. Our communities remain hopeful even in the face of persistent challenges.

Collaboration is critical. We met action-oriented public servants in every community across the state, but communities that are moving the needle on major issues tend to feature collaborative approaches that bring together businesses, educational entities, government, and philanthropy to address challenges. In Yadkin County, we saw the Shallow Ford Foundation’s FlexPlex approach to child care that will create a shared space for six new child care businesses to operate. In Hoke County, the State Employee Credit Union Foundation and Hoke County Schools are working together to provide affordable housing for educators.

We’ll share more lessons from the road in the months ahead. Please know how grateful I am for the many individuals who so generously opened up doors in their communities for us.

I’ll see you out on the road,

Nation Hahn

Chief of Growth,

EdNC reads

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FAFSA delayed for 2024-2025 school year. Here’s what to expect

A new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is coming. The new form promises to be more streamlined and simplified when it arrives — but the new form’s arrival will shorten the application period for this year. Laura Browne reports:

The FAFSA delay will require students and families to change behavior slightly, McDonald said. For students who have never completed the FAFSA form before, this will be the only form they know, she said, but the new form could cause an adjustment period for returning students and college financial aid departments.

“I think one of the challenges is a lot of students apply to college in the fall. And so it’s great to kind of have the FAFSA open up at the same time, because then students are kind of taking care of all the steps at the same time,” McDonald said.

The delay gives students and families less time to complete the FAFSA form, which could impact how many complete the form and actually enroll in postsecondary education.

In 2022, 48% of North Carolina high school graduates did not complete the FAFSA, or a total of 51,634 students. Of these students, 24,317 of them were eligible for the Pell Grant, which provides need-based aid to low-income students. In total, North Carolina students left $113,094,383 in Pell Grants unused in 2022.

McDonald said the delay could cause financial aid offices to scramble as well.

Laura’s article goes on to explore some of the expected changes and provides links to a variety of resources.

We also published a perspective last week from the Land of Sky P20 Council that showcased a creative approach to boosting FAFSA completion rates at some area schools:

With all these factors in mind, a FAFSA sweepstakes was initiated with four high schools. If a student, family members, or caregivers were on the fence about completing the form, perhaps the promise of immediate financial reward, in combination with the potential for future college funding, would help them to move forward.

By submitting a 2023-24 FAFSA and sharing their results with AB Tech, students were automatically entered to win $100 in Visa gift cards for themselves and a parent or guardian who aided them in completing it. The gift cards were funded through the P20 Council, supported by the John M. Belk Endowment.

Perspective | Strengthening transfer together: Who do we need at the table?

Audrey Jaeger, the executive director of the Belk Center, has written a series of perspectives in recent weeks exploring issues around college transfers. In her final perspective for this series, she makes the case for some new approaches that could strengthen the transfer pipeline.

For this transfer ecosystem to work, we need to expand support for collaborative entities like the Transfer Advisory Committee (TAC). This joint North Carolina Community College System and UNC System group, representing key public postsecondary stakeholders, can promote more intentional collaboration — especially through more seamless data sharing.

What if we had a better handle on the students not transferring — and when they began to struggle? What if 4-year institutions had easy access to students’ transcripts and could provide more real-time advising to ensure they select the right courses? Imagine if students could go on a website and identify the courses at their community college that are eligible for credit at any 4-year institution in the state.

The TAC can help make a statewide, tech-focused transfer platform a reality. They can draw on the expertise of external partners like myFutureNC, North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, and others to strengthen advisor professional development and identify fields ripe for transfer pathways that lead to high-demand careers.

These are attainable solutions. And they can open the doors to 4-year campuses for transfer students across the state.

By accelerating our commitment to transfer, we can strengthen North Carolina’s families, businesses, and communities. But we can only do this work together.

Jaeger’s perspective also highlights several examples of successful collaborations.

Around NC

The N.C. Community College System (NCCCS) Office launched a new website on Friday. We’ve built several websites over the years at EdNC — and I know this was a huge lift for their team. Check out the site when you have a moment. The system office announced the website on Friday:

For the first time, the website will allow North Carolinians an opportunity to see college programs at community colleges across the state as well as better navigation to understand the process for selecting and pursuing college education and training… In July, the System contracted with Honestly, a marketing firm based in Greensboro, to lead the website redesign, with an ambitious goal of completing the site in just four months…

Workforce development is a major tenet of the new site with the integration of several System brands, such as ApprenticeshipNC, NCEdge Customized Training, NC Small Business Center Network, and NC BioNetwork. By revamping these business-focused webpages, the site creates simple and efficient ways to connect with community colleges for business support and vital talent.

The 2023 Dallas Herring Lecture takes place next week — and you can still register to attend virtually on the DHL website. Dr. Falecia D. Williams, president of Prince George’s Community College, will deliver the lecture.

The North Carolina Rural Center is still accepting submissions for breakout sessions for their 2024 summit. The summit could offer you a chance to showcase your work. The deadline is Friday.

The Aspen Institute recently announced the 150 colleges who will compete for the Aspen Prize — and several of our community colleges made the list. As a reminder on the details of the prize:

The $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, awarded every two years, is the nation’s signature recognition for America’s community colleges—as President Obama called it, “basically the Oscars for great community colleges.” The Aspen Prize honors colleges with outstanding achievement in six critical areas: teaching and learning, certificate and degree completion, transfer and bachelor’s attainment, workforce success, access, and equity for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.

Congratulations to the N.C. community colleges that are eligible this year: Catawba Valley Community College, Edgecombe Community College, Montgomery Community College, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, Sampson Community College, Sandhills Community College, Southeastern Community College, Southwestern Community College, Wayne Community College, and Wilkes Community College.

Cape Fear Community College’s Women’s Soccer team is heading to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) DII Women’s Soccer Championship. The Sea Devils finished their season with an undefeated 11-0-1 record, according to a release from the college.

Davidson-Davie Community College announced the finalists for their next president. The finalists are Dr. Chad Breeden, Dr. Travis Reeves, and Jenny Varner.

Fayetteville Technical Community College President Dr. Mark Sorrells was honored by the NC TECH Association Wednesday night as its Tech Difference Maker of the Year. According to a release from the college:

At NC TECH’s annual awards gala in Raleigh, Sorrells was recognized for his work as FTCC President, which includes his role in helping to found and launch the Carolina Cyber Network. CCN is a collaborative workforce development initiative through which select cybersecurity educational institutions in North Carolina are working together to meet the growing talent needs of the state’s public agencies and private businesses.

“Our job is to put a talent development pipeline out there to help secure the interests of our public and private companies across the state,” Sorrells said in accepting the award.

The NCCCS won first place in the Government Projects category at the NC TECH Awards Gala last week. The System was recognized for its Rural College Broadband Project, which bolstered broadband access on 45 rural college campuses throughout the state over the last two years.

Robeson Community College recently hosted its third annual Native American celebration day. According to a release from the college, the event drew hundreds to the full day of events — including a special Pow Wow.

Other higher education reads

PROOF POINTS: Schools’ mission shifted during the pandemic with healthcare, shelter and adult ed

The Hechinger Report takes a look at the increase in schools partnering with community groups to deliver services during the pandemic.

In a Department of Education survey released in October 2023 of more than 1,300 public schools, 60 percent said they were partnering with community organizations to provide non-educational services. That’s up from 45 percent a year earlier in 2022, the first time the department surveyed schools about their involvement in these services. They include access to medical, dental, and mental health providers as well as social workers. Adult education is also often part of the package; the extras are not just for kids.

“It is a shift,” said Marguerite Roza, director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University, where she tracks school spending. “We’ve seen partnering with the YMCA and with health groups for medical services and psychological evaluations.”

Deeper involvement in the community started as an emergency response to the coronavirus pandemic. As schools shuttered their classrooms, many became hubs where families obtained food or internet access. Months later, many schools opened their doors to become vaccine centers.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.