Skip to content

EdNC. Essential education news. Important stories. Your voice.

What could free community college mean for North Carolina?

A note from us

Welcome to the latest edition of Awake58! If you received this email without a subscription, please click here to subscribe to this newsletter.

President Biden called for free community college last week, and we caught up with experts to understand what it could mean for North Carolina… Gov. Cooper discussed college affordability during the State of the State… Apprenticeships declined nationally during COVID-19… We spotlighted the animal rescue and veterinary tech program at Central Carolina…

President Joe Biden called for free community college nationally during his address to Congress last week as part of the American Families Plan. The bill must first pass a narrowly divided Congress, but I published a piece last week addressing what it might mean for North Carolina.

As of November 2020, 19 of North Carolina’s 58 community colleges had some variation of a “free college” program, each with its own requirements. Some have minimum GPA requirements, others require students to have participated in the Career and College Promise Program, and some also require students to live within the service area of the college.

According to reporting from The New York Times, “The Biden administration is expected to endorse a different bill that was introduced Monday by the Democratic chairs of the Senate and House education committees. It would give states 75 percent of the average community college tuition nationwide, in exchange for a match equal to 25 percent of the same. High-tuition and low-tuition states would be treated equally.”

Every state has different tuition rates, so as the Times reports, it is likely the plan will require states to effectively waive tuition. North Carolina is in a unique position because our tuition is already lower than many — and this could give us a leg up in avoiding the need for additional state dollars to trigger the federal investment.

To read the piece — including initial reactions from several college leaders — click here. We would love to hear your take on free college. What do you think it would mean for your college? Would it help colleges reach students they have had a hard time reaching to date? Let me know your thoughts by replying directly to this email or text COLLEGE to 73224 to share your perspective.

On a lighter note, we celebrated National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day on Friday with an article looking at Central Carolina Community College’s pet rescue and Veterinary Medical Technology program. Click over to to see the cute animals and learn how CCCC uses them to train students to serve their community as veterinarian technicians in the future.

I hope that your week is off to a great start! This week I am traveling to Winston-Salem State University on Thursday as we continue to research and report on our state’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Follow along on Twitter for more.

See you out on the road,

Nation Hahn

Head of Growth —

EdNC reads

President Biden proposes free community college. What could it mean for North Carolina?

Free college programs — often referred to as promise programs — have spread nationally in recent years. These programs can take many forms, but the core premise is to make tuition free — or close to free — for students.

The most high profile example of a statewide program might well be Tennessee Promise.

In 2014, Tennessee Promise launched as a key strategy for a statewide effort to bolster attainment through the “Drive to 55” campaign. Tennessee Promise is a last-dollar program designed to eliminate tuition and fees for students after FAFSA dollars are applied.

What made Tennessee Promise unique at the time was that it was not tied to GPA — or even income level — but rather to high school graduation.

Mike Krause, former head of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, said the initial instinct was to reshape the way people thought about college itself.

Krause told us last week, “For years, our message to students, especially those from low-income backgrounds, has been very unclear. We have asked them to negotiate incredible barriers like the FAFSA and hoped they would intuitively know that the Pell Grant would pay for their costs.”

I asked Krause what community colleges could expect if free community college becomes the law of the land.

“Given our experience in Tennessee, I strongly believe this [proposal] would bring students to the higher education table that may have previously counted themselves out,” Krause said. “As a result, community colleges should definitely be prepared for an influx of students [if the plan is passed].”

For our full piece on free college — including the thoughts of several college presidents from across the state — click below.

Click here for the full story

Here’s how one community college is rescuing animals and equipping students at the same time

Central Carolina Community College’s Veterinary Medical Technology (VMT) program is the first of its kind in North Carolina — and Alli and Emily on our team decided National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day was as good a reason as any to feature the program.

The VMT program draws students from across the state. When we visited CCCC in February, I met a student who drove from the Outer Banks to Sanford weekly to participate.

During the two-year program, students will work with a variety of animals, including rodents, rabbits, dogs, cats, cattle, and horses.

CCCC also has an animal rescue program the college has dubbed Cougar Pets that allows the college to have dozens of animals on campus for the students to utilize for their education. The pets are rescued from high-kill environments, socialized, receive medical care, and then ultimately are available for adoption.

While there, they met with Dr. Jessica Holt who pivoted her career from veterinary direct practice to teach in this unique community college program. Listen to this Awake58 episode wherever you get your podcasts, and click below to meet the students, faculty, and pets who make up the program. I am particularly fond of Jude Paw.

Click here for the story

Around NC

Gov. Roy Cooper delivered his State of the State address last week. College affordability was one topic he addressed. My colleague Alex Granados reports:

He talked about the need to make higher education affordable through the story of Lexine Merrill who, in her third semester of nursing at Central Piedmont Community College, struggled because of unanticipated medical bills and car repair needs.

“She thought she would have to drop out, but a Finish Line Grant helped her afford to stay in school,” he said. “She graduated in December and is working as a critical care nurse in Monroe right when we need her most. Her story is a testament that even a small amount of financial help can turn students into skilled workers to fill these high-demand jobs.”

For the full piece, click here.

ApprenticeshipNC held their virtual conference last week. Emily shares many takeaways in her article — including the explosive growth of apprenticeships in our state, as well as the impacts of the pandemic:

Nationally, apprenticeship starts were down in 2020 about 20 to 25% from their historic high, Ladd said.

“But,” he continued, “we still saw over 220,000 people start an apprenticeship program last year, which is still significantly above the 10-year average over the past decade.”

This trend holds true for North Carolina. In 2015, the state had roughly 3,800 apprentices and approximately 500 programs.

“Today, North Carolina has over 12,000 apprentices in over 700 programs – that’s over 200% growth in five years,” Ladd said.

We continue to track legislation as it is filed – including this bill entitled An Act To Authorize Community Colleges To Determine Eligibility For In-State Tuition For Recent High School Graduates Meeting Certain Criteria.

Wake Tech recently approved their new strategic plan. You may click here to see the plan. The college states, “It began with a SPARK! – to develop and implement a strategic plan focused on helping students complete credentials, transfer, and move on to jobs with labor market value in a timely manner. ”

Other higher education reads

Lawmakers asked to consider funding for apprenticeships at community colleges

As we mentioned last week, Wake Tech president Scott Ralls testified at a Senate hearing. Inside Higher Ed has a write-up on the hearing:

In some states, apprenticeship programs are growing rapidly. Senator Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, said he was particularly proud of the work his home state’s community colleges have done so far with respect to apprenticeship programs. Once the North Carolina Legislature transferred the state’s apprenticeship program to the community college system in 2017, both the number of students and types of industries offering apprenticeships — which have traditionally been primarily in the construction and manufacturing sectors — have increased significantly, said Scott Ralls, president of Wake Technical Community College, at the Senate hearing. “What’s so important about it is the opportunities it provides for students who may not have those opportunities otherwise to get experience and to get into a hiring scenario they would not be in,” Ralls added.

For the full article, click here.

Biden directs education funding to community colleges, a key lifeline

National outlets covered the president’s speech extensively. The New York Times piece examines several elements of the proposal — and includes a photo from Forsyth Tech highlighting a student participating in Forsyth’s welding program. The74 also has a piece out discussing the free community college proposal within the broader framework of what they dub an “ambitious birth-to-college education plan.”

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.