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College in the time of coronavirus

I’ve written and rewritten this opening paragraph many times. It’s hard to know what to say when everything feels as if it is changing rapidly even as I draft this edition of Awake58. And I know I don’t have to tell you all about change as many of you are scrambling to bring course offerings online, reassure worried students, consider your immediate infrastructure needs, and take care of your own family and friends.

Change, at the best of times, can bring anxiety. Sweeping change that takes sports off of our television, closes many of our restaurants and coffee shops, and even limits our ability to attend live faith services is even more of a challenge.

My charge to myself in recent days is to remember that the arc of human history shows our ability to take on dark days and emerge on the other side more resilient, adaptable, and united. It feels overwhelming in the moment — and it will for some time — but I believe in us. Innovation, courage, kindness abound. We’ve seen it in the stories of the physicians working impossibly long hours. We’ve heard it as regular Italians take to their balconies to sing together, as Spaniards take to their balconies to applaud healthcare workers, as Americans provide free food to others even as their restaurants close.

Our charge, together, is to continue to do the necessary work to take care of one another, to educate our students, and to remember our future remains brighter than any dystopian present.

We will report on coronavirus, but we also will continue our ongoing coverage of our community colleges including stories of your leaders and your best practices.

I hope you will stay in touch with us during this time, and I hope you know we are always here to listen.

As colleges shift learning online, we are here to explore the big structural questions this entire experience will raise. And we want to hear your answers…

What are your hopes and ambitions for this moment in time? What makes you hopeful?

What keeps you up at night with regards to your students and community?

How prepared do you feel for online learning? What makes you optimistic? What makes you nervous?

Are you concerned about online access in your community? What solutions do you know of to help? Do you have an idea for how to connect your community?

How do we best provide Career and Technical Education to students during COVID-19? And what, if anything, could be done to provide these courses virtually in the future?

Reply directly to this email with your thoughts. Let’s keep this conversation going. I hope you will stay with us during this time, and I hope you know we are always here to listen.

Stay tuned for our coverage of the resources we expect to see emerge to support you and your colleagues. And please know we stand with you.

#loveNC now more than ever,


Director of Growth,

Update on extended learning, closures, delays

The need for social distancing to limit the spread of this coronavirus led all North Carolina K-12 public schools to close for at least two weeks. Meanwhile, all UNC System schools will offer “alternative course delivery” indefinitely starting March 23.

We are tracking all community college shifts as well. Many, but not all, are extending their spring break and bringing courses online. 

Over the weekend I spoke with Janet Spriggs, president of Forsyth Tech, who told me the fundamental challenge for providing educational opportunities during COVID-19 is equity: “This is an interesting time for sure … unprecedented and ever-evolving.  We are diligently working to develop plans to protect students, staff, and faculty while not derailing our students’ forward momentum and success. When Duke goes online, their students most likely have access to computers and internet access — that is not the case for many of our students, particularly low-income and underrepresented populations.”

Janet tweeted out this piece from CC Daily on the equity gap. I’d encourage you to give it a read. The author puts it plainly: “Most community colleges do not have dormitories and meal plans. Our students are older. They work while going to school, and are often raising families of their own. They commute. They also struggle to make ends meet.”

When I caught up with John Gossett, president of McDowell Tech, he raised the challenge of many in his community lacking access to internet as well: “Our largest hurdle with offering online course sections is connectivity in McDowell County. Estimates range as high as half the county does not have reliable internet access. This is a rural problem, and until we see internet connectivity as vital as electricity to our economy, it will further divide our state.”

One possible solution for some regions of our state is coming from the private sector, as Spectrum is now offering free internet for a period of time, as well as opening hotspots to the public. For more details, click here.

All of this raises the question: What solutions might arise? We want to know what you are seeing on the ground to address these challenges, so please let us know. We also want your big ideas for transforming this reality in the future.

Ideas from other places along the educational continuum

My colleague Mary Willson shares the story of Guilford County Schools collaborating across sectors to develop a plan for COVID-19 beginning in late February. As Mary reports, “Wanda Legrand, chief student services officer at Guilford County Schools, started coordinating ‘all the departments that could possibly be needed’ to create a comprehensive coronavirus preparedness plan, including: chief of schools, chief of staff, maintenance and transportation departments, communications, academic services, and health services.”

Their advice includes activating resources from local experts, amplifying accurate scientific information to the public, leaning on your relationships with local health experts, and developing a communications plan. The school system anticipates disruptions in learning, but it is seeking to minimize them while focusing on safety. For more on the plan, click here.

We also encourage you to check out this video from Mariah Morris, the 2019 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year, who convened K-12 educators online from across the state to consider how to make learning come alive for students now. 

We’ve been told to be on the lookout for resources on e-learning for community colleges. We’ll update you as soon as we learn more.

President Patricia Skinner says goodbye to Gaston College

Patricia Skinner, the president of Gaston College, recently retired after more than 25 years on the job. sat down with her to talk about what she’s learned in her time working at the college and in the community college system. 

I found Skinner’s answer to what keeps her up at night to be a must read during this moment: 

“Well I think the way things have changed — worrying about safety I think is an issue for all of us. There are things you have control over and things you don’t. We’ve put in a lot of measures. We have full-time campus police here. We have put in cameras. We have a messaging system. So that’s one thing: Are we doing enough to help make sure we’re as safe as we can be on all of our campuses?

“And funding has always been a challenge. We’ve reallocated resources since day one. You’re never going to get enough state money to do what you wanted to do. So every time a position has opened up, you look at: Do we need that? Do we need something else? Or do we have to not hire anybody because we don’t have the funds right now?”

Throughout the piece, she lays out the challenges and opportunities for decision making for presidents. I would encourage you to spend time with it.

North Carolina saw a surge in apprenticeships this year. Here’s why.

The number of registered apprentices in North Carolina has more than doubled over the past four years, according to the latest numbers from ApprenticeshipNC. As of January 1, there are more than 11,000 registered apprentices this school year, up from 7,679 last school year and 5,434 in the 2016-17 school year.

My colleagues Molly Osborne and Taylor Shain attended the ApprenticeshipNC Conference to learn more about the underlying factors in that dramatic increase. Check out their piece — including the video!

The article closes on an optimistic note from Walter Siegenthaler: “It’s great to have manufacturers, but I think there is so much potential in other fields like in health care. There is a lot more to be done, and I think that we are on the right track.”

Around NC

MerleFest 2020 was canceled because of COVID-19. A private donor has stepped up to provide a donation match to cover the costs already incurred, dollar for dollar, up to $150,000. For more details, click here.

The State Board of Community Colleges will meet by telephone on March 19. We’ll be phoning in to cover the meeting. For details, click here.

IYCMI, our piece on the Rowan Education Collaborative shows what it looks like when leaders from K-12, the local community college, and four-year universities come together more frequently to address local needs. Rowan County, and the surrounding areas, had the largest one-day layoff in the history of our state in 2003. The work of the collaborative, in many ways, is designed to build a more resilient economy. Given the uncertainties facing our economy right now, it is worth monitoring their lessons.

James Hogan, VP of Advancement for Mitchell Community College, penned a piece on his personal blog this weekend I wanted to share.  As Hogan writes so movingly, “We’ve told our kids about the Coronavirus, about why they won’t have school for the next two weeks. We’ve said these things calmly, matter-of-factly, even as we admit to them that nothing like this has ever happened in either of our lives. We don’t know all the answers. We try to keep calm.

“Because, my friends, this is what’s required of us right now. Our world is asking us to care for one another, to be gentle, to be helpful, to share an abundant compassion. This call has been issued many times before — in ages of war, of terror and economic devastation. It’s time for us to rise, once more, to answer.”

Press release: Community colleges extend Spring Break, cancel classes and move to online instruction  in response to COVID-19

RALEIGH, N.C. – Community colleges across North Carolina have extended Spring Break, canceled classes and begun to transition their instruction to an online format.

On Monday, NC Community College System President Peter Hans recommended that all colleges pause face-to-face instruction through the end of the month, consistent with Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Order on March 14 that closed the public schools for students in North Carolina.
The System Office has also suggested that colleges shift to online delivery in serving high school students in the Career and College Promise program. Nearly 60,000 high school students in the state take community college courses through the dual enrollment program.

Hans also recommended that colleges wind down any remaining workforce classes that require face-to-face instruction. College leaders are considering extending the spring term into summer, so that students can complete any labs and workforce training courses that require in-person attendance.

“Our priority is protecting the health of our students, faculty and staff,” Hans said. “We believe we can also help our students accomplish their educational goals through online instruction. Our colleges are resilient and accustomed to pivoting to meet emergent needs in their communities; this is no different.”

Community colleges are prepared for the challenge, Hans added. Nearly one-third of North Carolina’s community college instruction is delivered online.

Hans encouraged colleges to make contingency plans to continue online instruction for at least eight weeks. He meets by teleconference daily with college presidents and formed a COVID-19 Response Advisory Committee of six presidents who represent their respective regions.

The NC Community College System Office staff has also been in contact with counterparts at the Department of Public Instruction and the University of North Carolina regarding a coordinated response to the needs of the state’s dually enrolled students.

Later this week, the State Board of Community Colleges is expected to consider changes to administrative flexibility, such as allowing students to extend tuition payments to future course enrollments.

In an email to the college presidents Tuesday, Hans stressed that the situation is fluid and more changes may be necessary.

“We need to make sure that we have a unified System approach to this pandemic that respects the local nature of the colleges,” Hans wrote. “Together with my colleagues on the President’s COVID-19 Response Committee, we hope to have additional guidance for you soon, and recommendations for contingency plans for the future. We need to prepare for this to be the case for the rest of the semester, as this is increasingly likely to be a prolonged situation.”

North Carolina’s 58 community colleges serve about 700,000 students a year in college-transfer programs, short-term workforce training, high school dual enrollment, career and technical education and adult basic education.

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Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.