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How one early college builds family

Welcome to another week of Awake58! If you were forwarded this email, be sure to subscribe by clicking here.

We spotlight the early college programs at Isothermal Community College in a piece out today … MC Belk Pilon, Dennis King, and others are honored by the state board … Breeden Blackwell, from the state board, writes a piece making the case for connecting community colleges to college affordability …

During the legislative session last summer, our reporting team diligently reported on the budget process and the potential impacts to early colleges across the state. This fall, our team visited numerous early colleges from the mountains to the coast.

My colleague Rupen Fofaria went to REaCH Early College at Isothermal Community College. During his visit Rupen found a school and a student body that preach an attitude of accepting differences while focusing on building a family-like feel with strategies that include pairing upperclassmen with incoming freshman and home visits from the teaching and administrative staff.

And it seems to be working. REaCH boasts a 100% graduation rate. Check out Rupen’s story for more on their overall strategic approach.

Click here for the story

On a personal note, I had the privilege of being featured in a piece from Fortune Magazine on my grief journey since I lost my wife in 2013, including finding purpose in my work with The piece is here if you want to give it a read. 

Thank you for reading Awake58 again this week.

See you on the road,


Director of Growth,

Your voice is needed on educational data

How do you use and access education data? What privacy concerns do you have, if any?  The Hunt Institute, in partnership with, invites community college faculty and staff, four-year institution faculty and staff, teachers, school counselors, principals, superintendents, parents, and students to participate in this short survey about education data in North Carolina. 

The information captured through this survey will be used to inform improvements to our state’s education longitudinal data system, connecting data from early childhood, K-12, postsecondary, and the workforce.

Perspective: College affordability is right in your backyard

“Giving people hope is critical at a time when higher education can seem out of reach for too many,” Breeden Blackwell, chair of the state board of community colleges, declares in a new op-ed. 

Blackwell makes the case for why community colleges offer a solution to many students who are seeking affordability:

“Tuition is just $76 per credit hour at North Carolina’s community colleges, or about $2,400 a year for full-time students. Many of our students attend classes part-time while working, making the cost more manageable … Students aiming to earn a four-year degree can slash their total college bill by attending a community college for the first two years. At the same time, they can benefit from the small classes and personal attention of our faculty while acclimating to college work.”

For the full piece, click here. We are finalizing a series on transfers debuting in February that will look at the transfer journey for students. Stay tuned!

Award winners include MC Belk Pilon, Dennis King

The State Board of Community Colleges announced its 2020 award winners at its latest meeting. From the release: “MC Belk Pilon of Charlotte, president and board chair of the John M. Belk Endowment, is the winner of the 2020 I.E. Ready Award, the highest honor bestowed by the State Board of Community Colleges … Through her work at the John M. Belk Endowment, Pilon has supported NC State University’s Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research and EducationNC, a nonpartisan media organization focused on education coverage. The endowment also provided funding for the system’s first statewide marketing campaign, aimed at showcasing the value of community colleges to students and families in North Carolina.”

It has been my great honor to get to know MC, and her team at the John M Belk Endowment, over the past two years. Within a few weeks of meeting MC, she asked if we could hit the road to see as many colleges as possible each month — and she has diligently stuck with it, no matter how busy she and her team are. The moment I texted her about the award she responded: “We have so much work left to do!”
Other award winners included Dennis King of A-B Tech Community College, who was named President of the Year, and Hardin Kennedy of Wilkes Community College for Excellence in Teaching.

For the full media release, click here.

79 candidates apply for the Western Piedmont Community College job

Michael Helmick is set to retire as president of Western Piedmont Community College in mid-2020, and WPCC has a pool of 79 candidates to replace him, the Morganton News Herald reports. This week the college’s trustees will select a pool of four semifinalists. From there, the process will continue in private until the finalists are identified. The finalists will then be invited to campus to meet with staff and participate in public forums. For more on the search process, check out WPCC’s site.

Virtual Town Hall invitation for students

Have you heard about EdNC’s Virtual Town Hall? It’s the next step in our Student Town Hall series, which launched last fall to engage community college students in a conversation about their hopes and dreams, the practical realities they live in each day, and the barriers they face to attainment. Our hope is that their voices will be better reflected in our work.

Students in the Virtual Town Hall should expect the process to take no more than five minutes — and at the end, they will have the option to enter for a chance to receive a $50 Amazon gift card. We will be sharing their thoughts with policy makers and policy shapers through our content as well.

Please distribute this link to your students — and let us know how we can help!

Around NC

The Washington Daily News editorial board writes that Beaufort Community College is “a treasure, right here at home.”

Rockingham County is looking to “rise again,” and Rockingham Community College will play a critical role.

Wilson Community College’s Advanced Manufacturing Institute can prepare you for a job in advanced manufacturing in seven weeks, The Wilson Times reports.

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Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.