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In a fall semester shaped by COVID-19, “We’ve got to try new things.”

Welcome to Awake58!  If you missed the previous newsletter looking at various colleges’ decision making this fall, click here. If you were forwarded this newsletter, please click here to subscribe.

College of the Albemarle’s Jack Bagwell shares what it is like to lead an institution through a pandemic as a new president… Gaston College shares their fall plans — including an emphasis on safety and communication… We still want your feedback on our fall semester database… The State Board of Community Colleges meets this week… 

Last week, we published a deep dive examining colleges’ plans for the fall semester. One underlying narrative around the fall, and the pandemic, includes the reality that many of our colleges are being led by new presidents. In some cases, the new presidents are new to the role completely. In others, they are simply new to the particular college. Leadership transitions are complex at the best of times, but an unprecedented public health crisis adds an additional layer for the leaders.

This week, we took a look at two rural institutions that are being guided by new presidents.

My colleagues Molly Osborne and Alli Lindenberg traveled to College of the Albemarle recently to report on the work of COA, their new president Jack Bagwell, and his broader team.

Jack Bagwell laid it out plainly to Alli and Molly, “There’s nobody you can ask because nobody’s been through it. So you can’t pick up the phone and call a seasoned president or a seasoned anything and say, ‘Hey, last pandemic, what did you guys do when you shut the country down?’ There is no framework.”

Bagwell mentioned a series of concerns, including potential enrollment challenges and the impact of Career and College Promise students.

Bagwell, however, struck an optimistic note as he closed: “I’m hopeful that we are going to learn as much as quickly as anyone and be able to leverage those new learned lessons to bring more learning to our region, more opportunities for learning to our region.”

Our second piece is featured below. I had the opportunity to virtually visit with John Hauser and his team a few weeks ago to find out how their fall is going to look, as well as what keeps them up at night during these challenging times.

What are your thoughts on college this fall? Let us know by texting COLLEGE to 73224, reply directly to this email, or tweet us @Awake58NC if you have other thoughts or ideas.



Director of Growth,

PS – My apologies for referring to Mitchell Community College president Tim Brewer as Tim Brewster in last week’s email. As many of you know, I am a big Tar Heel fan, and Tim Brewster was our former tight ends coach. Therefore, it was particularly ironic that noted Wolfpack fans Bill McBrayer and Dale McInnis were the two folks who called me about my error.

Under leadership of a new president, Gaston College prepares for a fall semester shaped by COVID-19

The last time I visited Gaston College, it was pre-COVID and during the final months of Pat Skinner’s tenure. My most recent visit unfolded from my living room via Zoom. 

I spoke with John Hauser, who assumed the presidency of Gaston College on June 1, along with Todd Baney, Vice President for Administrative Services, and Stephanie Michael-Pickett, the Director of Marketing.

Hauser and his leadership team have used August to build on the foundation of the prior professional development undertaken by staff over the previous decade. The professional development for faculty and staff this year has included a “how-to” in communications, diversity and equity training, and more. 

The Gaston College team seemed optimistic about the steps they have taken, but they are also deeply concerned about safety, enrollment trends, and future budgets. 

During our conversation, Hauser shared that he hoped the North Carolina General Assembly would consider a “hold harmless” provision for colleges because the pandemic will affect enrollment.

“Preparing our manufacturers to be able to continue forward within this economy requires us,” he said. “And if the legislature wants the economy to survive, they have to fund us at a higher level.”

One positive innovation from COVID-19 could come from a pilot around “short course” delivery this fall where the typical 16-week course could be broken down into a five-week sprint. Hauser went on to say, “And if we can prove this model out to be beneficial, we might have a cost-saving associated with that, and it might increase our completion rates.” 

Hauser ended our conversation by declaring, “We’ve got to… try new things. And I think that’s part of who we are.” For the full piece, click here.

The attainment conversation continues at the NC Chamber conference

At the NC Chamber Education and Workforce Conference, one of the key conversations focused on the statewide attainment goal established by the myFutureNC Commission.

Interim NC Community College System president Bill Carver kicked off the session. “It’s a call to action, if you will,” he said, “for our students that come and seek community college programs. Certainly the challenges of COVID are changing. We thrive on the … hands on — the skill classes. … But we certainly know the value of credentialing. … Community colleges stand ready to be part of this call to action.”

The conversation examined challenges including students who had stopped out due to COVID-19. Andrew Kelly from the UNC system addressed this challenge head-on. “And we know from research that students who stopped out in the middle of their college career are less likely to ever finish. And they’re less likely to come back and get that credential so they may be leaving with some debt and no college degree which we know is … not a recipe for economic success,” he said.

The fall remains an uncertain time for many families even as we approach school resuming and fall semesters beginning. J.B. Buxton, the president of Durham Tech, talked about how this is weighing on students and prospective students, noting the “level of uncertainty, a degree of difficulty, around the opportunity to enroll.”

Despite the challenges, the panelists spoke to various innovations that are underway, including the launch of 6-8 week “short courses” designed to meet the immediate needs of unemployed and underemployed individuals, the funding Governor Cooper just announced last week, and the new diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative launched by the NC Community College System.

Panelists offered ideas for the future as well. Buxton, for example, pointed to NC’s success around early colleges as an example of what innovation could look like in terms of creating pathways around credentials and degrees of value. He offered up the idea of “early college for all.”

RESOURCE | Tracking NC community college fall reopening plans

As we mentioned last week, many colleges are offering the majority of their classes online this fall. For those that require in-person instruction, colleges have set up health screening protocols and social distancing requirements for students and faculty. EdNC launched a database to track how all 58 community colleges are providing instruction on and off their campuses.

We appreciate everyone who reached out to us about the database, especially those with ideas on what we might add to our tracking list. We are already evaluating how best to track short-term workforce development enrollment numbers and trends, as well as how the work around Career and College Promise unfolds.

For the full database, click here. If we missed something, or if you have ideas for something we could track, please let us know by emailing us! For additional information on how we built the database, check out our article on the process by clicking here.

Around NC

The State Board of Community Colleges will meet this Thursday and Friday via Zoom. For more details on the meeting, including the agenda, click here.

The Hunt Institute is hosting a webinar today, August 18, at 2pm ET that you might be interested in attending. Guests will be discussing the challenges COVID-19 has presented in opening institutions of higher education, and what they are doing to support students during this difficult time. Here is the link to register.

The Watauga Democrat reports on CCC&TI’s fall plans. CCC&TI also graduated their most recent BLET class.

The Gaston Gazette spotlights the fall plans for both Gaston College and Cleveland Community College. WBTV takes a look at Central Piedmont students returning to campus.

The Carteret County News-Times highlights Carteret Community College’s reopening plan, as well as a “9% drop in curriculum student enrollment compared to fall 2019” as of last Thursday. The article highlights some of the factors Carteret CC believes hampered enrollment, including the availability of childcare. 

EdSurge argues it is time to digitally transform community colleges — and includes a spotlight on Wake Tech.

Other higher education reads

  1. Inside Higher Ed sounds the alarm 🚨: “Despite earlier predictions that this might be their year, many are expecting enrollment declines — some of them devastating. Impact is greatest on minority and low-income students.”
  2. Strada Education released their most recent survey results: “38% of American workers who lost a job or income during the pandemic say they are more likely to enroll because of COVID-19.”
  3. The Education Design Lab announces BRIDGES initiative to support rural community colleges.
  4. The Education Commission of the States has a new 50-state comparison out examining how states fund postsecondary education.  A supporting piece states, “Now might not be the time to stick to the plan.”

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Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.