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Lessons from across the state: Life happens, be brave

One of the privileges of working with EducationNC is the opportunity to travel across the state to meet our fellow North Carolinians. We learn something about their work and their lives, see their community, and then use our platform to attempt to lift up their voices.

Part of traveling is our attempt to understand. We want to try to make sense of where we are and where we are heading as a state. Our frequent return trips, or as frequently as our schedules allow, are built around attempting to move beyond the one-dimensional coverage that reduces complex policy questions and the nuances of our communities to headlines and buzzwords.

If you have questions, comments, or story angles, please text NATION to 73224 to continue the conversation.

Our Community’s College

The role of the state’s 58 community colleges is important. They represent a diversity of experiences ranging from tens of thousands of students attending Wake Tech or Central Piedmont Community College to the College of the Albemarle which covers seven counties.

It is evident the community colleges are vital for their communities across the state. 

For example, as the second largest community college in the system, Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) enrolls more than 56,000 students annually in for-credit programs. Beyond the 56,000 students, CPCC estimates they engage 256,000 residents annually through programs, services, events, and performances.

Evidence of their combined reach shows on a visit to their culinary program where they are graduating cooks, servers, managers, and others who will be on the front lines of hospitality in Charlotte for years to come. They also broaden their reach into the community by hosting dinners several times a year where Charlotte residents are able to enjoy their food while they practice their skills.

On a more practical level, the oral health practice is not only developing dental hygienists, but is providing a service to Charlotte as part of the project by allowing community members to pay only $35 for a range of services.

Why this matters: From dining to teeth cleaning, the outreach makes them Charlotte’s community’s college. Engaging more than 250,000 people annually allows them to make a difference for their community.

Life happens

I had a chance to sit in on a podcast recording of Dr. Kandi Deitemeyer, president of CPCC with my colleague Alex Granados. Listen here if you missed it. 

Dr. Deitemeyer spoke to a common thread of our community college visits when she declared, “I know the story of many of our students. I’ve lived it out.”

All of our conversations have reminded us that for many of the 710,000 community college students in our system, life happens. Dr. Deitemeyer raised up the idea of counselors being trained to spotlight community colleges as a first option for more students, whether the student wanted to transfer to a four-year institution or the student’s path would best be served with a two-year degree or a credential.

Gail Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College, pointed this out in an article published in the New York Times. Mellow wrote, “Of the country’s nearly 18 million undergraduates, more than 40 percent go to community college, and of those, only 62 percent can afford to go to college full-time. By contrast, a mere 0.4 percent of students in the United States attend one of the Ivies.”

Mellow went on to share sobering statistics, “A recent Urban Institute study found that from 2011 to 2015, one in five students attending a two-year college lived in a food-insecure household. A study from the Wisconsin Hope Lab found that in 2016, 14 percent of community college students had been homeless at some point. At LaGuardia Community College in New York, where I am president, 77 percent of students live in households making less than $25,000 per year.”

North Carolina’s community colleges are educating students from an array of backgrounds (I recently heard about a World War II veteran who graduated last year!), but our philanthropic and financial aid structures are not presently suited to serve students who may take years to graduate.

Why it matters: Dr. Deitemeyer laid out part of a vision for how we might do better for those students. We’ve commonly heard about opportunities for greater integration between our K-12 and community college system to move students closer to degrees quicker, alongside a push for more state and community funding, but we also ought to consider what role our philanthropic organizations might play across our state in expanding opportunity. It is perhaps a topic of discussion for the My Future NC Commission as they consider the variety of ways in which post-secondary education might be attained and how the systems might all work together.

Civil+civic dialogue

Brian Etheridge and his colleagues at Leadership North Carolina invited me to join their lineup of speakers at the 2017 Leadership NC Forum.

Just a few days before the speech, we met up with a friend in Charlotte. He has the good fortune to also travel across the state and he posed a compelling question to my colleagues when he asked, “How many profound arguments do we have over something simple like not filling up the gas tank on our church van because we aren’t talking about the real issues that we are facing?”

He asked us, without offering his specific opinion, whether we thought that our communities could find a path towards productive dialogue on substantive issues in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

We are running a Reach question set around the same issue and we would love to hear what you think: [Talking about civility – EducationNC]

This same theme was part and parcel of the LNC Forum where Leadership NC crew offered up a simple, yet powerful proposition — much of the challenge facing our civic discourse is because we do not take the time to get to know one another.  Chris Marlow, from Help One Now and a speaker at the forum, called the problem, “The tragedy of being busy.”

They asked the audience what it might mean for us to have three cups of coffee with others — perhaps especially those with whom we may disagree.

Leadership coach Margaret Brunson called on the forum participants to remember our humanity in all that we do — a key principle of civil dialogue, in my view, which might help us respond to those we disagree with without maligning their motives.

Brunson also called on us to bear witness. This idea is something we have considered at Education NC over the last several years. After all, many of us had tough years, and need to recall what it means to walk alongside one another. She closed by asking, “What does it mean to turn safe spaces to brave spaces?”

Why it matters: Part of the premise of Reach NC Voices is that we need to put the public back in public policy and one of the best methods to make that happen is to create more dialogue on critical issues. If you have thoughts on how we can do that in your community, please text NATION to 73224.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.