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Research | N.C. community colleges collaborate to support adult learners

Since 2021, the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research has gathered data, stories, and lessons learned from colleges participating in NC Reconnect – the initiative to re-engage and enroll adult learners in North Carolina community colleges. The Belk Center, in partnership with the John M. Belk Endowment (JMBE), the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) and myFutureNC, released a comprehensive Adult Learner Guidebook last year that synthesized key takeaways from the program’s first cohort of five colleges participating in NC Reconnect.

This year, the Belk Center is launching a series of research briefs that expands on the Adult Learner Guidebook and includes learnings from cohorts one and two. 

The briefs examine promising practices and opportunities identified by the first ten colleges of NC Reconnect. Each brief covers a single topic area from the adult learner efforts and provides relevant examples of how colleges implemented NC Reconnect across their campuses. The first four briefs highlight:

Information in each brief was gathered during interviews with college presidents, leadership teams, staff, faculty, and adult learners. As NC Reconnect efforts grow across the state, the Belk Center will continue engaging cohorts to identify opportunities and promising practices as colleges enhance how they reach adult learners.

About NC Reconnect

In 2021, the John M. Belk Endowment (JMBE) launched NC Reconnect – an initiative aimed at re-engaging and enrolling adult learners in North Carolina community colleges. In addition to JMBE and the Belk Center, various partners collaborate to elevate the efforts of NC Reconnect, including myFutureNC and NCCCS. 

The goal of NC Reconnect is simple – ensure adult learners across North Carolina have maximum opportunity to pursue training at one of the state’s 58 community colleges. Starting with five community colleges of various sizes and geographic locations, NC Reconnect soon grew to ten colleges. By November 2022, five additional colleges were added, making it the initiative’s third cohort. 

Graphic courtesy of the Belk Center

NC Reconnect consists of two major components: re-engage adult students who previously earned some college credit but left without a credential, and deliver targeted communication to prospective adult students within the colleges’ service areas. 

The majority of higher-wage jobs require more than a high school diploma, yet less than half of North Carolinians between the ages of 25-44 have earned the credentials needed to access those jobs. To easily highlight upskilling opportunities and a student’s return on investment, Better Skills. Better Jobs. became the official outreach campaign message of NC Reconnect.

At the heart of NC Reconnect are North Carolinians ages 25-44 who have some college but no degree. Re-engaging those individuals is about more than boosting enrollment – it’s about providing skills and training that lead to better jobs. And at the end of the day, it’s celebrating the power of education to transform lives and communities. 

“We think we can help them get across the finish line and increase their economic mobility. Closing the attainment gap inherently helps us close the equity


MC Belk Pilon, JMBE’s president and board chair
Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research

The Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research, at North Carolina State University, develops and sustains exceptional community college leaders who are committed to advancing equitable college access and student success, the social and economic mobility of their colleges’ students, and the economic competitiveness of their regions. The Center provides professional development and research related to current and emerging student success opportunities and challenges facing community college leaders and policymakers in North Carolina and the nation. The Belk Center commits to dismantling systemic barriers to racial equity in education through evidence-based strategies that focus on the outcomes of Black, Latin* and American Indian students.