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The path to becoming a community college president

Welcome to Awake58. Thank you for reading. If you missed last week’s newsletter on the CARES Act and other topics, click here. If you were forwarded this email from a friend, please click here to subscribe.

We put a spotlight on community college leadership, including a profile of John Enamait’s journey to becoming Stanly CC president … We share what we know about the latest batch of COVID-19 funding … We catch up with Wilkes CC president Jeff Cox to discuss the cancellation of MerleFest … We conduct a Q&A with the lead researcher on our faculty pay series. Check it out at the bottom of the newsletter for more on faculty pay …

The General Assembly passed a COVID-19 relief package on Saturday, May 2, that includes about $231.6 million for K-12 education and $25 million for community colleges. For more details, check out our senior reporter Alex Granados’ piece on the legislative action.

COVID-19 has provided a remarkable leadership challenge for the presidents, their leadership teams, and faculty and staff at all 58 colleges. When we began planning our series on community college leadership, we would not have guessed a pandemic would illustrate the varied tasks that presidents face, but here we are. To find out why Surry Community College president David Shockley believes the job of being president has become more challenging, check out the first story in our series that published last week.

When I first visited Stanly Community College in early 2019, I had the chance to explore the advanced manufacturing course offerings and visit with the faculty. I documented the visit in Awake58.

Last week my colleague Mebane Rash profiled Stanly president John Enamait as part of our spotlight on community college leadership. Enamait received his first degree from Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute in 1997. And as Mebane notes in her piece, Enamait would later work as an instructor at CCC&TI from 2003 to 2007, serve as dean at Catawba Valley Community College, and then become vice president of instruction at Edgecombe Community College. He would be named president of Stanly Community College in 2016 — capping a journey of nearly two decades from community college student to president.

Read the piece for more on Enamait’s journey, as well as his perspective on the need for “continuous improvement.”

Below you will find ideas for communication strategies that your college might wish to implement, additional context for our faculty pay series, an interview with Wilkes Community College president Jeff Cox, and more. 

As always, let me know what’s on your mind by replying directly to this email or by tweeting @NationHahn!



Director of Growth,

Please share this survey with your students regarding their COVID-19 experience

We continue to cover the impact of COVID-19 on all 58 community colleges across the state, and we would like to explore the reality of the pandemic for the more than 700,000 students enrolled in those colleges. 

Will you please share the survey with students on your campus? It should take them less than 10 minutes, and we will select two respondents to receive Amazon gift cards. The link is available by clicking here.

‘MerleFest 2021 will come back stronger than ever’ — An interview with Jeff Cox of Wilkes Community College

I am ashamed to admit that despite the fact that I grew up in Caldwell County — and spent much of my childhood visiting with family in Wilkes and Watauga counties — I have never been to MerleFest. For those unfamiliar with the story, our own Alli Lindenberg sat down with Wilkes Community College president Jeff Cox for her podcast “Hope Starts Here” to discuss the festival, including the cancellation of the 2020 festival due to COVID-19.

On the podcast, Cox explained how the festival came to be such a big deal, telling Lindenberg, “It turns out when you engage with Doc Watson, and he brings a few of his friends with him to do a little weekend concert, it turns into a pretty big deal. So even that first year, it quickly grew from a one-night event to a weekend event that had a couple of thousand people, and it’s grown year over year after that, and now 33 years later, we’ll have somewhere between 75 and 80,000 people come to this folk, Americana, bluegrass — we call it a ‘traditional plus’ festival.”

Cox promises the festival will be back in 2021 “stronger than ever.” Give the podcast a listen, or read the write-up, by clicking here. We also published a recent article explaining more of the history of the festival that you should check out when you have the time.

A spotlight on ideas colleges could implement

Central Piedmont Community College president Kandi Deitemeyer is featured in this video interview with Capital Analytics. Deitemeyer spotlights the campus’ COVID-19 communications strategy. I would recommend giving the whole interview a watch! Deitemeyer’s video message to students is worth a watch as well.  

Given continued stay-at-home restrictions, I also wanted to spotlight the virtual campus tour that Central Piedmont Community College put together. Colleges are considering virtual recruiting and orientation plans as social distancing remains in effect.

Davidson County Community College president Darrin Hartness sent over this fascinating faculty profile of John Hardee, who serves on the math faculty at DCCC.  Hardee set up a lightboard in his home to teach calculus and provide support for his students. Check out the video to find out how they built the lightboard! And please email me similar stories so we can share them with the Awake58 community. 

Statewide education leaders joined us by Zoom to answer your questions

We held a Zoom Town Hall in conjunction with The News & Observer last week to answer your questions about the educational landscape during COVID-19. We were joined by Eric Davis, chair of the State Board of Education, Scott Ralls, president of Wake Technical Community College, and Kim Gold, senior vice president and chief academic officer of the North Carolina Community College System, among others.

Ralls noted he has been at Wake Tech for only a year, but the college’s attempt to move toward blended learning began seven years ago. This, in addition to its urban location, gave the college a head start on the current transition. Ralls went on to illustrate the challenges of students who are already living on the razor’s edge financially, as well as courses that require hands-on instruction such as welding. Finally, Ralls pointed out that Wake Tech had about 2,600 students enrolled in basic adult education classes, such as literacy and ESL, and since we lost face-to-face instruction the college has lost contact with 1,600 of them.

We asked Kim Gold to share the most complex decision point that the system office needed to weigh during COVID-19. “Balancing the safety of faculty and staff while remaining open to serve students,” she said. She noted the difficulty of providing high-quality instruction while social distancing.

For the full details, including the video, click here.

Other reads

Department of Education announces $307.5 million for states in K-12 and postsecondary grant competitions

On April 27, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced two new grant competitions for states “to create adaptable, innovative learning opportunities for K-12 and postsecondary learners in response to the COVID-19 national emergency.” My colleague Molly Osborne documents what we know about the opportunity in this piece. 

The Hunt Institute has also put out a COVID-19 funding brief on state and federal support that you might want to spend time with this week if you have additional questions. You can find the brief on the Hunt Institute website by clicking here.

Perspective | North Carolina’s own lesson in confronting a disruptive crisis

Ferrel Guillory offers his perspective on the lessons that our state can draw from the development of early colleges in North Carolina. Guillory argues that as our state faces a need to reconsider instructional delivery during the pandemic, early colleges show innovation is possible.

See where your county stands with child care access and closures

As the state plans for a gradual reopening of businesses, child care access probably will become a hot button issue. Liz Bell, our early childhood reporter, has a series of maps showcasing access to child care before the pandemic, as well as where closures stand now.

Here’s exactly how one district made Wi-Fi available in school parking lots

Many community colleges and school districts have made Wi-Fi more accessible for students and families who face internet issues. My colleague Mebane Rash traveled to Lincoln County this week to see exactly how one rural school district tackled their technical challenges to expand access.

Principal Tabari Wallace made sure each senior had their own personal parade: 485 square miles, 220 students, 14 routes. ‘A bridge to get them to graduation.’

Tabari Wallace, North Carolina’s 2018 Principal of the Year, and community leaders, teachers, administrators, coaches, police officers, and firefighters traveled 485 square miles to provide each graduating senior of West Craven High School with a personal graduation parade.

A Q&A on faculty pay 

Questions remain as to whether the legislature will take up faculty pay in 2020 given the challenges facing the state budget due to expected declines in tax revenue, but we will continue to cover the issues around community college faculty pay. We released a project recently that we encourage you to read, and I caught up with John Quinterno, who led the research, to find out more about his process and findings. 

Nation Hahn: How long were you researching and reporting on this? And how many interviews did you do?

John Quinterno: This project was an update and expansion of research I originally did for the NC Center for Public Policy Research in 2008. While many things have changed since then, the core issue of low pay for community college instructors has not. That is why we selected the title “New Interest in an Old Problem” as the title for the first article in the series.

In terms of the research, I worked on the piece between December 2019 and March 2020. I consulted prior work on community college policy that I had done for both EdNC and the NC Center for Public Policy Research; compiled updated financial and enrollment data from federal, regional, and state sources; and conducted formal interviews with a half dozen community college leaders. I also corresponded more informally with other knowledgeable stakeholders.

Unfortunately, the combination of the winter holidays and the onset of the COVID-19 crisis made it hard to interview as many stakeholders as I would have liked, especially students. But I do think the research provides a “big picture” review of the historical trends and issues. Going forward, the voices of individual students and instructors ideally can amplify the message by combining it with their own perspectives and experiences. Hopefully the combination can create even more momentum for positive change.

NH: What data sources did you use for your research?

JQ: I consulted a variety of sources. Quantitative data came primarily from the System Office, the Southern Regional Education Board, and the Integrated Postsecondary Education System maintained by the US Department of Education. Qualitative information came from the various interviews I mentioned previously. News clippings and historical documents also helped to provide context.

Perhaps the most interesting document is the 1989 report of the Commission on the Future of the North Carolina Community College System, which was a blue ribbon commission appointed in the late 1980s. I’ve consulted that report many times over the years, and I am amazed about how perceptive the commission was in diagnosing problems and offering solutions. Many passages of the report, especially those related to the challenges of low faculty pay, ring just as true today as they did then. You could reprint whole sections with just the numbers updated, and it would be on point. And some of the proposed goals and strategies would be just as timely today as they were 30 years ago.

NH: This issue has been studied at various points over the last few decades. Did anything surprise you as you conducted this most recent body of research?

JQ: As I mentioned, this project was an update and expansion of research I originally did in 2008. While many things have changed since then, the core issue of low pay for community college instructors remains unchanged. In fact, the state arguably has made little progress since the onset of the “Great Recession” in late 2008/ early 2009. Now that the state is on the cusp of an even worse recession, I fear that the issue will be set aside again with colleges left to their own devices to figure out how to address an influx of displaced workers.

On the positive side, I was impressed to see just how resourceful and flexible many individual colleges are in working with the resources and constraints they have so as to keep advancing their missions. There is a real commitment to excellence, but at a certain point, you can’t do more with less. You simply do less with less.

At the same time, I do believe that progress is possible. When the state made more of a commitment to addressing the pay gap separating instructors in North Carolina from their regional and national peers during the 1990s and early 2000s, progress was made. With a sustained commitment on the part of public leaders, there is no reason why similar progress couldn’t be repeated.

NH: What else would you want our readers to know about this project?

JQ: It has been some time since I had worked on a project related to North Carolina’s community colleges, but I came away reminded of just what a wonderful set of schools we have and how dedicated the people who work in those colleges are. We really can’t take those people and those institutions for granted, but I fear that we too often do.

More practically, I want readers to realize that community college instructors are not paid on a graduated pay scale like public school teachers are. Many people think that, but as one of the articles explains, that is not the case. Instructors are state-funded employees of individual colleges that are required to pay a minimum salary based on an instructor’s educational credentials and employment status. After that, each college is free to compensate people as it feels best. The number of variables that many presidents and senior administrators have to juggle in order to adequately staff programs and stretch their public dollars as far as possible is mind blowing.

Similarly, community colleges generally don’t have the academic rank structure found within the UNC system under which compensation can rise as people move from one rank to the next, nor do instructors have tenure and the accompanying job security. As a result, even when instructors have identical educational credentials to their UNC peers and even are teaching identical classes as happens with college transfer classes, they typically are paid much less. That raises real questions of fairness, in my mind.

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Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.