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N.C. Community College System nears finalized strategic plan amid search for a new president

Hannah McClellan

The N.C. Community College System’s (NCCCS) new four-year strategic plan is nearly complete — one year after the system embarked on the work.

The State Board of Community Colleges reviewed the 42-page plan, “Leading Through Change,” at its annual planning retreat hosted at Cleveland Community College last week. The Board will consider the plan for final approval at its October meeting.

“This plan could not have been put together without the entire team all across the state working together,” Board Chair Burr Sullivan said. “I’m very optimistic. We have a plan that addresses our challenges and opportunities — it’s an exciting time for our system. And this is not over. This plan doesn’t now go on the shelf, it now goes into work.” 

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The 2022-26 strategic plan outlines five goals for the system.

  • Goal 1: Recruit and retain top talent to enable the North Carolina Community College System to educate and prepare the State’s workforce.

  • Goal 2: Increase access and enrollment at North Carolina community colleges to meet the state’s educational attainment goal and expand post-secondary opportunities.

  • Goal 3: Provide resources inside and outside the classroom for all students to successfully enroll, persist, and complete a career program of study.

  • Goal 4: Provide education, training, and credentials to develop the most competitive workforce in the nation.

  • Goal 5: Increase state funding, streamline the allocation formula, and implement practices to improve system effectiveness.

The four-year plan includes objectives and strategies the Board will use to meet those five goals. The plan provides links to individual colleges’ strategic plans, a summary of findings from listening sessions with college presidents and trustees, and N4CSGA’s student survey and focus group findings.

The system will also use one-year action plans to support implementation of its goals. Those plans will include specific action steps, timelines, and metrics to support implementation of the strategic plan. The Board discussed its action plan for the first year at last week’s retreat.

The past four years have revealed that no agency can forecast all the challenges or opportunities. This is a living plan that will be adjusted as needed. The system will continue to be the nimble, responsive, and innovative catalyst serving North Carolina’s students, businesses, and communities.NCCCS Draft Strategic Plan

Here is a copy of the draft strategic plan presented to Board members last week:

Year-one action plan

At last year’s retreat, the Board said its goal for the NCCCS is for it to be the first choice in affordability and accessibility for North Carolina students, a model for diversity, and an economic driver for the state.

Last Wednesday, the Board spent time with staff mapping out those goals into a strategic action plan for the first year. Dr. Patrick Crane, vice president of strategic initiatives at the system, said that plan is meant to give the Board metrics by which to measure progress on four-year goals.

“How do we take these broad themes that were developed — the objectives, goals, strategies — and turn them into what we’re going to do in year one?” Crane said.

For each of the five goals, the four-year plan identifies primary measures of success. Each measure has coordinating strategies. For each of those strategies, the year-one action plan lists the following information: system office responsibilities, partners to carry out action, desired outcomes, major activities/timeline, resources, and the relevant Board committee.

Faculty and staff recruitment and retention, for example, includes three primary measures: full-time faculty and staff salaries, full-time faculty demographics, and full-time faculty and staff institutional retention. The strategic plan includes three strategies for addressing faculty and staff shortages.

  • Advocate for a 7% increase in state funding for community college employee salaries by 2024-25

  • Seek additional 2% from non-state funding sources for employee retention, bonuses, and merit pay

  • Partner with employers to leverage industry talent for hard-to-fill positions

The draft year-one action plan notes an updated legislative agenda this fall and Community College Day next spring as two major activities associated with the first strategy.

The Board also discussed the possibility of establishing a NCCCS human resources association to attract top talent. That recommended year-one action, Board members said, reflects some of the “low-hanging fruit” in the action plan. Other recommended actions — like pay raises, meeting holistic needs of students, and updating funding tiers — are also important, but more difficult to move forward on.

Hiring an executive director of communications to work toward a statewide marketing strategy is another action item in the year-one plan. To help create incentives for regional collaboration, the year-one plan recommends the system identify guidelines for how programs/colleges can receive more funding. The plan also recommends the system conduct an analysis of potential cost savings for multi-college program offerings. To identify workforce program and talent gaps across the state, the plan recommends creating a Heat Map of assets.

Staff will present “a more refined version” of the year-one action plan to the Board in October, Crane said.

“We will also start moving into how we’ll track progress,” Crane told the Board. “(And) how we establish benchmarks so that we can hold ourselves accountable so we can do the service that we need to do for the residents in North Carolina.”

Presidential search and personnel updates

The Board heard brief updates on the presidential search process during its meeting on Friday. In August, the Board appointed a bipartisan search committee in a closed-session meeting.

The 13-member search committee held its first meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 21. Last Friday, Search Committee Co-chair Dr. Shirley Carraway told Board members the committee would work on finalizing a Request for Approval (RFP) to hire a search firm.

Last Friday, the full Board voted to give the search committee delegated authority to approve the completed RFP. After that, the Board will consider the selected firm at its November meeting, if not before. Then the firm must be approved by the state Department of Administration.

At the search committee meeting on Wednesday, members discussed the RFP and decided to meet on Monday with plans to approve the document. The committee also plans to hold bimonthly meetings on Wednesday mornings, starting Oct. 5 and going through Dec. 14, Carraway said.

“Selecting a firm will have a critical impact on the search calendar and ultimately, on the speed at which we can acquire a new president,” Carraway said. “This is the beginning of this process.”

NCCCS Interim President Bill Carver gives remarks at Cleveland Community College’s naming ceremony last week. Hannah McClellan/EducationNC

Board member William Holder gave departing remarks to the Board on Friday, expressing disappointment with Thomas Stith’s departure as president in July. He said the goals the Board set for the system were being met at the time of Stith’s departure.

“It’s my opinion with more time the Board and the system would have seen the president’s efforts and vision come to fruition,” he said.

Holder’s term was set to expire June 30, 2023.

“With that thought, I leave today for the last time, grateful to the governor for an opportunity to serve the students of our great state,” he said via Zoom. “I’m humbled that in some small way I may have helped the Great58 become a better system. I leave wishing all of you the best.”

“We’re appreciative of everything you’ve done — you’ve made this a stronger Board,” Sullivan said. “In my book, you’ve been the soul of our Board over the last five and a half years, and we are going to miss you.”

The personnel committee also announced two new employee positions last Friday.

The Board approved Sondra Jarvis to fill the role as director of State Board Relations. Jarvis served as interim State Board liaison since August. She also worked as executive assistant to the Board from 2014 to 2020. The Board also approved Judykay Jefferson as employee engagement special project specialist, a new post.

Governance updates

Board members and committees worked toward finalizing updates to its governance structures at the retreat. That work included reviewing bylaws, committee charters, and a draft handbook created by the System Office’s Legal Affairs team.

The Board will consider those items for approval in October or November, the system said.

The work to streamline governance structures is part of the Board’s three-year development and engagement plan. The Board approved recommendations for the plan in April based on the results of its first self-assessment survey. The purpose of the survey was to identify system, Board, and president goals to weave into the four-year strategic plan. 

Committees met virtually Aug. 26 through Sept. 1 to discuss changes to their charters, in order to review more unified charter documents at the retreat. Committee chairs said they expected those charters to be approved in October.

Some changes discussed last week related to: risk assessment and management in the audit committee’s charter, reserve funds language in the finance committee’s charter, and a new name for the programs committee — Programs and Student Success.

Mark Merritt, chair of the governance subcommittee on Board engagement, challenged fellow Board members to think creatively about new ideas and initiatives to work toward the system’s goals. Items the Board must approve by statute can sometimes make that a challenge, Merritt said.

“We need to figure out ways to create more time to talk about what’s really strategic and important,” he said, adding that consent agendas help. “But our great enemy is time, and the the lack of time. Because we have so many things that we have to do, sometimes it impedes our ability to focus on what I would call high value projects for the community college system. And that’s just going to continue to be a challenge.”

System program updates

The annual report for N.C. Career Coach 2021-2022 was also approved by the Board. The Career Coach Program places career coaches in high schools to serve as counselors to students. These coaches talk to students about their career goals and steer them toward community college when applicable.

Career coaches work in over 140 high schools across the state, the system said. Collectively, coaches provided nearly 20,000 coaching sessions to high school students this past year. There are 84 coaches across the state serving more than 19,900 students in 57 districts, the report said. While the number of coaches and districts in 2020-21 was the same, the program served 27,000 students that year.

The report cited the program’s match funding requirement as a continued challenge for small, rural colleges. The new strategic plan includes scaling up the career coach program as part of meeting the system’s enrollment goals.

“Career coaches continue to be an important part of the pipeline to community colleges in North Carolina,” the System said in a release.

The Board also approved up to $75,000 in Board reserve funds to provide strategic enrollment management training for community colleges. The training will focus on identifying enrollment and growth opportunities, and managing key components of the strategic enrollment management plan — including recruitment, outreach, retention, marketing and graduation.

Training is expected to start in late October, with dates and locations to be announced.

Wolfspeed partnership and workforce updates

On Thursday, the System announced its partnership with Wolfspeed, a semiconductor and chip manufacturing company expected to bring more than 1,800 jobs to Chatham over the next five years. The NCCCS will provide customized training through its network of community colleges to help fill those jobs.

“Wolfspeed’s continued investment in North Carolina validates the company’s confidence in North Carolina’s ability to deliver advanced manufacturing employees to meet the needs of this important industry,” NCCCS Interim President Dr. Bill Carver said. “The North Carolina Community College System stands ready to assist all of the training partners to create the next world-class hub for silicon chip manufacturing.”

Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) will take the lead in providing the customized training. The NCCCS Customized Training program will support up to $3.6 million in providing Wolfspeed a skilled workforce.

“This is an important and momentous day for the North Carolina Community College System,” said Dr. Bruce Mack, vice president of economic development for NCCCS. “We are thankful for the partnerships in North Carolina. This is economic development at its best.”

On Wednesday, the State Board attended the grand opening of the $15 million Speaker Tim Moore Advanced Technology Center at Cleveland Community College. The 45,000 square-foot facility houses six programs: electrical engineering, automation engineering, industrial systems facilities maintenance, machining, and mechanical drafting. The building includes a computer lab, training space, and offices for Cleveland County Economic Development Partnership.

Photos from the naming and ribbon cutting ceremony for Cleveland Community College’s new advanced technology center on Sept. 15, 2022. Hannah McClellan/EducationNC

“This building is going to make a difference in the lives of so many people,” House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said at the naming and ribbon cutting ceremony.

Board members also visited the college’s Brown Emergency Training Center. Students and instructors demonstrated training exercises used in the Firefighter Academy and other special emergency training classes. Cleveland Community College is second in the state in terms of FTE in emergency training, the system said.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank you on behalf of our entire Board and the staff for the wonderful hospitality over the last 48 hours,” Chair Sullivan said to CCC President Jason Hurst. “It’s been a wonderful visit. We go away from this visit certain way that Cleveland Community College will continue to prosper and continue to grow.”

The Board’s presidential search committee meets Wednesday, Sept. 21 to work on a RFP to hire a search firm. The full Board meets next Oct. 20-21 in Raleigh.

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