There have been no truer words in education than “It’s a job we all have to do together”. Thank you, Chancellor Mike Flores, for reminding us that we are partners in our students’ journeys and, in the words of Dallas Herring, we must find ways “to meet them where they are and take them as far as they can go”. I agree that we must understand the communities we serve and the challenges they face before we can provide appropriate educational opportunities to improve their individual economic circumstances, and we must work together to achieve this goal.
At Lenoir Community College (LCC), we take a multi-faceted approach to delivering our programs and services. When we think of the barriers that keep high school students and adults from going to college, transportation, finances, and child care top the list. We have focused on these areas through specific initiatives.
We offer Career and College Promise courses in high schools in our service area because we recognize the need to bring college courses to high schools to ease the transportation barrier. We also have two junior high schools, one located on our Lenoir County campus and the other on our Greene County campus. Those who attend the early college program can earn not only their high school diploma but also an associate’s degree, relieving their parents of financial pressure. These programs remove barriers for diverse populations and provide the face-to-face instruction students need. We also offer a variety of flexible course schedules, such as online, synchronous, eight-week, and hybrid courses, all at your fingertips.
We have created a new initiative called Lancer Academy at one of our area high schools, which is over 90% minority in population, and specializes in health science programs and university transfer programs. We have an entire building dedicated to our academy, so it’s like having a college campus as part of a high school. We have plans for an additional secondary school at the new Aviation Center of Excellence, which is under development and will be built soon.
Recognizing the need to think beyond high school into post-secondary education, we have placed career coaches in service area high schools. These coaches meet with students and develop individualized career and education plans to bridge the high school and college courses they plan to take to further their careers.
We’ve also taken the concept of coaches a step further by placing success coaches in each of our instructional divisions. These coaches are usually retired educators who have returned part-time to help guide and monitor students to ensure their success in their academic programs. The initiative is intended to work as an early warning system so that students can complete their studies. Coaches develop personal contact with students and use our Watermark, formerly known as Aviso, an early warning system for intrusive advice to track student success.
We have also implemented guided pathways, reducing time to degree and excess credits, saving students time and money and ensuring transferability to universities. We have found that this model emphasizes student career goals. We have aligned short-term training courses with curriculum courses so that students starting continuing education can seamlessly transition to curriculum programs. We are starting to think like one college instead of one curriculum and continuing education. It is important to meet the needs of our students, whatever they may be.
Remove financial and transportation barriers
At LCC, we believe that finances should not be a barrier for students to attend university. As such, we created the LCC Guarantee in 2018 to guarantee free tuition to secondary school students in the region who meet the established criteria. Our foundation has not turned away any eligible high school students to date, starting with 39 students who applied for freshman year to more than 100 students receiving the aid. This growth demonstrates the financial need that students face, and this program is one that makes education possible.
To address the transportation challenge, we designed and implemented Cars for College, a one-of-a-kind program that, with the help of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, donated $250,000 in honor of John, a longtime board member and supporter of the LCC. McNairy. The program provides vehicles that have been donated or purchased at a car auction and repaired through the college’s automotive technology program to eligible students at an affordable cost. We spent approximately $107,000 on new equipment and tools for the program. By repairing cars in the automotive program, student mechanics gain hands-on experience. Cars are rated and tested by a certified instructor, and the college offers a six-month warranty.
The program provides students with independent transportation and allows them to establish credit through a local credit union at an affordable interest rate. Students with reliable transportation can have better access to work and education. The independence that a car brings can be life changing, and we have seen the difference it makes in the lives of our students. The first car that was awarded was to a young father pursuing a truck driving certification. He was so excited that he could take his family to the beach for the first time. It’s the little things that motivate many of our students.
We also provide discounted public transport tickets for our students. Recently, we received a grant to purchase a 26-passenger bus that we plan to use to transport high school students to our various campuses.
When we looked deeper into our demographics, we found a large Latinx population that was not being served. We have created a Latino Center to serve this population with specific programs and support services. We offer many degree programs with market value, offering these programs in the evenings and on weekends to meet the needs of students. We also host a special graduation program that brings together hundreds of family members to celebrate the achievements of their graduates. Thanks to the Latino Center, students can obtain several certifications at an affordable cost.
There are many programs that community colleges use to reach citizens in their area. With gratitude to the John M. Belk Endowment for its financial support and resources, LCC is proud to be a partner of the NC Reconnect and NC Reach programs. These programs recruit and support adult learners and underserved populations who wish to return to college.
To say it takes a village is an understatement, because we need to grow our village to help boost the economy, to bring skilled workers into high demand jobs, to keep serving and changing with the times. We can no longer adopt “If you build it, they will come” attitudes. We need to find ways to meet our students where they are and provide support to inspire them to succeed. Our students are as diverse as the programs we offer. We must realize that one size does not fit all. We have done a lot, but there is still a lot to do. And yes, Dr. Flores, I agree that this is work we all need to do together for our current students and for those who will follow.