NC community colleges receive funding for life sciences

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During the penultimate meeting of the State Board of Community Colleges in 2022, board members committed more than $16 million to support the life sciences industry planned to implement the first year of the new strategic plan and discussed the search for a system president.

“We are entering a very exciting time on this Board in terms of governance and the strategic plan,” said Ann Whitford, Chair of the Board’s Strategic Planning Committee. “I am very satisfied and proud of the path our board is on.”

The Board approved the allocation of nearly $16.5 million to 10 community colleges and the System Office to support the life sciences industry sector as part of the US Department of Commerce Economic Development Agency’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge Grant. 15 million will go to the 10 colleges and $1.4 million will be withheld by the System Office to administer the grant.

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Since 2020, 73 life science companies have announced plans to either locate or expand their operations in North Carolina, the board said, citing data from the NC Biotechnology Center. This translates to almost 11,200 new jobs and more than $8.39 billion in investments.

The system will work with BioNetwork, the NC Community College System (NCCCS) life sciences training initiative, to “improve and update biotechnology and life sciences industry training institutions, recruit industry educators, students from to recruit marginalized populations and to update and improve curriculum,” the system said in an email.

The scholarship focuses on equitable outcomes, capacity building in training labs, and increasing trained faculty, among others. Previously, Johnston Community College, one of the 10 grant recipients, told EdNC that it plans to use some of the funds to work towards a fully simulated biotechnology learning process.

“Both of our action items were really very exciting,” said Lisa Estep, chair of the finance committee, citing the Build Back Better funds and a second grant, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship Building America (ABA) scholarship program. The Board approved $4 million from the ABA grant to expand registered apprenticeship positions across North Carolina. ApprenticeshipNC is the state apprenticeship agency for North Carolina and served 13,377 students last year.

The purpose of the ABA Scholarship program is to meet the need for current and future skilled workers in the country. The Committee noted the relationship of this grant to the Economic and Human Development theme of the Strategic Plan. Funds are available from July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2026 and should be committed by June 30, 2025.

“As we look at the strategic plan, I think that’s an area that we need to go really deep into because eventually that money will run out,” said board member Tom Looney. “This is seed capital. We need to show these companies that they will make a great return.”

Referring to the new four-year strategic plan that the board approved in October, Whitford briefly presented a 2023 “implementation plan” of the goals. This document outlines 12 “tactics” to help achieve the five outlined goals of the strategic plan with multiple tactics under each goal.

presidential search

Earlier this month, the board voted on a bidder to search for a new president of the NCCCS, said Shirley Carraway, co-chair of the search committee. The committee will meet with this provider once the company has been approved by the State Department of Administration. At that time, the company’s name will be released, the system said.

The Presidential Search Committee meets next on November 30th. In the future, the committee will create an official search presidential profile using input from a nationwide survey and the contracted search firm. The board received over 1,300 responses to its poll, the system said, and intends to hire a new president in the spring. You can read more about the presidential search schedule here.

“The selection of a firm will have a significant impact on the search calendar and ultimately the speed with which we can attract a new president,” Carraway said in September. “This is the beginning of this process.”

State Board Governance and Legislative Agenda

The board approved a 107-page state board manual after approving the committee’s updated charters in October.

The work to streamline governance structures is part of the Board’s three-year development and engagement plan. Based on the results of its initial self-assessment survey, the board approved recommendations for the plan in April.

Staff said the plan is to give the handbook to members in January in a three-ring binder so the pages can be easily swapped out when updates are made. On Friday, board members requested that the handbook include additional information about the legislature and state budget process.

“I appreciate all the hard work that has gone into this company,” said CEO Burr Sullivan. “This will make onboarding new board members much, much easier than in the past.”

Executive Vice Chairman Bill McBrayer encouraged members to reach out to lawmakers ahead of the long session ahead. Last month, the board reviewed the second year of its legislative agenda for fiscal 2022-2025which aims to increase federal funding by $232 million over the next two years. McBrayer said the board will continue to discuss this agenda in the coming months.

The requested increase relates to faculty salaries and student investments. The agenda, approved in January 2022, called for an additional 1% pay rise for staff and a 4% increase in student investment in the short 2022-23 session. The community college system received the 1% pay rise in budget staff pay passed by lawmakers in early July, but did not receive the 4% increase for student investment.

“That discussion will continue as we approach the long session,” Sullivan told the board in October. “But we must all be committed to staying on track on those two components to earn $232 million so we can expand our reach over the next two years.”

Other meeting business

  • The board approved a new program at Richmond Community College for 911 communications and operations, noting that the program is an example of how community colleges work with local and state partners to ensure the state has a strong labor pipeline. This program is new to the system.
  • The board also approved the addition of a surgical technology program at South Piedmont Community College, scheduled to begin in Spring 2023. Of the 10 colleges that submitted an impact assessment report to South Piedmont, only Central Piedmont Community College said it did not support the program being added.
  • The board confirmed Dr. Patrena B. Elliott as the new President of Halifax Community College and as the new Interim President of Sandhills Community College. The board also approved five candidates for the presidency of Johnston Community College; a finalist is expected to be named next month.
  • The board approved the creation of four new systems positions funded by Build Back Better: a scholarship director, a curriculum developer, an e-learning developer, and a virtual reality developer.
  • The 2021-22 Fiscal Year Report for the NC Community College Child Care Grant Program has been presented to the Board of Directors.
  • Board members emphasized the need for mental health interventions for students. “It’s not going to go away on its own,” Sullivan said.

The full board will meet next on Friday 16 December. The meeting will likely be virtual and the committees are not planning meetings.

Hannah McClellan

Hannah McClellan is an EducationNC reporter covering community colleges, post-secondary access, and faith.