Visiting Adult Learners in Brunswick and Edgecombe Counties
NC Reconnect – a statewide initiative focused on the recruitment, reengagement, and retention of adult learners within the North Carolina Community College System – added five more colleges at the end of last year. The initiative now includes 15 of the 58 N.C. community colleges across the state thus far.
Our trip began at Edgecombe Community College with a campus tour.
Our first stop was the Havens Construction and Welding building. We were hosted by Warren Lynch, who won the 2022 Excellence in Teaching Award for the college. Lynch walked us through his approach to welding and introduced us to several students.
Lynch noted wryly that the college has more interest in the program than it has space or faculty.
We then traveled over to the college’s Center for Innovation for a hands-on experience building a mechanized eagle before meeting with students.
Our visit ended with a conversation about Edgecombe’s work with adult learners, as well as a conversation with community leaders about the region the college serves.
Our second stop began on the main campus of Brunswick Community College in Bolivia.
The team visited the One Stop Center for the college with Dr. Denise Houchen-Clagett, vice president for student affairs. We were able to spend time exploring what Brunswick President Dr. Gene Smith dubbed the “entryway to the college” for prospective and new students. The center provides them with a space to work through financial aid application questions.
We then toured the culinary department for the college, where we were able to meet several adult students who were taking courses.
We also stopped off at the Myong and Paul Jensen Workforce Development Center. One interesting aspect of the center is the college transitioned their aquaculture space to house the workforce development work over the last several years. Greg Bland, the BCC vice president for continuing education, noted the transition unfolded due to declining industry interest in aquaculture credentials with an increased need for other workforce credentials.
Smith pointed to Brunswick County’s rapid growth as a unique opportunity for the college. This opportunity is counterbalanced by the challenge of figuring out how to meet this growth with the existing space and faculty of the college. The aquaculture transition shows what is possible according to Bland.
Our trip finished at the college’s Southport Center. Dr. Barbara McFall walked us through several continuing education courses serving adult students, including woodworking and stained glass.
Mike Krause, a senior advisor to the John M. Belk Endowment and one of the leads of NC Reconnect, attended the trip.
“The data makes clear that adult learners will be a crucial demographic group for community colleges to focus on in the coming decade,” he said, “and it was evident that at both Edgecombe and Brunswick, they are leading the way on reconnecting adults with higher education.”
“These visits also highlighted how important the word ‘community’ is in community college,” Krause continued. “Edgecombe and Brunswick offer pathways to a college degree, but also serve as hubs for their larger community to learn together and thrive.”