The U.S. Department of Education has awarded McDowell Technical Community College and regional partners Isothermal Community College and Western Piedmont Community College a grant in the amount of $2.3 million. The project, entitled Foothills FORWARD, aims to facilitate an occupation-ready workforce by addressing regional demands through efforts focused on increasing college retention, persistence and completion rates among students in areas served by the three colleges.
The grant will allow the colleges to build a strong network of data-informed regional success coaches for adult learners, along with support services that increase access to basic resources in housing, childcare, transportation and health and wellness—resources that are critical in allowing students to pursue higher education and workforce development training, particularly in rural communities. A portion of the grant will be used to create a shared regional decision support and predictive analytics position that utilizes data to inform coaches and college leaders’ use of dashboards to promote institutional agility and proactive outreach. Each college will utilize the grant to to improve professional learning and development for career coaches and support staff at the colleges.
In addition to Western Piedmont and Isothermal Community Colleges, six regional employers, four in advanced manufacturing and two hospital systems, will collaborate with McDowell Tech on this project. Additional assistance will be provided by Foothills Workforce Development Board (WDB); Western Piedmont WDB; Foothills Regional Commission; Single Stop; TimelyCare; InsideTrack; North Carolina Community College System; myFutureNC; Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research; and DVP-PRAXIS.
“It is part of our core mission to break down barriers that prevent students from accessing top-quality, affordable higher education and successfully completing their chosen programs,” said Ryan Garrison, Interim President at McDowell Technical Community College. “Funds from this grant will allow us to provide enhanced services and supports to break down those barriers, build a stronger workforce for our local economies, and help our graduates find new and better jobs with family-sustaining wages for themselves and their families.”
Grant funding is provided through the Rural Postsecondary and Economic Development Program at the Department of Education, designed to promote “high-quality career pathways” in high-skill, high-wage and in-demand occupations and industries within the region where the colleges are located.
“These grant awards will help rural institutions Raise the Bar for student success and the attainment of valuable degrees and credentials that lead to brighter futures and greater prosperity,” said Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education. According to statistics provided by the Department of Education, only 29% of individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 in rural communities are enrolled in some type of higher education, compared to 48% in urban areas and 42% in suburban areas.
Nationwide, 22 institutions of higher education, including eight community colleges, will receive a total of $44.5 million in grant funding this year. Pitt Community College was the only other community college in North Carolina to be awarded a grant during this cycle.
Amanda Buchanan, Director of Financial Aid at McDowell Tech, will lead collaborative efforts with Isothermal, Western Piedmont, regional employers and other cooperating agencies.
“We look forward to working with our colleagues at Isothermal and Western Piedmont Community Colleges to build a strong network of quality success coaches who are trained on best practices in recruiting, advising, counseling and preparing students to be successful in college and in their future careers,” said Garrison. “Boosting enrollment and graduation rates in high-demand careers will ultimately benefit regional workforce development efforts and enhance our local economies,” he concluded.