Recently, Golden LEAF President, Chief Executive Officer Scott T. Hamilton sat down with MC Belk Pilon, President and Board Chair of the John M. Belk Endowment, via Zoom and filmed the eighteenth edition in a video series called Critical Conversations. In this series, Scott talks with professionals about economic development issues affecting the state.
Pilon has served in several roles that have helped support workforce preparedness and economic development in North Carolina. Pilon has led the John M. Belk Endowment since 2012.
The mission of the John M. Belk Endowment is to transform postsecondary educational opportunities to meet North Carolina’s evolving workforce needs. The vision of the John M. Belk Endowment is a stronger North Carolina where all residents have access to and complete postsecondary educational pathways that help them realize their career goals aligned with our state’s workforce needs.
Pilon explained that the John M. Belk Endowment focuses on the talent gap and the innovative strategies to solve this issue. She stated that the funding focuses of the Endowment are Access, Completion, and Workforce Relevance. Under the area of Access, the Endowment works to improve access to postsecondary education by supporting organizations that remove barriers and provide opportunities for all students. The Completion focus of the Endowment works to increase the number of underrepresented students who complete postsecondary education with credentials relevant to market demands. Under the area of Workforce Relevance, the Endowment works to build collaboration between all stakeholders to open pathways that align with workforce needs and lead students to living-wage employment.
Part of the talent gap includes the lack of access to a higher education, Pilon shared. Therefore, the John M. Belk Endowment researched financial aid on both the federal and state levels and how those programs work. The Endowment has funded the College Advising Corp – which focuses on providing students with personalized guidance on college admissions, financial aid, and enrollment – under the MyFutureNC umbrella to help educate 2 million students by 2030 to fill North Carolina jobs that require higher education. Part of this support includes a campaign to help students complete their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The John M. Belk Endowment has a goal to be number one in the nation in FAFSA completion. With a completed FAFSA, students will have access to available funding to pay for their college education.
Pilon continued that working in the communities helps to grow the relationships needed to understand the students they are helping. The John M. Belk Endowment has partnered with Education NC to help tell the stories of community college students, including their struggles and successes. The John M. Belk Endowment often visits with N.C. community colleges to really understand the community college student and how to educate the huge adult learner population.
The John M. Belk Endowment also funded an impact analysis study on each North Carolina community college to show the value of the robust community college system. Pilon explained that this study showed that the North Carolina Community College System has a $19.3 billion impact to the state’s economy each year, supports 319,763 jobs, and provides $7.50 in added income and social savings per student. The study, according to Pilon, also tells a collective story about the diversity across our state and how the community colleges are our unsung heroes and the economic engine of our state.
Critical Conversations is a feature in the Golden LEAF newsletter every month. The next edition will be in our November 10th edition of LEAF Lines.