As part of the Golden LEAF Community-Based Grants Initiative, the NC Rural Center works to support project teams by fostering a collaborative approach to economic development. In 2018, the NC Rural Center worked with approximately 30 entities in Halifax County interested in addressing workforce shortfalls in their community. Partners included representation from the public and private sectors, education and economic development. The end result of this collaboration was a proposal to open three Community Education Centers to be managed by the community college. Halifax Community College (HCC) was awarded $582,000 in April 2019 to implement this strategy.
“We all came to the consensus that the availability of education throughout all areas of Halifax County was important to the community,” said Dr. Jeffrey Fields, HCC Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dean of Curriculum & Chief Academic Officer. “With the three centers, we have educational opportunities available about 15 miles away from any resident in Halifax County.”
Dr. Eric Cunningham, Superintendent of Halifax County Schools, volunteered the media center space at elementary schools in Scotland Neck and Hollister for the community centers. The college uses this space after 4 p.m. on weekdays and on weekends.
“The largest obstacle to our programming is transportation,” said Dr. Fields. “That is why the Community Education Centers are so important.”
Offering a one-stop shop for anyone interested in advancing in their careers, the centers are designed to meet students where they are.
“Students are evaluated based on their employment needs, given a coach, and then enrolled in the program that will give them that next step,” said Dr. Fields.
Currently, the centers offer short-term training programs and other non-curriculum programs that lead to gainful employment. Some of the courses offered include: certified nursing assistant (CNA), employability skills, customer service training, introduction to careers in healthcare, and human resource development. Since July 2019, 136 students have enrolled in courses with 99 completing courses and 71 earning third-party credentials.
HCC is undergoing an approval process to offer curriculum courses at the centers.
One of the biggest successes coming out of the education centers is participation in the RAMP East program. RAMP East is a regional collaborative partnership with eight community colleges and support from economic development, workforce development, state and nonprofit organizations, including the Golden LEAF Foundation. RAMP East focuses on the advanced manufacturing workforce shortage by ensuring industries are receiving all the necessary resources to access a talent pipeline and to grow their business in the eastern region.
By launching this program at the community education centers, HCC has given rural residents the opportunity to participate in this training without the transportation concerns. Since September 2019, 48 HCC students have enrolled in RAMP East programs and 30 have completed programming. Each student completing the program received the RAMP East program completion certificate, Working Smart certification, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA-10) certification, making these students workforce ready.
Following completion of the program, students receive guaranteed interviews from partnering businesses including, AEL Span, AirBoss, Enviva, JBB Packaging, Kennametal, Meherrin River Forest Projects, PCB Piezotronics, Reser’s Fine Foods, Southern Corrosion, and Weldon Steel.
As with so many educational programs in the state, the pandemic forced the program to consider other avenues of instruction.
“We had purchased peer to peer communication equipment for all three Community Education Center sites,” said Dr. Fields. “Golden LEAF allowed the college to use the 45 laptops purchased for the centers to loan out to program participants so they could take classes virtually. Thanks to Golden LEAF, we really transformed our model.”
While HCC had success teaching curriculum courses online and through distance learning platforms prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the college had never offered non-curriculum courses online or virtually.
“We were very successful in deploying an advanced manufacturing institute in a virtual teaching environment with the help of Golden LEAF,” said Rhonda High, HCC Customized Training Director. “Our students were able to check laptops out through our resource center, and we also offered internet connections on our campus in our library or in our parking lot for those who needed it.”
The pivot to virtual learning has actually helped some people to be able to take classes who normally would not be able to make it to campus.
“The Community Education Centers helped Halifax Community College to be flexible, which is needed in our community, and actually gives us the edge we need to reach more people,” said High. “Working moms and single parents are now able to take classes without worrying about childcare. The virtual classes help us to reach individuals we would not normally reach because they could not make it to campus or were intimidated by the campus.”
Although the idea of the Community Education Centers was designed for students to come in for instruction, HCC was able to get more than they expected out of the equipment and technology funded by Golden LEAF. HCC will use the centers for in-person instruction again, but in the meantime, the college has gained another way to reach students where they are and to prepare them for workforce success.