Belk Center Launches Rural College Leaders Program

Designed to advance equitable student outcomes, the three-year program supports 10 rural-serving institutions across North Carolina.

The Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research, in partnership with Achieving the Dream, is pleased to announce the launch of the Rural College Leaders Program (RCLP) – a capacity-building program designed to close equity gaps and improve student outcomes for 10 community colleges serving rural communities in North Carolina.

 “The Rural College Leaders Program was designed with both the unique challenges and unique opportunities of our rural-serving institutions in mind,” says Audrey Jaeger, Ph.D., W. Dallas Herring Professor with the NC State College of Education and executive director of the Belk Center. “Through this program, we are eager to improve equitable student success that leads to greater social and economic mobility in our state’s regions. To that end, we aim to not only advance the work of our participating institutions – but to share the lessons learned with other rural-serving community colleges in North Carolina as well.”

The three-year program, supported by Ascendium Education Group, will immerse community college presidents, boards of trustees and senior leadership teams in a professional learning community aimed at removing systematic barriers, improving pathways for learners and increasing completion rates for low-income students and students of color. As part of the program,  participating colleges will engage in a series of six professional learning events focused on driving transformational change through collaboration and data-driven, equity-minded decision-making. Additionally, colleges will partner with coaches from Achieving the Dream for coaching tailored to their specific community college contexts and needs.

The kick off event will take place on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022 at the Belk Center. Focused on defining equity and identifying gaps in equity, the event will lay a foundation for the program’s goal of strengthening institutional capacity and developing learner-centered change agents. Presidents from each participating college and two coaches from Achieving the Dream will be in attendance. Greg Hodges, Ph.D., president of Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville, Va., will serve as guest speaker, sharing with the RCLP cohort about his experience promoting equitable outcomes in a rural region.

“I am thrilled to join this cohort to learn alongside my peers and work on solutions together that will help us collectively close equity gaps across North Carolina for the students in our rural communities who need us the most,” says Dr. Brian S. Merritt, president of McDowell Technical College – one of the 10 colleges participating in the program.

In subsequent events, community college leaders will collaborate to define measurable goals, leverage evidence-based practices, identify opportunities and develop action plans addressing strategic priorities. For further support, the program cohort will gather between learning events in three regional collaborative groups.

The RCLP cohort includes Carteret Community College, Catawba Valley Community College, College of the Albemarle, Davidson-Davie Community College, Isothermal Community College, McDowell Technical College, Roanoke-Chowan Community College, Stanly Community College, Vance-Granville Community College and Western Piedmont Community College. The 10 colleges were notified of their acceptance to the program on Dec. 20, 2021 following a formal application and interview process.


About the Belk Center: The Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research, at North Carolina State University, develops and sustains exceptional community college leaders who are committed to advancing equitable college access and student success, the social and economic mobility of their colleges’ students, and the economic competitiveness of their regions. The Center provides professional development and research related to current and emerging student success opportunities and challenges facing community college leaders and policymakers in North Carolina and the nation. For more information, please visit www.belk-center.ced.ncsu.edu.

About Achieving the Dream: Achieving the Dream (ATD) leads a growing network of more than 300 community colleges committed to helping their students, particularly low-income students and students of color, achieve their goals for academic success, personal growth, and economic opportunity. ATD is making progress in closing equity gaps and accelerating student success through a unique change process that builds each college’s institutional capacities in seven essential areas. ATD, along with nearly 75 experienced coaches and advisors, works closely with Network colleges in 45 states and the District of Columbia to reach more than 4 million community college students.

About Ascendium Education Group: Ascendium Education Group is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to helping people reach the education and career goals that matter to them. Ascendium invests in initiatives designed to increase the number of students from low-income backgrounds who complete postsecondary degrees, certificates and workforce training programs, with an emphasis on first-generation students, incarcerated adults, rural community members, students of color and veterans. Ascendium’s work identifies, validates and expands best practices to promote large-scale change at the institutional, system and state levels, with the intention of elevating opportunity for all. For more information, visit https://www.ascendiumphilanthropy.org.

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