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The Belk Center to Support More Rural Community College Leaders with New Grant

The investment from Ascendium Education Group will be used to elevate strategies to advance equitable student success.

RALEIGH, NC — The Belk Center for Community College Research and Leadership, which is part of North Carolina State University’s College of Education, received additional grant funding from Ascendium Education Group to continue its work supporting rural North Carolina community colleges through the Rural College Leaders Program (RCLP). Ascendium Education Group’s $490,200 grant will allow for evaluation of impact and best practice strategies identified through the RCLP.

Ascendium Education Group has invested in The Belk Center’s work since 2020 and helped to launch the RCLP, which seeks to improve student outcomes in rural communities throughout North Carolina. 

The RCLP equips North Carolina community college presidents and their senior leadership teams to improve student outcomes and advance equity at their rural institutions. The RCLP project aims to remove barriers and close gaps in completion rates for students from low-income backgrounds and those living in rural communities with an evidence-based approach. The Belk Center is one of only seven programs in the nation that Ascendium Education Group chose to invest in through its Building Evidence to Increase Rural Learner Success initiative, which will assess the impact of the work with rural institutions.

“North Carolina has more rural-serving community colleges than any other state,” said Audrey J. Jaeger, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Belk Center for Community College Research and Leadership. “We are thankful to Ascendium Education Group for once again recognizing the impact we are making with our rural community college leaders. The RCLP data that we’ve been able to gather over the last two years shows there is more work to be done in removing barriers and helping more students complete a credential.”

The Belk Center announced the RCLP’s inaugural cohort in 2022. Ten community colleges serving rural counties in North Carolina were selected  to be a part of the cohort including: 

  • Carteret Community College
  • Catawba Valley Community 
  • College of The Albemarle 
  • Davidson-Davie Community College 
  • Isothermal Community College
  • McDowell Technical Community College 
  • Roanoke-Chowan Community College 
  • Stanly Community College
  • Vance-Granville Community College 
  • Western Piedmont Community College

“The Rural College Leadership Program has been invaluable to me and my senior leadership team at Stanly Community College,” said John Enamait, President of Stanley Community College. “We are so appreciative of the professional development and collaboration that the program brings and allows us to help even more students get the training and tools they need to graduate and find fulfilling careers.”

“Participating in the Rural College Leaders Program (RCLP) is helping our college to put a microscopic lens on data to improve equitable outcomes for all students,” said Dr. Murray Williams, President of Roanoke-Chowan Community College. “RCLP is also assisting our college in formulating an annual action plan that turns data into workable strategies and creates a college culture where all students can reach their potential.” 

“We know that, for individuals, high-quality postsecondary education and workforce training is the best ticket out of poverty and low-wage work and into a rewarding and family-sustaining career. It’s especially critical in rural communities struggling to maintain a foothold in a changing economy,” said Keith Witham, vice president – education philanthropy. “At Ascendium, we want to make sure rural learners can access good jobs in the places they live, stay near their families and help communities grow and thrive for the long term.”

Through the Building Evidence to Increase Rural Learner Success Initiative, The Belk Center will join a network of research institutions and nonprofits that will expand the body of research on rural learners.

About the Belk Center

Creating tools, convening leaders, and catalyzing change: the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research works with educators, researchers, and policymakers to further more equitable community college outcomes in North Carolina and across the nation. We equip community college leaders with actionable insights and create opportunities for collaboration as we tackle the most pressing issues facing students and campuses to build stronger, more resilient communities. The Belk Center is housed in the College of Education at North Carolina State University, a land-grant university that shares our commitment to community colleges and the critical role these institutions play in creating and expanding opportunities for all North Carolinians.

For more information, please visit

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

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Kolbie Satterfield