Using Flexibility to Prioritize Student Needs at Pitt


A recent Economic Impact Report shows the economic impact of Pitt Community College in its service area. Between the curriculum and continuing education programs, the college welcomed over 19,000 students in the 2019-2020 school year. In Pitt County alone, one in 25 jobs is supported by the CCP and its students. PCC has an annual impact of more than $228 million in its territory.

But the college says its impact goes beyond what the numbers show.

In many ways, Pitt Community College demonstrates the importance of prioritizing flexibility and providing multiple options for students to succeed.

Through its technical academy, PCC partners with Pitt County schools to offer a modified schedule for high school students interested in programs such as biotechnology, industrial systems technology, and more. In 2021, Pitt Community College opened the state’s first adult learning center to provide specialized support for the county’s large adult learner population.

With both, PCC shows what it means to put students first.

At the service of all students

Across campus, the dedication to serving students and meeting the needs of the community is evident. Dr. Thomas Gould, the CCP’s executive vice president, said the pandemic is revealing more about barriers to students that the CCP initially didn’t know about. Learning how many students struggled with food insecurity, child care, lack of internet access and transportation changed the college’s view of how it serves students.

“We really learned that for our students to succeed in the classroom, we need to make sure they succeed outside of the classroom,” Gould said.

PCC has been successful in supporting students by setting up a technical academy for high school students interested in taking Career and College Promise (CCP) courses. PCC waives fees typically associated with CCP courses. The technical academy provides transportation for students, who spend their mornings taking classes at PCC, and then provide transportation to their high schools located throughout the county.

Christina Weeks teaches technical academy students at a biotechnology lab. Weeks is the director of the CCP’s biotechnology department. Cheyenne McNeill/EducationNC

Dr. Ethan Lenker is the Superintendent of Schools for Pitt County. He said the technical academy is making CCP courses more accessible to students in his district.

“It gives them a reason to come to school, gives them a chance to really see what the future might look like,” Lenker said. “I’m not naive enough to think that 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. is ideal for 100% of our children, that ship has sailed, has it?” We have to do something different and that’s what we’re trying to do.

At the start of the pandemic, PCC used federal funds to purchase WebEx video conferencing software. Now, as the college shifts to more face-to-face classes, WebEx software will be used for students who can’t make it to class, allowing them to stay engaged.

Gould said the CCP realized how often work schedules, child care and student transportation plans could change, allowing students to continue going online without being penalized makes CCP programs more accessible.

Engage with adult learners

After reviewing a report received from the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research, PCC learned that there were nearly 40,000 students in Pitt County with some education but no degree. So in November 2021, PCC opened the state’s first adult learning center to help engage adult learners in the county.

There, PCC staff offer support specifically tailored to adult learners. This includes outreach, counselling, financial assistance and a helpline – opening a line of communication between center staff and adult PCC learners.

Brian Jones, assistant vice president of enrollment services, said the adult learning center acted as a “gateway” for adult learners, giving them a starting place on campus. Because adult learners are a unique population, Jones says providing unique services is essential.

“Adult learners have their own needs, you know, that a traditional learner might not have. I mean, they obviously have their life experiences, you know, that they bring with them to the table,” Jones said.

Students who visit the CCP Adult Learning Center receive expert support throughout the admissions process. Center staff monitor the helpline and follow up with adult learners after their first visit or call. Cheyenne McNeill/EducationNC

Jones and her team have created an “intake form” that they use when adult learners apply to CCP. This form includes questions about things like childcare and transportation so the CCP can be aware of students’ needs and barriers before they take a single class. By doing so, the CCP is able to connect students to resources early on and avoid a “hustle” mid-semester.

To better serve adult learners, the center has extended hours, including weekend hours, to accommodate non-traditional learners who cannot visit the college during typical Monday-Friday hours.

“We make sure students know this is the best place to study,” said Ruth Hardy, a member of the adult learning center support team. “We don’t want them to run away.

A place to “build your foundation”

Robynique Willis-Brown graduated from Pitt Community College in 2015. She says her time at the school shaped her undergraduate experience at East Carolina University and guided her to her first graduate job.

“I think Pitt really settled you in and really started teaching you what you needed to be prepared for and what the next steps might look like,” Willis-Brown said.

Willis-Brown was an adopted child in the state of Massachusetts. She said when she moved to Pitt County it was an adjustment, but Pitt Community College gave her the opportunity to acclimate to higher education before moving on to a four-year college. .

Willis-Brown was a member of the VISIONS scholarship and career development program at PCC, where she received a scholarship that made college an option for her.

Willis-Brown graduated from PCC in 2015 and transferred to East Carolina University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in social work in 2018, then earned a master’s degree in social work, graduating in 2019. She says Pitt Community College prepared her.

Now Willis-Brown works at the East Carolina Brain Center, where she provides individual counseling to patients and their caregivers and facilitates support programs.

“It all started here in Pitt,” Willis-Brown said.

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