Drive-thru graduation ceremonies were recently held at Central Carolina Community College, bringing an end to another semester at the school and ushering in summer and preparations for the fall semester and another school year. With campuses in Chatham, Lee and Harnett counties, CCCC has for years been one of the premier community colleges in N.C. and the nation.
This week, we speak with Dr. Lisa Chapman, CCCC’s president, about a most unusual pandemic year, why she never uses the word “normal,” enrollment, free tuition programs and more.
Prior to becoming president of CCCC, Dr. Chapman was the Senior Vice President/Chief Academic Officer at the North Carolina Community College System Office in Raleigh for five years. Before going to the state level in 2014, Dr. Chapman was at CCCC for 27 years.
Dr. Chapman holds a Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; Master of Science in Physiology from East Tennessee State University; and Bachelor of Science in Zoology from UNC-Chapel Hill. She and her husband Jeff have two children and two grandchildren.
The interview has been edited for clarity and length. For the full conversation, see the June 4 post on the News + Record’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ChathamNR.
Never in my wildest imagination would I have anticipated coming back to the way we’ve had to do business the past year — really more than a year … the way we’re going to be doing business from now on.
In fact, we try very hard not to use the term “normal” anymore; I don’t think you can even say “new normal.”
We’re just going to continue to do business — the way circumstances support us doing business. And that leads me to say that even though I certainly had not anticipated this, I could not have asked for a better professional group to engage with. When we transitioned, we did it like every other higher education institution and every other business — you had to turn on a dime and very, very quickly make changes. They were up for it, and they did it.
We talk a lot about family at the college, so it wasn’t just our employees — our students did it as well. If you look at our student population during the transitioning of the pandemic and where we are now, our students who had started with us, for the most part stayed with us and they persisted through a lot. Our community helped by trying to make sure our students had the resources to do that, especially those that had more challenges than others. Our employees switched the way they were working. That includes not just changing the way you teach, but changing the way you engage with students in all areas: advising, coaching, supporting, financial aid — how we engage with each other on a day to day basis.
Our biggest challenge was that as the pandemic rolled on, and we rolled into the fall of 2020, we did not engage as many new students — which is the pattern you see across the country and in all areas of business, and certainly in higher education.
So as we moved through the year, enrollment dipped, and dipped more through the spring. Community colleges in North Carolina are funded based on the past year’s enrollment. The challenge for us was, in 2019, we had a record enrollment, the largest ever in the history of the college. So to be fair, we dropped, but only to levels that were comparable in years past, but that’s still an impact on our budget going forward.
We’re hoping the legislature will address that for all of our colleges. What concerns us more, however, is that we didn’t engage students as we usually had. Since we have important career pathways in place for lots of great jobs coming to this region, so our biggest concern at the college was that we’ve cut opportunities in this area. North Carolina as a state has fared better than some other states, but not every region in North Carolina has done as well as ours through the transitions of the pandemic.
We kept people working, even through all the transitions. We figured out how to continue our way forward by moving as much online as possible, closing buildings, and transitioning people to working in all kinds of ways. We still were open for business every single day, and we had classes that had to meet face to face; there are some things that we do that cannot be done virtually. Fortunately, as we’ve moved forward, and more and more of our college family has become vaccinated, we’ve transitioned to more and more face to face instruction, and are now fully open, providing in-person services.
With all of our buildings fully open now, we are still maintaining social distancing procedures, which does limit class enrollment. In addition, we still are asking people to wear masks when they’re in the building because you don’t know who is or is not vaccinated.
The instructional nature of some of our programs do not allow you to maintain social distance, so they need that personal protection. We are now offering everything we offered in summer 2019, and the enrollment is steady, a little bit above 2020, so we are seeing folks more comfortable and coming back, as I think they were looking for more opportunities for in person instruction.
Since “normal” is not in our vocabulary anymore, we are going to continue to be more and more flexible in our instruction so that people can work as they need to work.
We have the “Promise” program in all three counties, covering tuition for students who have met the requirements of some dual enrollment coursework during high school. And I can never say enough about the fact that the three counties have supported our high school students.
When I talk with these students, I emphasize the fact that the communities believe in them, they they’re investing in them and see them as important support for the future of the communities.
The Longleaf Commitment Grant does not have the same requirement. It focuses on curriculum coursework, but any high school graduate of 2021 who wants to continue his or her education, and has a need, can have that need met.
As the campuses have opened back up, there will be more and more flexibility in how students can engage with their faculty and with student support there in the Pittsboro campus, Health Sciences campus and the Siler City campus as well.
I think you’ll see more information technology instruction in the career pathway at the Chatham campus as well as continued expansion of our health programs. The early college there just had its graduation, so I would expect to see more students engage in its science, math and engineering programs. Also, I’m looking forward to getting to know our new superintendent in Chatham County and working closely with him. I know he had a great working relationship in Vance-Granville with my colleagues there, so I anticipate being able to offer more specific pathways that are targeting the businesses and industries coming to that area.
Let me just say thank you to the community for the support you provide to the college. I know our Provost there in Chatham, Dr. Mark Hall, is always appreciative of the way Chatham County supports the college throughout the many things we work on in that area.
I will close by sharing the quote, or my version of the quote, from Dallas Herring, known as the founding father of the Community College System. He says that community colleges have been set up, and are here, to take people from wherever they are to as far as they can go.
We’ve got a lot of residents who need to be able to take advantage of those opportunities. So for anybody listening who can help us get that word out, we appreciate it.
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