Letter From the Chair

In order to support student and employee success, it is imperative for community college leaders at all levels to maximize access not only to educational resources, but also to services related to medical, mental health, employment, technology, housing, and child care needs. However, our institutions cannot be everything to everyone. By partnering with community organizations, colleges can ensure that those requiring it receive the assistance and support they need to be successful in class, at work, and in life.

This issue of Innovatus focuses on college efforts to enhance support for students and staff by bringing services to campuses via collaborations with nonprofits and other local agencies and departments. Suzanne Pfister addresses the benefit of partnering with community resources to address social conditions and improve student success. Kenneth Adams and Sunil Gupta write about the value of offering continuing education scholarships for students to gain high-demand skills and improve their employment options. Hudson County Community College’s Gateway to Innovation provides inclusive, high-quality programs and wraparound services to improve students’ opportunities for educational and employment success. Long Beach Community College offers a free after-school program for student caregivers to support their educational endeavors.

Innovatus was conceived by the League as a resource to spark conversations among college leaders, faculty, and staff about current issues affecting our field. Since 2018, the magazine has prompted stakeholders to consider what it means to be innovative and to think differently about how we serve students. This issue is a continuation of that effort; we hope you find its contents enlightening.

 

David Ross, Ph.D.

Chair, Board of Directors, League for Innovation in the Community College
President and CEO, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology


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Addressing Social Conditions to Support Student Success: A Community College Imperative

How could a 25-minute drive in metro Phoenix impact life expectancy by 17 years? In Philadelphia, individuals in zip codes only five miles apart have a 20-year difference in life expectancy. How is this even possible in the most affluent country in the world?

Several years ago, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation engaged Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU)1 to map out life expectancy rates for more than 20 communities around the country. The resulting life expectancy maps show dramatic disparities within the analyzed areas. This phenomenon exemplifies the common saying that “your zip code is more important than your genetic code.”

We used to focus on individual responsibility or say it was “just bad genes” to explain why some people had adverse health outcomes, but now we know better. VCU Center on Society and Health very succinctly described how the gaps in health across neighborhoods stem from multiple factors:

  • Education and income are directly linked to health: Communities with weak tax bases cannot support high-quality schools and jobs are often scarce in neighborhoods with struggling economies.
  • Unsafe or unhealthy housing exposes residents to allergens and other hazards like overcrowding. Stores and restaurants selling unhealthy food may outnumber markets with fresh produce or restaurants with nutritious food.
  • Opportunities for residents to exercise, walk, or cycle may be limited, and some neighborhoods can be unsafe for children to play outside.
  • Proximity to highways, factories, or other sources of toxic agents may expose residents to pollutants.
  • Access to primary care doctors and good hospitals may be limited.
  • Unreliable or expensive public transit can isolate residents from good jobs, health and child care, and social services.
  • Residential segregation and features that isolate communities (e.g., highways) can limit social cohesion, stifle economic growth, and perpetuate cycles of poverty.2

So, what does this have to do with college student success? Everything.

If a student is often hungry or has unstable housing, grades will surely suffer, and adverse mental health challenges will increase. Lack of affordable housing near the college can lead to long commutes, which can increase challenges for working families. It is naïve for academic officials to believe their responsibility lies just in the classroom and that if students don’t come in ready to learn, it is their own individual problem.

These issues also tie to the success of the overall organization. Is your Academic Affairs team talking to your Human Resources team? With today’s shortages of affordable housing throughout the country, it is worth asking where our custodians and support staff are living. What about new teachers? Is their commute prohibitively difficult? Many community colleges face clear recruitment and retention issues, which are often derived from the same social conditions students face.

So, how do we tackle this? Through collaborations, partnerships, and getting creative.

A first step is to talk to both your staff and your students about their broader needs, such as food security and access to mental health care, transportation, utility assistance, housing, child care, and employment. Some may be afraid to disclose these problems, so engaging a third party to conduct listening sessions or anonymous surveys might be a good way to start.

There are a variety of partners in any community that can help, so make sure your staff knows who they are and where to go for help. In Arizona, for example, people can now dial 211 or go to 211.org for assistance in these areas.

Instead of having just a student health clinic, what about partnering with a community health center so both employees and students – and their families – can get primary care on campus? Most of these centers have sliding fee scales and accept all types of insurance, so a collaborative effort makes health care far more accessible for all. The college doesn’t have to run it—just partner with an organization that knows how to do so.

Co-locating housing on campus, for both students and entry-level staff, could also be beneficial. What if a new building had a community health center, a food pantry, and a day care center on the first floor, and four more floors consisted of mixed income housing? This solution would provide multiple sources of rental income and provide needed services all in one place. And what if the library had staff that could help people look for affordable health insurance and sign up for other social services online? Many places around the U.S. have free assisters, and librarians could easily learn how to connect them to these resources.

Another avenue is to look at nearby strip malls, city buildings, and/or community centers where services could be co-located. Community colleges don’t have to do it all or do it alone. Assess local resources and investigate what services could be jointly provided.

Communities and students have been through a great deal of stress and disruption over the past few years. The best way to move past these challenges and improve student success may be to partner with community resources and to think of your own assets in new and creative ways.

The Bridgespan Group infographic here, used with permission, further highlights the importance of addressing socioeconomic factors to improve students’ success in life and higher education.

 

1/2 Center on Society and Health. (2016, September 26). Mapping Life Expectancy. Virginia Commonwealth University.

 

Suzanne Pfister

President and CEO
Vitalyst Health Foundation


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Continuing Education Scholarships Boost Upskilling, Reskilling, and Cross-Skilling Opportunities

Financial obstacles continue to burden individuals who are seeking to advance their careers. Acquiring student loans and working multiple jobs while taking courses to acquire new skills can overwhelm even the most ambitious person driven to find a better future for themselves. By upskilling (learning new skills to advance in their current career), reskilling (learning new skills to switch careers), and cross-skilling (learning new skills to broaden their career portfolio), many individuals are taking academic pathways to make confident career shifts, find quality living-wage jobs, and position themselves for career growth.

LaGuardia Community College is providing opportunities for people to make their career goals a reality by offering workforce training scholarships. In 2023, LaGuardia served approximately 10,000 students in English as a Second Language (ESOL), General Educational Development (GED), and workforce training programs. These programs are developed and offered by the college’s Division of Adult and Continuing Education (ACE). Many LaGuardia degree-seeking students begin their college careers in ACE.

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in unprecedented economic hardship for many of the 2.3 million residents of the borough of Queens, including LaGuardia students and their families. Thousands of Queens residents lost their jobs when travel was halted, and the city’s tourism sector shut down. Prolonged COVID lockdowns and work-from-home arrangements dramatically reduced economic activity in New York’s central business districts, leaving many service workers out of work or severely underemployed.

During this period, LaGuardia committed to leveraging the programs of its ACE division to help Queens residents get back on their feet. Since few of them had the time or resources to pursue a degree, college leaders determined that short-term job training programs leading to industry certifications in healthcare, technology, and building trades would be effective solutions for individuals who needed new skills and new jobs to support their families.

The challenge for LaGuardia and these students was figuring out who would pay. The average tuition for a LaGuardia industry certification course is about $1,600—putting it beyond the reach of the many unemployed, low-income New Yorkers in need of education and training to reenter the workforce. Since federal and New York State student financial aid is limited to degree-seeking students, a source of tuition subsidy would be required.

A LaGuardia student works in the college’s fabrication lab

Fortunately, the LaGuardia Foundation agreed to launch a new scholarship fund specifically for students in the ACE division. Foundation trustees had long supported academic scholarships for associate degree students, but given the unique hardships created by the pandemic, they quickly understood the need to extend their support to nondegree students. The Foundation also recognized that since the ACE division is a significant source of degree students for the college, where enrollment had been plummeting because of the pandemic, rebuilding ACE enrollment through new scholarships would support the college’s enrollment recovery.

During the pandemic, LaGuardia President Kenneth Adams led a special fundraising initiative called The Tomorrow Campaign in response to a generous challenge grant from a long-time supporter of the college. This resulted in $15 million in new
Foundation resources. Foundation trustees tapped these new funds to create the ACE Scholarship Fund. Scholarships were awarded to low-income students in ESOL, GED, and select workforce training programs. Most awards covered up to 80 percent of tuition. In some instances, 100 percent awards were granted. The maximum award is $7,200 for EMT training, LaGuardia’s most expensive program.

The ACE division still runs the scholarship program. At this point some students have received multiple awards, and awareness of the program is growing across the borough. Foundation trustees have embraced the initiative and allocate a significant portion of each year’s budget to it.

LaGuardia Community College ACE Scholarship Fund Awards

2021: 317 scholarships awarded, totaling $253,874
2022: 709 scholarships awarded, totaling $405,440
2023: 543 scholarships awarded, totaling $467,795

Three-year total: 1,569 scholarships awarded, totaling $1,127,109 (average award = $718)

Developing these scholarships for career and workforce development education programs is giving more students the chance to go back to the classroom, acquire new skills, and enhance their careers without going into debt. LaGuardia students who gain high-demand skills position themselves in front of today’s challenging job market and move up the socioeconomic ladder toward a bright future.

Kenneth Adams, M.A.

President
LaGuardia Community College

Sunil Gupta, Ed.D.

Vice President, Continuing Education
LaGuardia Community College

Lead image: LaGuardia students participate in the continuing education electrical workshop course


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Education Design Lab hosted Fellows from Harvard’s Project on Workforce during the summer of 2023. The Fellows conducted interviews with community college leaders, employers, and community organizations to evaluate collaborative opportunities to better serve today’s learner-earner population. The outcome of the Fellows’ research is the identification of five best practices for employer engagement that are central to effective community college initiatives:

  1. Foster symbiotic partnerships with employers.
  2. Emphasize collaboration with entire sectors rather than individual employers.
  3. Cultivate a workforce readiness mindset that extends throughout the college.
  4. Maintain regular and effective communication with a diverse range of workforce stakeholders.
  5. Prioritize data-driven decision-making and cultivate hyper-local partnerships.

The following is an exploration of two of these best practices in action at community colleges working with Education Design Lab’s Community College Growth Engine.

Maintain Regular and Effective Communication With a Diverse Range of Workforce Stakeholders

Sustainable employer collaboration requires ongoing engagement. Industry leaders may lack a comprehensive understanding of their hiring challenges, which may hinder their ability to create solutions. Community colleges have an opportunity to develop meaningful partnerships with employers that require regular exchanges of data around workforce and learner-earner needs. Evaluating the nuances around hiring and retention challenges is critical to developing effective solutions.

The Colorado Community College System (CCCS) is decentralized and includes 13 colleges. These institutions work at the system and local levels to address employer needs. As needs surface, college leaders seek a multitude of voices to identify solutions. Engagement strategies at both the local and system levels can be divided into three categories: frequency of contact, diversity of contacts, and nurturing of contacts.

The staff at the Community College of Aurora (CCA) engage employers on a weekly basis, fostering a continuous cycle of feedback and improvement. A multitude of voices are invited to the table, including frontline workers, rather than relying solely on human resources or executive staff. After hearing that employers were searching for applicants with specific competencies and CCCS transcripts only listed course titles and grades, staff elevated this barrier to the system. In response, CCCS implemented one of the nation’s first statewide digital badge wallet processes, effectively enhancing the trackability, uniformity, and credibility of credentials. The state of Colorado helped create a hosting platform for badge uniformity.

Prioritize Data-Driven Decision-Making and Cultivate Hyper-Local Partnerships

As employer needs vary by region, it’s critical for colleges to think local when collecting labor market information. Community colleges are poised to serve as workforce data hubs and must establish structured methods for data collection, define data needs, and ensure data integrity. Employing analytical tools and techniques, such as statistical analysis and data visualization, allows colleges to derive meaningful insights from data.

Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) is a public institution in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. NOVA’s success is due to an investment in its internal capacity to analyze labor market data. Steve Partridge, Vice President for Strategy, Research and Workforce Innovation, created the Labor Market Intelligence (LMI) Team.

The LMI Team has significantly enhanced the college’s capacity to collect, analyze, and disseminate labor market data, enabling valuable insights for decision-making. Team members share insights with stakeholders through quarterly reports on job postings, wages, and skill requirements by industry as well as an annual workforce brief that provides a comprehensive analysis of high-growth industries. The LMI website offers student-facing data, facilitates informed career decisions, and provides interactive dashboards presenting economic and demographic data.

The data-driven strategies implemented at NOVA have led to an award of $45.1 million in federal and state funding. The college’s dedication to data-driven decision-making has empowered the college to effectively address workforce needs, provide relevant academic programming, and foster strong collaboration across industries.

Sustaining Talent Pipelines

To ensure an equitable and thriving skills-based economy, colleges must help learners visibly showcase their verifiable skills and competencies to employers. Ensuring that all learning counts is not only critical to addressing inequities, but also an economic imperative to better align labor market supply with the demand for a skilled workforce.

For more information, visit the Harvard Project on Workforce publication, Friends in Both Places: Best Practices for Community College and Employer Partnerships, and Education Design Lab.

 

Minzi Thomas, Ed.D.

Senior Education Designer
College Transformation


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Gateway to Innovation: Transforming the Workforce Ecosystem

Hudson County Community College (HCCC) aspires to reach new levels of excellence to provide its diverse communities with inclusive, high-quality educational programs and wraparound supports that promote student success, equitable workforce solutions, and the business community most effectively. HCCC’s Gateway to Innovation is a comprehensive workforce initiative developed to address the systemic challenges of the workforce ecosystem in Hudson County, New Jersey.

Located across the river from Manhattan, HCCC is a comprehensive, award-winning, student- and community-centered urban institution serving one of the most densely populated and ethnically diverse areas of the U.S. The college’s two overarching strategic priorities are student success and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Denisse Carrasco, Coordinator, and Afrodita Hernandez, Student Success Coach, at HCCC open house promoting Gateway to Innovation

Program Goals

Gateway to Innovation is “focused on students and alumni, employers, and community members with the goal of providing basic support, skills training, experiential learning, and connection to employment.”1 This effort was launched in early 2021 and incorporated nationally recognized best practices. The program has four goals:

Goal 1. Stabilize student basic supports by enhancing financial health and access to benefits.

  • Single-stop access to vital benefits and community resources, such as food stamps, day care, local food pantries, and housing programs, for students and alumni
  • One-to-one financial counseling for students to establish goals, such as saving or increasing credit scores through the Financial Counseling Passport

Goal 2. Support HCCC alumni by connecting them to recession-resistant work.

  • Job placement, career coaching, resume design, mock interviews, career workshops, and job placement services
  • Alumni networking to make meaningful connections, obtain information about resources, and access job opportunities

Goal 3. Recover by offering short-term no-cost workforce training programs focused on underemployed and unemployed residents who are underserved and in communities of color, resulting in industry-recognized stackable credentials and employment.

  • Student Success Coach (SSC) assigned to support each student from enrollment through program completion with proactive guidance; advises students on advocacy skills, navigating resources, time management, and other essential functions required for success
  • Student wraparound supports, including soft skills workshops on topics such as time management, networking, and public speaking as well as career and academic advising
  • Enhanced Certified Nurse Aide and Fast Track Patient Care Technician training
  • Certified Pharmacy Technician training
  • Financial services and technology instruction and certification through Coursera, including Google IT Support, Google Data Analysis, Intuit Bookkeeping, Salesforce Sales Representative, and Meta Social Media Marketing Professional Certification

Goal 4. Prosper by deepening employer engagement in the healthcare, IT, and financial services sectors to prepare students for high-growth careers.

  • Transformative opportunities for students through active Employer Advisory Board (EAB) members representing employers in the financial services, healthcare, insurance, and technology sectors, with the goal of creating a robust and diverse talent pipeline in these areas by identifying in-demand skills, collaborating with HCCC to design leading-edge curricula, creating internships and other experiential learning opportunities, developing mentoring relationships, hiring students, and offering student scholarships

Results

Gateway to Innovation has had a significant impact on students, employers, and the Hudson County community. Program outcomes include:

  • 2,335 students screened for and provided benefits and resources
  • 347 students enrolled in workforce training, with an 82 percent completion rate
  • 86 percent of completers earned a credential
  • 86 percent obtained employment, with an average hourly salary of $28.15 and a job retention rate of 95 percent after 90 days

The EAB is a vibrant and engaged group of business leaders who meet every quarter and contribute their time on behalf of students. They have initiated workshops, mentoring relationships, and internships; contributed to scholarships; and hired graduates. Additionally, HCCC has continued to build on the successful foundation of Gateway to Innovation with the guidance of its stakeholders. Planning for scaling and sustaining the program is critical to accelerating the momentum of change. JPMorgan Chase invested over $1 million to launch the initiative, and a braided funding strategy has been successfully used to maintain revenue sustainability and subsequent program growth.

 

1 Hudson County Community College. (n.d.). About the Gateway to Innovation Program.

Lori Margolin, M.S.W.

Associate Vice President
Continuing Education and Workforce Development
Hudson County Community College

Anita Belle

Director, Workforce Pathways
Continuing Education and Workforce Development
Hudson County Community College

Lead image: Students participate in hands-on phlebotomy training in class


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Many colleges provide programs and services that help student parents succeed, such as on-campus child development centers, welfare-to-work programs, and lactation rooms. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the particular struggles of students responsible for school-aged children were made visible, as parents and children had to navigate access to computers, Wi-Fi, and quiet study space, among many other challenges.

In fall 2021, Long Beach City College (LBCC) conducted an online student survey to assess the impacts of the pandemic. Approximately 900 students, nearly 20 percent of survey respondents, indicated that childcare was a possible barrier to their ability to return to in-person learning. With this in mind, LBCC conducted another survey over the summer for students self-identified as parents to determine their potential interest in an after-school program. One student responded,

I am now on my last year at LBCC and this fall I am not able to attend two in-person classes (that meet every Thursday at 3:30-6:00 p.m.) due to not having [a] caregiver for my two young children. If LBCC starts this childcare program now, I would be able to take this class and graduate my course by next spring.

Another student shared, “I would take more classes and be more focus[ed] in my studies. Living with my parents and children, I don’t have anywhere to sit and focus completely without interruptions.” Based on this feedback from students, LBCC piloted an on-campus after-school program in partnership with the Long Beach Boys & Girls Clubs (BGC) in fall 2022.

After-school program students have fun on a summer field trip to Adventure City

LBCC’s On-Campus After-School Program

The after-school program is free to LBCC students who are caregivers, including parents, guardians, siblings, grandparents, and any student responsible for the care of school-aged children, ages 6 to 18. LBCC was able to allocate one classroom and a nearby shared kitchenette with a refrigerator. BGC provides a manager and support staff. Their responsibilities are to supervise the children; lead activities, such as homework help, STEM experiments, art projects, music lessons, and outdoor recreation using campus athletics facilities; provide a snack and hot dinner; and mentor LBCC Federal Work Study students who gain on-the-job experience. The program’s hours of operation are 2:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m., Monday-Friday. After the 2022-2023 academic year, LBCC and BGC expanded to offer a no-cost summer program to students and employees, which was open 8:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m., Monday-Friday. During the school year, the program serves approximately 100 children, and in summer 2023, participation grew to nearly 150 children.

The hard costs to LBCC are minimal, beyond the staff hours to coordinate program administration. LBCC has a long-established relationship with the local K-12, Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD), which provided youth furnishings and materials as well as ongoing financial support to offset BGC’s staffing and program operation costs. As a K-12 system, LBUSD has access to expanded learning opportunities funding designated to support after-school programs and related activities.

Impact of LBCC’s After-School Program

LBCC is monitoring the success data for student parents who participate in the after-school program. It is too early to calculate completion rates, but, in general, students are able to choose from a wider variety of classes, stay enrolled, pass their classes, and persist to the next semester. In an online survey of participants, one student said,

I have more time to watch lectures and complete assignments, and I spend less time worrying about my daughter’s homework and having to prepare dinner. I feel like I can stay on track with my academic goals now and finish a semester earlier than I expected.

Another potential benefit could be that participating children find the idea of college less mysterious and inaccessible. After spending time on campus, they may have a better understanding of their parents’ educational journeys and be more inspired to pursue higher education themselves. After a successful first year, LBCC plans to continue the after-school program and is committed to leading with innovative solutions for the benefit of all students.

Mike Muñoz, Ed.D.

Superintendent-President
Long Beach City College

Tracy Carmichael, Ph.D.

Chief Innovation Officer
Long Beach City College

Lead image: After-school program students learn how to make slime during a STEM lesson


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What Goes Into Your Health?

 

This graphic was created by The Bridgespan Group and originally appeared here. Used with permission.

 

To read more about addressing social conditions to support student success, see the cover article in this issue of Innovatus.


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Catalyzing Positive Societal Change: The Synergy of Community Colleges and Nonprofits Within Workforce Ecosystems

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Catalyzing Positive Societal Change: The Synergy of Community Colleges and Nonprofits Within Workforce Ecosystems

What happens when you make a unified effort to successfully connect workforce ecosystems not only to pave the way for meaningful employment, but also to focus on addressing foundational needs like stable housing and food security? You reduce poverty.

Pipeline AZ is transforming this vision into reality in Arizona. Taking a comprehensive approach to tackle the challenges of limited access and awareness of career readiness resources scattered across different departments, agencies, and systems, Pipeline AZ unites diverse groups of individuals through collaborative processes and innovative technology. The initiative embodies a collective and unwavering commitment to dismantling silos within career seeking, creating a more interconnected and accessible career development system for the benefit of all statewide.

In this visionary initiative, learners can seamlessly connect with credentialing programs and training opportunities through career exploration and transition smoothly into localized programs aligning with their career interests. Employers and industries play an active role in marketing themselves and high-demand careers, attracting fresh talent and providing a clear pathway to acquiring essential skills, including internships, apprenticeships, and job opportunities. This collaboration involves numerous colleges across Arizona, and ongoing efforts are directed toward planning the next demonstration in this interconnected ecosystem, poised to address broader societal barriers learners face.

Picture a single parent, uncertain about joining a college certificate program due to financial constraints. This individual connects with their local community college through career exploration, where their career goals come to life through a training program. The college not only facilitates their entry into the program, but also provides direct access to United Way and the Community Food Bank, offering stable housing and food security they did not know existed. The layers of support offered by expanding awareness of local wraparound services allow this parent to transition from a minimum-wage worker to an enrolled student, anticipating a wage increase from $12 per hour to $18 per hour upon completion. This is a practical example of how education and support can positively impact someone’s journey to a better future.

This example will become a reality in the next phase of Arizona’s connected workforce ecosystem. Community colleges will have the ability to fully leverage the potential of this approach, increasing collaboration among various organizations, nonprofits, and government programs. This seamless partnership will continue to deliver services to individuals, expanding efforts to address underlying issues through existing wraparound service providers within proximity to the student. The solution is designed for community colleges to efficiently tackle and eliminate the barriers each learner faces, offering them an optimal chance for success.

The intersection of community colleges, nonprofits, and innovative solutions like Pipeline AZ improves education and career outcomes and drives positive societal change. Arizona’s pioneering work serves as a model for the U.S. as a whole, showcasing the value of collaboration, innovation, and compassion. Community colleges can transform into vital support hubs, connecting students to career pathways as well as comprehensive wraparound resources. Should every state emulate Arizona and successfully integrate their workforce ecosystems, nearly 1,000 community colleges would be empowered to connect their students to almost two million nonprofit organizations offering services that help to drive student success.

If your state is eager to embark on this uplifting journey, Futures Inc., in partnership with the League, invites you to contact us at futuresinc.com to discuss how we can collaborate to create a workforce ecosystem that celebrates success, fosters collaborative solutions, and plays a pivotal role in reducing poverty.

 

Amber Smith, M.P.A.

CEO
Pipeline AZ


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SPOTLIGHT: Celebrating Innovation and Excellence

2023-2024 TERRY O’BANION STUDENT TECHNOLOGY AWARDS

Student Developer Champion

Rachel Huggins, Wake Technical Community College

Student Technology Champion

Drew Dearden, Montgomery County Community College

LEAGUE EXCELLENCE AWARDS

Congratulations to the 325 faculty, staff, and administrators from 67 member institutions who received 2023-2024 Excellence Awards for exemplifying exceptional teaching and leadership!

INNOVATION OF THE YEAR AWARDS

The 2022-2023 Innovation of the Year Awards celebrate innovations at 32 member institutions and honor the 219 individuals who designed, developed, and implemented these initiatives to improve and expand service to their students and communities. The League applauds these efforts!

Visit www.league.org/node/1430531 to access the League Awards Program, which includes Excellence Award and Innovation of the Year Award recipient names and congratulatory messages.


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