The 2021 Region of Excellence award for Cross-Community Collaboration in a large community was awarded to Rowan County for the projects planned and executed through the Rowan Education Collaborative. This initiative is the first of its kind in the area, bringing government and education leaders from across the county together to increase local educational attainment and expand job opportunities for residents. The ingenuity in project development and successful facilitation of regional collaboration seen here highlights strong partnerships between stakeholders towards a common goal to make their community stronger and further advance Centralina’s mission for regional collaboration.
When investigating local demographics in the summer of 2019, Rowan County leaders discovered a sizeable gap between the educational assets available to the community and the actual attainment of those assets. This hole between resources and utilization cast an uncertain future of what the county’s position for economic development investment and future job opportunities in the area may look like. Both county government officials and leaders from the county’s educational institutions agreed that collaborative efforts were needed to discover ways to combat and eliminate this paradox.
Leaders from Catawba College, Livingstone College, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, and Rowan-Salisbury Schools joined forces with representatives from the Rowan Economic Development Corporation, as well as two county commissioners, to form the Rowan Education Collaborative. Members worked together to develop a mutual set of goals and a guiding statement: How can Rowan County create an agile talent framework that promotes prosperity for businesses and residents?
Determined goals include:
- Exceed national education attainment rates.
- Double the number of students who complete occupational and career education.
- Create career-focused opportunities for all students.
- Increase the placement rate of graduates in jobs with Rowan County employers.
These goals closely align with those of myFutureNC, a statewide nonprofit organization focused on educational attainment across North Carolina. The strategic vision, carried out through a variety of key initiatives and measured by linked and leveraged metrics, was created with the ultimate goal to build a culture of education in Rowan County. Members stuck to this vision and progressed on key work despite hurdles imposed by group member turnover and limited in-person collaboration due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through the partnership between education advocates and government officials in Rowan County, and the solutions they proposed and acted upon, the community has begun to see progress in filling the cavity that is educational attainment. The following are some of the community impact highlights.
- Successfully passed a $45 million bond initiative with 57% voter approval for the buildout of the Technology Complex and Early College buildings at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.
- Articulation agreement between Rowan-Cabarrus Community College & Catawba College offering seamless transfer pathways for community college students to enroll in 50 programs of study with junior standing and financial aid.
- Developed a teacher training initiative between Catawba and Rowan-Salisbury Schools to create a hiring pipeline of qualified teachers for the local school system.
- Connected students with post-secondary education through a partnership program between Rowan-Cabarrus and Rowan-Salisbury Schools, which allowed the summer hiring of Rowan-Salisbury Schools counselors to support students who had not committed to a career, enlistment in the military or the pursuit of a higher education degree.
- Implemented a FAFSA Now (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) campaign to encourage Rowan County students to fill out the FAFSA to increase financial aid available to students in Rowan County.
Progress and work plans were shared with local organizations (Rowan-Salisbury School Board, Rowan Chamber of Commerce, etc.). Beyond being a Region of Excellence Award recipient, the accomplishments made by the collaborative were also recognized through state and local press coverage opportunities.
When asked to provide advice and inspire other communities looking to improve the quality of life in their community, Chief Officer of Governance, Advancement & Community Relations of Rowan County, Sarah Devlin, emphasized the ability to accomplish more collaboratively than on one’s own.
“Solving complex community issues is a team sport that requires alignment as we focus our thinking, combine our resources, and remain focused on outcomes. This approach can be applied in any community setting with willing participants who share a clear vision of the future. The Rowan Education Collaborative is what we call a “No Overhead Organization.” We have no paid staff, offices, or the traditional structure of a non-governmental organization, but we can accomplish much through our projects. Each project is supported with existing assets from the member institutions, whether financial assets, human resources, or our knowledge and networks. Our hope is that our example of how individuals and organizations can come together to align and invest in their collective future can help others break the paralysis that often keeps communities from moving forward to solve key issues.”
If you missed the 2021 Region of Excellence Awards ceremony, you may view it here.