Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read July 2021 — After the pandemic, today’s K-12 generation may now find it harder to enter the world of higher education. Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye, Ph.D. spoke with Invest: about what NCCU has done to engage young people. He also notes the cross-pollination that has happened between education and industry over the past year, which makes him optimistic for the future.
What concerns does the higher education sector have concerning learning loss at the high school level?
There have been multiple impacts as a result of the pandemic, and we all are coping with COVID-19 in one way or another. Thankfully, all the education providers in our state, whether it be K-12 or higher education, have risen to the occasion. It may have been particularly challenging for the K-12 segment due to the age of students adapting to learn in a completely new learning environment. The online nature of pedagogy can be difficult for some children. Despite this, I do believe that certain adjustments have made it easier to cope with these sudden challenges. We have also been intentional about assisting students in their junior or senior years of high school to make sure they are prepared for college. Like NCCU, the higher education community has been innovative in providing a number of virtual platforms to allow prospective students to take tours online, host virtual and campus visits, and interact with academic leaders.
How have your tech offerings and programs grown, particularly through the pandemic?
In light of the disruption caused by the pandemic, many tech companies have come to the table to partner with our institutions. We are fortunate because, even prior to the pandemic, we invested a significant amount of resources in our online education platform, NCCU Online, that houses several of our nationally ranked online degree programs. We partnered with Blackboard to develop a distance education platform that is both robust and competitive. More than five years ago, we established NCCU’s Office of e-Learning that is equipped with instructional designers and equipment needed to ensure our faculty are trained in the full spectrum of online instruction. Additionally, NCCU’s Office of Faculty Professional Development continues to provide training to our academic instructors. These resources were already in place prior to COVID-19, making it much easier for us to pivot when the pandemic occurred.
Today, the investments and support we are receiving from tech giants such as Cisco, Intel and TikTok and other major corporations are taking us to the next level. We’re thankful to have received a gift of $5 million from Intel in February 2021 that will be used to develop and establish a new Tech Law and Policy Center within our School of Law. This will be of great value to NCCU students and the larger community moving forward.
What does your Eagle Promise set out to do?
The Eagle Promise is a set of four outcomes we promise NCCU students when they enter the university. Promise One is that our undergraduate students will be able to finish in four years by following the suggested degree pathway for their program. This helps them minimize the burdensome student loan debt that occurs just as they prepare to enter the job market. Promise Two is that NCCU will provide students with opportunities to engage with people and programs both national and international in scope, including study abroad and international exchange opportunities. Promise Three is that we will ensure that all students have opportunities to hone their leadership skills through initiatives in the classroom, co-curricular activities, project-based learning, and educational service projects, as well through our partners in business and government. Promise Four is that students will be job-ready for employment in their field of study, or equally well qualified to proceed to graduate or professional school, upon graduation.
How has your strategic planning been affected by recent events?
Our strategic plan for 2019 to 2024 is titled, “Charting A New Landscape for Student-Centered Success.” Everything we do at NCCU is focused on our No. 1 priority: the success of our students. All of the things we’ve mentioned so far are geared to these goals, especially on-time degree completion and graduates who are well prepared to enter the workforce or graduate school. Our strategic plan is guided by several additional tenets, including ensuring student access, which means that students will receive a quality education regardless of their backgrounds, including those from low-income and rural areas. Next is innovation, research and entrepreneurship. We’ve put several resources in place to support these initiatives, not only in terms of faculty, but also in equipment. Our campus is home to two state-of-the-art research institutes. In the 2019-2020 academic year, we generated $34.8 million in sponsored research and grants. Third in our plan is collaboration and partnership. If we’re going to be a stronger institution, we cannot do it without our partners. Therefore, we’re constantly encouraging more businesses to come to the table and partner with us. Finally, we must heed the notion of institutional sustainability and plan for the future.
What is the outlook for the sector in the next 12 to 18 months?
The outlook for higher education is bright, particularly at North Carolina Central University and the Research Triangle. The pandemic has really demonstrated the importance of being nimble and willing to collaborate. An institution is not an island on its own. We are starting to see so much more of these relationships and partnerships between institutions, industries and the like. The fact that the pandemic has forced some of these evolutions makes me very optimistic for the future.
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