North Carolina Central looks to grow adult learning enrollment working with Project Kitty Hawk

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Tuesday, February 20, 2024
NCCU looks to grow adult learning enrollment with Project Kitty Hawk
A study found that by 2033, NC will face "an estimated shortage of nearly 12,500 registered nurses and slightly more than 5,000 LPNs."

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina Central University is reporting a notable bump in enrollment from its RN to BSN program just months after launching a partnership with Project Kitty Hawk in October.

"They were able to increase our handful of 5 to 10 students a year to about 34 students," said Dr. Marquita Lyons-Smith, a clinical assistant professor at NC Central.

Dr. Lyons-Smith has been a nurse for 24 years while working on and off with the university for 15 years.

"How can we convey the message to this group of people that we have what you need here," said Dr. Lyons-Smith.

Project Kitty Hawk is a Chapel Hill-based non-profit, which is supported with state funds. In 2021, the state budget earmarked $97 million for the effort, which is tasked with recruiting adult learners into UNC System schools.

"What Project Kitty Hawk does is it enables North Carolina Central University to allow (an adult learner) to go to class. You're kind of round-the-clock we provide 24/7 technology support, so that way when they come home from a hard day's work and they're studying, they don't have to wait till the next day to get a ticket, or they can talk to their academic coach at any time of the day. That capability wasn't there before. Folks were searching outside the state to do that. We aren't a university, but we're giving the capability for the quality universities and the quality programs in the state to reach the population, which they couldn't do before," said Wil Zemp, President and CEO of Project Kitty Hawk.

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Project Kitty Hawk is also responsible for aiding faculty in developing a curriculum more suitable for adult learners, who traditionally are unable to work within rigid schedules.

"Our students work so many different shifts in nursing and so not only do we have a material that is asynchronous, we have engagement, say, with our video clip feedback so the students can take a look at it whenever they have the opportunity to," said Dr. Lyons-Smith.

"Schools have very articulate and deliberate strategies towards adult learners. What they did not have were digital capabilities to do it at scale and to reach folks that couldn't in some cases come to campus or they didn't have an online offering," Zemp explained.

Project Kitty Hawk first launched with NC Central in October as part of its RN to BSN program. While the program has existed for a decade prior, the non-profit has played a key role in aiding with enhancing enrollment. Melody McNair, a nurse of 28 years, is one of the students currently utilizing those services.

"I was an LPN about 21 of those 28 years as a nurse, and during the pandemic I had just had an enlightenment to want to go back and further my education, advance myself on a baccalaureate level, to be able to enhance my nursing career," said McNair.

The Durham native is set to graduate in May.

"It is the gateway to getting services to get their education, provide it to the nurses that are needing to fill the gap in the shortage. So it's not going to stop here. It's going to continue to grow. Our population, the face of Durham is changing. We're getting more population dense, so we need the nurses and we have the education to help this happen," said McNair.

A study shared by the UNC Program on Health Workforce & Research states North Carolina will face "an estimated shortage of nearly 12,500 registered nurses and slightly more than 5,000 LPNs."

"That affects the bottom line for hospitals and care for people, in particular women and children," Zemp said.

In January, Project Kitty Hawk launched its Bachelor of Science in Information Technology at NC Central and has also partnered with East Carolina University on a degree program.

"(In the) re-enrollment program, we're working with 10 universities in that program. That is where we're actively bringing folks back either to campus or their online programs," said Zemp, who estimated that they're working with 1,020 students between the degree and re-enrollment programs.

Students still need to apply directly through universities, with courses taught by existing faculty and credits assigned by each respective school. However, there are six start points per year for students in the Project Kitty Hawk program, with faculty able to receive feedback about courses more quickly to tailor instructions directly to adult learners.

"They also offer in-person workshops where they come here and get feedback from us about what we feel like we need to enhance the experience for our students. They also get feedback from our students because we want to make sure (students) report this as well, and this information is integrated into a workshop that actually happened on campus," said Dr. Lyons-Smith.

According to a Project Kitty Hawk spokesperson, universities pay the non-profit a fee for marketing, admissions, faculty support, student coaching, and other services. Ultimately, it hopes to play a role in helping the state meet its goal of 2 million degrees or useful credentials by 2030.

"Once I had to make a decision on how to obtain my further education, I noticed there was an online offering which fit my personal needs of having to work and go to school. Being that I'm not able to be in a brick-and-mortar building, having on the online platform really meets my needs for my daily schedule," McNair said.

McNair has had conversations with colleagues about her experience in the program and shared advice with those interested in joining a similar program.

"(I hope) to help to groom the new nurses that are coming aboard and to say, don't stop at your education, there's opportunities afforded to you and to take advantage of it."