Q&A: Focusing on the whole student

Forsyth Technical Community College's Cares Navigators help to address students' needs and connect them with the resources throughout campus and the community that will set them up for success. (Photo: Forsyth Tech)

Even before Covid hit the U.S., North Carolina’s Forsyth Technical Community College was designing a program to focus on whole-person care for students with barriers to success. When the pandemic gripped the country, President Janet Spriggs and Stacy Waters-Bailey, executive director of student support services, accelerated the new Forsyth Tech Cares Program to provide safety nets for the college’s students.

Community College Daily asked Drs. Spriggs and Waters-Bailey about how the college was able to rapidly implement the program that has already yielded promising results for Forsyth Tech students.

Q: What is the goal of Forsyth Tech Cares?

Spriggs: The program takes a highly individualized approach and has components that can help students with a wide variety of issues that range from financial assistance for basic needs to legal help and free tax preparation. Our student population faces numerous challenges that are not related to academics, but that present barriers to their success – in the classroom as well as in their daily lives. We want our students to be successful but realize that we need to care for the whole person and not just what happens in the classroom. This is why Forsyth Tech Cares exists.

Waters-Bailey: Forsyth Tech Cares is comprised of an office with staff dedicated to developing programs to help students and then connecting students with those programs. These individuals all have backgrounds in social work and understand the importance of working one-on-one with students to solve problems creatively. The so-called Cares Navigators are experts in addressing each student’s unique set of needs and connecting them with the resources throughout campus and the community that will set them up for success. Additionally, these folks are willing to go above and beyond to help the Forsyth Tech family. For example, during the pandemic, a student could not find a very specific kind of formula that her child needed due to supply-chain issues. So, we spent hours locating a store that had the formula so that the student could focus on classes and not worry that her child would not have the nutrition they needed.

The simple recognition that it is impossible to focus on schoolwork when your loved ones can’t receive the food or the care they need, or when you can’t find transportation to class, or when you are facing the threat of eviction – Forsyth Tech Cares works to eliminate all of these issues and more.

Q: Can you provide a few examples of the services the office provides?

Waters-Bailey: To combat financial instability, the FT Cares Office has established several programs that can provide direct monetary support to supplement rental or mortgage income or provide assistance with tuition and books. Additionally, and through collaboration with partners at Financial Pathways of the Piedmont and Truliant Credit Union, the office recently began a program focused on increasing financial literacy among women who are the head of their household.

Additional functions of the FT Cares office include assistance with childcare. The office oversees funds from two childcare grants and can assist with locator services. The office also can help with transportation by helping with car repairs, fuel costs and maintenance. And it can provide students with legal assistance through a referral service in collaboration with the Wake Forest University Community Law Clinic, which offers help to students with immigration, family law, credit, collection and landlord/tenant problems, denied benefits and more.

Q: Has the effort yielded results in helping students to stay in school and succeed?

Spriggs: After only one full academic year of the FT Cares program, early data show that this holistic, wrap-around student and family support approach is successful. Students who received assistance from the Forsyth Tech Cares office during fall 2020 and spring 2021 were 5% more likely to complete their courses when compared to students who did not receive assistance. Possibly even more exciting is that the current data reflect that there is no significant statistical academic difference between students who received help from the FT Cares Office and those who did not when variables that are known to influence performance (accumulated credit hours, starting GPA online course ratio, withdrawal ratio, developmental course ratio, high school GPA estimated financial need, etc.) are controlled. This could mean that the vision of removing non-academic barriers at a larger scale for students and their families to create equitable academic outcomes is a successful model that could be implemented across the state and in many other educational organizations.

Q: What has been particularly integral to the success of FT Cares?

Waters-Bailey: An important part of the model is to remain nimble and respond to student needs. When the program launched rapidly in March 2020, within a week, Forsyth Tech staff developed a webpage with resources, a phone bank to direct students, a form for the website to request help and a tracking mechanism for the influx of requests.

One thing that has enabled the staff at the FT Cares Office to be so quick and responsive is their innovative approach to relationship-building within the community. To date, the Cares Office has partnered with Second Harvest Food Bank, H.O.P.E. Winston-Salem, Truliant Credit Union, Financial Pathways for the Piedmont, the Wake Forest University Community Law Clinic, the Forsyth County District Attorney’s Office, Parenting Path and numerous granting organizations, including the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.  

Another critical partnership that was and continues to be vital to the program’s success is that between the college and the Forsyth Tech Foundation. When the pandemic began, Forsyth Tech had already applied for a Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust grant but would not be notified of awarded funds for another eight weeks. Fortunately, the college’s foundation immediately stepped up to close the funding gap and help provide direct monetary support to assist students and launch FT Cares.  

Q: What are some future plans for Forsyth Tech Cares?

Spriggs: Thanks to the success of the program and the proven benefits to students receiving aid, the college plans to continue and expand many of the programs. For example, two additional pantries are slated to open before the end of the year; the college intends to have basic needs pantries on all nine campuses in the future. Forsyth Tech Cares is also working with partners to address the healthcare needs of students and their families, and plans to open a free clinic in the future.

We believe that it is so important to “meet students where they are,” and have seen this model have an immediate impact. We believe the Forsyth Tech Cares Program helps our college continue to be a catalyst for positive change within the communities we serve.


Dr. Janet Spriggs (left) is president of Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Dr. Stacy Waters-Bailey is executive director of student support services at the college.

About the Author

Daily Staff
CCDaily is published by the American Association of Community Colleges.