Skip to main content
Community Cohort Stories

Isothermal Community College strives for student success

Two representatives from Isothermal Community College stand in front of a promotional tent for the college
ICC has spent the last year learning how it can better engage the community.

Isothermal Community College (ICC) is not only committed to improving its students’ lives through learning—it strives to improve its own processes by learning about the needs of the community. 

ICC serves students in Rutherford and Polk counties by offering more than 100 associate degrees, diplomas and certificates that help them prepare to transfer to a university or launch a career. Residents of Rutherford and Polk counties can attend tuition free, and ICC has recently implemented a new workforce grant to pay for residents to get short-term job certifications in industries like healthcare, pharmacy and therapy. 

In the past year, ICC has taken major steps to increase student success. In order to better accommodate its students and improve their learning, ICC has been transitioning its traditional 16-week courses into 8-week courses. This allows students to take lighter course loads and offers greater flexibility for students to join or exit classes during the year. The courses have been intentionally redesigned with the student experience in mind, says Dr. Greg Thomas, ICC’s Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs. 

Another major project is the growth of i-TECH Academy, a career exploration program for high schoolers. There are now eight pathways for high schoolers to learn about career opportunities like business, criminal justice and engineering while taking courses at ICC. Partners at Polk and Rutherford county high schools will now transport students directly to the campus, allowing ICC to reach previously underserved populations.

ICC has also spent the last year learning how it can better engage the community. In addition to the launch of a new chatbot and a career coach website to increase engagement with potential students online, ICC implemented the old-fashioned strategy of simply talking to people face-to-face. During an event at the campus lake where community members came to fish, ICC staff were able to talk to residents that they don’t typically reach.

“The results that we got out of that were pretty amazing,” said Dr. Thomas. “We talked to more of our community members than we’ve ever been able to talk to in one sit-down… We talked to a much more diverse group than our average survey or focus group has reached out to.”

Three people fish from the bank of a large lake
During a community fishing event at Lake Imogene on ICC’s campus, ICC staff were able to survey residents that they don’t typically reach.

Some of the ICC staff shared their findings with the Institute for Emerging Issue’s Educational Attainment cohort, which ICC has been a part of for more than a year. Dr. Thomas shares that ICC has benefited from its involvement with the other North Carolina groups within the cohort, even though they aren’t community colleges. 

“It’s good to sit down with people who aren’t in the same space we are,” said Dr. Thomas. 

ICC’s success is best reflected in how it has improved the lives of its students. ICC graduate Emily Nichols has operated her own massage therapy business in Spindale since 2013. 

“Not only did the staff at ICC help me learn a trade, they also helped me to find my passion and purpose in life,” Nichols said. “Seeing how I am in the business of helping others, I always say the instructors there are ‘helping people help other people.’”

Isothermal Community College is one of five community-based organizations chosen by IEI as part of the 2022 Emerging Issues Forum community cohort on educational attainment in NC.