RALEIGH (February 9, 2022) – They’re the Swiss Army knives of higher education.
That’s because North Carolina’s community colleges do so many different things, whether it’s helping a student complete a GED, learn a skilled trade, train for a specific job with a local employer, earn an associate degree in a high-demand field, or transfer to a four-year university at a fraction of the cost.
Or – yes – go to a wildly popular ‘traditional plus’ music festival, to quote Doc Watson, hosted by the college.
There’s a reason they’re called community colleges – they serve the unique needs of their local community, its employers and, most of all, its people.
“The North Carolina Community College System serves as the job engine for the state,” Thomas Stith III, President of the System, says in the accompanying video.
“We have over 1.7 million graduates or individuals that have participated in community college programs serving in the workforce in North Carolina. In 2020, that equated to 60 billion dollars’ worth of wages. So our graduates or our students have a significant impact in the economy of North Carolina,” Stith says.
“After three years, 77% of our students remain here in North Carolina and contribute to their local communities. So the Community College System provides the highly trained, highly educated workforce.”
In a second video, Stith hops across the state to point out how community colleges are responding to plans for a $650 million Pratt & Whitney plant in Asheville; the state’s traditional furniture industry in central North Carolina; the impending arrival of Google and Apple in the Triangle; and growing biotech/biopharma companies in Eastern North Carolina.
He notes that community colleges also provide essential nurses and other health-care workers across the state.
Over the coming weeks, Higher Ed Works will examine how community colleges serve as a springboard to a four-year degree at much less cost. We will include an exciting new effort to let aspiring teachers spend their first two years at community college, then transfer to a four-year school to complete their degree, limiting their debt as they enter a profession with modest pay.
We’ll look at the considerable wraparound services that colleges – often aided by local foundations – provide for students who might be adult learners, have children or need help with food, bills or transportation. And we’ll look at specific examples of that support.
We’ll look at how our neighbors in Tennessee offered “free” community college that’s been copied across the country – but not across the board in North Carolina.
We’ll look at how, despite the colleges’ popularity, pay for North Carolina community college instructors ranks 41st in the country – less than for K-12 public school teachers.
And we’ll look at the critical role community colleges will play in helping the state meet its ambitious goal to have 2 million North Carolinians age 25-44 with a degree or credential by 2030.
So stay tuned – this Swiss Army knife has a variety of very useful tools.