Community Colleges focus on customized training

Community college grads contribute $19 billion a year to state economy

Eamon Queeney—North State Journal
Faculty and students come and go a week before classes start in the Student Services Center on main campus of Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh on Aug. 11. Established in 1958

RALEIGH — Lauryn Sanchez is starting her first day at Wake Tech Community college on Monday. She’s weighing her options among the majors offered at the community college, like thousands of other students across the state. As North Carolina’s economy steers itself uphill with a continued focus on economic and workforce development, the North Carolina Community College System is zeroing in on students like Sanchez to fill some of high tech jobs in the state workforce.”North Carolina has been able to recruit highly skilled industries, especially in the biotechnology network. In order to have degreed scientists, for every engineer that graduates, there are seven technicians that have to be trained for that engineer. For every physician, there are 20 clinicians that have to be supported and trained through the community colleges,” said Dr. James C. Williamson, president of the N.C. Community College System.There are 58 community colleges in North Carolina with a total of 100 campuses allowing access to a community college education for every resident in the state within a 30-mile radius. The state’s community colleges served approximately 740,000 students in the 2015-2016 academic year.Forty percent of wage earners in N.C. have received education or training at one of the state’s community colleges during the last 10 years, according to a study conducted by Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI). This accumulated contribution of former students totaled $19.6 billion in added state income which is equivalent to creating more than 322,000 new jobs. When the alumni impact, campus operations, construction and student spending are added together, the community colleges have a total impact of $21.5 billion on the state’s economy.”When any decision is made in this state related to economic or workforce development, we should be so top of mind that if a group of people are sitting around a table and we aren’t represented, then they stop the meeting and say, ‘we can not do this without the community colleges,'” said Williamson.The Community colleges’ commitment to the state includes NCWorks Customized Training; a program designed to educate, train and provide support services to businesses and industries both new and existing. By the numbers, the colleges have served 861 companies, 92 percent of which are advanced manufacturers, with the training of 36,833 employees.”Commitments have been made that North Carolina will produce highly qualified employees for new and expanding industries and the way to do that is through the community college system,” said Williamson. “Since we made that commitment, we have to have the fiscal resources we need in order to fulfill that mission.”When the economy is sound, enrollment is traditionally down at community colleges because people are employed. On the flip side, when the economy is down and employment is scarce, people return to community colleges to enroll and obtain a new skill set to seek employment.”Enrollment decline is not a bad thing because we have educated those people and they are contributing citizens in North Carolina. We have fulfilled that part of our mission,” said Williamson. “Learning is a continual process; in order for existing industry to stay competitive worldwide they have to constantly invest in their workers and they do that through the community colleges.”