North Carolinas community colleges are a hidden gem

Area-centric programs offered through North Carolina community colleges help provide students with guaranteed job opportunity.

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

CHARLOTTE – In 1957, the North Carolina General Assembly adopted the first Community College Act. Today, it’s the third largest system in the nation with 58 public community colleges and an annual enrollment of 730,000. The N.C. Community College System has long been viewed as an opportunity for higher education by those who don’t want to pursue a traditional, four-year baccalaureate. However, recently the community college system has also been popular for students who see it as a cost-effective step toward a four-year degree and higher. While community colleges typically train students for industry-related jobs or a potential transfer to a four-year university, N.C.’s system revolves around innovative, area-centric curriculum.Boat manufacturing, nanotechnology, viticulture – these are actual programs offered across N.C. to help students monopolize on central industries of their area while providing degrees so specific, job security is almost guaranteed. In fact, getting students to actually finish certain programs is becoming a problem because employers will propose a job offer before completion, according to Linda Weiner, Vice President of Engagement and Strategic Innovation for N.C. Community Colleges. It’s a particular issue with the welding industry, where once a student reaches a certain level of training, they will naturally choose employment and steady pay over school. To encourage program completion while still continuing to supply the industry with ready-made workers, Weiner said they are developing the career pathway concept.”Working with our K-12 and workforce development partners…the concept provides a clearly defined path to a successful career but allows students to move on and off the pathway as life demands.”With community colleges at North Carolinians convenience, a rise in unique programs attract students and adults seeking to learn a specific skill. In the heart of Yadkin Valley and N.C. wine country, Surry Community College is home to the N.C. Center for Viticulture and Enology. Craft beer is also a growing industry. Many community colleges like Nash, Rockingham, Blue Ridge, and notably AB Tech offer programs in brewing and distilling. AB Tech also has a “mini-hotel” on campus to train students in the hospitality management program. Students can even learn specific skills for small industries. Montgomery Community College’s gunsmithing program is nationally known. Carteret Community College offers a program in boat manufacturing. Programs working directly with local businesses are on the rise. Craven Community College partnered with Bosch to offer a robotics training program for their new line of dishwashers. Today, Craven offers “basic” and “advanced” robotics. Lenoir Community College offers the ConEd Aerospace Manufacturing and Repair to train students for industry employment, specifically at Spirit Aerosystems, FRC East at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, AAR and Mountain Air Cargo.”That’s why the word community is so important…Each college is the absolute best college for their respective service area because they reflect the needs and demands of that area,” said Weiner. “Our focus on serving our communities really is the heart and soul of our system.”