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N.C. Community College legislative day focuses on building workforce, relationships

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  • The focus of the legislative day was two-fold: to build relationships with legislators and work toward “legislative success,” to increase funding and capacity at N.C. community colleges.
  • “With the open-door (policy), our door has been open to everyone from our inception. That is a proud history. But it does take money to operate – plain and simple," NCCCS Interim President Bill Carver said at the event.
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Hundreds of community college stakeholders from across the state gathered on Wednesday for N.C. Community College Legislative Day, where a group of lawmakers emphasized the importance of colleges building stronger workforces and relationships.

“I think we all understand and appreciate how community colleges play such a critical role in the betterment of North Carolina,” said Sen. Phil Berger, R-Guilford. “As the top state in the country for business, we need a strong community college system.”

Berger praised a new partnership between Richmond Community College and Fayetteville Technical Community College to offer several specialized, high-demand training programs. The N.C. Community College System (NCCCS) needs more of those partnerships to better serve students and meet industry demand, he said.

“Do we today have a community college system that is prepared to function as a system to optimize for the people in North Carolina, the opportunities for growth and employment that are present in today’s economy?” Berger asked. “How we respond to that question will have a profound impact on what our state looks like in the future.”

Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Alleghany, said community college leaders must continue to meet with lawmakers, not just on legislative day.

“I’ve yet to find a single legislator that opposes the community college system,” Hise said. “What’s needed is champions in the General Assembly.”

The focus of the legislative day was two-fold. First, to build relationships with legislative leaders, said Alex Fagg, NCCCS director of government relations. Second, to work toward “legislative success,” Fagg said, which he added can only be accomplished through those relationships.

This year, the system’s legislative request of $232 million over two years includes $86.8 million for a 7% salary increase for faculty and staff and $145.88 million for student investment.

Funding for student investment would help expand existing programs or create new ones at each college meant to help meet workforce needs, NCCCS leaders have previously said. Such funds would also help create more regional partnerships between colleges. NCCCS leaders have long said colleges are currently not incentivized to establish those relationships, as one college typically has to pick up most of the costs.

“Our community colleges are at the absolute heart of preparing the workforce for the jobs,” said Dr. Jeff Cox, president of Wilkes Community College and the North Carolina Association of Community College Presidents (NCACCP). “The community colleges, for decades, have been positioned to meet that challenge. And we’re certainly in a position to continue to meet that challenge. So we we appreciate the support from our legislature and from the governor, to help us meet that challenge.”

The following lawmakers also gave remarks on Wednesday:

Materials distributed to legislative day attendees. Hannah McClellan/EducationNC

‘Expansion funds for workforce development’

In recent years, a number of industries have announced expansions in North Carolina.

On Wednesday, Cox specifically lifted up six recent big job announcements, amounting to about 17,000 new jobs.

“We know that we’re the number one state in the country for business, and what an achievement that is to achieve that status,” he said. “We’ve got to also become the number one state in the country for workforce, to have that talent pipeline. And a lot of that rests here on our shoulders with the community college system.”

Last year, the NCCCS announced it would invest $38 million toward customized training programs at Central Carolina Community College for VinFast, an electric vehicle manufacturing plant expanding to Chatham County. With operation now delayed to 2025, the manufacturer expects to eventually create 7,500 jobs in the region, with an average salary of $51,000.

Rep. Reives, D-Chatham, whose district includes Central Carolina, told community college leaders: “You’re the lifeblood – you’re the folks who are able to turn around on a dime, and get folks back into the workforce, and even allow some of us who just decide that … we just want to do something else. Please continue to do what you do, because you are so, so important to our communities.”

There are myriad of other examples of N.C. community colleges preparing to meet workforce needs. At the same time, NCCCS leaders warn that if they don’t receive more funding, they won’t be able to deliver on the state’s workforce training promises.

“We need that $146 million to make good on the promises that have been made, when all these record number of companies have announced job creation in the state,” said State Board of Community Colleges Chair Burr Sullivan. “So today, we’re going to concentrate on expansion funds for workforce development.”

Advice from lawmakers

A number of lawmakers gave advice to NCCCS leaders, focused on workforce development.

Firstly, affordability of community colleges, which we have to make sure that stays the cardinal principle that we follow. But also the quality of education and training in community colleges across the state across a broad spectrum of expertise and areas, and the wide range of degrees that you offer in the certificate programs, from healthcare technology to trades, to prepare people for high-demand jobs, and for the things that really advance our economy. … I think I speak for all of my colleagues here this morning – we’re committed to making sure that that support is there so that you can meet the needs and industry demands.

Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake

We need to have you on the front lines helping us fill the workforce development needs of this state. You guys are our number one asset in doing that, and we need to support you in what those needs are. When you come in and talk to us, tell us how you’re going to take the resources that we give you and address those needs, and what we need to do to help you impact that and accelerate that process. The partnerships that we have with the K-12 system I think need to be expanded upon. We need to get more students into the (College Career Promise program) and the early college programs, and making sure that they’re coming out with as much education as they can when they graduate (high school).

Rep. David Willis, R-Union

If I can encourage you to do one thing today, it’s to stay laser focused on the job of community college, which in my opinion, and I think the opinion of most of the members of the General Assembly, is workforce development. It’s about building the economies in our communities. It’s about educating folks so they can enter the workforce and be productive members of their community, and help our communities grow economically. Stay laser focused on that. Anything that takes you off of that path, stay away from it.

Rep. Destin Hall, R-Caldwell

Funding and this year’s budget

Multiple lawmakers said this year’s budget would be kind to community colleges.

“We recognize the fact that the community colleges have risen and are rising to the challenge to do great work all around the state,” said House Speaker Tim Moore. “(We are) so very proud of your service, very proud of your colleges, and very proud of the students who locate there, who get an education, and who leave and get a career.”

House Republicans released a proposed budget for the biennium on Wednesday afternoon, following the legislative day remarks.

That proposed budget includes $1.5 billion for NCCCS in both years of the biennium — including 4.25% across-the-board salary increases in 2023-24 and 3.25% increases in 2024-25. The budget would also provide $25.9 million in recurring funds in both years toward faculty recruitment and retention for faculty in certain courses.

The budget includes almost $16 million recurring in both years for enrollment growth adjustments, and $1 million in recurring funds to increase the formula budget allocated for each Basic Skills full-time equivalent student.

The proposed budget also includes several workforce-focused items, including:

  • $15 million in nonrecurring funds the first year of the budget to waive state registration fees for continuing education and workforce development courses.
  • $20 million in nonrecurring funds both years of the budget to expand health care programs.
  • $15 million in nonrecurring funds both years to support high-cost workforce programs — with $10 million each year required to support nursing programs.
  • $5.5 million in nonrecurring funds the first year of the budget to expand apprenticeship opportunities for students ages 16-25 in high-demand fields.
  • $2.5 million in nonrecurring funds both years for the NCCCS System Office to contract with Graduation Alliance, Inc. for the development of a workforce diploma program.

NCCCS Interim President Bill Carver said this moment is a “turning point” for the state and it’s community colleges. Workforce preparation is what community colleges do, he said, but it will require investment.

“We’re not just affordable. We are good, we’re great,” Carver said of the NCCCS. “With the open-door (policy), our door has been open to everyone from our inception. That is a proud history. But it does take money to operate – plain and simple.”

State Board of Community Colleges Chair Burr Sullivan and student representative Latasha Bradford at the March 29 Legislative Day. ‘North Carolina is not only one of the best places to live, work and play,’ Bradford said. ‘It’s the best place to acquire access to educational pursuits, industry innovation, scholarships, and leadership.’ Hannah McClellan/EducationNC
Hannah Vinueza McClellan

Hannah McClellan is EducationNC’s senior reporter and covers education news and policy, and faith.