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Community college enrollment increasing statewide

New data shows that enrollment increased at 53 of the state’s 58 community colleges in 2019. Enrollment in the North Carolina Community College System was in steady decline since it peaked in 2010 due to the recession.

Systemwide, enrollment at community colleges increased 4.4% according to a press release from the North Carolina Community College System. Short-term workforce programs saw a 9.4% increase in enrollment with traditional curriculum programs getting a 3.8% boost.

The largest increase in enrollment was 24.2% at Robeson Community College.

“We’re closing the skills gap with this level of growth,” said Peter Hans, president of the NC Community College System, in a press release. “It means more people are on their way to meaningful careers and brighter futures. It means more people are recognizing the value and quality of a community college education.”

In the press release, Hans noted a number of factors that have contributed to the surge. Those include innovation and leadership at local community colleges, more focus on workforce training, and a new marketing campaign that is promoting the state’s community colleges.

The General Assembly increased funding for short-term workforce training during the long session. This is particularly important to community college leaders because there had previously been a disconnect between funding for curriculum programs at community colleges and the short-term, workforce-related programs, with the latter getting shortchanged in comparison. The extra money puts the two programs on even footing.

A new marketing campaign launched by the system is dubbed “Your Hire Education,” and includes a website, billboards, TV ads, and other strategies to attract more students to the community college system.

“There is more than one path to prosperity for North Carolinians,” Hans said. “Our short-term workforce programs are leading students to good jobs in manufacturing, information technology, health care, transportation and other fields. With a small investment of time and money in these programs, students can begin a rewarding new career that can sustain them and their families.”

Even though the news is positive, not every community college saw enrollment increases. Wilkes Community College had a .3% decrease, Haywood Community College had a 1.5% decrease, Forsyth Technical Community College had a 2.1% decrease, Southwestern Community College had a 2.5% decrease, and Roanoke-Chowan Community College had the biggest decrease at 16.8%.

Currently, Roanoke-Chowan is the only community college in the system that is on probation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), a community college accreditation agency.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.