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North Carolina community college leaders announce workforce-focused legislative agenda

The following is a press release from the North Carolina Community College System

North Carolina community college leaders announced their 2019 legislative agenda today, asking the General Assembly for additional investments in programs and technology that foster workforce development.
The legislative agenda, announced by the NC Community College System, NC Association of Community College Presidents and NC Association of Community College Trustees, includes requests for increased investment in short-term workforce training and upgrades to workforce development-focused information technology.
“North Carolina’s community colleges are the backbone of workforce development, and additional investments will help them address the skills gap facing businesses and industries,” said Peter Hans, president of the system. “We appreciate the Governor and General Assembly for taking important steps last year toward addressing workforce needs, and we look forward to working with them to build on that momentum this session.”
The system’s agenda includes the following priorities:
  • $11.5 million to complete funding for short-term workforce training programs that lead to state- or industry-recognized credentials. The additional investment would place funding for these programs on the same level as funding for traditional academic programs. It also would allow community colleges to be more responsive and flexible to local business and industry needs since programs can be started quickly.
  • $15 million to upgrade workforce development-focused information technology systems serving all 58 community colleges, including online registration for workforce development courses. An upgraded IT system would integrate modern technologies that students, business and industry want, enhance data quality and accessibility, and eliminate manual processes and customizations, system leaders say.
  • $2.8 million to expand the Career Coach Program. Career coaches are embedded in high schools to assist students with determining career goals and identifying community college programs that align with those goals. Currently, North Carolina has only 64 career coaches. The investment would provide for up to 30 additional coaches.
  • $2.3 million to fund workforce-focused campuses for Forsyth Tech, Guilford Tech, Richmond Community College and Wake Tech. These additional campuses, which provide comprehensive instructional support at convenient locations apart from a college’s main campus, have been approved by the State Board of Community Colleges.
In addition, the system is seeking increases in faculty and staff compensation to bring it closer to the national average of $60,422. The average salary for full-time faculty in North Carolina is $47,362.
“Community college faculty salaries in North Carolina rank 41st in the nation,” said NCACCT Chairman John Watts. “Because our salaries are falling so far behind, it is extremely difficult to recruit and retain highly qualified faculty in critical workforce training areas, including health-care fields like nursing and high-tech jobs such as automotive technology, computer-aided drafting/manufacturing and engineering.”
The system also wants to reduce barriers to student enrollment by simplifying Residency Determination Services, the online system for determining whether a student qualifies for in-state tuition.
“Community colleges are losing more than 5,000 potential students each year because of an overly complex RDS system,” said Dr. David Shockley, president of Surry Community College and the NC Association of Community College Presidents. “We understand and appreciate the need for consistency in residency determinations, but we must balance this need with ensuring that any unnecessary barriers to enrollment are minimized.”
System leaders also are requesting funding to stabilize budgets for colleges affected by Hurricane Florence. Because of the storm’s devastating impacts, several colleges will likely see enrollment declines. The exact amount of this request will be determined after the spring 2019 enrollment census is completed.

EdNC staff reporting relies on staff, interns, and columnists.