Skip to content

EdNC. Essential education news. Important stories. Your voice.

Perspective | Community college transfer: Increasing postsecondary attainment in Anson and Union counties

Nearly four years ago, we joined business, policy, and higher education leaders across the state in launching myFutureNC, a shared commitment to increase postsecondary attainment. How are we doing? The good news: We’re making progress. The state has increased bachelor’s and associate degree attainment by 2.2% and 2.7%, respectively.

Yet we are still 31,000 postsecondary credentials short of where we need to be. Accelerating progress should be an economic imperative. By 2031, 85% of high-wage, family-sustaining jobs nationwide will require a credential beyond a high school degree. Here in North Carolina, six in 10 of the highest-wage fields in the state require bachelor’s degrees for entry-level roles.

Workers with the credential will benefit over their lifetime. They will earn $1.2 million more than a peer with a high school diploma — and $900,000 more than those with some college education but no degree. 

As a state, we’ve taken critical steps to extend the promise of bachelor’s degrees to more students, including a comprehensive articulation agreement and research on leading transfer practices from organizations such as the Belk Center. Yet too few students are transferring. The stakes are particularly high in Tier 1 counties such as Anson, where three in four residents do not have a postsecondary credential. These students are most vulnerable to economic crises and an up-skilling workforce.

At Wingate, we joined a new, statewide workgroup to shape a vision for community college transfer that addresses this economic reality. Meanwhile, as one of 36 independent colleges across the state, we have an exciting opportunity to reach and enroll these talented students. 

However, we confront enduring perceptions that institutions like Wingate are unaffordable. Students worry they won’t be able to transfer their hard-earned credits from community college or can’t imagine transitioning to a new academic environment. 

Back in 2019, we asked each other: What would it look like to create a transfer model that addresses all of these factors from the start of a student’s community college experience? How can we build on what the state has already accomplished? We responded with Road2Wingate, a program designed to meet the needs of students in our home counties. In practice, we’ve built welcoming campus communities poised to ensure that students realize the benefit of bachelor’s degrees.

We tell students in their first semester that if they join Road2Wingate and earn the Gateway scholarship, the bill will be no more than $2,500 a year for a bachelor’s degree.

South Piedmont Community College students connect with Wingate advisors in their first weeks at the community college. While many of our 4-year peers are also focusing on their advising programs, they often start outreach after students already transfer. For many, that’s too late. Our advisors develop an educational plan and guide students throughout the community college experience, ensuring that they can transfer 100% of credits.

Finally, we ensure that students are fully embraced members of the Wingate community well before they arrive on campus. Like their first-time, full-time college peers, they can connect with academic, financial-aid, and counseling staff and have access to Wingate’s athletic events.

We’re seeing the early results from this deeper collaboration. More than double the number of South Piedmont students transferred to Wingate this past fall compared to when we started in 2018. Additionally, nine in 10 South Piedmont graduates who transferred to Wingate have persisted or graduated.

Achieving these outcomes requires a presidential commitment to expanding access, dedicated management from academic leadership, and a willingness to do things differently. For example, we at Wingate budget for just two years of tuition from a growing share of our entering classes. If South Piedmont and students thrive from this shared commitment, so do we.

That brings us to the impact initiatives like these can have on our regional economies. As more students earn workforce-aligned skills and credentials, we’re better positioned to attract new businesses. After all, 81% of employers in the state right now are searching for workers with hireable credentials. With more jobs, additional investment and county revenue follow.

Expanding community college transfer is what we call “Market Smart, Mission Centered.” It’s good business for Anson and Union counties and each of our institutions. And we see the clear dividends for students from historically rural and underrepresented backgrounds. Advancing this strategy can improve the health and well-being of our communities.

If more higher education leaders use community college transfer as a lever to increase postsecondary attainment, we’ll be in a better position to complete the journey to two million credentials. Our individual communities will stand to benefit.

Rhett Brown

Rhett Brown is the president of Wingate University.

Maria Pharr

Dr. Maria A. Pharr is the president of South Piedmont Community College.