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Perspective | Community colleges are the key to North Carolina’s ambitious new education goal

The past year has brought new ambition, support, and momentum for the NC Community College System.

First, after months of study and consideration, myfutureNC has set a statewide educational attainment goal that will be the guiding light for us in the years ahead. By 2030, our target is to have two million North Carolinians with a high-quality degree or credential beyond high school. The legislature, the governor, and all education sectors have agreed on this goal, and now we must go about the work to achieve it.

Let’s face it. The two million number won’t be possible without the 58 community colleges, which have the scale to impact so many people and so many communities that need an economic lift. Two-year degrees and workforce credentials are central to the statewide attainment goal.

So that’s our horizon a decade from now. What do we have to do to get there?

I like to think of success in terms of four pillars for us — simplify, align, support, and accelerate. We want to simplify the educational journey for our students, with less confusion, more defined career pathways and more intensive advising along the way. We need to align with other education and business partners, so that our students are ready to learn and are prepared for the next step. We need to provide support for students to be able to finish, and we need to help them get there faster.

And, we have to do a better job telling prospective students about the skills and education they can gain at our community colleges — the incredible array of degrees, certificates and diplomas available to them. That’s why we recently launched our first statewide advertising campaign, with TV, radio, digital, print, billboard and social media ads.

Our aim is to persuade young people to find their way to college, to get a second chance, a bigger paycheck. To be a boss. To find a rewarding career. The campaign, funded with private dollars from the John M Belk Endowment and our system’s foundation, has a simple message: Choose a higher education that focuses on getting you hired — “Your hire education.”

We are grateful for the support of our donors. We are also heartened by the budget passed by the legislature this summer. While negotiations continue and a final outcome is still unclear, we are happy that both the legislative and executive branches have supported our major priorities — parity in workforce training funds, IT improvements, career coaches, hurricane relief, and a boost in capital funding. We are hopeful that a resolution will come, so that our colleges can move forward with this crucial support.

All the ingredients are in place for success. A clear roadmap for the future. The momentum we’re seeing through our strategic plan and marketing campaign. The support of business partners, taxpayers, government and philanthropy. Healthy collaboration among college presidents, trustees, faculty and staff in support of our 700,000 students.

I’m excited for the future, just as I’m inspired when I see our students reach their goals.

Students like Shantal Grullon, who is one of the faces of our ad campaign. Shantal is a Wake Tech graduate who got her community college start in high school, amassing credits through the Career and College Promise Program. Once at Wake Tech, she was awarded an internship with Lenovo, and before she even finished her associate degree, the company offered her a job.

The daughter of immigrants, Shantal was once told by friends that she shouldn’t go into information technology because it wasn’t “a girl thing to do.”

Boy, did she prove them wrong.

Shantal had the guts to aim high, the grit to keep at it, and the smarts to reach her goal.

Our community colleges, and our state, can do the same.

Peter Hans

Peter Hans became the ninth president of the North Carolina Community College System on May 1, 2018, bringing decades of leadership experience in higher education policy and governance to the position. Hans has been a leader on North Carolina’s two governing boards for higher education. He served six years on the State Board of Community Colleges and 12 on the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.