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Perspective | It’s who you know — The critical role of community college faculty and advisors

The goal of equipping 2 million individuals ages 25-44 with a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential by 2030 set by myFutureNC and endorsed by state leaders requires that we all think about the knowledge North Carolinians acquire throughout their education and careers.

What one knows and what one can do provides a substantial foundation on which to build a successful career. Also important, however, is an understanding of career opportunities and a professional network that provides both guidance and advocacy for individuals. If you have any doubt of the importance of relationships, just think about the last time you heard someone say, “it’s who you know.”

In recent years, my colleagues and I have been studying how community college students build “career capital,” or the assets they need to build successful futures.1 As a part of that research, we had an opportunity to survey approximately 1,300 community college students from seven colleges in three Southeastern states. We asked students where they obtain career information. While you might suspect that college students base decisions on what they learn from classmates or their Facebook friends, we learned that community college faculty and advisors, along with family, were the most prevalent sources of information.

Community College Students’ Reliance on Sources of Information About Future Careers

So, why is this important?  The myFutureNC Call to Action highlights the importance of community colleges in preparing North Carolinians with the technical skills they need for well-paying jobs and/or the high-quality and affordable beginning to their postsecondary experience prior to transfer. However, program content is only one piece in the educational and employment puzzle; guidance on careers is another.

As highlighted in the image above, college instructors are the top source of information about careers with advisors also playing an important role. The significance of community college educators has been established by several national student success movements as a key component of improving student outcomes.

Many community college faculty, particularly those in career and technical education programs, come from industry and stay current with industry standards to align programs with workforce needs. In fact, advisors in all areas work to stay aware of the vast array of programs available in community colleges along with opportunities to transfer to UNC System institutions and North Carolina’s Independent Colleges and Universities. The intent is that all of these educational paths lead toward career advancement, and community college faculty and advisors are critical to that process.

Because of this, I am drawn to myFutureNC’s priority to “Improve recruitment, preparation, support, constructive evaluation, and retention of high-quality educators at all levels.”

One way to recruit, support, and retain community college faculty is through compensation, and unfortunately North Carolina is not keeping up. As of 2017-18, North Carolina ranks 42nd in public community college faculty salaries. At the same time that we discuss building talent through higher education in North Carolina, it is worth giving attention to retaining talent within our higher education institutions.

One of the benefits of myFutureNC is that it highlights the importance of community colleges in reaching our statewide goal. While we need to focus on broad, systemic, policy level improvements, we must never lose sight of those who execute the agenda every day. They are the faculty and advisors who will guide students through their educational and early career journeys.

Editor’s note: This perspective was originally published by The Hunt Institute. It has been posted with the author’s permission.

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  1. D’Amico, M. M., González Canché, M. S., Rios-Aguilar, C., & Salas, S. An exploration of college and career alignment for community college students. The Review of Higher Education.
Mark D’Amico

Mark D’Amico is a Professor of Higher Education at UNC Charlotte.