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‘We can’t invest in programs heavily that lead to lower-paying jobs.’ How one college is looking to boost social mobility

I recently had the chance to catch up with Rachel Desmarais, president of Vance-Granville Community College, to discuss her tenure at the college, the challenges of COVID-19, the school’s emphasis on bolstering social mobility in its four-county service area, her concerns around faculty pay, and the budget consequences of enrollment declines at community colleges statewide.

Desmarais also touched on a strategy for programming at the college that I find fascinating. The school’s leaders regularly look at labor market outcomes for graduates as they decide to expand or reduce course offerings, while also exploring creative ways to give students incentive to stack their credentials for long-term career benefits.

As Desmarais told me, “In order to create a better economic environment here, we have to train people for better jobs, and we have to have a workforce that is capable of taking those higher-paying jobs. We have a workforce that’s willing; we just need to educate them. And we also have to be careful in making sure that we, as a college, don’t over-invest in lower paying jobs … and we can’t invest in programs heavily that lead to lower-paying jobs.”

Give a listen below to our conversation, produced and edited by my colleague, Alli Lindenberg.

A transcript for this episode is available here.

You can listen to the podcast on Apple Podcasts here.


There are 58 community colleges in the state of North Carolina. This podcast, by, dives deep into top news and commentary on postsecondary education and community colleges by talking to leaders, educators, and students.