Educational Leaders Discuss Challenges at Legislative Meeting
Nash Community College hosted a legislative breakfast in its Science and Technology Building Wednesday, April 30th. Nash, Edgecombe, Wilson and Halifax Community College Presidents shared updates with members representing the local communities in the North Carolina General Assembly. Community college administrators, trustees and faculty explained particular challenges the respective schools face due to budget cuts and limited resources including funding for technology, restrictive budgeting and staffing needs.
Nash Community College President Dr. Bill Carver expressed the importance of support for critical training in science technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs at community colleges. He cited a recent study by Brookings describing two STEM economies — a main STEM economy, referring to STEM careers in metropolitan areas, and sub-STEM economy which refers to the STEM workforce in smaller metro areas like those in eastern North Carolina. The study, titled “The Hidden STEM Economy,” states employees in science, technology, engineering, and math fields have a direct role in facilitating economic growth. However, due to the way the STEM economy has been outlined, economic leaders have mostly focused support on training employees with at least a four-year degree, disregarding the potential of STEM employees working with two-year degrees. “Jobs like these have doubled in the last 10 years,” Carver said. “Twenty-six million adults are working in STEM-related roles. Half of these positions require only a two-year degree and pay on average $53,000 annually – and these are just entry level jobs,” he said. “Community college associate degree graduates are earning a good living right here in our communities.”
Training for STEM professions is necessary, but costly. These jobs require hands-on laboratories to prepare students to work in real-world, highly technical local environments that extend globally. “Our advanced equipment is not reserved for graduate students; it is provided for our students to utilize and learn on from day one,” Dr. Carver said. The unique industry training that occurs in STEM programs at local community colleges requires industrial equipment, and the pace of obsolescence is accelerating.
Edgecombe Community College President Dr. Deborah Lamm described how restrictive budgeting challenges local campuses. “Community colleges can benefit quite a bit from having flexibility in budgeting. When small colleges receive restricted budgetary language, we have more difficulty than larger colleges,” she said. “Edgecombe Community College is the second least funded community college in the state. Flexibility is key for small community colleges, especially when county funding is low.” Next week at Edgecombe Community College, Edgecombe, Halifax, Nash and Wilson Community Colleges are hosting one of 21 NCReady4Work Workforce Learning Summits being held throughout the state to convene leaders and workforce partners of area community colleges and showcase best practices involving key partners from the colleges’ service areas.
Halifax Community College President Dr. Ervin Griffin discussed the challenges in retaining current employees and hiring new employees stating, “As people retire, it is getting harder and harder to replace them because today’s professionals require competitive salaries. If we are going to recruit talented professionals, we are going to have to pay more to get them here.” Similarly, community college employees have not received pay increases in several years, and in some cases positions have been eliminated. The request was made for legislators to consider supporting salary increases for all state employees, not only for K-12 employees citing North Carolina community college employees make on average $47,000 annually and the national average for community college employee annual earnings is $61,000.
“Our work is not done; it is growing,” Wilson Community College President Dr. Rusty Stephens said. “This cannot continue, we cannot continue to get less and less money and more and more work. We have had to cut people and programs,” he said. “Community colleges are about community and without people with vision, we might as well close our doors. Faculty, staff and students are our lifeblood.”
Leaders discussed the increasing effort each college puts into securing supplemental funding. At Halifax Community College, a Department of Education grant enabled the campus to complete capital projects. Nash and Edgecombe Community Colleges are partnering to use Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) funds to grow mission critical programs.
North Carolina leaders who attended the event are: Senator Angela Bryant representing Halifax, Nash, Vance, Warren and Wilson Counties, Senator Buck Newton representing Johnston, Wilson and Nash Counties, Representative Bobbie Richardson serving Franklin and Nash Counties, Representative Joe Tolson serving Edgecombe and Martin Counties and Representative Jeff Collins serving Franklin and Nash Counties.