Several years ago, a mentor told me, “In times of limited resources, put available resources where they are needed most.” Wise words, especially in these times of limited resources and extreme need. Community colleges are at the crossroads of need and limited resources, and so it is time to put rhetoric aside and invest resources where the resources are needed most – community college education and training.
Community colleges prepare the workforce, in two years or less, for jobs commanding $20 per hour and more. Community colleges are the engine of economic recovery in our county. Community colleges are called upon first when businesses and industry have workforce-development needs. Yet funding continues to dwindle, even with all the accolades for what community colleges mean to our county, state and nation. It is time for leaders to fund community colleges in line with the value provided and with the value verbalized about them.
Currently, North Carolina community colleges educate more than half of all students enrolled in North Carolina higher education but receive just 30 percent of the higher-education funds and only 9 percent of the entire education budget. The UNC system receives more than $13,000 per student in state expenditures, while North Carolina community colleges get just $4,151 per student.
Further, as a rule, North Carolina community colleges do not receive funding for courses taught during the summer. This is a disservice for local employers who require access to qualified employees at all times of the year and a disservice to community college students who are preparing for and needing to enter the workforce at a pace faster than ever before. Because of a lack of summer funding, students requiring remedial education are unable to get ahead during the summer months. General Assembly leaders must make the logical decision of funding year-round instruction so students can complete their programs faster and those working on developmental-education courses can increase their opportunities for success.
Closer to home, Johnston Community College faces challenges that cannot be overlooked.
The county is expected to grow by 48 percent over the next 15 to 20 years. Preparation for that growth is imperative. Almost daily, I receive complaints about crumbling parking lots and sidewalks, roadways in disrepair, leaking roofs, cracks in buildings, poorly functioning heating and air conditioning, not enough courses, not enough instructors and not enough staff members.
Yet the college continues to be on the front line of the county’s unemployment problem by graduating record numbers of students, by providing short-term training for job creation and sustainability, and by providing low-cost degree opportunities that lead to jobs – all while maintaining aging facilities and absorbing escalating energy costs.
In short, JCC provides value immeasurable to Johnston County. But critical to our ability to continue providing value is our ability to be ready for the future. Preparation for the inevitable is expensive, but failure to prepare will be unaffordable.
David N. Johnson is president of Johnston Community College.