Guest Column

College means much to county

January 17, 2014 

Watching movies, especially the old ones, is a part of our family Christmas tradition.

Rare is the occasion I do not find a hidden message even though I could nearly recite every line. Such was the case this year as I watched “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

We all know the story. Simply put, George runs on hard times and contemplates suicide when Clarence, his guardian angel, intervenes to stop him. In the process, Clarence shows George what life would have been like had he never been born.

It’s not my favorite Christmas movie, but it does make me think about the purpose each of us has in this life. Obvious as that concept is in the movie, I had never thought about what Johnston Community College really means to Johnston County in the same perspective.

In other words, what would Johnston County be today without JCC? It’s hard to imagine since JCC has been in Johnston County for 45 years. Yes, this year, JCC celebrates the 45th anniversary of its founding.

But what if we were not celebrating any anniversary because the insights of leaders were dulled to the potential of higher education for local citizens? What if those leaders had determined that the initiation of education centers that resulted in a community college system was too difficult a task because money was short or the powerful opposed them?

In that case, JCC would not have awarded more than 200,000 degrees, certifications and diplomas to students in the past 45 years. There would be a countless number of high school graduates who would not have continued their education because of limitations in cost, travel, work requirements and family expectations.

No in-county opportunity would exist for Johnston County Schools to register approximately 750 students per year in programs such as Early College, Middle College or in college/career pathways. There would not be 633 JCC jobs generating an annual payroll of almost $24 million. There would not be opportunities for 2,800 students per year to work toward obtaining a four-year degree. There would not be 36 occupational and technical programs enrolling more than 2,500 students per year in support of job creation, sustainability and economic growth. There would not be convenient opportunities for local employers to train, educate or find employees who are capable of fulfilling the job requirements of a 21st century labor market. There would be no local customized training program as incentive for businesses and industries to locate, remain or expand in Johnston County. There would not be $18.6 million in financial aid coming to students annually, most of which stays in Johnston County in support of the local economy.

Just as a movie, it is difficult to reflect in the confined space of a few words the all-encompassing impact an organization such as JCC has on a community. George came to that realization about his own life before plunging into certain death of icy waters. I hope you will be vigilant with me as we take a different kind of plunge together, that of advocating for the imperative of JCC to remain steadfast and appropriately sustained throughout its 45th year and into the future.

David N. Johnson is president of Johnston Community College.

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