In a recent journal article, the author quoted a T.S. Eliot character who asked, “Do I dare to disturb the universe?” Too often, we as educators do not dare, much less actually disturb. However, in one sense and, with the help of the N.C. General Assembly, Johnston Community College will begin to disturb the universe this summer.
After many years of no funding, the N.C. Community College System, through its 58 colleges statewide, will have the opportunity to offer a schedule of classes during the summer months. While this funding will not cover the cost of offering all courses, JCC will be able to bring certain developmental classes, higher-cost courses, science and math courses and technical courses as options for our students.
Offering summer courses is another example of how JCC is encouraging and supporting economic growth in Johnston County. Students can use summer offerings to get a jump on graduation requirements, complete their degrees more quickly, get prerequisites out of the way, eliminate developmental-education stipulations and accelerate entry to waiting jobs.
For too long, JCC was unable to use many of its rich resources during the summer months because of lack of funding. During previous summers, classrooms remained vacant, instructors who wanted to teach during the summer could not, unemployed students with available time could not start or continue education for the job market, students returning home from other institutions with the desire to enroll in summer courses could not, and continuity of learning was interrupted.
In essence, JCC shut its educational doors for approximately three months out of the academic year. And while we took full advantage of the opportunity to retool and prepare for the coming school year during the summer, we did so at the expense of preparing the Johnston County workforce quickly, effectively and with available resources otherwise fallow.
Although many would not necessarily consider offering summer classes at the local community college a matter of disturbing the universe, it is a step in the direction of doing so. But much disturbing is still needed. With widening earnings gaps among the workers with and without college degrees, we cannot be hesitant to provide students with meaningful and efficient pathways in, through and out of their college experiences.
In what other ways are we prepared to disturb the universe for the sake of our future? Are we willing to bring funding in line with the value we articulate about the community college education? Should we find more ways to award academic credit for life experiences that are worthy of credit? Why not provide access to four-year degrees via the community college experience? Let’s start expecting our students to complete degrees and putting methods in place to document their accomplishments.
In short, we must learn to break the rules of traditional education in order to serve our students better than ever and in ways that will produce results in a struggling economy. For one, I am grateful the General Assembly of North Carolina has supported our efforts of disturbing the universe, if just a bit. We can’t let up. Otherwise, our attempts at reformation will fall prey to minor ripple effects, fading into yet another passing meteor shower.
David N. Johnson is president of Johnston Community College.