Tuesday, 15 January 2019 13:23

Local, state leaders agree: Community colleges worthy of investment

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Local leaders who attended the Legislative Breakfast at Richmond Community College were given a tour of the new Electric Lineman program now being offered at the College. Local leaders who attended the Legislative Breakfast at Richmond Community College were given a tour of the new Electric Lineman program now being offered at the College. Richmond Community College

HAMLET — Richmond Community College invited state representatives and local community and educational leaders to a Legislative Breakfast on Monday to discuss the 2019 legislative agenda that will be presented to the General Assembly with requests for additional investments in programs and technology that foster workforce development.

The legislative agenda, announced by the N.C. Community College System, N.C. Association of Community College Presidents and N.C. Association of Community College Trustees, includes requests for increased investment in short-term workforce training and upgrades to workforce development-focused information technology, as well as funding for workforce-focused multi-campuses. It also includes a request to expand the N.C. Career Coach program.

Short-term Workforce Training

“What we’re trying to do is focus on what credential people need to be successful in their career,” Dr. Dale McInnis, president of RichmondCC, said. “In some cases that’s a degree, but in many cases it’s a licensure or certification that doesn’t require a degree. And when a degree is not required, we’re going to try to make that credential available through short-term, high-quality programs that are going to put people to work effectively and quickly at the lowest cost to them.”

To provide an example of this type of short-term workforce training, Electric Lineman student, Casey Locklear, spoke to the group about the new program at RichmondCC. Locklear enrolled in the lineman program after working seven years in law enforcement.  

“Being a lineman was something I always dreamed of becoming; it’s been one of my biggest goals in life. I am grateful to RCC for offering this program,” Locklear said. 

Locklear commended the College for the top-quality equipment being used in the program and for including a CDL permit as one of the certifications that comes with the training. However, he said what really makes the program outstanding are the instructors. 

“Not only are they our instructors, but they’re also our family,” Locklear said. “They’re all smart, they’ve got a lot to offer and they give 130 percent every day.  Safety is preached to us 24/7, because safety is the most important thing in this career.”

Locklear said he expects the Electric Lineman program at RichmondCC to be recognized as the best in the state in the near future.

Sen. Tom McInnis talked about truck driver training, another important short-term workforce program that puts people into good careers with good pay. 

“We’ve got to take our truck driver training and put it under one umbrella that will service all 58 community colleges in North Carolina,” Sen. McInnis said. “Truck driving is one of the most high-demand jobs in the state, and we have the most empty positions.”

Residency Software Problems

Another topic at the Legislative Breakfast was residency software problems that are creating barriers for students trying to enroll in community colleges. RichmondCC student Kristen Stuteville attested to the challenges with the Residency Determination Services system that caused her to have to pay out-of-state tuition her first year at RichmondCC — despite making every effort to prove her N.C. residency. 

“I also work in Students Services for the College, and I’ve gotten to help others with determining residency, so I’ve seen other problems people are having,” Stuteville said.

According to the June 2018 RDS Data Analysis, 40 percent of prospective community college students who failed to complete the RDS form quit during the questions related to parental information and financial independence.

“This is impacting thousands of students across our state,” Dr. McInnis said.

Multi-campus Funding for Scotland Campus

Another item on the legislative agenda is funding for multi-campus locations at four approved sites. RichmondCC is one of the four colleges that would receive funding.

“With this funding, we can provide scalable services to all the students in Scotland County,” Dr. McInnis said. “This will reduce the amount of time they spend coming to main campus or online or going somewhere else.”

Scotland Early College Principal Patrick Peed talked about how having a fully equipped campus in Scotland County would give the SEarCH program opportunity to grow, and it would give the program a proper home with the College. 

“We look forward to having a home where our students get to experience the college that they’re attending,” Peed said. “The expectations of being on a college campus are a big part of why we’re successful and having access to the services and learning to navigate those services face-to-face is a huge step for our students, especially those who are going to be successful at the university level.”

Joining Peed at the breakfast were two SEarCH students, Jordan Fields and John Jorgensen, who both applauded the program and its impact on their education. 

Career Coach Expansion and Funding

The final topic for the Legislative Breakfast was expanding the N.C. Career Coach program by funding additional career coaches and eliminating or reducing the match for colleges in economically distressed areas. Jeff Maples, interim superintendent for Richmond County Schools, explained how the local match has been a major barrier to the program.

“We’ve talked about Career Coach for two or three years now, but no one has been comfortable pulling the trigger on it because of the local match our school system would have to pay. Being a Tier 1 school district, we have to watch our expenditures and be accountable for every dollar,” Maples said.

However, the program would greatly benefit students getting the right CTE courses, apprenticeships, field trips and internships “that would prepare them to go to work after high school and make a decent wage to help their families,” Maples said.

Remarks from Other Leaders

President of the N.C. Community College System Peter Hans said community colleges are worthy of investment. 

“The best hope for Richmond and Scotland counties is Richmond Community College, just as that is true across the state,” Hans said. “Everything we know about the changes in technology, the economy and society say to us that community colleges are only going to be more and more important.”

Rep. Ken Goodman said that money is a finite resource, so when legislators start working on the budget, they have to be strategic.

“We have to make the case like you’ve done this morning as to why this should be one of the highest priorities in the General Assembly, and my intention is to go back to Raleigh and do just that,” Goodman said.