Community colleges are crunched

April 30, 2010 

Dr. Robert Shackelford's April 21 Point of View article ("Cutting community colleges out") accurately reflects the extraordinary challenges faced by community college administrators, faculty and staff as unprecedented numbers of North Carolinians turn to their community colleges as their hope for economic recovery.

When Shackelford, president of Randolph Community College, and other community college administrators began the current academic year, they were funded at just under $5,000 per student, a per capita funding amount less than the public schools and significantly less than that of public universities. Additionally, this amount is much less than the average student costs in high demand, strategically important sectors such as health care and technical education.

As the year progressed, our unprecedented 14.4 percent enrollment increase combined with budget cuts and required reversions to reduce our colleges' actual per-student funding to just above $4,000. In other words, our colleges' ability to provide the type of education and training North Carolinians want and need most is becoming increasingly unrealistic.

Since July, North Carolina's community colleges have grown by a number equivalent to the entire student body of N.C. State University, our state's largest public university. Fully funding our enrollment growth is an important but, frankly, insufficient step in making sure that our community colleges continue to play the role of statewide economic engine that they have for the past 50 years. When a college can replace its stock of equipment and technology only once every nine years, one must question how our colleges can train and educate for 21st century jobs.

For several years, community colleges have been forced to meet increasing demand with potentially dangerous trade-offs to both quality and infrastructure. With exploding class sizes, tremendously heavy teaching loads, inadequate equipment, zero funding for professional development and limited numbers of counselors who barely can keep up with basic requirements, community colleges have, without question, been cutting into meat and bone. The question for the future is whether we can allow further significant cuts, at a time of unprecedented enrollment increases, to drain the life out of the institutions that North Carolinians are turning to most often for hope, opportunity and jobs.

Scott Ralls

President

N.C. Community College System

Raleigh

The length limit was waived.

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