Wake Tech celebrates its 50th birthday, with a long list of successful alumni

October 20, 2013 

It began, in 1963, in a single building “way out there” on U.S. 401 South, offering (as reflected in its name) some technical training courses. Today, after that start with 70 students, Wake Technical Community College will have 70,000 people taking at least one course this year at one of several campuses.

What a magnificent legacy the college can review in its 50th birthday year.

It’s now part of a 58-college system regarded as one of the finest, perhaps the finest, in the United States.

The state’s community college system, and its Governor’s School for gifted young students, and its School of the Arts were created under the eye of the legendary Terry Sanford, governor, U.S. senator and president of Duke University, a man who believed no dream was too big, no goal unattainable.

Wake Tech mirrors Sanford’s vision in so many ways. It’s just kept growing and growing, largely out of a desire not to build an empire, but to answer the needs of its community and its state for that matter. Courses have ranged, and still do, from personal enrichment study in arts and music to hard-core education in those original technical fields and in nursing and dental assistance and all manner of health sciences.

Time was, a community group could go to Wake Tech and suggest a course and arrange instruction. Or, a group of potential students would get together and sort of petition for a course.

The curriculum is more sophisticated and wide-ranging now, and some students use Wake Tech to gain their full training, while others take select courses and move on to further study in the state’s university system. (The two systems work more cooperatively now than in decades past.)

This is higher education, make no mistake, with top drawer instruction and demanding courses. But in many ways Wake Tech and other community colleges are the bargain of the universe when it comes to advancing one’s education.

This college, and others in the system, grew by dimensions in the wake of the economic downturn following 2008. The word was “retraining,” as many people out of jobs that had become obsolete needed to learn to do something to make a living. The community colleges answered that need spectacularly, which is why Wake Tech can cite many student testimonials to how much it helped them at a time when they really needed it.

It’s been particularly important in North Carolina, where the textile industry and other manufacturing companies started to hit hard times years ago, with jobs moving overseas or just moving out.

While providing training for work is important, essential for that matter, the community colleges should never lose their ability to offer small courses to enrich people’s lives at all ages, life enhancement it might be called. That has always been, and should always be, a part of the mission.

Wake Tech and 50 candles. It’s hard to believe. But this fine college has earned every accolade it’s gotten.

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