Johnston Community College and Wake Technical Community College both opened their fall semesters on Aug. 15. But while Wake Tech watched enrollment climb to a record 22,000, JCC saw its ranks fall slightly from the year before, to 4,056 students.
One reason might be that JCC no longer takes part in the federal student loan program; JCC President David Johnson can’t say for sure yet. But he thinks Wake Tech is growing in part because of the access it offers students: the college has five campuses spread across Wake County.
JCC, with campuses in Smithfield and the Cleveland community, is looking to improve access too, Johnson said. “It’s important to expand to more people in the county,” he said.
One possibility: a campus in Kenly in northern Johnston County.
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Johnson said he wasn’t surprised that JCC’s enrollment changed little this year from last. Community college enrollment grows most during economic downturns, when displaced workers return to school to learn new schools. From 2009 to 2011, JCC saw its enrollment soar 26 percent. Now, with the economy improving, the college’s numbers are leveling off.
Still, Johnson expects JCC to grow as Johnston County grows. Johnston’s population is growing at an annual rate of 5.4 percent, well above the state average of 3.3 percent, and some forecasters expect the county’s population to swell 30 percent by 2025.
JCC needs to be ready, Johnson said. “We are taking a very strong look at infrastructure and the growth we anticipate in the next 10-12 years,” he said.
Already, JCC is rapidly expanding its vocational offerings to keep pace with employer demand. Johnson noted that space in nearly all vocational programs is maxed out.
Eventually, those programs will require additional classroom space. Fortunately, Johnson said, county voters in 2013 said yes to a $7 million bond issue that will, among other things, allow JCC to evaluate and update its master building plan.
Johnson called the bond dollars the “shot in the arm” that JCC needed.
Transferring made easier
On the other end of the academic spectrum, JCC is also welcoming more students who plan to transfer to a four-year college or university after completing two years at JCC.
That transition is easier than ever, Johnson said. For starters, the N.C. Community College System and University of North Carolina System now have an agreement guaranteeing that community college credits will transfer to ther four-year schools.
“We’re looking forward to renewing our relationship with the UNC system and easing the burden of transfer,” Johnson said.
On its end, JCC is working closely with college-transfer students to make sure they take the classes that four-year schools require for admission, Johnson said.
The aim of the Community College and UNC systems is for transfer students to enter the four-year schools as juniors.
The four P’s
For both vocational and college-transfer students, Johnston Community College is attractive, Johnson said, because of what he calls the four P’s: programs, people, place and price.
“We’re a family-oriented institution,” he added. “We have great faculty and staff that treat students like family.”
Heather Murphy, 19, of Four Oaks came to JCC a year ago unsure of a major but certain that she didn’t want to bury herself in debt to continue her education beyond high school.
This fall, Murphy is taking history, literature and computer classes en route to the associate of arts degree. After graduating from JCC, she plans to pursue her bachelor’s degree.
Murphy feels comfortable at JCC. “Neither of my parents went to college,” she said. “If you’re really dedicated and make a career for yourself, there are people willing to help.”