Smithfield: Opinion

College adding splashes of color

The brilliant colors of the holiday season often heighten my awareness of drab when January rolls around. With lights dimmed, decorations stored and dark winter days the norm, we tend to retreat into the doldrums of a long winter’s nap. And so, in response to my sense of melancholy recently, one of my administrative team members walked into the office and cheerily proclaimed, “What we need is a splash of color.”

Color can take many forms. New Year’s resolutions, for example, are often colorful if not lofty and unattainable. Hopes and dreams are colorful. New people, circumstances and opportunities in our lives bring color. What will color look like for you this year?

For JCC, color will look like the excitement of a new semester bringing new beginnings and the closing of old chapters. Graduation will usher in the next new adventure for many. Planning will result in the renovation of buildings and grounds, casting our campus in a glow of openness and fresh ideas. We will experience the expansion of new programs such as an associate’s degree in gunsmithing, Career and College Promise and apprenticeship. One focus will be on acquiring funding to build an indoor firing range in which law enforcement personnel can simulate and train for real-life situations. Additionally, because of changing regulations, a three-story burn tower for fire training will complement our efforts in providing adequate opportunity for public safety instruction.

With all the color mentioned above, the most colorful elephant in the room these days seems to be President Obama’s proposal to provide free tuition for community college students. While free tuition would certainly be a strong splash of color for many, we must remember the delicate balance between student access to quality education and success in that educational experience.

North Carolina has certainly been a leader in providing access for community college students with tuition rates among the lowest in the nation. And JCC has worked diligently to provide seamless pathways to college transfer or employment.

Therein lies the concern regarding free tuition, however. Access is wonderful, but access to what? Unless we continue to advocate for and support adequate funding for 21st century facilities and infrastructure, quality support services and faculty pay, currently among the lowest in the Southeast, student success will be imperiled. In other words, without a quality product that allows for student success, free tuition is pointless.

The year ahead holds great potential for Johnston Community College and its students. A splash of color might be what we need, but let’s not stop with a coat of paint. The color we require is systemic change in how we think and do the business of higher education in Johnston County, North Carolina and the nation. I look forward to more than a “splash” this year.

David Johnson is president of Johnston Community College.