Smithfield: Opinion

JCC, public schools accelerating college and career readiness

Recently, I read an article that led with the question, “Have you hugged your community college today?” Naturally, the hook got my attention. Interestingly, the article promoted the significant impact community colleges have on the nation’s economy.

Now that Johnston Community College has completed another momentous year, held graduations for more than 900 students and prepared many for their next adventure in life, let me give you at least one compelling reason to hug your community college today.

Along with preparing students for life, JCC and Johnston County Schools work closely to prepare students for college. With one of the largest Career and College Promise programs in the state, JCC provides opportunity for some 1,000 high school students each year to get a jump on higher education.

This dual-enrollment initiative allows qualified high school sophomores, juniors and seniors to complete high school while enrolling in college courses. Simultaneously, these students earn high school and college credits, free of tuition and, in most cases, book costs.

This program has become a statewide model. Numerous degree programs, from business technology to certified nurse aide, have been offered to high school students.

Performance of our students is impressive. Nearly 40 percent of Career and College Promise, or CCP, students who started at JCC in 2012 have since completed an associate’s degree at the college.

In the fall 2015 semester, 984 CCP students completed 6,964 credit hours at JCC, and 90 percent of these credit hours resulted in a grade of C or higher in the class. The average GPA of fall 2015 CCP students was 3.14. Those same students have completed an average of 15.6 credit hours during their college career at JCC, a number that essentially equates to one semester of free college credit to any University of North Carolina institution and many private institutions. Currently, 12 credit hours at UNC-Chapel Hill cost about $4,300 per semester for in-state students.

Without the phenomenal partnership we enjoy with the Johnston County Schools and their continued support of Career and College Promise, this opportunity would not be possible for students, families and the greater good of our county and state. Together this collaboration is saving families thousands of dollars while accelerating our high school students toward college and career readiness.

It makes great sense to continue such support of higher education. Nationally, in a study by EMSI, for every dollar spent in a community college education, students benefit with a return on investment of $3.80. Over time, the economy improves as tax revenues increase with higher wages. During the study year, America’s community colleges and students added $809 billion in income to the U.S. economy. That’s about 5.4 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Beyond students, though, the local economy is enhanced by JCC being one of the largest employers in the county.

So, I ask you now, “Have you hugged your community college today?” You have plenty of reason to do so.

The writer is president of Johnston Community College.