SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Community Colleges Play Critical Role
When it comes to public education in North Carolina, the state's community college system often seems like the forgotten, ugly stepchild.
It's not that state legislators and policy-makers haven't poured resources into the system of 58 schools. This coming year, the state is poised to put nearly $900 million into community colleges.
But the figure represents just 8 percent of total state education spending.
A new report from the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research makes a pretty good case that it's not enough. It does so with some startling figures that focus on projected job needs for the future.
In 2005-06, North Carolina colleges denied admission to 6,588 qualified applicants to entry level registered nursing programs. Nursing education experts attribute the denials to a shortage of faculty and learning space. Meanwhile, a shortage of better than 5,000 registered nurses this year is expected to grow to between 9,000 and 20,000 by 2015.
The center's report, "The Future of Community Colleges in North Carolina," provides a wide-ranging examination of the community college system. On the issue of job shortages, it focuses on nursing.
But it also examines projected job shortages among teachers, truck drivers and other professions, and looks at the community colleges' role in providing the work force for each.
At the root of these shortages, particularly in health-care fields, are programs that turn away students. In part, students are turned away because there aren't enough faculty, a shortage exacerbated by pay that isn't up to national standards.
According to the report, the average annual salary for community college teachers is $40,989, compared to a national average of $55,405. When it comes to nursing, some other numbers come into play: A community college nursing instructor makes an average of $47,303, while a working registered nurse in North Carolina earns an average of $61,347.
In addition, some programs like nursing simply cost more money to run because of the clinical settings required.
The report concludes that one way to address the community colleges' role in meeting work force shortages is to provide higher levels of per-student funding for the programs that cost more.
But what's also clear is how dependent each part of the public education system is upon the other.
In recent years, state leaders have begun recognizing that fact with policies that demand cooperation. Gov. Mike Easley's Learn and Earn program, that helps to put high school students on a path to earn a community college degree, is a part of that recognition. So, too, is a program that allows more community college students to transfer credits to UNC system schools.
Reading between the lines of the center's report, more cooperation and less turf protection will be needed to meet future work force demands, especially if policymakers want to avoid taxpayer wrath.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at email@example.com.
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