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Partnering with Community Colleges on Workforce Development

Dec 18, 2018

On May 9, 2018, Peter Hans was sworn in as the ninth president of the North Carolina Community College System. In doing so, he assumed leadership of the third largest community college system in the nation, encompassing 58 individual campuses and enrolling more than 710,000 students annually.

With a mission to “open the door to high-quality, accessible educational opportunities that minimize barriers to post-secondary education, maximize student success, develop a globally and multi-culturally competent workforce, and improve the lives and well-being of individuals,” the state’s community college system has been an important factor in North Carolina’s workforce development since the late 1950s.

Statewide impact.

In addition to offering vocational and degree programs, community colleges assist more than 500 North Carolina companies with customized training and industry-support services annually. According to Matthew Meyer, Ph.D., associate vice president, business engagement, national and international partnerships for the NC Community College System, the colleges also have a growing apprenticeship program, ApprenticeshipNC, that is the authorizing agency for all registered apprenticeships in North Carolina.

Often overshadowed by the University of North Carolina System and its 17 campuses, community colleges in North Carolina contribute greatly to the state’s economy. About 40 percent of wage earners in North Carolina received education or training at a community college over the past 10 years. Former students have contributed a cumulative $19.6 billion in added state income, the equivalent to creating more than 322,000 new jobs.

The community college system played a critical role in the state’s recovery from the Great Recession in 2008-2010. Despite a 22 percent decrease in funding, the system experienced a 25 percent increase in enrollment. Dr. Scott Ralls, former system president and incoming Wake Technical Community College president, even referred to the community college system as the state’s “economic and workforce cavalry.”

“This is still true today,” added Meyer. “Even in a good economy, the community colleges respond with innovative programming to meet current and future workforce needs.”

Burgeoning partnerships.

As an accredited nonprofit online university offering more than 60 bachelor’s and master’s degrees, WGU works to establish relationships with community colleges nationwide in order to assist their students and staff who are pursuing higher education. Over the past 12 months, 281 students who attended 51 North Carolina community colleges have enrolled in WGU.

Graduates of U.S. community colleges who are seeking to enroll in WGU can expect a comprehensive transfer policy. Those who have earned Associate of Arts or Associate of Sciences degrees usually qualify for an Upper-Division standing at WGU. This allows them to waive up to 40 WGU Competency Units, equal to 60 quarterly credit hours, in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree.

WGU North Carolina has signed memorandums of understanding with McDowell Technical Community College, Wayne Community College and Richmond Community College, with several more expected in early 2019. Staff and graduates of partner community colleges typically receive a 5 percent discount on WGU tuition. WGU works with each institution to establish Transfer Pathways.

“As part of the Transfer Pathways program, graduates of partner community colleges will be able to transfer credits toward degrees in WGU’s four colleges,” said Dr. Jason Caldwell, strategic partnerships manager with WGU North Carolina who works primarily with community colleges. “That helps to ensure that they don’t have to repeat any coursework because their curriculum has already been vetted by WGU.”

Students who have completed some community college coursework but who have not earned a degree might be able to transfer some credits pending a transcript evaluation by WGU. Depending on their specific degree program, they might qualify for some credit requirement waivers.

“Studies show that North Carolina’s job growth will outstrip our population growth by the year 2024,” said Catherine Truitt, WGU North Carolina chancellor. “North Carolina’s community colleges play a vital role in workforce development in our state, and we look forward to partnering with them to provide an affordable and accessible means for their students to further their education and fill critical job openings in IT, health care, K-12 education and business.”

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