RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – At a recent education conference sponsored by the NC Chamber, several speakers repeated a catchy statement to describe North Carolina’s skills gap:
We have people without jobs and jobs without people.
There’s little doubt education is the answer to both.
Yet University of North Carolina President Margaret Spellings cited a poll that found 83% of white working-class voters think a college degree is no longer a sure path to success, as well as a Pew Research poll that found 58% of Republicans think higher education is bad for the country.
“Far too many people feel excluded from the education opportunities, the job opportunities, the career opportunities that lead to successful lives and prosperous communities. That’s a problem for all of us – the business sector and higher education,” Spellings said.
“Telling a mid-career employee with two kids, health insurance, a mortgage and a couple of car payments that her future advancement depends on going back to school for a bachelor’s degree right now simply isn’t realistic. It breeds resentment, and it makes people skeptical….
“We need a relentless focus on building more on-ramps to stable jobs and career advancement,” Spellings said. “… We have to revamp our education system to guide far more students into viable options for a degree, a certificate or some form of training.”
Spellings pointed out how the University system’s new strategic plan sets measurable benchmarks for increasing both enrollment and graduation of low-income, rural and first-generation college students.
North Carolina isn’t the only state struggling to connect with those students. But, she said, “The difference here is that we have a world-class university system, great private colleges and universities, and one of the most extensive community college systems in the country.”
UNC Chapel Hill recently won accolades from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation for its efforts to offer access to high-performing, low-income students.
The Cooke Foundation highlighted such programs as the Carolina Covenant, which helps low-income students graduate debt-free; the Carolina College Advising Corps, which places recent graduates as “near-peer” advisors in rural high schools, and FirstLook, which brings middle-school students from poor counties to visit campus.
You can hear more about strategies to make college widely available at “Aim Higher, Achieve More,” a forum from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4 at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte.
Participants will include:
- Gov. Roy Cooper;
- NC House Speaker Tim Moore;
- NC Sen. Michael Lee, Co-Chair, Senate Higher Education Appropriations Committee;
- UNC President Margaret Spellings;
- Acting NC Community College System President Jennifer Haygood; and
- Central Piedmont Community College President Kandi Deitemeyer, who will serve as moderator.
The event is sponsored by the Higher Education Works Foundation with support from Bank of America.