RALEIGH – North Carolina’s community colleges are respected and loved by their communities – 58 colleges spread throughout the state, within a 30-minute drive of 95% of North Carolinians.
And they are a critical link in North Carolina’s workforce and economic development.
Enrollment tends to jump at community colleges during recessions, as workers – some of them laid off – seek to improve and update their skills.
So during the Great Recession, North Carolina community colleges saw a 23% increase in enrollment – from the equivalent of 203,000 full-time students in 2007-08 to 250,000 in 2010-11. As the economy improved, enrollment subsided to about 223,000 by 2016-17.
Total state spending on community colleges climbed somewhat as legislators tried to keep up with enrollment during the recession. But in 2011, legislators reduced state support by $121 million (in 2018 dollars) – nearly a 10% cut. Ultimately, North Carolina did not keep up with either enrollment or inflation.
Adjusted for inflation, state spending dropped from $5,554 per full-time student in 2006-07 to $4,215 in 2009-10. It has since climbed to $4,919 per full-time student in 2016-17.
But state support has not returned to pre-recession levels, even though North Carolina has become the 9th-largest state in the nation and additional skills are sorely needed to attract new industry and accommodate growth of existing industries.
Quality instructors are essential at North Carolina community colleges. But stagnant state funding is reflected in the pay for instructors.
Instructor salaries haven’t kept pace with either inflation or our state’s neighbors, and in fact often fall below those of K-12 teachers. Adjusted for inflation, the average salary for full-time community-college instructors fell from a high of $53,003 in 2007-08 to $47,362 in 2015-16.
Likewise, North Carolina did not keep up with neighboring states in paying instructors. In 2015-16, its average salary for full-time community-college instructors lagged Florida, Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina – and trailed region-leading Virginia by $15,282.