Mar 102014
 

reflector

March 8, 2014

Editorial: Expand community colleges

There are signs that market forces are responding to the increasingly difficult financial burden that higher education places upon families of limited means. One big sign is last month’s revision in the way the State Board of Community Colleges and the University of North Carolina Board of Governors work together toward making higher education more affordable and obtainable.

The governing bodies that oversee the state’s publicly funded systems of higher education announced on Feb. 21 a new agreement making it easier for students to transfer from community colleges to a UNC system school. The revised comprehensive articulation agreement already has helped fuel a promising program between Durham Technical Community College and N.C. Central University.

It should inspire the same level of cooperation between Pitt Community College and East Carolina University.

The Herald-Sun of Durham earlier this month reported that students will soon be able to take courses at DTCC while living on the campus of NCCU. Students who participate will be accepted at both schools, but spend their first two years of study at Durham Tech.

The first of its kind in North Carolina, the dual-enrollment resident program is modeled after one between Indiana University at Bloomington and nearby Ivy Tech Community College.

In-state students at North Carolina’s public universities will not see their tuition increase this year, but that can hardly be considered a reprieve for families that have watched tuition continue to rise during a period of mostly stagnant wages.

As the ECU Board of Trustees last month addressed ongoing funding concerns, it was against a backdrop of emphasizing the university’s continued growth. It is important to note that the budget woes facing ECU and other UNC system schools do indeed come on the heels of massive growth in both infrastructure and new schools and programs.

In Greenville and the eastern North Carolina region, ECU’s growth is more fuel for a critical economic engine — but one that must hold promise and opportunity for everyone.

As the cost of a traditional four-year college degree has outpaced inflation and wage increases during recent years, students and their families have increasingly turned to community colleges for help in bridging the gap. That trend will continue and should inspire more investment of tax dollars in molding a more affordable model for higher education in which community colleges must play a larger role.

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