Community colleges seen key to workforce

RALEIGH, N.C. — Community colleges will be crucial in filling workforce shortages in three of North Carolina’s key sectors, yet changes are needed for the system to reach its full potential, a new study says.

As North Carolina’s economy shifts from a traditional manufacturing economy to a more service-based economy, the state faces critical shortages in the fields of nursing, teaching and biotechnology, says a study by the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research in Raleigh.

Community colleges offer the fastest, most cost-effective means for filling these shortages, assuming a few fundamental barriers are removed, the study says.

The state’s 58 community colleges currently produce more than two-thirds of the state’s registered nurses, yet limited nursing faculty, classroom space and clinical placements have forced local colleges to deny admission to over 6,500 qualified applicants.

As Baby Boomers age and more retirees move to North Carolina, the demand for nurses will increase, resulting in severe shortfalls over the next two decades.

Public schools and biotechnology firms face similar dilemmas, the study says.

With the school-age population on the increase and large gaps in teacher retention, especially in the areas of math, science, special education and second languages, North Carolina public schools must replace 10,000 teachers a year, the study says.

And biotechnology is coping with a growth spurt in North Carolina, the only state to rank in the top 10 for job growth in all biotechnology sectors.

To head off these predicted shortfalls, community colleges would have to produce 2,400 more nursing graduates annually, an increase of 71 percent, the study says.

Similarly, the number of biotechnicians, as well as graduates entering public schools as teachers, must roughly double.

While community colleges should work with the state to achieve a greater capacity to certify public-school teachers — who currently must attend a four-year college to receive the necessary credits in reading, special education and instructional core content — the other shortages could be addressed through a better allocation of resources.

The report says community colleges should increase faculty salaries, which at an average of $41,000 are less than those of public school teachers and rank 46th in the U.S.

In developing the system’s funding formula, the study says, community colleges also should differentiate between high-cost, high-demand programs and cheaper, less popular degrees.

More partnerships with the UNC system, businesses, private foundations and the legislature, modeled on the state’s BioNetwork program, would also further the colleges’ ability to address critical workforce shortages, the study says.

Leave a Response

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.