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Study: Community colleges key to solving work force shortages

Community colleges are the key to dealing with three of the state’s critical work force shortages – nurses, teachers and biotechnology workers, says a report from the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The state's 58 community colleges should be the state's main tool for dealing with shortages of nurses, teachers, and biotechnology workers, the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research said in a study released Thursday.

The community college system is "the most cost-effective and fastest way to produce the number of workers needed to meet region-specific demand," the center's report said.

The report is part of a series of studies on the community college system.

Overall, the study reported that registered nurses, home-health aides, truck drivers, nursing aides, home-care aides and elementary school teachers are the fastest-growing occupations in the state, and it said community colleges provide training for all of them.

“North Carolina is short on workers, but the community colleges are not short on solutions,” said Mebane Rash Whitman, editor of the center’s journal, North Carolina Insight. “If given the support they need, they’ll give North Carolina’s employers the workers to meet the shortages.”

The center included five recommendations with its analysis:

  • State government needs to recognize that the community colleges are the best buy and most effective venue for training nurses and teachers.
  • The State Board of Education should change its rules so teachers can get licenses after community-college training.
  • The Legislature should provide more money for higher-cost, high-demand programs that lead to high-paying jobs.
  • The Legislature needs to increase faculty salaries from 46th in the nation to the national average.
  • More partnerships are needed among the community college system, the UNC system, the business community, private foundations and lawmakers.

The report praised the UNC system for increasing its cooperation with the community colleges on teacher training, but there are still issues with associate degrees in applied science.

The study made five recommendations to help community colleges address work force shortages:

  • The General Assembly, the State Board of Education and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction should adopt policies that establish the N.C. Community College System as the primary venue through which to train the number of nurses and teachers the state needs.
  • The State Board of Education, Community College System and Department of Public Instruction should make it easier for community colleges to train teacher education students for licensure.
  • The General Assembly should provide differentiated funding for selected community college programs, including more funding for higher-cost programs in areas of increased state need such as allied health.
  • The General Assembly should adopt a policy of moving salaries for community college faculty to the national average.
  • The N.C. Community College System should use the BioNetwork’s strategy of forming innovative, strategic, and diverse partnerships with industry, private grant-making foundations, the UNC system and the General Assembly as a blueprint for achieving similar success in the fields of allied health, teacher education, and other fields of strategic importance.

The N.C. Center for Public Policy Research is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research corporation created in 1977 to evaluate state government programs and to study public policy issues facing North Carolina.